Around 40 million years ago the entire Australian continent was covered in rainforest. As our climate became drier, the rainforest receded and is now only found in a few remnant pockets – such as Dorrigo National Park, an hour’s drive west of Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales mid-north coast.
But it’s not just the World Heritage-listed rainforest that makes Dorrigo special. Eighteen million years ago, this landscape was covered in lava from the nearby Ebor volcano; as the lava eroded away, it created a variety of soil types and landforms which have in turn given rise to an extremely biodiverse community that includes 1700 species of plants (200 of which are rare or threatened), more than 10,000 species of insects and other invertebrates and 120 species of birds.
Wonga Walk, in the southwest of the park, takes you through the best example of subtropical rainforest in the park, with all the trimmings; epiphytes, lianas, booyong and yellow carabean trees with spreading, buttressed roots, palms of all descriptions and giant stinging trees.
This is also one of the most accessible walks in the Dorrigo area; it’s sealed all the way (there are just a few rocky steps near Tristania Falls) with a gentle gradient down to the falls and back up to the Rainforest Centre.
There’s plenty of signage, so there’s no need for maps and there are even park benches if you feel the need for a rest.
It’s also walkable in any weather; it’s cool and shady on sunny days, protected on windy days and magical on misty, rainy days. Overall, it is an easy walk through an impressive subtropical rainforest with the bonus of two waterfalls (Tristania Falls and Crystal Showers).
Distance: 6.4 km and 800 m Lyrebird Link track.
Time: 2-3 hours.
Start/Finish: Dorrigo Rainforest Centre.
Nearest towns: Dorrigo (2 km further on Waterfall Way) and Bellingen (29 km).
Maps: You can ask at the Rainforest Centre but not necessary for this walk.
Accommodation: Bellingen YHA, 2 Short Street, Bellingen (02) 6655 1116
Food/drink: Dorrigo has cafes, two pubs, a bakery and a supermarket.
Getting there: Turn off the Pacific Highway and follow the Waterfall Way to DorrigoRainforest Centre, 40 km inland from Coffs Harbour, on the mid-north coast. Dorrigo is 2 km from the Rainforest Centre.
More info: Dorrigo Tourist Information Centre (02) 6657 2486 or Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, open 9am - 4.30pm seven days, (02) 6657 2309
Wonga Walk track notes
1. Start/finish, Dorrigo Rainforest Centre is an ideal introduction to the park. Walk on to the Skywalk which extends over the forest canopy for an overview of Dorrigo National Park – literally, you’ll be standing eye-to-eye with the surrounding ridges looking over the densely forested valleys towards the coast. The Skywalk also allows you to see and hear some of the treetop birds, including the Wonga pigeons after which this walk was named, that you won’t find in the rainforest where ground-dwelling birds such as lyrebirds and Eastern whipbirds dominate.
2. The walk starts with the Lyrebird Link; a 50 m ramp followed by an easy, level track that descends gently to meet the main track. A sign warns of three hazards to beware of; leeches, giant stinging trees (whose large, heart-shaped leaves can give you a painful sting) and lawyer palms, which have barbed tendrils that can latch on to you as you walk by. The stinging trees are a dominant feature of this walk – lining the track, overhanging, and scattering across the track itself.
3. Because the track is sealed you can spend the time looking up at the wonders around you; black booyong trees with buttresses 10 m across, bracket fungi as big as dinner plates, strangler figs and their decaying hosts, epiphytic orchids, pothos vines with candle-shaped leaves. And, of course, the giant stinging trees, some of which really are giants, soaring high into the canopy above. There’s plenty of signage along this walk; it’d be impossible to do this walk and not learn something about its wildlife, plant life and landforms.
After about an hour of gentle descent, the track opens out and gets slightly steeper. There’s a view across the valley to forested slopes then a footbridge across a river bed. To your right, Tristania Falls pours down a volcanic rock face. There’s no access to the river here and a glance to your left tells you why - there’s the lip of a second cascade. On the far side of the bridge, however, up a few rocky steps, there is a shady spot to sit with a waterfall view (bring something to sit on).
4. The track continues gently uphill after Tristania Falls into moist eucalypt forest which is drier than the rainforest and populated by Sydney blue gums, coachwoods, blackbutt and tallowwoods more than 1000 years old. After Hardwood Lookout – which is an opening through the foliage with a view across the Dorrigo hills – the track levels out again. It also gets fairly close to the Bellingen-Dorrigo road; you’ll probably hear the rumble of trucks.
5. Half an hour from Tristania Falls, you come to the second waterfall, Crystal Showers. The track leads behind it so you can look out at the rainforest through a curtain of falling water. Another half hour gently uphill past an understorey of ferns and lilies and a 400-year-old yellow carabean tree surrounded by its prickly seed, brings you to the 10 minute Satinbird Stroll. A few minutes further on is the Walk with the Birds boardwalk with shelters and information boards about birds you might see in the forest. From the end of the boardwalk it’s only 10-15 minutes back to the Lyrebird Link, then up the ramp to the Rainforest Centre.