Voted one of the best scenic drives in Coffs Harbour: Waterfall Way is a must-do adventure. As you travel from the coastal beauty that is Coffs Harbour to the picturesque city of Armidale, or vice versa, you’ll wind through five lush, green national parks that offer an array of nature experiences along the way.
Coffee conversations and food from the fire
The Goldfish Bowl Bakery Café – Shop 3/160 Rusden Street, Armidale
Whenever I’m visiting a new town there’s one decision that plagues me: “Where will I find a good coffee?” When in Armidale travelling the Waterfall Way, I sent this message to my usual list of barista friends and the replies came in thick and fast. The name of just one establishment flashed on my phone’s screen again and again: Goldfish Bowl Bakery Café. I made my way there, quick smart. As I got out of the car I noticed the distinct smell of roasting coffee. I traced it to a room at the front of the café and poked my head in. There I found owner Trent Rush surrounded by hessian bags full of beans and a roaster whirring away. He was happy for me to come in and have a chat about the process and where he sources his beans. Eventually, simply smelling coffee became too much and I needed to go next door and drink one; obviously the freshness was guaranteed! I ordered a croissant and watched as it was placed into a massive woodfired oven. I was surprised and delighted to learn that the oven is fired up daily and all of the baked goods are cooked there on the premises. As my croissant was removed, a tray of golden topped pies came out too. I ordered one to take with me – how could I resist?!
Armidale artisans under one roof
The New England Collective – Shop 2 126 Beardy Street, Armidale
It’s no secret that some of Australia’s best artisans, designers and makers live in the country – their creations inspired by nature and made to compliment a slower and simpler lifestyle – but it can be difficult to track them down. The New England Collective in Armidale solves that problem by stocking products from almost 30 local small businesses. Browsing the light-filled Beardy Street store, I found an abundance of unique handmade or locally sourced clothes, homewares, jewellery, skincare products, chocolates and more. It felt good to buy something I hadn’t seen anywhere else and I was happy to support a local creative. Tracey Wright’s clothing label Raw Fibre is stocked in the store and she was on hand to talk me through her designs and show me the high-end fabrics she sells. Seeing her quality apparel for myself it was clear her 2018 New England North West Business Award for Sustainability was well deserved.
Time travel at Saumarez Homestead
Saumarez Station and Homestead – 230 Saumarez Road, Armidale
Halfway through my tour of the Edwardian mansion at Saumarez Homestead, I really did have to remind myself that I was living in 2018 and not the 19th century. The fully-furnished and perfectly preserved house coupled with the informative and in-depth commentary from my guide, Les, brought the history of the homestead to life in such a vivid and engaging way. Once outside, I was struck by gorgeous pops of colour in the heritage rose garden and bowled over by their delicious scent. The lovingly tended gardens go on and on and I certainly didn’t set aside enough time to enjoy them. Allow at least two hours to immerse yourself in the wonders of a bygone era on the outskirts of Armidale.
A farm for fish since ’49
Dutton Trout Hatchery – Point Lookout Road, Ebor\
The Dutton Trout Hatchery is a short way down Point Lookout Road, across a bridge over a small creek. When I arrived, I chatted to staff member Peter Sully and sheepishly explained that I didn’t understand what it was all about. He recommended a short educational video that explained the history of this particular hatchery since 1949 and detailed the process of raising trout. Every year, about two million fish are raised here then released into inland streams and waterways in the New England area as well as Bathurst, Orange, Oberon and even as far as Goulburn, for the purpose of sport fishing. Peter showed me fish at various stages of life from tiny eggs to strong, shimmering trout. Feeding them was an especially lively experience. You approach the calm, still waters and scatter a few pellets across the surface before all hell breaks loose! Hundreds of fish start thrashing about, sending water flying up onto the banks and all over anyone who happens to be standing nearby. I left with a wet t-shirt, a smile on my face and a new appreciation for the hard work done to keep our waterways full of each spectacular species of trout. Oh and some premium smoked trout to snack on a little later!
Facebook: Dutton Trout Hatchery Ebor
From the mountains to the sea
Point lookout – Point Lookout Road, Ebor
Dutton Trout Hatchery is on the road to Point lookout in the New England National Park so I was eager to drive approximately 10 kilometres down the road to this spectacular vantage point. A word of warning though, it’s a bumpy dirt road with quite a few pot holes so take it easy. On the way you’ll pass Two Styx, a property featuring cosy cabin and cottage accommodation as well as a large dam for trout fishing. There’s plenty of parking at the lookout and the option of short strolls or longer walks to the rainforest below. The lookout is just 200 metres from the carpark on a wheelchair-friendly track. When I visited it was a clear, sunny day and the panoramic views seemed to stretch on forever, all the way to the ocean. I paused to take it all in and felt a sense of awe as I stared out across the pristine, untouched land surrounding me.
A quirky cottage and a cup of tea
Fusspots at Ebor, 33 Ebor St
The heat of the day was sapping my energy as I pulled into Fusspots at Ebor. It was too hot for tea or coffee so I gave in to my craving for a cold, sweet chocolate milkshake. As I waited for my drink, I took a look around the quirky café and believe me, there was a lot to look at. It was full to the brim with all manner of teapots, cups and saucers, homemade pickles and chutney, paintings, books and apparel. The seating area was light-filled and cheery with indoor plants assembled in the corner. Even if you’re only after a drink or an icy pole for the kids, Fusspots café is worth a visit. It will lift your spirit and put a smile on your face as you head back out onto the open road.
An artist in residence on the plateau
Peter Mortimore Gallery – 59 Hickory Street, Dorrigo
I went to Dorrigo to check out the Waterfall Way Gallery but it didn’t appear to be open. Artist Peter Mortimore saw me at a loose end and invited me into his gallery, right next door. “I’ve got the keys to the Waterfall Way Gallery but check out mine first,” he smiled. Peter and his wife Carolyn spent seven years operating a gallery in Bangalow before moving back to Dorrigo. Peter was born here and many of his cousins are dairy farmers. We chatted as he worked on a painting in the middle of his gallery shop and I could tell he was in his element. Peter explained that the work was a commission for the Ebor Hotel, one of the many commissions he’s received since settling on the plateau. It’s really special to be able to talk to an artist and watch them work before buying a painting. There’s a connection and a sense of authenticity that’s hard to find when clicking ‘buy’ on a website.
Esteemed local artists on show
The Waterfall Way Gallery – 57 Hickory Street, Dorrigo
While chatting to Peter and Carolyn, Sheila Guymer came into the gallery shop to sayd hello. As luck would have it, she manages the Waterfall Way Gallery next door and was able to take me in and show me around. During the week the space is run as The Dorrigo Plateau Music School while on the weekends the focus turns to art. A professional classical pianist, Sheila is determined to link the music and visual arts communities between Coffs Harbour and Armidale. Stepping inside, I was particularly taken by the oil paintings lining one wall. They were by Rudy Kistler, a professional artist who lives locally. Sheila proceeds to tell me about the many esteemed artisans, makers and musicians in the community as well as the events that showcase their talents. These events include the Creative Mountain Arts Exhibition over Easter, the three annual Made in Dorrigo street markets and the Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Clearly there is so much more to the Waterfall Way than what can be seen from a car window!
Stay for a song, leave with a harp
Denwar Harps – 1626 Waterfall Way, Bellingen
I’ve always been fascinated by the harp and in awe of anyone who could play such a magnificent instrument. I took a few lessons in 2010 but didn’t persist and I’m still kicking myself! Back then, my harp teacher mentioned a man in Bellingen who makes them and I’ve never forgotten that. Imagine my delight when driving from Dorrigo to Bellingen, I spotted a sandwich board sign reading ‘Denwar Harps’. I drove straight in and found Denny Warner in his garage turned display room, surrounded by harps of various sizes and shapes. He explained that he tried to make one 25 years ago after watching a woman perform at the Old Butter Factory. He arranged for her to give him lessons but sold the home-made harp to another student before he’d even finished the class. Denny decided he’d teach himself to play but every harp he made was snapped up almost as soon as the final string was attached. Eventually he kept one for himself and mastered the instrument. As I wandered around admiring the beautifully designed and finished harps, made with Australian red cedar, Denny played a sweet song that had me floating through the room. Like me, many people drop in simply to admire the harps and to hear Denny play a tune or two. He welcomes visitors all year round and has harps available for purchase.
Furry friends at happy hour
Open Air Café – 61 First Avenue, Sawtell
Driving into Sawtell early on a Wednesday morning, I didn’t expect to see too many cafes up and at it. A large white, furry dog caught my eye and I noticed it was sitting with its owner outside Open Air Café. The sun was streaming into the building like a giant arrow pointing down from the heavens – it was a sign. I was greeted by friendly owner, Libby, and immediately served a ‘happy hour’ coffee (they’re discounted daily between 6:30am-8am). I was then confronted with a series of tough choices: What to order – a smoothie bowl, wagon wheel pancake stack or the kimchi fried rice with eggs? Where to sit – outside in the sun or in one of the hanging swing seats? What to read – stylish magazines, a coffee table book or something from the Open Air Community Library? I not-so-subtly sidled up to the big fluffy dog and learnt its name was Casper. Casper was in the middle of a doggy-date with Sadie and her owner, but was happy for a quick hello and a scratch. Tummy full and new connections made, I hopped back in the car making a mental note to come back to the delightful Open Air Café when planning my next picnic as they also offer take away hampers.
A bush tucker man and his natural wonderland
Valley of the Mist – 88 Congarinni North Road, Talarm
Just off the highway near Macksville I drive into a property laden with fruit trees and macadamias, an organic vegetable garden, an array of brightly coloured chickens, five or so dogs of varying sizes and shady ponds fully of lilies. The 117 acre property includes a massive wetland that connects with the Nambucca River. Dennis Ryan and the dogs are waiting to give me a tour of this natural wonderland. We make our way down to a small dock where the wildlife canoe trips begin and Dennis talks to me about the rare, pristine east coast wetlands before us. We then move through the orchard with Dennis stopping regularly to point out various trees and plants – lillypilly, and their nutritional and medicinal value.
He talks about growing Davidson plums, finger limes, macadamia nuts and even coffee using sustainable, chemical-free methods and lets me sample the delicious native fruits. The farm has been in Dennis’s family for many years and he says his great grandparents used to trade with the local Aboriginal people who lived nearby or travelled through. The bush tucker knowledge was given to them and passed down through Dennis’ family. He’s now sharing what he knows with his daughter who has taken a keen interest. As I sit on the veranda of his rustic homestead, Dennis goes inside to fetch a selection of bush tucker products including macadamia nut chutney, Davidson plum jam and Lemon Myrtle dressing, all made by his wife Marilyn. It’s wonderful to listen and learn from someone so knowledgeable with a pure love of the land and the natural environment surrounding him. The fact that a place as special as the Valley of the Mist is just a short detour off the highway astounds me and I vow to spread the word.
Turning wood into art
Wood We Create – 191 Lindsays Road, Boambee
When I arrive at Wood We Create, David Barden is outside talking to some international tourists about the trees surrounding his wood turning gallery. After a little while they return and purchase a mix of functional and ornamental pieces, all made by David. He waves them off and remarks to me that he learns so much about other countries thanks to the overseas visitors who drop into his Boambee premises. Locals are often coming in, too, with many looking for unique gifts that contain a piece of Coffs Harbour. Years ago, David took his wood-turning skill and turned it into an art form. He says he’s always thinking about new, one-off pieces and has notebooks full of sketches and ideas. I’m drawn to delicate cups, bowls and platters that emphasise the original grain of the Rose Gum, Camphor Laurel or Silky Oak. The intricate details fascinate me and I imagine the amount of work that has gone into each piece. David’s workshop is next door and he explains the feeling of getting lost in his wood turning as one hours slips into the next. I’m heartened to see someone so passionate about what they create and genuinely happy to share that passion, regardless of whether or not it results in a sale.