Dorrigo and Bellingen: Rainforests and Kayaks

Saturday mornings are for sport. Tennis or karate. But it’s school holidays, so regular lessons are off, which means more time for other things. Like exercise.

That really wasn’t the point, but it is good to something physical while on holidays.

The first exercise was one of mind and coordination. Driving along the Waterfall Way begins in lovely rural vistas. Green fields of dairy cattle, farm houses with colourful gardens in spring bloom. Past Bellingen, where we will return later, it winds up into the mountains of the escarpment. Three of the passes are single lane only, cars waiting for others to finish. 

In my relatively short independent driving career I seem to have done rather a lot of these tightly winding paths across the Great Diving Range. I’m sure the views were spectacular, but I was absolutely focused on the road ahead.

We turned off into the Dorrigo National Park Rainforest Centre, which features a small shop with local craft items and informative displays about the flora and fauna of the rainforest, along with a cafe. 

The short Skywalk above the rainforest canopy ends with spectacular views across the escarpment and down to the Pacific. Then we started along the Wonga walk, a paved 6.2 kilometre path down through the subtropical rainforest and past two waterfalls.

I am transfixed by the sights, sounds and smells of the rainforest. So many bird calls, but I rarely spot any, but for the big black brush turkeys scraping through the leaf litter. 

The range of plant life is amazing. So many different species of trees, palms, vines and epiphytes in a rainforest that dates back to Gondwana times. All the time looking up towards the glowing green sunlight as it filters through the canopy and back down towards my feet, so as not to trip on a tangled root or brush against the poisoned spikes of a stinging tree.

The different textures of the tree bark, the vines wrapping around in tangled patterns, buttresses like wooden sails, the broad leaves above perforated so frequently they a like a filigreed art pattern. 

At the base of the first waterfall, the Crystal Shower, a rainbow. In the alcove behind it, a large python slithers slowly out of the wall.

Walking further down into the valley the eucalypts begin to dominate the woodlands. The Tristiana Falls appear cascading down the jumbled basalt stones, many displaying the spaces left by bubbles of gas trapped as they quickly cooled.

The path heads upwards again, back into the rainforest. Patches of lights where a tree has fallen, quickly snapped up by young growth.

Although the guide says it is a walk of two and a half hours I have taken the time to ponder the complexity of the rainforest and it takes me about three. I let many others, including the other two, pass so that I could enjoy the silence away from their constant chatter.

We return to the car, our legs tired, and continue on towards Dorrigo township. I looks historic, but quiet, and we turn around back to Bellingen. I’m glad I am following other drivers, who must make the decision for me whether to give way at the single lane passes and who ensure I am not responsible for the slow descent.

Bellingen is a bustling township that looks to have attracted the trendy set to its lovely historic streets. We check out the cafes looking for lunch. The other two want a Bello Burger, but the thought of a burger turns me off and I go elsewhere for a deconstructed kangaroo pie with native ingredients. I can’t say I loved it, but it was different and hopefully healthier.

One thing I can say is that they certainly take their COVID precautions seriously in this area, which is good to see.

We continue on a few kilometres to Fernmount and Bellingen Canoe Adventures. B has been pushing kayaking as the major activity of the holiday. I am more ambivalent, but the grounds of the hire business, surrounding Fernmount’s old church, are absolutely gorgeous and the owners, including playful Poppy the dog, are very friendly.

We hire a two person and single kayak for an hour’s paddle into the Bellinger River. Initially it’s B and Alex in the twin kayak, but they can’t work out how to paddle, so I swap with Alex. He eventually gets the hang of it, but I have to do all the work in our boat. Amazing how it comes back to you.

The river scenery is bucolic, but it has taken them so long to paddle we don’t get far. Still, it’s fantastic fun and I certainly get the upper body workout I wasn’t looking for to go with the legs.

We return to Coffs Harbour and go to a Woolies supermarket for some salads and chicken to cater our own dinner, too tired to do anything else. That was enough exercise for one day.