Discovering Dorrigo and it's surrounds
Updated: Apr 23
Dorrigo national park is a world heritage listed rainforest on a mountain range located inland from Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia.
We decided to explore this area over a 4-day long weekend. From Sydney it's about a 6 hour drive up the coast so this only left us with 2 full days there as day one and four had to include our drive time.
The town Dorrigo itself is very small with little accommodation, so I opted for looking at places around Bellingen, a near by town and there are some really great options. I found that Stayz and Airbnb had the best options. I was looking for something secluded, private, and in a location that wasn't too far from town. My first two choices were actually not available even though online it said it was, so third time lucky I booked Aniseed Retreat. It was a self-contained one bedroom villa with only one other villa on the property, separated by a large wall of plants and they were positioned to face away from one another, so it was really nice and private. The owner had called prior to my arrival to ensure the spa was turned on and ready for our arrival. The villa was also prepared with champagne, fresh farm eggs, bacon, fresh baked bread, and chocolate.
We took a lazy drive up on our first day so we arrived late in the afternoon to some light rain and a storm on the way. So we opted for the warm spa followed by bacon and eggs for dinner instead of going out. There was a small TV but we found the game Jenga, so the competition was on! It was actually really refreshing playing this all night instead of just watching TV.
Our place was located about 10 mins out of Bellingen and on the Promised Lands Loop road which has a number of crossings over the Never Never creek. So we decided to drive the loop before going into Bellingen for brunch. Our villa was across the road from the creek which you could swim in. Cyrstal clear waters with shallow and deep areas and apparently a resident platypus! (We unfortunately, couldn't find him.) This a public area to swim in and there are a number of others along this loop road. As it is a little out of the way it definitely has a local vibe about it. Over the days we were there we found that there is always a spot up or down river to have all to yourself even on busy weekends. So regardless if you stay near where we did or not, driving the Promised Lands (11km) Loop road is a must, and don't forget your swimmers!
Bellingen is a really cute little buzzing town. It has a very bohemian, arty vibe about. All the food we had there was amazing. Brunch on the first day was a Hyde. Located on the main street through town, this converted old warehouse now cafe and home wares store is a local favourite. Since we go there more around lunch time, we opted for a homemade pork and fennel sausage roll and a chicken and thyme sausage roll. Before you picture a traditional sausage roll and think - gross! These were all made from scratch by hand with real ingredients, they were amazing! That night we had dinner at Cedar which is a old converted wooden church with stain glass windows that has been completely renovated inside and has wraparound outdoor seating. The food is mainly modern Australian and very well prices for the quality you receive. It was Friday night so they have acoustic live music outside which creating a really great relaxed atmosphere. The food is very local and seasonal with the menu changing every week. Our experience was so nice that we ended up coming back for breakfast the next morning. So I suggest that you check it out for the architecture and return for the amazing food. We also shopped at a small local organic green grocer to make dinner in our villa on our last night. It is easy to forget how full of flavour fruits and vegetables actually are when they are straight off the farm and organic. I really recommend picking up some of your favourite fruit from here.
From Belligen, follow the world heritage listed Waterfall hwy as it winds up the mountain, through waterfalls and into Dorrigo. Turning off onto Dome rd before you come into Dorrigo town will take you down to the National Park centre, where you can walk along the sky view. From here there are some great hikes that you can do. I opted for the Crystal falls easy hike which was about 2 hours return and takes you through the towering rain forest down to a suspension bridge that over looks the falls. From there you can go down and behind the falls which is pretty special. Please be aware of leaches, I found two in my shoes! Along Dome road you can also turn left to Never Never picnic area instead of right to the National Park centre, and from there you can find more hikes to falls. On our second full day we planed to do the Cedar Falls hike which was a grade 5 three hour hike to the tallest waterfall in Dorrigo National Park, it looks spectacular. Unfortunately the road to Never Never picnic area is a fairly rough dirt road that is long. We were in a low rear wheel car and unfortunately we had to turn back due to the quality of the road and weren't able to do the hike. So I suggest if you are wanting to do this hike that you take a 4WD if possible .
Coming into Dorrigo town you will see signs to Dangar falls, this is really worth the visit. You will arrive in a car park that has a lookout down to the amazing falls below. Bring your swimmers as you can take the easy walk down to the falls for a dip. Although the water is quite orange, it does feel very fresh and clean to swim in, I am pretty sure that colour is just from everything the falls is churning up. We swam out to the falls and behind them in a rock shelf that you can stand on and admire the view back. Going directly under the falls is quite the thrill and not for the faint hearted as it's a whole lot of water! You can swim around the side of it to get behind them, but where is the fun in that!
In Dorrigo town there is also a train museum that is not yet open to the public. So while you can't go in - there are literally hundreds of trains all stacked on these abandoned railway lines right near the road that is worth a look. It doesn't look like its opening up anytime soon which is a shame as there are century old steam trains that would be interesting to go inside of.
On our last day we decided to go into Sawtell and enjoy some beach time before the drive home. Only 30mins away it was hard to imagine that the dense rain forest we were in all weekend was this close to the beaches. Sawtell has a beautiful beach with small islands off shore, amazing white sands and bright blue waters. You can also opt to swim in the inlet for some calm waters.
I hope this inspires you to get out there and discover some of the hidden gems in NSW.