DRIVING THE INCREDIBLE WATERFALL WAY IN NSW
One of Australia’s must-do drives, this Waterfall Way itinerary, connects the New England Tablelands with the North Coast at Coffs Harbour. Follow our guide will make sure you don’t miss any of the top spots.
While lots of people make the drive with just one or two stops en-route we suggest you stay a few days if you can.
We spent two days in Armidale and then three days exploring this road and all it has to offer. For us, this was a perfect amount of time to do more than scratch the surface. We discovered so much here we have planned another trip to focus on bushwalking in the area next year.
This section of our trip included four NSW National Parks:
- New England National Park
- Guy Fawkes River National Park
- Oxley Wild Rivers National Park
- Dorrigo National Park
We explored the region as part of a longer 5-week trip covering the north and west of NSW.
All the must-see stops along the Waterfall Way
We began in Armidale after driving from Forster to Tamworth on the first week of a 5-week road trip. You could do this trip in the reverse beginning at Coffs Harbour if you prefer.
We rented a motorhome for our journey and stayed in caravan parks, free camps, and showgrounds. The drive is along sealed roads and easily managed by a 2 wheel drive car, caravan or beast like this.
Armidale – Australia’s highest city
Armidale is the main centre in the New England Tablelands and home of the University of New England.
At 585km from Sydney and 494km from Brisbane, Armidale is a great halfway stop on a journey between the capitals.
While most travellers stick to the coast, with borders to Queensland closed, we decide to do a bit of a loop and cover as much of the region as we could over the course of a week. I am so glad we did as this gave us reason to slow down and really explore, and there is so much to see here.
Why Visit Armidale
This heritage town located 1000m above sea level is the highest city in Australia and one of the oldest in NSW. It gained popularity with early settlers who appreciated the four distinct seasons on offer, something many from Europe missed. Being a university town gives the place an energetic vibe, there is always something happening in Armidale.
The area is also a magnet for adventure seekers with hiking, canyoning rafting and mountain biking opportunities. There are over 500km of rivers and of course, the famous waterfalls spread through the region’s four National Parks, all less than an hour from town.
How long to stay in Armidale?
Depending on how you are travelling you could use Armidale as a base to explore the delights of the region. Two nights would be good, three better and it would be easy for hikers and nature lovers to fill a week.
What to see and do in Armidale?
- Have a drink at the Imperial Hotel – a gorgeous old property with ironwork balcony
- Explore the collection at the New England Regional Art Museum (Neram)
- Take a drive out to see the Aboriginal rock art at Mount Yarrowyck
- Wander the gorgeous main street of nearby Uralla
- Take a day trip to Dangars Falls (note the s, there is a Dangar Falls in Dorrigo)
Where to eat in Armidale
We only had two meals out as we were self-catering much of the time to stay on budget, however, we treated ourselves to at least one meal in each town to help support the locals.
- Goldfish Bowl Bakery Cafe – We had a delicious breakfast here – a standard menu but very well executed. The bread was particularly good.
- Tattersalls Hotel Armidale – Perfect for a splurge meal, Tattersalls has recently undergone a renovation to return it to its former beauty. The menu features plenty of local produce and the mains are between $25-40. A kid’s menu is also on offer.
Where to stay in Armidale
Tattersalls Hotel Armidale – It’s hard to beat the Tattersalls for a special occasion stay. The art deco-styled design is very well done and the rooms are spacious. Located in the centre of town you can easily explore on foot and give yourself a little break from being behind the wheel.
Armidale Showground – The closest site to town for RVs and caravans, the showground offers necessary facilities with power and water for $25 a night. We chose to stay here based on the location alone, but the manager was really friendly – full of local insight on walks and drives we should try to include. There was plenty of space, and the sunset view over the trees was a pleasant surprise.
After spending two days enjoying Armidale and its surroundings we began making our way to the coast along the Waterfall Way.
Our driving route
We followed the most common and while some people do this in one day we took a little longer allowing us time to walk in a few of the parks. Ideally we would have had an extra day and spent more time at Catherdral Rocks National Park.
Stop 1 – Metz Gorge
Metz Gorge and Lookout were supposed to be our first stop along the route to Coffs Harbour but we had to give it a miss. I didn’t read the part about it being on an unsealed road and the insurance on our vehicle was voided if we went off-road so… next time. If you have your own car I suggest you pull in here.
Stop 2 – Wollomombi Falls – Oxley Wild Rivers National Park
The first stop of the day for us was Wollomombi Falls, 38km east of Armidale. While the fall was not gushing, even after some recent rains, the gorge is breathtaking. If you are lucky enough to be hereafter some serious rain you will be treated to an even more impressive view as water can rush over the escarpment in 3 falls with the right rainfall.
We parked in the car park, about five minutes in from the main road, and took a couple of short walks. The walk to the main lookout is only 75m, and it is wheelchair accessible. There is a huge new viewing platform and a clear view across the gorge and of the falls as shown below.
Oxley Wild Rivers National Park has 1100+ recorded plant species – more than any other NSW National Parks.
From here, there are two more short walks, Checks Lookout and Chandler viewpoint. We took both, Checks Lookout offers a view that is a little further away but is more or less facing the falls. Chandler viewpoint has stunning views over the gorge.
There are two longer walks you might like to try if you have time:
It is not possible to walk to the bottom of the falls here due to very unstable land.
Tip: There is a small, rustic NPWS campground with ten sites just as you head in off the road. It would be a nice place to camp if you prefer not to stay in Armidale. There are BBQs, picnic tables, water, and toilets.
Stop 3 – Point Lookout – New England National Park
Just 35km, further along, is our next stop, Point Lookout. This time no waterfall but a stunning lookout over the escarpment. At 1500m above sea level and with views out to the Pacific Ocean on a clear day this is a sight you will remember. It reminded me of the view into the Grose Valley from Evans Lookout at Blackheath but even more vast.
If you are short of time the Point Lookout Walking Track is an easy 500m (wheelchair accessible) walk with huge rewards. Only 8km off the main road it will not add much time to your journey and it’s more than worth it.
If you have time to extend your visit we suggest you take a couple of these walks:
- Eagles Nest walking track – an easy 2.2km walk
- Weeping Rock walking track – 2km return
- Tea Tree Falls walking track – 4km return
This is one park we are really keen to return to in the car. There is some good accommodation in the park and some parts of the park are more suitable for cars than motorhomes.
After a short stop and just a stroll along the Point Walking Track, we moved on to Ebor Falls.
Stop 4 – Ebor Falls – Guy Fawkes River National Park
We are now about an hour (77km) east of Armidale and 30 minutes (36km) from Cathedral Rock National Park. This is park number three for the day and it’s not even lunchtime yet!
The Guy Fawkes River feeds Ebor Falls, and it is probably the most impressive waterfall along this route. The 100m falls have two drops, usually viewed from three lookouts however Ebor was severely burnt by the bushfires of 2019/20 summer, and the lookout platforms were damaged beyond repair. There is also no access to the lower falls or walking track until the new facilities are installed – there were no dates given on the signage of when that might be.
We had lunch at the picnic area here. If you have not bought your lunch along there is a walking track from the falls car park into the Ebor village where you will find the Ebor Hotel and Motel. The bistro offers lunch and dinner seven days. There are also a couple of cafes.
If you have done a few of the walks at the stops above you might like to call it a day here. The Ebor hotel offers sites for RVs with and without power and also motel accommodation is also available.
Stop 5 – Dorrigo
We decided to push on another 50km to Dorrigo and tick one last waterfall off for the day. You have been driving downhill all day and are now about 730m above sea level, so things are a little warmer.
The area surrounding the town is dairy and cattle country. In the 1840s timber, cutters arrived, and many of the streets are named after types of trees. After World War 1, returning service members were offered land here for farming; many went on to become successful dairy farmers. Today 1040 people called Dorrigo home.
Dorrigo is derived from the Aboriginal word, dondorrigo, meaning “stringy-bark” it is part of the Gumbaynggirr Nation.
The town is compact, and the highlight for us was the old Dorrigo Hotel. Built in 1925 the hotel is in wonderful shape and the veranda is the perfect place to relax with a drink. Sadly the street outside the pub was under repair, so not a great photo. The restaurant is open seven days for lunch or dinner with hearty affordable meals.
While you are here check out Griffiths Lookout. The turn-off is about 1km from town and then a 4km drive to the lookout.
Stop 6 – Dangar Falls
Less than a km down the main street is the main drawcard for visitors. Dangar Falls tumble 30m to a swimming hole that is pretty popular on a warm day.
There is a small viewing platform at the top of the falls where you will also find a picnic area, playground, and toilets. On the day we visited there was a coffee card (good coffee), but this is perhaps just on weekends.
The walk down to the falls is mainly along a well-marked track, with a couple of sets of stairs. The track is a bit washed away towards the end and was quite muddy but otherwise relatively easy. It should not take you more than 10 minutes.
Where: Coramba Road, Dorrigo
Overnight – Dorrigo Mountain
We spent the night at the Dorrigo Mountain Holiday Park on Dorrigo Plateau. We had been heading to the showground but could not get anyone to answer the phone to book. The park has a lovely view over farmland, and we enjoyed a fantastic sunset and a peaceful night’s sleep.
Where: 3991 Waterfall Way, Dorrigo
Alternatively, Dorrigo Showground offers RV parking for $15 per night or $25 with power/water.
If you are organised, you can book a site at the private campground at Dangar Falls where an early morning swim is a highlight.
The main benefit of staying the night in town is that you can arrive at Dorrigo National Park bright and early so you can hit the track before most of the visitors come.
Stop 7 – Dorrigo National Park
The two big highlights of Dorrigo National Park are Crystal Shower Falls and the Rainforest Skywalk. Visiting these two spots will take you about half a day. If you want to do any other walks in the park allow a full day or perhaps two half days with a lazy afternoon to recover. Dorrigo is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage site, and by the time you leave, you will know why.
Walks depart from two main places, the Rainforest Centre and the Never Never Picnic Area. If this is your first visit, we suggest you head to the Rainforest Centre car park. Access most popular walks and the Skyway are here.
Over 150 species of birds are found in Dorrigo National Park – How many can you spot?
Tip: Many of the reviews we read suggested beginning your day at the Rainforest Centre and while this is not bad advice it can confuse the fact that the park is open 24 hours as the Rainforest Centre does not open until 9 am.
There are a few accessible walks in Dorrigo National Park including the Skywalk, Satinbird Stroll, and Lyrebird Link; the park also has a trail rider available enquire and make a booking if you are interested.
Stop 8 – Crystal Shower Falls – The Wonga Walk
Arriving just after 8 am we began with the Wonga Walk, an almost 6.6km circuit that includes two waterfalls, 500-year-old trees and plenty of birdlife. We passed only three other groups in the first 90 minutes, so starting early is recommended as this is one of the most popular walks in the country.
It’s not a challenging walk, although I did feel it in my quads a bit on the walk back out. The walk took us 2.5 hours at a pretty slow pace and lots of stops to take a ridiculous amount of photos.
The Wonga Walk is a loop track, and we decided to walk in a clockwise direction, meaning we covered a large portion of the walk before we reached the highlights. You come to the smaller Tristania Falls first, about 2.9km into the walk, and then it’s another kilometre or so before you will arrive at Crystal Shower Falls. It seems like a long way before the first waterfall, but I think this was the right choice – psychologically – I like to earn my rewards 😉
Walks in Dorrigo National Park
When we were planning our visit, we were a little confused about which walks to prioritise when we read there were ten walks in the park.
Five walks depart from this end of the park:
- The Wonga Walk – 6.6km walk that includes both Crystal Shower Falls and Tristania Falls
- Crystal Shower Falls – 3.5km return – if you want to see the falls but are not keen on the full 6.6km Wonga track than you can reach the falls from the Glade Picnic area – basically do the Satinbird stroll and then join the Wonga walk.
- Lyrebird Link Track – is an easy 400m track (that is included in the Wonga Walk)- it’s a quick stroll from Skywalk if you are short of time but would still like to get down amongst the ancient landscape.
- Satinbird Stroll – a 600 m circuit that departs from The Glade Picnic area, and is a detour off the Wonga Walk. It is a flat path that is suitable for wheelchairs and prams, but there are a few steps to reach it.
- Walk with the Birds – Bird lovers with binoculars were gathered here on our visit, a half a kilometre loop that is open from 5am to 10pm daily allowing plenty of time to spot some of the 150 species that can be found in the park.
In reality, Wonga Walk takes in several of the named trails, so if you do that; it’s not such a difficult decision.
Serious bushwalkers or second-time visitors might want to make their way to the Never Never Picnic ground for a longer and more challenging walk.
- Red Cedar Falls walking track – 8km walk for seasoned hikers (grade 5) the falls are the biggest in the park and this area is pretty wet so be sure to have good hiking shoes and complete an intention to walk form as mobile reception here is almost nonexistent.
Stop 9 – Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and Canopy Café
When we finished our walk, we popped into the cafe for a quick drink then headed out to the Skywalk. This long boardwalk stands 21 metres above the floor or the rainforest and offers views of the coast. If you are looking for gifts, they had an excellent range here.
Ok, time to move on, from here you are less than 30 km from the beautiful town of Bellingen. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for a couple of roadside waterfalls. We came across two, one you could pull over to view more closely, but the other was more blink, and you miss it situation.
Stop 10 – Bellingen
Bellingen is a small town that is surrounded by green rolling pastures and the famously clean Bellinger River. When names like “The Promised Land” and “Never Never River” pop up on the GPS, you know you are likely heading someplace pretty special.
Once a hippy enclave, the Bellingen we discovered on our recent visit felt pretty gentrified. The main street is well preserved and features organic cafes, sustainable clothing and other goods, and it seems at first glance like the locals must be pretty cashed up to shop here.
While you are in town try to check out:
- The Old Butter Factory – Leather, woodwork, homewares and a lovely cafe in the 1920s butter making premises
- Emporium Bellingen – men’s and women’s fashion in the historic Hammond and Wheatley Building.
- Historic buildings of Hyde Street – the whole street is very photogenic.
Where to stay in Bellingen
We had planned to stay a night at the Bellingen Showground to give us a bit more time to explore, but it was closed due to the pandemic.
There are loads of accommodation and the idea of flying to Coffs Harbour less than 30 minutes from here and renting a car for a sneaky week-long stay after the peak season did cross our minds.
Our Waterfall Way map
All our stops, waterfalls, views, and overnight stays along the route.
Where: Armidale to Coffs Harbour
How long: 183km – you could do it in a day, but why would you! There are enough walking and sites to keep you busy for a week, but at the very least, we suggest 2 days with an overnight stop in either Ebor or Dorrigo. Armidale and Bellingen are also worthy of a couple of nights to round out a week if you have time.
Check out our list of must-see National Parks in Australia