Sunday, 4 March 2018

Wonga Walk (Dorrigo National Park)


One of Australia's most popular day walks, the Wonga Walk provides a pleasant loop through a section of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Starting at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, the trail takes walkers to two beautiful wateralls, with Crystal Showers Falls being one of the prettiest in the area. With a sealed path, a swing bridge and numerous walkways, this a great family friendly walk along Waterfall Way


Distance: 7.4 km ('tadpole' loop, including the Lyrebird Linking Track)
Gradient: A mix of relatively level walking and moderate descents and ascents
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained bitumenised trail with constructed steps and railings in places
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow trailhead, with markers along the way and clearly marked trail junctions
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 2-3 Hours
Steps: Many steps in place, particularly leading up and down from the waterfalls
Best Time to Visit: After decent rains
Entry Fee: Yes. A $2 entry fee applies at time of writing
Getting There: The trail starts at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre. South of Dorrigo, follow Waterfall Way and then turn onto Dome Rd. Follow Dome Rd until it bends sharply; the car park is located at the corner and is clearly marked. 



After enjoying our walk up to the summit of Cathedral Rock, Alissa and I returned to the car and realised we had a bit of a long drive to get to our accomodation in Ulong on the other side of Dorrigo. With our estimated time of arrival looking to be close to dusk, our planned side trip to check out New South Wales' tallest waterfall had to be put on hold for the next day of our New England road trip. 

Well rested after a lovely evening in an Airbnb cabin, Alissa and I woke up early for breakfast before heading out to our second walk in the area. While the nearby Dorrigo and New England National Parks have several spectacular walks dotted throughout them, we had to settle for one of the shorter walks due to having a long drive ahead of us. After some consideration, I decided on the relatively easy but spectacular looking Wonga Walk due to the fact in incorporates a visit to Crystal Shower Falls. 

From the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, the Wong Walk begins immediately behind it. Before starting the trail, a nearby lookout immediately adjacent to the trailhead provides stunning views across the valley, making this a great start to the walk. 



From the trailhead, the track immediately descends a wooden walkway leading to the rainforest below. 



Once down from the boardwalk, the trail begins through the typically dense subtropical rainforest common to the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. In spite of Alissa and I having become quite familiar with this forest type, Dorrigo featured some slightly different species compared to the warmer subtropical rainforests closer to the Gold Coast. Alissa and I found this slight difference to be interesting and made the forest walking very engaging. 



Due to being one of the most visited parks in the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia WHA, the Wonga Walk is a more tourist friendly walk, complete with benches at semi-regular intervals and a track that is entirely bitumenised!



The section of trail from the Rainforest Centre is known as the Lyrebird Linking Track which leads to the loop of the true Wonga Walk. At this point Alissa and I had a choice of going left or right, and we decided to follow the ranger's advice and follow the trail in a clockwise direction. 



When I read that the Wonga Walk was a sealed track I have to admit being a bit disappointed as I prefer the wilder appearance of a trail with more natural surfaces. One of the very informative signs explains that the bitumen is in place to prevent erosion and muddiness that would certainly build up given the relatively high traffic this trail receives. 



Regardless of the merits of sealed versus unsealed trails, the forests along the walk were truly beautiful. I had picked the Wonga Walk as I thought it would be something Alissa would enjoy, and based on her love of the forests along the trail I definitely had picked wisely. 




While the trail may have been bitumenised, the views on either side were nevertheless wild and pristine rainforest. While much of New South Wales and South East Queensland was logged heavily for the highly prized Red Cedar in the 1800s, the forests in Dorrigo National Park are home to trees that are over 600 years old!



Reaching a low point of elevation, Alissa and I began to hear the sound of rushing water, which alerted us to the fact we were approaching Tristania Falls. 



The less impressive of the two waterfalls along the Wonga Walk, Tristania Falls runs down into a clearing in the forest and flows to the valley below. The trail is well sited here as it crosses a bridge immediately in front of the falls for maximum impact and unimpeded views. 



Across to the other side of the falls, the Wonga Walk ascends a series of steps as it leads to another lookout point adjacent to the waterfall.



To me this was an even better viewpoint of the falls in action as it allowed us to appreciate the lovely pool at its base. 



From Tristania Falls the trail rises moderately steeply, leading up from the wet subtropical rainforest and into dryer Eucalypt forest. The dryer forests and the appearance of burled, buttressed trees made Alissa and I think of the Karri and Tingle forests back home in Western Australia. 



After reaching the top of the ascent, Alissa and I reached the Hardwood Lookout. This was a disappointing vantage point as a lot of trees and understorey species have now well and truly grown in the way of any views, and if anything the sign should be pulled out as it is no longer a feature of the walk. 



Continuing along, Alissa and I were excited to realise we were reaching the trail's highlight - Crystal Shower Falls. 



A beautiful waterfall flowing over a sheer cliff, Crystal Shower Falls features a path running behind the waterfall itself. We had some experience walking behind a waterfall along the Twin Falls Circuit in Springbrook National Park, and while those two waterfalls were possibly more spectacular Crystal Showers was a stunner in its own right. 



From behind the waterfall, walkers have a clear view of the relatively long suspension bridge that the Wonga Walk heads along. 


This is a rather impressive structure and an excellent piece of trail infrastructure. Having now completed a handful of trails in New South Wales, I've been struck by the quality of the trail construction and the obvious money that has gone into creating interesting trail experiences with this bridge being a perfect example. 



On the other side of the bridge, a tributary stream flows under the path via a culvert before running downhill and joining the main creek. 



Given how pristine the forests had been in spite of all the trail infrastructure that has gone in, it was disappointing to see a tree along the track covered in graffiti. Why people feel the urge to deface nature is beyond me, especially when it is as uncreative and unsightly as the examples pictured above.



Continuing along the trail, Alissa and I were surprised to reach a trail junction, and we thought that we had somehow well and truly smashed out the walk and were back at the Lyrebird Linking Track.



We felt the scenery along the walk looked a little different, but we allowed for it based on seeing everything from a different angle. Alissa was particularly taken by a mushroom-covered log and insisted that I take a photo. 



When we reached the top we were surprised to find that we were not at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre at all, and instead had accidentally walked up to the Glade Picnic Area. With a large barbecue shelter and another excellent lookout, this would be a great place for a picnic - and a possible free entry point for anyone who is too much of a cheapskate to pay the $2 entry fee at the Rainforest Centre!



Back down on the Wonga Walk, Alissa and I noticed a side trail that looked interesting. Called the Walk with the Birds Boardwalk, this 500 metre walkway takes hikers into the forest canopy.



Bird watchers will love this side trail as it features two view platforms that provide an excellent vantage point from which to view the forest's avian species.



Back onto the main trail itself, the rest of the track consisted mostly of very pleasant rainforest walking. During this leg we began to run into a lot of walkers just starting out, once again giving credence to my old adage that, like clockwork, tourists don't get out and about until 10 am. 



While I generally prefer wilder and more difficult walks, the Wonga Walk was a really good example of how to do a tourist-friendly, infrastructure heavy trail the right way. While the trail was bitumenised, the surrounding forest was in pristine condition, and the addition of boardwalks and a suspension bridge added to the trail experience rather than taking away from it. With its beautiful subtropical rainforests and Crystal Showers Falls as trail highlights, I can see why this trail is one of the most popular day walks in the country. A recommended walk that is suitable for young families and those with less bushwalking experience.

Post-Script 


After the walk, Alissa and I had agreed that we would live up to the name of the blog and take the long way back to the Gold Coast via Armidale and the New England Hwy. Our first stop was to check out Wollomombi Falls in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. The tallest waterfall in New South Wales (and the second or third tallest in the country), Wollomombi Falls' impressive 230 metre drop looks less spectacular than it should be due to being dwarfed by the sheer size of the massive gorges. Being home to the multi-day Green Gully Track, Oxley Wild Rivers is a park we will hopefully return to for further exploration. 


After lunch in Armidale and an enjoyable ride through the New England countryside, Alissa and I stopped into the historic town of Tenterfield to check out some of its historic sites. The first was the Tenterfield School of Arts - a hall on the main street of town that was the place where Henry Parkes delivered the Tenterfield Address and called for the Federation of the six colonies of Australia. 


The main reason for popping into Tenterfield was to see the Tenterfield Saddlery, the workplace of the late George Woolnough who was immortalised in song by his grandson Peter Allen in Tenterfield Saddler. Having been a fan of the song since hearing it sung but Rick Price in the early 1990s, I did a young Donovan proud by ticking visiting this place off my bucket list. 

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