In all our drives up and down the east coast of Australia, we can’t believe that we’ve never taken the breathtakingly gorgeous Waterfall Way before. The route is a slow, winding road from Coffs Harbour to Armidale on the New England Tablelands.

Our previous lifestyle of rushing is probably the key reason we didn’t take this road. We wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the scenery at a previous time, either. In our previous mindset, the slow pace of the journey would have strangled us first!

The road actually directly passes several beautiful waterfalls — it’s difficult to gape at them out the window so thoughtful road-construction teams have built rest-stops where you can admire the views of water coming down the cliffs, under the road and down the hill to the valley.

Rainforest Centre

Our first destination was the Rainforest Centre at Dorrigo National Park. This newish facility features a “skywalk” that takes you out over the top of the trees, bitumen circular paths, boardwalks and spectacular rainforest flora.

The buildings featured several different art exhibitions as well as permanent displays. I was sorry that the exhibition by the Aboriginal artist Nudge Blacklock wasn’t starting until next month — Nudge picked me up while I was hitchhiking around Bellingen a couple days ago, and now that I’ve met the man, I would have liked to have seen his artwork.

Brioni with a mosaic, January 2011
The mosaics mounted on the wall of the centre invited us to touch them.

Mosaic at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, January 2011
The amount of detail in the mosaics is amazing.

Watching pademelons, January 2011
We liked seeing the pademelons munching on the lawn of the picnic area.

They look a bit like wallabies or kangaroos, but pademelons are defined as a different class of marsupial. These fascinating creatures dwell in the thick rainforest and thump their feet to warn each other of danger.

Pademelons at Dorrigo, January 2011
These creatures were quite timid and didn't let us approach them.

A circuit track leading from the Rainforest Centre highlighted the best parts of the Dorrigo National Park, and we wandered leisurely down the track to see some of the attractions without actually planning on completing the whole thing.

David on a boardwalk, January 2011
The Lyrebird Link Track starts with a spectacular descent into the rainforest on a boardwalk.

Walk with the Birds boardwalk, January 2011
About one kilometre down the track, this elevated boardwalk allowed us to see the rainforest floor and the mid-level plant life that thrives in this moist environment.

Wonga Walking track, January 2011
The 7km circuit of tracks from the Rainforest Centre were well-formed and sealed with bitumen.

Water falling over rocks, January 2011
We passed some little waterfalls that trickled over the track.

We were lured by the prospect of two separate waterfalls, so we continued down the track.

Crystal Showers Falls, January 2011
A suspension bridge in front of Crystal Showers Falls provides great views (although now I'm thinking that I forgot to turn around from facing the falls and enjoy the rainforest on the other side!).

Crystal Showers Falls, January 2011
So lovely.

Crystal Showers Falls, January 2011
Picture-perfect. I especially liked this Dr. Seuss tree in the foreground.

Crystal Showers Falls, January 2011
You can walk behind the falls and huddle in a dripping cave as the waterfall blows mist over you.

David swimming at Crystal Showers Falls, January 2011
I'm never surprised when David says he wants to test the water.

Inspired by the Crystal Showers Falls, we continued around the circuit, passing the half-way mark and becoming committed on finishing the whole track.

Tristania Falls, January 2011
Further along the track, Tristania Falls was also gorgeous.

It was dark when we finally arrived back at the truck. We weren’t prepared for such a long walk, and we should have taken torches to light the path in the gloom of dusk. However, I was thankful for such well-formed paths — it is impossible to get lost!

I was inspired by the view from the Skywalk and planned to get up early in the morning to watch the sun rise over the ocean. In the morning, I convinced David to get up with me, and we were rewarded with spectacular views.

Sunrise from Dorrigo Plateau, looking towards the ocean, January 2011
The morning dawned with rich colours in a very clear sky — the horizon line is the ocean 36 km away.

David at sunrise on the Dorrigo Plateau, January 2011
It was chilly, so we wrapped ourselves in our doona as we watched the colours in the sky change to a placid blue.

Skywalk at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, January 2011
The Skywalk platform stretches above the rainforest canopy.

Parked at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, January 2011
It was easy to spend a night in the carpark — and so quiet!

Brioni playing with fire, January 2011
The girls loved the opportunity to play with fire as they waited for the breakfast to be cooked.

Never Never Picnic Area

After a leisurely breakfast which David cooked — using all the cost-free ingredients given to us by the uni students, we drove to the Never Never Picnic Area ten kilometres away. Based on its name, this part of the Dorrigo Plateau must contain the headwaters for the Never Never Creek that we camped by and played in.

After consulting a map, we headed off down the 5.5 km Rosewood Creek circuit to see a couple more waterfalls. The girls usually take a while to get used to a long trek, but we were rewarded very early on by a distraction in the form of some local wildlife.

Blue-flecked forest skink (Sphenomorphus murrayi), Dorrigo, January 2011
Very soon after we started our long trek, we walked over this lizard basking in a patch of sunlight. (I do believe this is a blue-flecked forest skink — does anyone care to argue with me?)

Everyone perked up as we continued on our track. The path was not well-formed, and we had to watch our step, but the girls found things to amuse themselves along the way.

Aisha, 5yo, January 2011
Aisha twisted a leaf into a circle and declared it to be her telescope so she could see where we were going.

Calista, 2yo, January 2011
Calista's favourite activity was to find a special stick and carry it as long as she could.

Brioni, 4yo, January 2011
Brioni found a leaf from a bird's nest fern and used it as an ever-changing musical instrument for a long part of the walk.

Holding a skink in Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
We came across several more skinks sunning themselves on the path, and they were easy to pick up and hold.

Brioni swinging on a vine in Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
This vine was suspended across the path, and the girls enjoyed a little swing.

The track took us through several layers of rainforest — each with slightly different flora. It was all gorgeous — except for the leeches. However, despite my histrionic introduction to leeches late last year, we were able to teach the girls that they’re actually harmless and can be easily scraped off or flicked away. By the end of the walk, Aisha and Brioni were competent leech-removers.

Rainforest tree in the Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
I love the way the vines wrap themselves around the trees, and moss coats everything in a vivid shade of green.

Climbing down the cliff in the Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
We had to climb down a very steep embankment to reach Rosewood Creek.

Picnicking in the Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
We sat down for a well-deserved snack on the banks of the creek. Later, we all enjoyed a splash in the water to cool down.

Walking in the Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
Although parts of the track were falling down the side of the escarpment, most large obstacles were cleared enough for safe passage.

Crossing a creek in Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
At some creek crossings, I ended up carrying both Calista and Delaney. The older two girls walked across the stones in the water with a bit of help.

Looking down to Rosewood Creek, Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
For most of the walk, we were up clinging to the middle line of the cliff, with rainforest above and below us.

When we reached Coachwood Falls, we discovered that we were standing at the top of the cascade and couldn’t admire the view.

David and Calista, looking at Coachwood Falls in Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
David and the kids peered over the edge of the rock at Coachwood Falls. My heart would jump to my throat at the sight of them, and soon I pulled everyone back from the edge so I could breathe normally again.

Coachwood Falls, Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
The water of Rosewoood Creek at Coachwood Falls was lovely and clear, but we didn't swim because the current was so strong.

Further down the track, a deviation may have provided a destination from which we could properly admire the waterfall, but we decided to keep going for Red Cedar Falls, hoping that it would be impressive. It was described as the highest waterfall in the park, and we had to tackle a steep, slippery descent (grade: hard) with the girls, but we managed okay.

Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
When we paused to catch our breath, we admired the multiple layers of ferns climbing up the mature trees.

Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
Many of the large trees in Dorrigo National Park were selectively cut down by loggers early in the last century, but some giants still stand tall and proud.

Red Cedar Falls, Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
Our grand destination — Red Cedar Falls — was a huge, thundering cascade.

Waking in Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
The steep descent and ascent to and from Red Cedar Falls was challenging for us all and beautiful.

Red Cedar Falls, Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
Although we sat well away from the waterfall, we were sprayed by its mist.

It was hard to relax at Red Cedar Falls. There wasn’t anywhere comfortable to sit, and the waterfall drowned out most conversation as well as coating us all with water. David managed to reach the pool at the bottom of the falls and I tried to get close for some photos, but the girls were overwhelmed by the cascade and wanted to get away pretty quickly.

On our walk back to the truck, I felt rewarded by a brief sighting of a superb lyrebird crossing the track ahead of us. This spectacularly-plumed bird is an outstanding mimic, able to copy everything from a chainsaw noise to other animal cries.

This long walk was probably about seven kilometres (with the deviation to Red Cedar Falls) and took our family seven hours. Parts of it were quite difficult, but all three older girls walked the entire way — only Delaney hitched a ride. I’m so proud of our daughters!

Parked at the Never Never Picnic Area, Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
We spent the night in the truck near the main shelter in the Never Never Picnic Area.

There was one other car in the carpark with us overnight, and in the morning a stranger walked into camp. He had spent the night camping at one of the other waterfalls on a different track to the one we took — it was his special time-out away from work and family commitments. What an inspiring way to spend a weekend!

Playing with fire in Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
Again, David made a fire in the fireplace, and the girls loved finding sticks to light and blow out.

Leech on my foot, Dorrigo National Park, January 2011
After picking leeches off ourselves for days, I decided to let this fellow stay on me until he was good and ready to drop off by himself. In the end, he was as thick as my finger when he came up for air, and because we were driving, I threw him out the truck door to his almost-certain death.

Dangar Falls

After packing the truck, we headed for Dorrigo and the Dangar Falls on the northern side of the town. Dorrigo was originally formed as a logging town, and we saw evidence of the selective tree cutting during our walks in the national park.

It only takes this much wood to build a house
In one of Dorrigo's parks, a large log indicates how much wood was necessary to build an average cottage. It doesn't look like much, does it?

With just 20.8 cubic metres of wood, someone could build their family a home. Isn’t that outstanding?

How much wood and other raw materials does it take to build a house in our society today? And how much do we really need? As I looked from the log to the truck and trailer that we’ve been comfortably living in, I think about our sprawling house back in Brisbane and wonder again why we have it.

Dangar Falls, Dorrigo, January 2011
At the well-situated look-out above Dangar Falls, we saw a brilliant rainbow.

A little path led away from the look-out and alongside the escarpment, giving us hope that we could go swimming down the bottom. We changed into swimmers and took our boogie boards for our exploratory trek.

Boardwalk towards Dangar Falls, January 2011
Part of the walkway is a very civilised boardwalk. Other sections of the track are much more treacherous — slippery or fallen down the steep bank.

Swimming at the base of Dangar Falls, January 2011
David took the girls for a swim in the pool at the bottom of the cascade.

Swimming at the base of Dangar Falls, January 2011
When David was alone, he tried to get close to the waterfall, but the force of the water made it difficult.

Swimming at the base of Dangar Falls, January 2011
David and the three girls rode the creek away from the waterfall to a safe landing spot on the bank further downstream. Calista was wearing a life jacket and clung to David during the swim.

Dangar Falls was a beautiful stop with a lovely park up at the top where we enjoyed lunch and meeting other travellers. I’m so glad we got here — these waterfalls have exceeded my expectations!