Ancient ferns bow gently across the trail, and mossy tendrils hang from ancient trees. Your nostrils fill with the fragrant mixture of damp earth, decaying vegetation, and a cocktail of subtle scents of the diverse rainforest vegetation. A chorus of unseen songbirds serenade you as you walk, accented by the sound of the forest canopy rustling in the breeze as if whispering secrets of a time when dinosaurs roamed Gondwanaland.

Hiking through Dorrigo National Park is like visiting a living museum – or a living gallery with nature’s artistry on display.

A relic of ancient times, preserved and protected by the Gumbaynggirr people for thousands of years, Dorrigo National Park is now part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, which will hopefully protect this special place for many years to come.

A strangler fig, surrounded by rainforest ferns and fog

Image credit: Bruce Paton (Creative Commons)

Dangar Falls, Crystal Shower Falls & Wonga Walk (Dorrigo National Park, NSW)

No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced

– Sir David Attenborough

Thanks to early conservationists, the area around Sherrard and Newell Falls was declared protected in 1901, but it took another 66 years for Dorrigo National Park to be declared. It’s thanks to those who’ve helped protect this place that we can still immerse ourselves in its history and connect with those echoes of a time long past.

Dorrigo National Park’s incredible waterfalls and hiking trails – Dangar Falls, Crystal Shower Falls and the Wonga Walk are an excellent way to dip the toes in – are an invitation to experience something extraordinary, to wander among giants, and to leave with not just memories but a richer understanding and appreciation for this country’s rich human and natural history.

You couldn’t possibly visit these unique rainforests and not hear the call to help protect them.

As seen on…

Great Australian Walks
with Julia Zemiro

On Episode 2 of Great Australian Walks, Julia visits Bellingen and Dangar Falls and walks the Wonga Walk at Dorigo National Park. I’ll offer some route options below, but I can’t offer you the same fascinating walking companions Julia meets on her walks. To get to know them, you’ll have to watch the show.

Julia zemiro walking with a ranger along the Wonga Walk (from the SBS series, Great Australian Walks)

Dangar Falls Walk (Dorrigo)

Dangar Falls (near Dorrigo, NSW) - a waterfall flowing over a basalt platform into a large pool, surrounded by rainforest

Tumbling 30 metres from a basalt platform into a crystal-clear pool, its backdrop a lush patchwork of diverse sub-tropical vegetation and moss-carpeted basalt, Dangar Falls is the quintessential rainforest waterfall. You won’t be surrounded by Dorrigo National Park’s lush vegetation on the Dangar Falls Walk, but you’ll forget where you are after a few minutes on the trail.

Although the hardcore hikers among you may dismiss Dangar Falls – “not much of a walk, though, is it?” – this is a quick stop that you’ll be glad you delayed your hike for. Or, if you’re stopping off after your hike, you’ll appreciate the opportunity to cool off with a swim in the Bielsdown River at the base of the falls.

Since it’s located only 2 kilometres from Dorrigo and part of the famous Waterfall Way, Dangar Falls is a popular spot for swimming, but don’t let that deter you. The pool at the base of the falls is big enough for everyone. You can even swim behind the falls but be careful – the force of the drop can be fierce, especially after rain.

A viewing platform near the carpark offers a nice view of the picture-perfect falls, especially for those less mobile, but a short stroll through the picnic area – just follow the sound of the roaring cascade – leads to a short but picturesque 550-metre trail to the base of the falls. The final descent can be slippery, so be careful and hold on to the chain-link fence if you need to. Once at the water’s edge, you’ll feel the raw power of this natural spectacle.

Once you’ve dried off, brace yourself for the brief but steep ascent out of the gorge. It’s a workout but suitable for kids and moderately fit and agile adults. Keep an ear out for the kookaburras laughing at you as you struggle.

Note: There have been some tragic deaths at Dangar Falls due to people jumping from their cliffs. As fun as it looks, it doesn’t seem terribly wise.

Need to know

Length: 1.1 km
Time: 30 – 40 min
Grade: Easy / Grade 2 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Return
Access: If following the Waterfall Way from Bellingen, turn right at the roundabout in the main street of Dorrigo, onto Coramba Road. The Dangar Falls car park and picnic area is about 2 kilometres out of town and is well-signed.

A path (part of the Wonga Walk) winding through a pristine rainforest in Dorrigo National Park

Image credit: Andrea Schaffer (Creative Commons)

The Wonga Walk (Dorrigo National Park)

While the quick-stop waterfalls along Waterfall Way are not to be missed, you haven’t really experienced Dorrigo National Park until you’ve left the car behind and disappeared into the heart of the Northern Tablelands’ ancient rainforests, where every step along the winding trails feels like a delicate waltz with time itself – a fleeting glimpse into our planet’s heritage.

Before you set off from the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, the Skywalk lookout is a must-visit, jutting out over the rainforest canopy. On a clear day, it offers views over the park’s vast forested hills and valleys, but at worst, you’ll feel like you’re standing on the clouds.

Start the Wonga Walk on Lyrebird, and you’ll immediately get a sense of how old this place is – tree trunks with unimaginable girth, moss and lichen on almost every surface, strangler figs like something from a fairytale.

The calls of hidden birds, relics of a primordial era, echo like forgotten songs. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Superb lyrebird foraging in the undergrowth – or, if you’re really lucky, it might put on a display of feathers and strange mimicry. In places like Dorrigo National Park, a moment of magical serendipity might lie around every bend in the trail. 

Need to know

Length: 6.6 km
Time: 3 hrs
Grade: Easy / Grade 2 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Circuit
Access: Turn east off Waterfall way, about 2 kilometres south of Dorrigo, and follow this to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre
Further Info: Grab a map from Dorrigo Rainforest Centre before starting your walk. Dorrigo National Park is open every day except Christmas Day (excluding high fire danger days and days with predicted extreme weather), between 9 am and 4:30 pm. Wonga Walk has been captured by Google Street View Trekker, in case you want a preview.

Looking out from a cave, through the misty veil of Crystal Shower Falls. There's a suspension bridge across the gorge.

At about the halfway point, you’ll come across Tristania Falls, a serene cascade over a mossy rockface. But the real highlight of the Wonga Walk comes soon after – the rainforest opens up to a suspension bridge that crosses a gorge in front of the misty veil of Crystal Shower Falls, dropping over a semi-circular cave.

It’s the kind of scene you’d imagine travelling halfway around the world and trekking for days to find. The trail leads into the cave and behind the falls, where you can let your childlike wonder and imagination take over.

The home stretch to Dorrigo Rainforest Centre is just as beautiful as the first few kilometres of this incredible trail. That makes it sound just like more of the same but, trust me, you won’t tire of this fascinating tract of rainforest. Eventually, you’ll return to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, having retraced ancient footsteps and witnessed nature’s strength and resilience.

You won’t be the same person you were when you started walking… You’ll feel a new sense of connection to the Earth and its many secrets.

Crystal Shower Falls Walk (Dorrigo National Park)

If you’re dying to see Crystal Shower Falls but would prefer a shorter less strenuous adventure, the Crystal Shower Falls Walk is your answer.

Take a shortcut to the falls, shaving off a couple of kilometres, by starting from The Glade Picnic Area and heading south on the Wonga Walk.

You won’t see as much of this ancient place as on the Wonga Walk, and you’ll have to return to the trailhead along the same path, but you’ll cut your walking time down to 1.5 hours.

This is the obvious choice for less fit and agile nature lovers who still want to experience one of undisputed highlights of Dorrigo National Park.

Need to know

Length: 4.4 km
Time: 2 hrs
Grade: Easy / Grade 2 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Return
Access: From the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre (see the Wonga Walk directions above), follow the signs to The Glade Picnic Area – south on Lyrebird Lane.

A misty waterfall dropping into a rainforest valley (Crystal Shower Falls)
Image credit: Tim from Coffs Harbour (Creative Commons)

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Have you watched Great Australian Walks with Julia Zemiro? Or have you visited Dorrigo National Park? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.