Explore the Waterfall Way scenic drive, considered one of New South Wales and indeed Australias most beautiful drives. Running east to west from the Pacific Highway to the New England Highway at Armidale, along the drive there are seven national parks, three of which are listed as World Heritage areas.
The drive delivers an opportunity to enjoy scenic countryside, national parks, magnificent waterfalls & natural wonders, dotted with bucolic villages – and the odd Aussie-character. Don’t forget to have a camera at the ready, there are photo opportunities galore along the whole route.
Our local correspondent and Scotts Head resident Kathleen Crawley shares her in-depth knowledge of the area and her best tips and recommendations.
Where is the Waterfall Way?
You can find the eastern start of the Waterfall Way scenic drive at Raleigh, 15 minutes south of Coffs Harbour with the turnoff to Raleigh signed along the Pacific Highway.
The drive from end-to-end can easily be done in a few of hours or over a few days. It purely depends on what you choose to do along the road. If you are pressed for time you could fly into Coffs Harbour, hire a car and fly out of Armidale, or vice-versa.
Ideally the drive is done over 3 or 4 days.
Further reading: Where to stay in Coffs Harbour
When to visit the Waterfall Way
Autumn is a particularly beautiful time of year to travel this route, with the colours of the autumnal trees providing a stunning backdrop and this is our preferred time of year to visit.
In Summer the temperatures can be very high although refreshing dips in some of the waterfalls can help. That said there is generally low rainfall at this time so the falls may have low flows.
Spring is very pretty with flowers and trees in bloom and would be our 2nd favourite time of year to visit this part of Australia.
Things to do in Bellingen
There is so much to see and do in Bellingen, locally known as ‘Bello’; shop, dine, or just wander around and take in the beautiful heritage buildings alongside the Bellinger River.
Perhaps take a tour around the Raleigh Winery before you get started? Then it’s only a 15 minute drive on the Waterfall Way (B78) to Bellingen.
Things to do in Bellingen
Trawl along Church Street for some fantastic cafes, or drop into the classic Federal Hotel for a meal and a cool drink.
Our insider tips that deserve a special mention :
- The Bello Shire is well known for its numerous cultural, music and art festivals throughout the year.
- The heritage-listed Hammond & Wheatley Emporium is a great shopping or browsing experience.
- There are monthly markets held on the 3rd Saturday of every month which really are diverse in their food and wares, and a must-do if it fits your timetable.
- a visit to Nigel at Sweet Bellingen for a little sugar-fix on hand-made chocolates, local and imported sweets, or a Swiss hot chocolate in winter.
- or stop at one of the delicious bakeries, like The Bellingen Swiss Patisserie on Church Street, or the artisan Hearthfire bakery, which is tucked away in the alley alongside the pub.
After Bellingen, you’ll pass the Thora General Store and begin the ascent up Waterfall Way where you discover how it got its name (especially after some rain), with the Sherrard and Newell cascades along the roadside.
As you can imagine there are some very charming places to stay in and around Bellingen.
Bellingen Belfry Guesthouse is a beautiful heritage building with sweeping views of the countryside and the Dorrigo ranges. Lilypad Luxury Cabins are gorgeous self-contained cabins as are Afterglow cottages just out of town.
For couples check out The Barn right in town. Rustic, quirky and different!
The Barn, Bellingen. Image @Airbnb
FOOD AT 5 CHURCH STREET CAFE
If you really are chasing waterfalls, go through Dorrigo’s town centre, outside town to Dangar Falls. Take in the beauty or wander down the path and swim in the fresh pool of crystal clear water under the falls.
You can also find out the history of the area on the thoughtfully placed signs by the viewing platform. The whole of this route is rich in history.
The Dorrigo Rainforest Centre can provide information about what to do in the Dorrigo National Park.
If you’re still in the mood for chasing those waterfalls, you can wander through the rainforest to the Crystal Shower Falls in about 1-2 hours, or if you’re after something more adventurous take on the 8km return walk to Red Cedar Falls, accessible from the Never Never Picnic Area. The Dorrigo National Park is part of the Gondwana Rainforests.
CRYSTAL FALLS, DORRIGO
Back to Dorrigo, one of those ‘quaint little towns’ that exudes its own charm. It was settled in around the 1860’s and still has historic landmarks in the main street. The bakery in Dorrigo is a hot tip for a country-style hot pie or bakery treat, too.
A little further along Waterfall Way, just outside Dorrigo is the site for a planned railway museum (not yet open to the public) where you’ll see a rather large collection of historic steam engines and carriages among the bovines.
Next along our road trip is the tiny village of Ebor – 88km from Armidale – settled in the latter-1800’s with its post office opening in 1868 – in the 2016 census has a population tipping 166. Ebor has a motel, café and petrol station and not too much more. It is rich in its primary production of Wagyu beef, black truffles and freshwater trout.
And, Ebor is the heart of Waterfall Way.
TROUT STREAM, EBOR
Think ahead and pack a picnic to have by one of Ebor’s picturesque trout streams, and feed or catch a trout (in season, stocked by the local hatchery) – or just relax by the babbling stream and breathe!
Ebor is home to the twin Ebor Falls in Guy Fawkes River National Park. They alone are worth the drive, as one of Mother Nature’s special gifts – coming out of a volcano eruption some 60-30 million years ago.
All through these National Parks are amazing rock formations, waterfalls and natural wonders, formed when lava shaped the landscape so long ago.
Onward to Wollomombi Gorge in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park – where standing on the lookout looking over the Gorge and its waterfalls gives a clear indication of what it feels like to be an ANT! You need to go and explore this wonderful part of Australia/NSW for yourself as words cannot really describe the feeling of experiencing the natural wonders.
An entire area around Ebor/Wollomombi, some 100,000 hectares, was severely affected in the 2019 bushfires, and while there may still be some evidence of the fires, nature has taken her hold very quickly to re-generate the rainforests and bushland.
The entire drive still contains lush forests, expanses of green meadows, amazing rock formations and the odd cow or 2, or 3 or 10,000, but it truly is worth setting aside a day or more to go out and experience this area for yourself.
Next on the route, Armidale.
Things to do in Armidale
History and Architecture buffs love Armidale for its leafy streets lined with Heritage and Federation buildings, many painstakingly restored to their former glory. Cathedrals, Banks and country pubs can all be found as well as the New England Regional Art Museum and the newly opened Tattersalls Hotel.
For nature buffs, there are four national parks to explore, all part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. This includes Wollomombi Falls.
Other outdoor activities include doing the Lyrebird and Eagles Nest Walking Tracks and exploring Mother of Ducks Lagoon Nature Reserve which is a great spot for bird-watching.
Where to stay in Armidale
Being the end of the Waterfall Way ( or the beginning depending on which way you go), chances are you may want to spend a few days in the area. It is definitely worthwhile!
For our money, it is hard to pass up the opportunity to stay in the newly renovated and reopened Tattersalls Hotel, a stunning example of Art Deco design and home to a great restaurant as well.
For families and groups needing a bit more space check out Yellow Door, a beautiful house in the middle of town that can sleep up to 7 guests in sublime comfort.
ARMIDALE CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL
We hope you enjoy exploring the Waterfall Way. It’s a very beautiful part of Australia and one that offers a lot of bangs for the bucks.
Next time be sure to head to Queensland for even more waterfalls and stunning natural wonders!