Ellenborough Falls, New South Wales

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Australia's Great Dividing Range, a 3,500 km (2,175 mi) long, range of mountains that sit behind the eastern seaboard, host a myriad of surprises. Rising up into the Hinterland, behind Port Macquarie, you enter rolling hillsides, capped with luscious cattle pastures and villages that incite visits with museums, galleries, cafes, gourmet foods and much more. On this particular day, I bypassed them all. It was wet and getting wetter. The rains had broken and farmers across New South Wales were rejoicing. The drought that has gripped the land for so long had broken. I passed more than a few dripping wet farmers, with smiles a mile wide, standing in the rain, en route to my own goal.

Ellenborough Falls is Australia's second highest single drop waterfall and one of the highest in the Southern Hemisphere. At over 160m (200ft) it barely flows most of the year. A tiny stream leaks through a neck carved in the rocks over eons and plunges into the Manning Valley below. With the arrival of the rains, I was hoping to see a little more.

 Ellenborough Falls drops into the Manning Valley

Ellenborough Falls drops into the Manning Valley

Ellenborough Falls, has a number of marked tracks to various vantage points and a stairway created by some highly innovative crafstmen, that lead down a precipitous slope to the foot of the falls. There is also a small cafe with limited opening hours, along with a sheltered seating area to enjoy a picnic or barbeque.

A short distance from the cafe is a well crafted lookout that stands alongside the creek that creates the falls. With the heavy rains the flow of water is deceptive. A plague on the lookout records a death at the falls. It should also be noted, though not stated, that this should be as far as you go.

 Head of the falls

Head of the falls

Across from the falls is a track and a lookout called The Knoll. A gentle 700m track winds round the head of the valley through the rainforest. As you walk, lookout for the colourful Bower birds, King Parrots, and Honeyeaters. Wallabies, Echidnas and Koalas also have homes here amongst the trees, including Blackbutts and Hard Tree Ferns. Tantalisingly, you can hear the falls all the way round, but it is not until you reach The Knoll, that the majesty of the spectacle is revealed.

 View from The Knoll

View from The Knoll

Backtracking to the car park and the cafe, you meet up with the staircase to the foot of the falls. 641 hand crafted steps, with rails, boards and frequent seating stops. It is an incredible piece of work and worthy or recognition. It replaces an old and worn track that on a day like the one I visited, would have almost certainly resulted in numerous tumbles and quite possibly bruises or breaks. It was steep and extremely slippery. Again the forest keeps you guessing as you descend. The falls become louder as you near the base but the only thing you see is the mearest glimpse through the trees.

 Keeping you in suspense, the forest only reveals snatches of the falls as you descend

Keeping you in suspense, the forest only reveals snatches of the falls as you descend

Arriving at the bottom of the staircase, another well crafted lookout with a seat is set at the edge of the plunge pool, just far enough away that you don't get wet from the descending spray. For the adventurous there is also a further descent onto the pool side rocks and the opportunity for a swim. In summer this is will be a treat. Today? Thanks. I'll pass.

 The end of the drop 160m down; the plunge pool leading into the Manning Valley

The end of the drop 160m down; the plunge pool leading into the Manning Valley

 Looking back up the falls from the plunge pool lookout

Looking back up the falls from the plunge pool lookout

© Robert Oates | BALLANTYNE Photography Travel and Events Photography and Editorial