On the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Bellingen is halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, just half an hour’s drive from Coffs Harbor. The area is a nature lover’s dream. Bellingen sits along the stunning Waterfall Way, which traverses five national parks, so there’s an abundance of waterfalls, bushwalking tracks, and animal spotting opportunities. The town is small but friendly with a rich heritage and a robust cafe scene. There are marvelous places to eat, as well as shop and stay. Plus, there are day trip opportunities galore to the national parks and surrounding towns, both inland, and back towards the coast.
1. Bushwalk at Dorrigo National Park
Explore exciting bushwalking tracks, incredible waterfalls, beautiful picnic spots, and excellent birdwatching in Dorrigo National Park. The park forms part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, and its beauty has been millions of years in the making. There are plenty of bushwalking tracks, which vary in length and difficulty. Check out the Crystal Shower Falls, Lyrebird Link Track, Blackbutt Track, Casuarina Falls Circuit, Red Cedar Falls Track, Rosewood Creek, Satinbird Stroll, or Wonga Walk. You can do them all or choose shorter sections that make up part of the larger walks. Stop at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre to learn more about the park, and stroll along the Skywalk. There’s also plenty of beautiful picnic spots around for rest and refreshment. The Food Angel Cafe in Dorrigo is an excellent place to stop for lunch after an energetic morning walk.
2. Skywalk at Dorrigo National Park
Wander among the treetops as you head out along the Skywalk to enjoy breathtaking views over the Dorrigo National Park and all the way out to the coast. The Skywalk is attached to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and is a 70-meter, fully wheelchair-accessible boardwalk. The beginning of the walk starts among the treetops, however as you get further out, the end of the path soars an incredible 21-meters over the canopy. From here, you can take in views of the deep gorges and lush trees of the Rosewood rainforest basin and Bellinger Valley. You can also admire the impressive peaks of McGraths Hump, also known as Old Man Dreaming. If you’re an avid birdwatcher, make sure to take your binoculars. Be on the lookout for regent bowerbirds, topknot pigeons, and grey goshawks.
3. Take a Swim at Dangar Falls
After visiting Dorrigo National Park, make sure to stop in at Dangar Falls, just a few kilometers north of the town of Dorrigo. These beautiful 30-meter falls have a car park, picnic tables, playground, toilets, and a viewing platform. It’s the perfect place to stop and stretch your legs and admire the view. There’s also a walk to the base of the falls, which is not too strenuous. The waterhole at the bottom is perfect for a swim, though it can be a bit chilly.
4. Stay the Night at Promise Land Retreat
Escape the daily grind and stay a night or two at the Promised Land Retreat. Once you’re there, you’ll realize exactly why it’s called Promised Land. With incredible views over the Great Dividing Range and private chalets tucked away in 100 acres of bushland, you’ll feel a million miles from everywhere. The property has only three cottages — one which is perfect for couples, and two which fit up to four people, making it great for families. The simple but elegant villas are fully self-contained and enjoy 180-degree views. The retreat’s facilities are also excellent. Borrow a mountain bike and go for a cycle along the Promised Land loop, taking in the stunning nature and swimming holes along the way. You can also hit a few sets on the tennis court, or wander down to the Angel Gabriel Capararo Reserve for a relaxing swim in Never Never River.
5. Swim in Bellingen’s Never Never River
The Never Never River, with its clear, cool waters, is perfect for a refreshing swim. There are several great swimming spots along the river; however, one of the best locations is the Angel Gabriel Capararo Reserve. Pack your swimmers and a picnic rug, and while away the hours lazing in the sunshine and swimming in the crystal clear waters. Another lovely spot is near the old Tallowwood Bridge, further along Promised Land Road.
6. Waterfall Way Scenic Drive
Pack the car up and go on a full-day trip along the Waterfall Way Scenic Drive. This 185-kilometer journey links Coffs Harbour on the coast, with Armidale, taking you via five stunning national parks. You can drive the route straight in about two and a half hours, however, allow a full day, so you don’t miss any of the scenic stops. Marvel at Ebor Falls, or see the granite tors in Cathedral Rock National Park. Stretch your legs and get the blood flowing with one of the many scenic bushwalks in the Dorrigo National Park. Alternatively, stop for a picnic and see the mighty Wollomombi Falls in the New England National Park. Also in that same park is Point Lookout, another must-see with panoramic views over the World Heritage rainforest. This drive is a delightful day out and is perfect for nature lovers and families.
7. Drive to Ebor Falls
Watch as the waters of the Guy Fawkes River cascade 100 meters over two tiers of rocks at Ebor Falls. The falls are located in the Guy Fawkes River National Park, just over an hour’s drive from Bellingen. There are three viewing platforms for the falls and surrounding gorge country — the upper, lower, and valley view lookouts. All of them are a short walk from the car park, and there’s an easy track that links the upper and lower platforms. Take a picnic and relax in the grassy woodlands next to the falls, as you listen to the sounds of the powerful water flow. During the warmer months, keep an eye out for blooms of golden everlasting daisies and rare ground orchids.
8. Eat at Bellingen’s Most Popular Cafe — Hyde
Set in a grand old building on the main street, Hyde is one of Bellingen’s most popular cafes. Owned by mother and daughter Jenni and Elyse, the cafe is a welcoming and relaxed meeting place, where you can enjoy excellent coffee and a sweet treat. You can sit inside at one of the large communal tables, or dine alfresco, and watch the world go by. In addition to incredible coffee, the store also showcases a beautifully curated collection of homewares, clothing, shoes, jewelry, accessories, furniture, baby, and skincare products. You’ll easily be able to pick-up a new outfit, stylish gifts, or even some beautiful bed linen.
9. Walk the Iconic Boardwalk and Beaches in Urunga
Head out to the coast at Urunga for some refreshing sea air and walk along the Urunga Lagoon boardwalk. It runs for one kilometer and is fully wheelchair accessible the entire way. You’ll get to take in stunning views inland to the Great Diving Range, as well as along the coast from Mylestorm Spot to Nambucca Heads. Along the way, there are rest spots as well as interpretive signage so you can learn more about the environment. The end of the walk takes you to Hungry Head Beach, which is perfect for continuing your stroll, or even casting a line off the rocks if you’re into fishing. Once you’ve worked up a good appetite, head back into Urunga to enjoy a fantastic smoothie, coffee, or jaffles at the Liberty Providores Cafe.
10. Indulge in Bellingen Award Winning Gelato
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a trip to Bellingen Gelato. Their award-winning and innovative gelato are made onsite from the highest quality ingredients. The business has been in the Sebes family since 2006 when they first opened the store in Bellingen. Since then, it’s become a staple in the community, fulfilling sweet cravings of both locals and visitors alike. Indulge in milk-based creations such as burnt caramel, black sesame, lemon mascarpone, or fig and port. If creamy treats aren’t your preference, opt for fat-free and diary-free fruit sorbets like stewed plum with cinnamon & cloves, strawberry and balsamic, and blood orange.
11. Dine-in at Bellingen’s Qudo Cafe and Sake
Indulge in a really cool dining experience at Qudo Cafe and Sake. Located in a beautiful and nostalgic 107-year-old Masonic Lodge, this restaurant serves a delicious fusion of Japanese and Australian cuisine. The menu changes regularly but features dishes such as sushi, karaage, tempura bowls, and seared salmon salad. Plus, they have an incredible sake menu, which is the perfect accompaniment to Japanese food. If sake’s not to your taste, they also have a good selection of beer, wine, spirits, and soft drinks. You can dine indoors, outdoors, or on the lovely balcony overlooking the grounds. It’s a peaceful escape with delectable food.
12. View Bellingen from Point Lookout
Point Lookout is a must-see in New England National Park. The walking track follows the edge of the Great Escarpment, which is 1500 meters above sea level. It only takes 20 minutes to complete the 500-meter walk, and the first 100 meters are wheelchair accessible. There are several lookouts along the way, offering panoramic views of this World Heritage Area. On a clear day, you can even see 70-kilometers out to the Pacific Ocean. You’ll wander through bush comprised of spectacular snow gums, and other native Australian flora. In summer, you’ll also be able to see the bright red foliage of the flame trees further down the valley. If you’re into birdwatching, make sure to pack your binoculars and keep a keen eye out for spine-tailed swifts and grey goshawks.
13. Listen to Live Music and Eat Pizza at The Bellingen Brewery
The Bellingen Brewery is a quirky little bar, in the center of town. Like many craft breweries, the venue is basically a tin shed with a fabulous rustic ambiance, using reclaimed timber and salvaged material in the construction. They brew their own beer and ginger beer onsite and also have a great selection of organic, bio-dynamic, and preservative-free wines. If spirits are more your thing, then try one of their unique cocktails that are inspired by the tastes and sights of the local area. When it comes to food, there’s a menu of delicious wood-fired pizzas, with classic flavors like Margherita and spiced salami. Finally, the regular lineup of live music will keep you entertained and staying for one more round.
14. Go Horse Riding at Valery Trails
Explore the majestic forest, creeks, and rivers of Valery with a horseriding adventure. The 400-acre farm is located about halfway between Coffs Harbour and Bellingen and makes a great day trip. Valery Trails offer one and two-hour guided rides, which are suitable for everyone from absolute beginners to veteran cowboys. The tours depart at 10 am and 2 pm daily, so it’s easy to fit into your vacation itinerary. They have 40 horses, all with friendly temperaments, as well as three dogs who love a game of fetch. Non-riders can walk or cycle some of the closer trails, or simply hang out by the pool.
15. Visit Bellingen Community Markets
If you love a good community market, then Bellingen is the place for you, as there are two in town. The showgrounds play host to the Bellingen Grower’s Market each Saturday from 7.30 am to 11:30 am. Here you’ll find an incredible array of locally grown fruit and vegetables, fresh bread, honey, and health products. It’s also an excellent opportunity to grab a cup of coffee and have a chat with the locals. Just make sure to get there early, as the farmers regularly sell out of their produce. Then, on the third Saturday of each month is the Bellingen Community Markets. Discover a world of handmade products, arts, crafts, soaps, jewelry, pottery, and upcycled creations. Indulge in a delicious snack from one of the many food stalls, and enjoy live music from 10 am to 2 pm, which adds to the festival feel of the market.
16. Discover the Old Butter Factory
Originally built in 1906, The Old Butter Factory on Doepel Street has had a varied history. From butter production to a private home, nowadays, it serves as a tourist attraction with shops that showcase local wares. There’s Cargo Lane, which specializes in furnishings, home decor, and gifts. The Nexus Community Gallery displays artworks, sculptures, and paintings from local artists, and the exhibition schedule is full for the next three years. Take in the wonderful smells of the Woodcraft Gallery, which sells timber products made by local woodworkers and craftspeople. Then, continue with good smelling gifts in the AWL Leather store, where you can pick up leather shoes, art, bags, wallets, holsters, and whips. Finally, you can soothe away any aches and pains at Robins Massage. Once you’re shopped out, enjoy a delicious breakfast or lunch at the idyllic Old Butter Factory Cafe.
17. Have a Picnic at Griffith Lookout
If you’re traveling along Waterfall Way, make sure to stop in at Griffith Lookout. It’s located on the opposite side to Dorrigo National Park, down on Mountaintop Road. Once you’re there, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the Great Dividing Range to the south and the Coffs Coast to the east. On a clear day, you’ll even be able to see the Pacific Ocean. The lookout has an interpretive display so you can learn more about the area. Plus, there’s a picnic area with tables, so pack a snack and a blanket to soak in some sunshine along with the views.
18. Visit Wollomombi Gorge
The Wollomombi Gorge is home to the incredible Wollomombi Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Australia. You can explore the edge of the gorge by taking the grade three Wollomombi track, which is a four-kilometer return walk. Allow two hours to give you plenty of time to admire the falls from the lookout, as well as spot wildlife and take in the rugged wilderness. You can spot wedge-tailed eagles surfing the gorge thermals or see paddling platypus and Eastern grey kangaroos as your cross the Wollomombi River. Once the mountain air has cleared your head and you’ve worked up an appetite, head back to the picnic area and enjoy a bite to eat under the shade of the red gum and yellow box trees. You’ll find the gorge in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, which is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.
19. Drive to Sawtell and Relax on the Beach and Rockpools
The small coastal town of Sawtell is just a half an hour drive from Bellingen. Here you’ll find an idyllic getaway complete with stunning beaches, great cafes, and a beautiful national park. Sawtell Beach is the main beach, and it stretches from Bonville Headland to Boambee Head. You can relax in the sun, go for a swim, or even catch a wave with excellent surf conditions a regular occurrence. Just south of Bonville Headland is the Sawtell Memorial Rock Pool. It’s well protected from the current that runs out of the Bonville Creek and is the perfect way to cool off from hiking over the headland. If you’ve worked up an appetite, the town itself has an excellent coffee and cafe scene, as well as cute boutique stores and a thriving arts scene.
20. Discover Armidale
Take the 2-hour drive from Bellingen to discover Armidale in the New England High Country. This elegant regional town is lovely to visit year-round and has so much to do. Nature lovers will enjoy outdoor adventures such as bushwalking, mountain biking, fishing, or kayaking. Meanwhile, foodies will appreciate the cool-climate vineyards that dot the countryside, as well as the abundance of local produce, including fruit, lamb, and other gourmet delights. Much of the local produce ends up on the plates in local restaurants in true farm-to-table style. Then, get a taste of the local culture with a stop at the New England Regional Art Museum, or visit the Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place to learn about Indigenous arts and culture. Finally, explore the European history of the town on a self-guided heritage tour, which takes in the many cathedrals and colonial buildings.
21. Hike at Cathedral Rocks
Get out and about among nature with a day trip to Cathedral Rocks National Park, just an hour and a half drive from Bellingen. The tracks in this park are more challenging grade four and five walks, which are best suited to seasoned bushwalkers with bouldering experience. However, anyone who does take them on will enjoy the sights of wildflowers, idyllic creeks, and the iconic granite tors, which are especially alluring in the late afternoon. Hike to Cathedral Rock, an enormous stone perched upon a 200-meter-tall pile of granite rocks. Alternatively, Woolpack Rocks, another large rock formation, are accessed via an 8-kilometer return track, which starts at the Native Dog campground. If you like birdwatching, pack your binoculars because you might spot black cockatoos, wedge-tailed eagles, or even the endangered turquoise parrot. The Warrigal walking track is particularly great for bird watching.
22. Visit Gostwyck Chapel in Uralla
A visit to church might not be what comes to mind when you’re on holiday. However, no matter your faith, a trip to the beautiful Gostwyck Chapel in Uralla is worth adding to your itinerary. Officially known as the All Saints Anglican Church, it sits on the grounds of Gostwyck Station. It was built in 1921 in honor of Major Clive Collingwood Dangar. The construction used only bricks made and fired at the station. The building is also surrounded by a short stone wall to protect it from flooding. What really makes this church unique, though, is both the breathtaking elm tree-lined avenue and the thick growth of Virginia Creeper that covers the walls of the building. During the autumn months, the creeper turns a vibrant red, while the leaves of the elm trees turn gold. This impressive display of nature’s beauty is a photographer’s dream.
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