February 13, 2023
12 mins Read
One of the most magnificent road trips in NSW, the Waterfall Way takes travellers through five national parks, dramatic gorge country and lush rolling farmland, with the chance to explore historic towns along the way. But while lots of guides to the Waterfall Way start at the Coffs Coast and work their way up to Armidale, we say it’s even better to be like a waterfall and flow down from the New England highlands to the sea.
Rather than joining the 185-kilometre Waterfall Way (also known as the B78) from the busy Pacific Highway, we suggest starting with a country drive along the New England Highway or Thunderbolts Way. As well as feeling easier to drive down winding roads than up, you’ll also be able to see the sweeping views open up in front of you as you make your way down the mountains. Here’s our guide to what to see and do along the Waterfall Way.
Start your road trip in Australia’s highest city, Armidale, where you can stroll along streets lined with heritage-listed buildings and see Australian art treasures at the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM).
As you drive east along Waterfall Way it’s only half an hour to Wollomombi Falls, the first waterfall of the trip and the highest in NSW. After rain the falls are a spectacular sight as the water cascades 220 metres into the valley below.
In dryer times you may not see the waterfall, but it’s still worth stopping to look out over the massive wild gorge from the viewing platform near the car park, or you can stretch your legs along the four-kilometre return, grade three Wollomombi walking track.
Listen to local elder Steve Widders share Wollomombi gorge Dreaming stories on the Wollomombi Falls soundtrail, where you can also learn about the ecology and colonial history of the area.
Continue along the Waterfall Way to the New England National Park, where the Point lookout walking track offers incredible 180-degree views over World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests all the way to the ocean.
With its sealed track, this 500-metre, grade one loop is easy for the whole family; the first lookout is only 100 metres from the car park and is accessible for those with mobility issues. Be sure to keep an eye out for the lyrebirds who call this ancient rainforest home.
Keep your hiking boots on as you drive another 35 minutes to Cathedral Rock National Park, where you can go rock hopping on huge boulders. There are short walks from the campgrounds to enjoy, as well as the six-kilometre return, grade five Cathedral Rock track for more experienced hikers who’ll be rewarded with scenic views from the summit.
Then it’s only a 20 minute drive to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Australia: Ebor Falls. With its upper and lower falls, this tiered wonder turns Guy Fawkes River into a white water beauty. Unfortunately the viewing platforms that were lost in the bushfires have yet to be replaced, but you can still see part of the falls from behind a safety barrier.
Rainbow and brown trout thrive in the rivers and streams around Ebor, and in trout fishing season they can also be caught in the Bielsdown River that flows through the village. Just outside Ebor you can visit the Dutton Trout Hatchery, which raises two million trout to be released into NSW waterways annually.
In Armidale’s open-air Beardy Street Mall the New England Collective shares a wide range of products from local designers and artisans, while Granny Fi’s Toy Cupboard is filled with handmade dolls, dragons and other fantastic creatures.
Armidale Plaza is a mix of national brands and local shops. Discover special New England blend teas at the award-winning Daily Ritual, and find a handcrafted hat – or have one custom made for you – at New England Hatters.
Start your day in Armidale with breakfast at The Goldfish Bowl, where the organic bread is traditionally baked on the hot bricks of the oven floor, and the coffee is roasted on site.
For a great pub lunch, White Bull has you covered; think pub classics, Thai salads and daily specials. When it’s time for dinner, the Napoli-style wood-fired pizzas at Signor Vertelli are a stand out, while at Tattersalls Hotel you can choose between fine dining in the restaurant and more casual meals in the pizza garden.
In Ebor, the family-friendly Fusspots Cafe serves sandwiches, salads and light meals for breakfast and lunch.
After a multi-million dollar renovation, Armidale’s Tattersalls Hotel has been transformed into an Art Deco delight in the heart of the city. As well as restoring period features including a sweeping walnut staircase and pressed tin ceilings, the makeover offers guests a range of luxurious rooms and a stylish lounge area.
Outside Ebor, Moffat Falls is a regenerative farm with a range of accommodation options, including cabins, a cottage, and a fly fishing lodge. The latter can sleep up to eight guests in four bedrooms, each with balconies overlooking the property’s waterfall.
On the edge of the escarpment in the New England National Park, The Chalet is a cosy cabin that can sleep up to three people. Enjoy a BBQ on the deck with a view, and step out your front door to join walking tracks through World Heritage-listed rainforest.
Watch the landscape change to rolling green hills as you make your way from Ebor to Dorrigo. While it only takes around 40 minutes to drive between the village and the small town, the views change so dramatically it’s easy to believe you’re in a different part of the country.
Step out onto the Skywalk at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, a 70-metre boardwalk that takes you over the edge of the escarpment for panoramic views of the rosewood rainforest basin and Bellinger Valley. Dorrigo Rainforest Centre is also where you can learn about local plants and animals, and get tips on how to make the most of your time in the Dorrigo National Park, including guided tours and the best walking tracks for your level of fitness.
Highlights include the Crystal Shower Falls walk, a 4.4-kilometre, grade two walk that takes you through World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforest and over a small suspension bridge. After admiring the falls from the bridge you can walk down to a rocky cavern behind the waterfall to look back out at the rainforest through the falling water. For those with more time and energy, the Wonga Walk takes in both the Crystal Showers Falls and the Tristania Falls on a 6.6-kilometre, grade two loop.
On the other side of Dorrigo, just a few minutes’ drive from the centre of town, Dangar Falls can be viewed from above (thanks to a platform right next to the car park) or from below (after a 20-minute walk down to the water’s edge). If the water’s warm enough you can swim out to the 30-metre-high falls, but this is best for stronger swimmers as the water is deep and there’s no chance to rest.
Thanks to an excellent gift shop in the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre you may find yourself doing a spot of shopping before you make it out of the national park.
In town, The Mountain Merchant has a well-curated selection of clothing, gifts, beauty and wellness products, with a focus on sustainable Australian labels. Miss Wink is another top spot for gifts and homewares.
In a cute cottage on Hickory Street, Components Cafe serves up flavour-packed all-day breakfasts and lunches, with vegetarian and gluten-free options available. The cafe also sells local products including bespoke timber furniture and cruelty-free organic skincare in compostable timber pots by Avirida.
At the Lookout Mountain Retreat, Waterfall Way Cafe & Bistro serves fresh seasonal dishes with ingredients sourced from their own onsite garden and local farmers and producers. Sit by the huge stone fireplace in colder months, or enjoy the outdoor terrace when the sun is shining.
Just a few minutes out of town, looking out over the Dorrigo National Park, the newly refurbished Lookout Mountain Retreat has 26 comfortable rooms including queen, family, triple-share and executive suite layouts. The retreat also has its own deer enclosure, where the family can get close to the gentle creatures as they explore the grounds.
The Dorrigo Town House B&B has a king-size bed with linen sheets, a kitchenette with an air fryer and microwave, and a Smart TV with streaming services ready to go. Bikes and helmets are provided for those who’d like to explore on two wheels; if relaxing is more your thing, you can arrange to have a massage in your B&B.
You may now be saying goodbye to the big waterfalls of the trip, but keep an eye out for the smaller falls on the sides of the road as you wind your way down to Bellingen. Here the road is so narrow that at times you’ll need to take turns to cross single lane bridges; enjoy taking it nice and slow, and wind down your windows to hear the calls of rainforest birds as you go.
Explore the independent boutiques and organic cafes in bohemian Bellingen, and discover the wildlife and rich ecosystems along the Bellinger River from the water with Bellingen Canoe Adventures.
Follow the last stretch of the Waterfall Way through fertile farmland to Urunga, where the Bellinger and Kalang rivers flow into the sea. Walk along the wheelchair-accessible Urunga Boardwalk, keeping an eye out for bottlenose dolphins in the estuary, and watch for humpback whales from May to November.
Urunga is just half an hour’s drive from Coffs Harbour and a great base to explore the national parks and beaches in NSW’s first eco destination, Coffs Coast.
The heritage-listed Hammond and Wheatley Commercial Emporium, one of the most beautiful buildings in the area, features decorative cement renders, pressed metal ceilings and cedar joinery. It’s now home to the clothing and homewares store Emporium Bellingen, as well as the eclectic Dervish Gallery.
Browse boutiques in historic buildings along Hyde Street, including local handmade and sustainable clothing at The Collective. On the third Saturday of the month you can check out stalls by local artisans, growers and producers while listening to live music at the Bellingen Community Markets.
In Urunga you can find clothing, cosmetics and gifts (as well as getting your brows done) at Banksie Blue, while the Urunga Riverside Market hosts stalls, entertainment and food on the Boardwalk on the second Saturday of the month.
In Bellingen, enjoy a quick bite with wine and cocktails or share a grazing-style meal that includes swordfish and slow cooked lamb in a renovated church at Cedar Bar & Kitchen. For wood-fired pizzas and craft beer, Bellingen Brewing Co is the place to be, while the Old Butter Factory Cafe shares tasty classics in a building with more than 110 years of history.
Start your mornings in Urunga with a hearty breakfast or a sweet treat at Pomegranate, then end your day with a Mediterranean-inspired dinner at Embers Restaurant.
Relax on a 100-acre sanctuary on the Never Never River at the Promised Land Retreat, where guests can choose between three architecturally designed chalets with fully equipped kitchens, large living areas, decks and spa baths.
At the Riverside Holiday Resort in Urunga there are 40 two-bedroom apartments featuring open-plan kitchen, dining and living rooms, including five wheelchair-accessible units. All the units can cater for up to six people and have their own patios or balconies, with a shared pool, trampoline and BBQ area.
To plan your trip and download maps and itineraries, visit My Waterfall Way.
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