Dorrigo Rainforest: Better Than Fern Gully

Crystal Falls Dorrigo

Dorrigo National Park is the first rainforest I ever visited. I expected something out of Fern Gully, with dripping vines, giant flowers, and squawking birds the likes of which I’d never seen anywhere else. Except maybe on a box of Froot Loops.

Dorrigo is more understated than the rainforest of my imagination. The only squawking birds were bush turkeys, who by the way will not hesitate to approach you in an aggressive manner. The few flowers I saw were small, but the vines were thick, climbing up tree trunks and looping wildly across the forest.

I have been to Dorrigo three times over the past decade, and every time I have been stunned by how beautiful it is.

Look at that blue line of the horizon: yep, that’s ocean.

Dorrigo is the cornerstone of the Waterfall Way, a 185km tourist drive connecting the inland city of Armidale to the Pacific Highway just south of Coffs Harbour. The National Park is a World Heritage Centre, representing the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. When Pangaea broke up 220 million years ago, it created two supercontinents known as Gondwana and Laurasia. Gondwana contained what is now Australia, and it was covered with these rainforests.

Now, of course, they are few and far between. From above, it’s difficult to envision what lies within the rainforest. The Skywalk at the Dorrigo National Park gives views all the way to the ocean across the canopy, belying what is underneath.

Inside, it’s a different story.

Dorrigo National Park

Trees like the yellow carabeen grow to 40 meters high, supported by enormous buttresses at the forest floor.  With a base of 12 meters in circumference, forget about wrapping your arms around them.

Tree in Rainforest
Confession: I’m not sure if this is a pic of the yellow carabeen or not but it is magnificent.

From the Rainforest Centre you can follow the Wonga Walk circuit track, which takes you through the vegetation and past two waterfalls. According to the signs it is 5.8km long and takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete. Jared and I did it in 90 minutes, and that included countless photography stops, especially at the waterfalls.

I highly recommend the walk, because those waterfalls are worth it.

Crystal Shower Falls
The spectacular Crystal Shower Falls.

In the summer the falls are perfect for a swim; in the winter, well, they’re still pretty perfect. If swimming’s not your thing you can still duck behind the falls for a different angle.

A new suspension bridge traverses the valley in front of the waterfall, and it’s a great place to take pictures. This bridge is the kind of thing that your $2 entry donation pays for – do the right thing and pay it at the Rainforest Centre!

Bridge Crystal shower falls
Suspension bridges always freak me out but they are undeniably cool.

Tristania Falls isn’t quite as impressive as Crystal Shower, but that could be due to my waterfall fatigue. Of course they’re still ridiculously good looking.

Dorrigo waterfall
Still pretty sweet.

Dorrigo National Park is only one stop on the Waterfall Way; if you travel a couple of kilometres past the park into the town of Dorrigo, you’ll come to Dangar Falls. I believe the pronunciation is Dan-gar with a hard ‘g’ but I keep wanting to call it ‘Danger Falls.’

Dorrigo Waterfall Way
Dangar Falls AKA Danger Falls because if you jumped over the edge it’d be dangerous hehe.

We didn’t go any further along, much to the disappointment of the woman at the visitor’s center, who strongly encouraged us to go to Ebor Falls; instead, we turned back the way we came, stopping at Bellingen for lunch. For one day, it was enough, but I’ll always wonder what those other waterfalls look like in person.

In my head they still look a little bit like Fern Gully.

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