Magnificent To The Max
Issue 2 2012
Brilliant waterfalls, luscious rainforests, bucolic countryside, deep gorges and quaint, quirky towns – meet Waterfall Way – it’s the dream drive… Words Tatyana Leonov.
I'm sitting in the sidecar of a Russian motorcycle. It’s one swish looking bike and I’m ready for the ride. Jon weaves out of the driveway and onto the dirt road. So far so good. Within minutes we’re racing, Jon concentrating on what’s in front, and me – I’m focusing on staying in the sidecar. There’s wind in my hair and I feel incredible. It’s the perfect way to start my dream drive in the glorious New England region of Kentucky – exhilarating, fun, bizarre…
Nestled between Uralla and Walcha, Kentucky village is small, picturesque town (think dusty roads contrasted with long flat stretches of grass) with a population of just over 300 people. Kentucky is the starting point for my road trip where I’ll spend a day and a half exploring New South Wales country, finishing up at the coastal town of Sawtell, not far from Coffs Harbour.
Driving the Peugeot 508 Touring Wagon (I like to travel in comfort and style) Waterfall Way will be my main route. Notorious for (you guessed it) waterfalls, the drive is renowned for being one of the most scenic drives in Australia. It’s more than just a drive though; it’s a stretch of road the reveals spectacular and enormously diverse scenery in this part of northern New South Wales – luscious rainforests, bucolic countryside, deep gorges, and of course waterfalls, stretching 191km from Coffs Harbour to Armidale. But I decide to do it the other way round – and start in Kentucky – in a sidecar bike at Ural of Oz (uralofoz.com.au).
From Kentucky I head to Uralla, an artsy-craftsy kind of town with a cool vibe and shops to match. It gets pretty cold in this part of New South Wales so I’m loving that Pam (I’ve named the Peugeot Pam) has a nifty little function that heats up my seat. I cruise past the quirky cafes, book stores and antique shops feeling warm and snug, taking a right at Uralla Enmore Road (Tourist Drive 19).
I’m going this way because it’s the way to Cruishanks Farmstay and B&B (cruickshanks.com.au) where I’ll be staying the night, and I get to drive past an octagonal woolshed. Woolsheds are pretty unexciting as buildings go, but this one (built in 1872) is the only ‘round’ woolshed in the country. It’s not open to visitors but I get the jist looking at the exterior – built on brick pillars the side walls have large glass panels – and yes it looks pretty round from where I’m standing.
Just a few metres away the Virginia Creeper-covered Gostwyck Chapel isn’t round – but it is pretty. Built in 1921, the chapel is surrounded by majestic elm trees and has that quaint country charm about it – it’s almost fairytale like in the late afternoon light, and if I had cheese, wine and bread I could sit here for hours.
This is it… Life in the slow lane… That’s Cruishanks Farmstay and B&B. I’m liking the slow pace of country life and want to stay somewhere where the pace matches my mood. Plus the B&B is also a farmstay and I like animals, but by the time I arrive the sun has already set. A glass of red wine and a hearty home-cooked meal later with Mike and Anne (the lovely owners) and I soon forget all about the animals (but I’m up early the next morning to catch the merino sheep and the Scottish Highland cattle before heading off).
Drinking wine before brekkie is frowned upon, but Petersons Winery (petersonswines.com.au) is on my way to Armidale and I feel obliged to pop in. They’ve been creating award-winning wines since 1981, and the Armidale vineyard and guesthouse (they’ve also got vineyards in the Hunter Valley and Mudgee) is meant to be a treat for the eyes. It is! The grounds are gorgeous, the property (which is over 100 years old) is stately in every right, and owner Judy does not bat an eyelid as I taste away early mid-week morning. I walk away with a Shiraz and a Riesling, both 2009 vintages – and a red-stained tongue.
As far as regional art galleries go, the New England Regional Art Museum (neram.com.au) in Armidale is meant to be one of the very best, and as of early 2011 there’s also a cafe (neramharvest.com.au) connected – and I need brekkie. Seasonal and regional produce is the go here, and these guys are really passionate about sourcing the finest produce to create their Asian-inspired creations – plus they make a mean coffee. I go for ‘Kylie’s eggs’ and get a wok-fried egg with spring onion, chilli and rice – it’s an unusual breakfast choice but surprisingly divine.
The art gallery is delightful (and rightly so). The Howard Hinton Collection is fascinating and his 1933 oil on cardboard ‘Hyde Park’ is a standout for me. I want to make my mark here so leave a foil impression of my face stuck on the wall amongst the others; the art galleries unique ‘guest book’. The NERAM team are full of insightful information and convince me to come back for a guided storeroom tour (home to over 5,000 works of art) at another date. It sounds like an awesome opportunity to see so many works of art at the one time so I diarise the times and make a mental note to get back.
The historical, regal Saumarez Homestead is a short side trip from Armidale and it hasn’t changed much since being built (the guess is between 1888 and 1906). Each room takes you back to a completely different time, while the well-kept extensive English-style gardens are a pleasure to stroll through and explore. If the Downton Abbey crew needed a location to film in Oz, this would be it!
Out of Armidale the landscape is a completely different story – perfectly flat, broken only by the silhouette of scattered sheep. Wattle is growing ubiquitously and the bright yellow flower contrasts beautifully with the green foliage and russet farmland.
Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is famous for its waterfalls (there are 13 major ones in the park) and this is where I see my first waterfall for the day. At 260 metres tall, Wollomombi Falls are one of Australia’s highest waterfalls. To the right the Chandler Falls are equally as impressive – but clearly I’m easily amazed by water falling.
Ebor Falls are entirely different – shorter, wider and two-tier, these falls offer a different perspective. With viewing points for both the upper and lower tier, and a picturesque trail that links to two, I almost walk, then decide to drive Pam because she’s just way to fun to leave behind.
Thirst sets in (perhaps it’s the water) and I make Ebor for lunch where I stop for a homemade vegetarian lasagne at Fusspots Teahouse. This is the spot for lunching locals (all 38 or so permanent residents I’m told) and Shirley, who runs the eatery with her daughter Veronica, has got a knack for making quality homemade food – locally sourced of course.
The drive from Ebor to Dorrigo is astonishingly splendid. Dorrigo sits atop the rugged eastern escarpment of the Great Dividing Range and boasts some of the region’s most magnificent scenery – the dusty flats turn into luscious hills, and I need to pull over a few times and just stare. I can see why Waterfall Way is referred to as one of the most scenic drives – its gobsmackingly picturesque!
Before I head into town I check out Dangar Falls. It’s a bit too cold for a swim but I admire the falls in the early afternoon light. The view is breathtaking, stretching out across the top of the falls and into Dorrigo. Again – if I had cheese and wine I’d stay around longer and simply gawk.
Dorrigo is a quirky, little town full of interesting shops and facts to match; the Don Dorrigo Gazette is the country’s only remaining hot metal newspaper – it’s over 100 years old, has a print run of 1000 and costs a whole dollar. Then there are the Dorrigo red dirt Sebago potatoes. The famous potatoes look red when harvested because of the red volcanic soil in the area (but are white when washed) and Dorrigo’s Red Dirt Distillery (reddirtdistillery.com.au) is the only distillery in the country making vodka from potatoes – and ‘red’ ones at that – but I’m driving so give this one a miss. I look around for hot chips made from these iron-rich potatoes, but don’t find any so head on to Griffith Lookout where I sit and admire another magnificent view, this one of the breathtaking escarpment.
The drive to Bellingen sees me weave downwards towards the town. I drive past mini waterfalls and hills, rainforests and shrubbery, and I’m struck by the raw, rugged beauty of the Dorrigo Plateu. It’s Australian country at its best and I take this drive at a leisurely pace to make the most of the scenery. As I pull into beautiful Bellingen I know I’ve found a gem. Unofficially referred to as ‘the Nimbin of the north coast’ I can already tell it’s my kind of town. The cafes have a distinctively citified feel about them, the shops sell local and quirky novelties, and the weatherboard facades peering out from the verandahs all add to the town’s eccentricity.
I find a park for Pam the Peugeot and head straight for the good stuff. The award-winning gelato shop (bellingengelato.com.au) has a kitsch late 1960s-inspired interiors scheme, which I love, but soon forget as I get into tasting gelato. I’m hoping to try their winning flavour (they won the 2012 Royal Queensland Food & Wine Show Grand Champion for their stewed plum with cinnamon and clove ice cream) – but regrettably plums are not in season so I make do with caramel and mocha – both deliciously amazing.
Dessert after dessert is the way to go when road tripping and Sweet Bellingen (sweetbellingen.com.au) has it all and more. The award-winning fudge (there seems to be a theme with awards here) and homemade choccies are both scrumptious. By the time I get to the Old Butter Factory Cafe (bellingen.com/butterfactory) I can’t fit any more food in, but fortunately this historic treasure is more than just a cafe and I spend my time meandering through the adjoining shopping village and art gallery.
The 300-member-run Nexus Community Gallery (bcac.org.au) is showcasing a members’ exhibition and I’m impressed by quality of the pieces. A quirky ceramic bowl that mimics a flower in full bloom by Carol Brown catches my eye because of the fine detail, while a local scene, the oil painting ‘Cows at the Creek’ by Robyn Simon, reminds me of how lucky I am to travel in these parts.
I need to get a move on to get to Sawtell for sunset but stop on my way out to admire a…camel… the ‘Bello’s famous camel’. It’s made from ‘found’ objects and the name of the game is finding what makes up the camel frame (think bike frames, pistons, fans, exhaust pipes). It’s a bit like Boggle and I manage to ‘find’ quite a few items, then realise it’s definitely time to head off.
I hop into Pam for the last time and set the GPS to Sawtell. Coffs Harbour is the official ending point (or starting if you go in reverse) of Waterfall Way, but I’m looking for a quiet sunset and have been told the Sawtell lookout is a winner.