It is no secret that the Bellingen Shire is the home to the creative hub and picturesque township of Bellingen which boasts some amazing coffee, delicious food, remarkable arts and crafts, markets, festivals, and a thriving live music scene, but what truly makes the Shire one of the most spectacular places in the country is the incredible variation in the landscape.
The Bellingen Shire is situated less than a half hours drive south from the holiday destination of Coffs Harbour in the New South Wales mid-north coast. Being found roughly at the halfway mark between Sydney and Brisbane, it makes the perfect destination to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Image by Daniel Tran via Destination NSW
Bellingen itself has in the past often been compared to Byron Bay in its former glory days, a local secret and a place that only those in the know visited, however, word has gotten out over the years and the Shire’s long kept secret is well and truly out of the bag.
The ultimate destination for any nature buff, the Bellingen Shire boasts sublime beaches, rolling green hills, looming mountains, crystal clear creeks, roaming rivers, and an array of vegetation from coastal scrublands and mangroves to woodlands and temperate rainforest.
Image by Guy Williment via Destination NSW
The Glory of the Gondwana Rainforest
The Bellingen Shire is certainly home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the state that includes plant species that have been around prior to Australia’s separation from the supercontinent, Gondwana, and dating back prior to the existence of most species of dinosaurs. New South Wales’ Gondwana Rainforests, stretching from Newcastle to Brisbane, are in fact the largest stretch of sub-tropical rainforests in the world, with eight areas recognised and included in the Australian National Heritage list and protected by National Park status.
As you meander up Waterfall Way as she ascends the Great Dividing Range, you will drive through some of the country’s lushest sub-tropical rainforest leading you to the Dorrigo National Park. Here you will find a walk through these Gondwana forests to suit most intrepid adventurer.
The Crystal Shower Falls Walk is by far the most popular walking track within the national park, and rightly so. This short 3.5 kilometre walk will take you through stunning rainforest to a suspension bridge, that once crossed, grants you access to under the waterfall itself. For those after a more gentle walk, the half a kilometre wheelchair accessible Walk with the Birds Boardwalk is a must do, and offers elevated viewing of some of the most intriguing birdlife including the lyrebirds and paradise riflebird, and with 150 bird species making the forest their home, you are certain not to be disappointed.
Image by Kate Nutt via Destination NSW
Make sure you take the time to also enjoy the magnificent view from the Skywalk. The 70 metre long boardwalk and viewing platform offers suburb views of the forest and valleys, as well as Old Man Dreaming, the mountain that looks over the valley and depicts the profile of a sleeping man. The Gumbaynggirr legend tells the story of warrior Ngali who was responsible for the protection of the women who came to give birth in the Valley, however was punished and turned to stone for falling asleep.
Image by Guy Williment via Destination NSW
Waves to Wilderness offer guided tours of The Dorrigo National Park and Dangar Falls in Dorrigo, with a final stop at the Raleigh Winery near Urunga to end the day and can collect you from you accommodation. If you would prefer a more personalised tour off the beaten track though, Bellingen Nature Tours operated by local ecologist Mark Graham might be more your cup of tea, and can be tailored to your interests and abilities.
It is by no accident that the road through the Shire from the coast, over the mountains and on towards Armidale is named Waterfall Way. The Bellingen Shire is home to some incredible waterfalls, and as you drive up towards Dorrigo from Bellingen you will behold falls cascading down the mountain along the winding road.
One must see waterfall is the Crystal Shower Falls within the Dorrigo National Park. Just as the name suggests, the waters here are crystal clear as they head down the mountain valleys, and the beauty of these falls over the others is not just the stunning rainforest backdrop, but that you can actually stand in the cavern behind the falls after crossing the scenic suspension bridge.
Danger Falls at the top of the plateau just 1.5 kilometres north of the township of Dorrigo is another must. These basalt rocks offers the waters here a 30 metre gushing dive to the pool below, creating a great spot to beat the heat for those that have brought their swimmers.
Beware the Drop Bears and Snapping Turtles
The koala is a national icon, and as a species has been listed as vulnerable since 2012. The mid-north coast area boasts one of the largest koala populations in New South Wales, approximately 20% of the state’s total, with The Office of Environment and Heritage describing the region as containing “koala habitats of national significance”. Following the tragic 2019-2020 bushfire season, it is estimated that 30% of NSW’s population were lost in the fires after already noticeably declining in numbers over the previous decades. The proposed Great Koala National Park would cover sections of the Bellingen, Coffs, and Nambucca Valley council areas, and see sections of state forest turned into national park as 44% of the recorded NSW state forest “koala hubs” have been identified as falling within the mid-north coast region.
Not only will the GKNP provide a haven for the region's koalas and other various threatened native species, but it also incorporates plans for nature based tourism which includes trails for walking, mountain biking, 4WD'ing, and horse riding Want to find out more about The Great Koala National Park proposal? Their volunteer run visitor and information centre is located in Urunga at the old Tourist Information Centre on Giinagay Way, and operates most days until 2pm, or download the information booklet here.
Wondering the best place to spot a koala? Bongil Bongil National Park is definitely the best place to go. Make it a bushwalking day trip and pack a picnic to enjoy on the way. There is no guarantee you will see them however, each koala requires 100 trees in their home range to sustain them, plus they are masters at camouflage, but the clue is to look for their scats (poo) and scratching marks on the tree trunks.
The Bellinger River Snapping Turtle can be found along the upper reaches of the Bellinger River and is listed as critically endangered. This endemic short-necked species can be identified by a yellow stripe that reaches from its jaw along the underside of its neck and their distinctive "bar-bells" located on their chin. After suffering a viral mortality event in 2015 where over 90% of the species was wiped out, they are now also threatened by predators and poor quality of the river, so ensure you are leaving these pristine waters as they were when visiting the area.
Paddle or Sail the Bellinger River
In the sumptuous countryside of Fernmount, which lies between the coast at Urunga and town of Bellingen, Bellingen Canoe Adventures operates canoe hire or guided tours along the Bellinger River. Experience half or full day trips on calm water or in rapids, should water levels comply, or enjoy the sunsets or full moon via canoe, followed by a champagne or juice toast to another glorious day in the Shire. Bookings are essential for this amazing experience.
Image by Guy Williment via Destination NSW
If a relaxing day sail is more your vibe, then back down the valley in Urunga you can book in a pleasure cruise, or enjoy a sailing lesson with Sailurunga. These Discover Sailing Adventures are both child and disability friendly, and will take you from the Kalang River to where the Bellinger and Kalang converge, and then up the Bellinger towards Mylestom for a cup of coffee and some morning tea before sailing back again. Lucky sailors have spotted sea turtles and dolphins on many a voyage, and when the tide is right, you may see the wreck of an old paddle steamer. And what a better way to finish your outing after farewelling your instructor than grabbing a bite on the water at Anchors Wharf Café just over the opposite side of the rail bridge.
Bush or Beach Horse Riding Trails
If a furry friend adventure is what you have in mind, then head to Valery Horse Trails in the tranquil Bellingen hinterland. Tucked in amongst the national parks and state forests, Valery Horse Trails offers an array of horse riding experiences from beginners and those more astute, and can cater to children, adults, and those with disabilities. Choose from a trail ride, lesson or pony walk experience and even kid’s holiday camps. The hour or two-hour trail ride will take you through some beautiful scenery of the surrounding valleys, hills or rainforest, with non-riders able to relax by the pool, or walk the grounds as they wait.
Image by Guy Williment via Destination NSW
Valery Horse Trails also offer beach rides to those wanting to enjoy the salt spray from horse back at nearby Boambee Beach, as well as longer ride and swim experience along the Boambee Lagoon. Bookings can be made via the booking form on the website or by contacting them by phone.
Care for a Dip?
The Bellingen Shire has some of the best water holes in New South Wales, and with its perfect climate (trust me, the region is literally known for its year long perfect weather), they can be enjoyed for well over half the year.
The Never Never Creek, located in Bellingen’s Promised Lands just past Gleniffer, is one of the best-known spots amongst the locals. The area isn’t called the Promised Lands for nothing, and there is certainly something magic about the land and water here that will leave each visitor with the feeling that they have just found home. However, please be extremely respectful of the water, land, and locals if visiting as there are no facilities and you will need to take your litter with you when you depart.
If you are after a spot closer to the town of Bellingen, then the swimming hole at Lavenders Bridge is the best place to take a blanket and enjoy a dip and picnic with friends, and is only a five minute walk back up the hill to the main street to grab a scrumptious bite for dinner at any of the local restaurants, bars or hotels.
When travelling with the kids, the Urunga Lido is a must. Situated at the beginning of the famous boardwalk, the lido is the perfect salt water swimming spot to take the toddlers or the teens. You will see many a teenager milling and plunging off the end of the lido, and paddling around the two pontoons. Not only is the sheltered spot great for the kids, but it is also perfect for the parents, either to laze on the grass or sand, bring the SUP or kayak, or stroll along the Urunga foreshore or out to the ocean along the wheelchair accessible boardwalk.
When Urunga gets too busy for you, the quaint town of Mylestom is a short drive to the north and is situated directly amidst the ocean and the Bellinger river. If the ocean is too rough, then within a five-minute walk the river has a fenced-in swimming spot that is safe for the kids. Take a picnic to eat in the shaded park area, or grab a bite at the North Beach café.
If heading up the hill, the swimming hole at Danger Falls just out of Dorrigo is a must, and when busy, our best picks are the spots above the falls.
Catching a Wave
Hungry Head Beach located five minutes south of the main township of Urunga, is the locals pick for great surf (although North beach is another favourite spot). Hungry Head is one of those places that can make you fall in love with an area. On entry to the headland car park, more often than not you will spot a grazing kangaroo or curious kookaburra in the surrounding bushland that makes an ideal post swim picnic spot. The headland itself looks out upon the roaring ocean, and if you timing it right, it is highly likely you may catch a passing whale or two. You will often spot a group hanging out here after their morning surf, or visitors just taking in the incredible views.
Dalhousie Creek past the Surf Club is also a great spot for standup paddleboards and kayaks, and makes a great place to enjoy the water with small children, otherwise, head back into town and paddle in the Urunga lagoon or on the Kalang River.
Estuaries and Wetlands
Urunga is a small town that packs a big natural punch. The famous boardwalk will take you from the popular lido swimming spot all the way out to the ocean with a branch that takes you further into the lagoon amongst the mangroves. Our favourite time to visit is as it is nearing low tide as you will get a chance to see thousands of crabs scurrying about their business, along with an array of fish, birdlife and the occasional water dragon or snake baking on the nearby rock wall.
The Urunga wetlands just off the corner of Hillside Drive and Giinagay Way make a beautiful short walk through what was once an old antimony mine that has been regenerated and is now again filled with life. Local Landcare groups help maintain the natural plant species here.
Whether you are looking for a nature-based adventure, or simply want to relax and soak up the incredible scenery, the Bellingen Shire has it all. Stay at the affordable and spacious Riverside Holiday Resort in Urunga, situated on the river front and just a five minute walk to town, and enjoy the stunning offerings the region has in store for you on your next getaway.