Great Rides: Waterfall Way, NSW

If Bellingen isn’t the prettiest and most welcoming town on the NSW North Coast, I’m not sure what is.

Inside one of BellingenÕs classic shops.

These days it seems the coastal towns from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour are all too busy and crowded, while the popular and better-known places like Byron Bay and Nimbin have suffered from too much publicity. But don’t worry gentle reader, while promoting Bellingen in Australian Road Rider might result in an influx of motorcycle-mounted tourers, it won’t manifestly change the place. From the shops which seem to have been lifted from a different century to cafes selling country-made eclectic foods to the alfresco dining and quiet streets, Bellingen is the sort of place I visit and wonder if I could move there… and being at the base of the Dorrigo Mountains makes my desire to re-locate even stronger.

Dangar Falls.

The tourist promotions of the area list the Waterfall Way, but they don’t mention how you should make sure your tyres are in good nick before visiting, because they might just cop a flogging up and down what’s a relatively short piece (30-odd kilometres) of twisty, scenic and fun bitumen. It’ll take longer than the usual time to traverse 30km though, for while the speed limit is generally lower than I’d like (80km/h, mostly), it’s so tight in places you’d be hard-pressed to ride much faster and leave any room for error.

The Urunga Wetlands at the base of Waterfall Way is peaceful and beautiful.
A bigger problem is slow-moving traffic and opportunities to overtake. It’s not really a scratcher’s road… well it is, but it’s pretty unforgiving, with steep edges, rock walls and blind corners, so pay it the respect it deserves. Decades ago I rode these roads regularly and Waterfall Way was a disaster — rough as guts, usually in need of major repairs… but maybe the money flowing from the floods and fires over relatively recent times has allowed the roadworks to happen and now, apart from a couple of sections that can include one-way traffic light-controlled sections, it’s good… at least by NSW’s third-world-road standards. URUNGA Waterfall Way actually starts down near the coast, at Urunga. The ignored neighbour of Coffs Harbour, Urunga is worth visiting if you’d like to get close to nature; the Urunga Wetlands are worth the stroll along formed paths and raised walkways to take in some flora and fauna. From there it’s back on the road, on up to Bellingen… DORRIGO The only thing wrong with Dorrigo is that Bellingen is so much cuter. Dorrigo is actually a lovely little town itself, with wide roads, classic architecture and Dangar Falls, a beautiful spot on the edge of town. Dining options are relatively limited in Dorrigo — especially compared to Bellingen — but we discovered The Cheeky Sparrow Cafe serves food all day… and our late lunch was pretty good. Just 2km north of Dorrigo, Dangar Falls

is easy to access with a viewing platform right next to the carpark, but there’s a walking trail which takes you to the water’s edge and the swimming hole. A summer’s ride starting at the coast could easily be broken with a cooling swim in the shadow of the waterfall, although Dorrigo is likely to be a few degrees cooler than the coast anyway. The Dorrigo Rainforest Centre is worth a look; the Skywalk offers incredible views of the area from its raised viewing platform, which is 21m high and 70m long. The Skywalk offers not just scenic views, but the chance to get up and personal with a variety of the local birds (the feathered variety) and there’s a cafe there, too. HEADING NORTH If you’re heading north after Dorrigo, there’s the adventure route — with some dirt along the way — via Ulong and Glenreagh. If you’ve got an adventure bike, it’s the more interesting route and only about 15 minutes longer in travel time than the fully sealed Armidale-Grafton Road, which is still a nice ride and far more interesting than the coastal highway.


Take the scenic route from Coffs Harbour to Walcha and it’s a 250-odd-kilometre journey through numerous national parks, waterfalls (maybe that’s how the road got its name…), rainforests, woodlands and more. It’s a great scenic ride which is enjoyable on just about any bike, although you’re in the countryside and there’s quite a lot of 100km/h speed limit areas, so tiddlers might not be that much fun. Allow all day for the run if you’re
playing tourist and plan to stop for photos, a leisurely lunch, some time for a hike to the bottom of Dangar Falls… if you just want to ride the loop of Bellingen–Dorrigo–Armidale–Wauchope–Bellingen, it’s a big day but achievable. Ebor Falls is a large waterfall not far off the bitumen and well worth a look. The famous Oxley Highway runs from Walcha to Wauchope and is one of Australia’s best riding roads. Be sensible and enjoy the corners and scenery… also be aware of your fuel consumption as it can skyrocket if you start pushing!