Before this trip, Northern NSW was a bit of a mystery to me – despite its proximity to Brisbane, I had no idea what lay across the border except for Byron Bay, Sydney and some nice beaches.
I really knew nothing about Tenterfield, where Australia’s federation movement was born. Or Armidale, Australia’s highest city. Most shockingly, I’d never heard of Waterfall Way, the most beautiful drive in New South Wales and the third-most beautiful drive in Australia.
Below are the most important parts of our itinerary, to help you plan your own trip to Waterfall Way. Click on any of the hyperlinks to find out more about the regions or to read my more detailed blog posts abouts specific places and activities.
Duration: 4 days, 3 nights
Pace: Lots of driving. Not too much on Day 2 & 3, but lots on Day 4.
Region: Australia: States of Queensland and New South Wales
Towns & Highlights: Warwick, Stanthorpe – wineries, distilleries & cideries and fromageries, Tenterfield, Armidale, Dorrigo, Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, Dorrigo National Park including the Skywalk, Yamba, Grafton, four waterfalls.
Day 1: Brisbane to Tenterfield via Warwick & the Granite Belt
Our first stop was just off the Cunningham Highway. A 1km rainforest trail leads you to a pretty lookout through Cunningham’s Gap and gives you a chance to stretch your legs.
Known as the town of roses & rodeos, Warwick is one of the biggest towns in Southern Queensland Country. Pretty main street, self guided heritage trail walk option.
The Granite Belt
Stanthorpe & Thulimbah are full of food producers and the Strange Bird Alternative Wine Trail. The reigon is known for uncommon wine varieties, such as tempranillo, gewurtztraminer, barbera, nebbiolo and more. We visited Boireann Wines, Castle Glen Distillery, Sutton’s Cider & Juice Factory and Granite Belt Dairy. We also clambered around the boulders and caves at Donnelly’s Castle, the former hideout of the bushranger Thunderbolt. Full post on the Granite Belt coming soon!
Lunch: Jersey Girls Café at Granite Belt Dairy – delicious lunch in a sweet country-style café.
We crossed the border into New South Wales at dusk and arrived in Tenterfield just after dark. Tenterfield is a historic, well-preserved town and was one of my favourites on the trip. It was in Tenterfield that Sir Henry Parkes gave his rousing speech that kickstarted the movement towards Australia’s federation in 1901.
Dinner: Tenterfield Gourmet Pizza – delivers, highly recommend, gluten free pizza was incredible.
Accommodation: Tenterfield Golfer’s Inn – Comfortable and cozy, spacious modern bathrooms and living area. Highly recommend.
Day 2: Tenterifield to Dorrigo via Armidale
We left Tenterfield for a long drive through the rolling hills of the “New England” countryside. We drove through Glen Innes, but didn’t stop till lunch time in Armidale.
Armidale is the highest town in Australia, at an elevation of 980 metres (3215 feet). We didn’t spend long here, as we were keen to reach Dorrigo before dark.
Lunch: St Kilda pub. Great value – you can get a large meal, such as chicken schnitzel or fish and chips for $7.
The first of our waterfall spottings along Waterfall Way, Wollomombi Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in Australia. We were there when the water wasn’t running with too much force and they are set in a truly enormous gorge, so they look quite small from the lookout, due to the enormity of their surroundings.
Ebor Falls is a beautiful cascading waterfall, nearly 40km from Wollomombi. There’s a great viewing platform right beside the carpark, so it’s accessible to everyone.
Dorrigo – Mt Christopherson
We didn’t see the actual town of Dorrigo until the next day, because it was getting dark when we reached Mt Christopherson, where we were staying. The closer we got to Dorrigo & Mt C, the more beautiful our surroundings became.
Accommodation: Mt Christopherson Retreat is a fantastic lodge that sleeps up to 12 people or 5 groups. It’s often used for yoga retreats and has a raised lawn behind the house with plenty of room for outdoor activities. I wish we could have stayed for longer!
I had a recently renovated room with my own verandah, adjacent to the kitchen and main living area. Every evening I’d sit on the verandah and enjoy a beautiful sunset, the sound of the local birds (and the occasional cow, which I could only hear, but not see) and a glass of wine.
Day 3: Dorrigo & Bellingen
Dorrigo is exactly what I think of when I picture a rural Australian town. Wide, dusty roads, a hotel pub and a handful of little shops. My favourite of these was Red Dirt Distillery, which makes one of the only Australian potato vodkas and uses a special local potato variety. I bought their nocino (hazelnut) liqueur and their mandarin liqueuer.
These falls are part of World Heritage Listed Dorrigo National Park and have a great (but tiny) viewing platform right beside the carpark.
The secret is certainly out about chilled out Bellingen, but it’s still a very pretty and charming little town, if not a little crowded. Full post coming soon.
Lunch: 5 Church Street Café.
Crystal Showers Falls
A 2.5km (return) track takes you to Crystal Showers Falls, set in the middle of the rainforest. You can walk along a suspension bridge, so that you’re looking straight across into the falls and take another little track to go behind the waterfalls. Beautiful! Be careful, the track behind the falls is a little slippery.
Day 4: Dorrigo to Brisbane via Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Yamba & Byron Bay
Prepare yourself for a biiiiig day of driving.
The Dorrigo Skywalk was what I was most looking forward to one the trip. It’s at the same park as Crystal Showers Falls, but on the day my camera had run out of battery! My family very kindly waited till the last day to do the Skywalk, so I could take some photos.
The Skywalk is a wooden walkway with a great lookout on the end over Dorrigo National Park. It’s only around 30 metres long, so it’s really accessible for everyone.
We didn’t really know what we wanted to do in Coffs Harbour, as we weren’t really that interested in seeing The Big Banana or any of those tourist attractions. We pulled up by the water and admired the beach before setting off on the rest of our day.
The beach was pretty, but nothing remarkable. Unless there is something you specifically want to see in Coffs Harbour, I’d skip it – anything to reduce the driving time today is worthwhile.
Grafton looks beautiful in mid-late October during jacaranda season, when the main street is flanked by the lilac blossomed trees. Unfortunately, we were a bit early for the jacaranda blossoms.
There are a few historic buildings in Grafton, but nothing that we thought was worth detouring for. We asked the guy at the petrol station what we should see and he said “Absolutely nothing.” He might not have a lot of civic pride, but I appreciated his honesty considering what a long day of driving we had ahead.
Yamba is a popular beach town and we’d all wanted to check it out for quite a while. We couldn’t see much of the beach, but didn’t have a lot of time to anyway. We ate at the fish and chip shop in the main set of shops before we packed up again and got back on the road.
We arrived in Byron just before sunset. We parked up at Cape Byron near the lighthouse ($7) and stretched our legs walking along the track to the eastern-most point of Australia. Normally, you can see a goat or two hobbling along the sheer cliffs and the occasional dolphin in the water below.
I’ve been to Byron Bay lots of times, but I’ve never seen a sunset from Cape Byron. It’s one of the few places on the east coast of Australia that you can see the sun set over the water, because of the tiny bay behind the lighthouse. It was a really beautiful way to end a long day full of highways and a trip full of natural beauty.
From Byron, it was almost 2 hours to get home. You could stop in at the Gold Coast on the way home too, but as we’ve all spent a lot of time there and were exhausted, we made a beeline for Brisbane.