‘A must-do day trip through NSW hinterland villages to Ellenborough Falls’

Jul 25, 2019
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Ian Smith and a friend went driving through the countryside in New South Wales. Source: Ian Smith

I was in transit, solo now, estranged from my partner of seven years and trying out house sitting without anyone else. I’d stopped at a friends’ place in Port Macquarie, New South Wales; one of the friends had never been to Wilson River Primitive Reserve so I’d nagged him for a couple of years and we’d decided we would go during my visit. Except, he’d rung his NRMA friend and was advised that the road wasn’t all that flash.

Since my mate Col owned a Mercedes-Benz with low profile tyres he thought it was not a good idea to the point where we weren’t going. However, Mr NRMA had suggested Ellenborough Falls via Comboyne. Now there was an area I knew well so, with the weather made to order, we were on our way just after 8am.

Somehow Col and I click and every trip we’ve ever done has been a bit special. Our recent trip was to be no different as we wound our way up the bending, curving ascent to the plateau at Comboyne. Now, I know not everyone shares this view but, for me, the area up there is the prettiest I’ve ever come across on the Great Divide. There’s beautiful rolling farmland, wonderful stands of trees, dramatic cliffs, dozens of waterfalls and views so expansive they take your mind to dreamland. Other places may come close, but this is truly special. When I advised Col to do a short 4-kilometre diversion, all manner of retro feelings came over me.

As we eased past the homestay I’d frequented, I was close to tears. A past rolled by that I dramatically realised would never return; and that was sad in the extreme. People’s faces that I would never see again covered my imagination. The expansive view across to Port Macquarie and the Tasman Sea was the only thing that disrupted my thoughts. Holding back my emotions I pulled out my phone and started shooting, since these days around 90 per cent of my photography is done with a Samsung S10 and Col has the same model so we continually compared notes.

Stopping along the route to Elands. Source: Ian Smith

We turned around and set sail again for Ellenborough, passing through the quiet hamlet that Comboyne ever was, easing along the Elands road through thickly wooded vistas and occasional glimpses of stark cliffs or verdant properties, the latter surprising because all around them seems to be parkland of some sort or the other.

Turning right into Elands we stopped at the utilitarian post office with its faded Coca-Cola supplied plastic seats placed randomly outdoors. A few table umbrellas lay scattered on the grass and a tattered banner flapped steadily in the breeze as we stepped out of the incongruous Merc, walked past the somewhat unkempt garden and avoided the dead cockroach on the welcome mat.

The effervescent young lass inside already had two customers for the coffee machine, for this was the only place where you could buy hot drinks, or cold for that matter. Long ago the atmospheric café up the road had closed its doors. I glanced around and noted there was a modicum of stores on some small shelves nearby. Thinking only to help the local economy I grasped a packet of biscuits to add to the bill, much to Col’s pleasure.

When finally we returned to the outdoor dining, the girl in charge came out and sat upwind at the table next to us with a young local couple and lit up a cigarette, the fumes wafting annoyingly over our position. An odd couple, he with generous amounts of bleached hair soaking up the news of the world in a newspaper and she looking for new horizons with her hand over her eyes shading them from the sun, sat behind us. It was as casual as outdoor ‘dining’ gets.

Sated, we covered the final 3km and Col announced that we’d averaged 37km/h on our journey, a statistic that neither excited me not really interested me, but I commented on it anyway before we egressed and got our camera gear together. This is officially listed as the second highest waterfall in Australia. Some used to say the second highest in the Southern Hemisphere but, since it became known that there are other countries than Australia in that region, it’s fallen off the charts by a comfortable margin. Never ceases to amaze me how common the ‘Southern Hemisphere’ tag was years ago when people really had no idea. Even New Zealand’s biggest drop is nearly three times the height of Ellenborough and Africa’s and South America’s four times higher.

Ellenborough Falls. Source: Ian Smith

We stopped at the first lookout to whet our appetite and then moseyed on through the ferny forest at the start and with a side loop to the Tallowwood grove, gathering photo opportunities all the way to the main lookout called ‘The Knoll’, which is directly opposite on the gorge that the water has created. There was time out to unsuccessfully shoot an active white-browed scrub wren that a curious elderly couple with limited bird knowledge (but keen), dubbed a LBB. Col thought that was impressive until they told him it meant little brown bird!

The main goal for most is the stairs that drop off the Bulga Plateau. All 641 of them. It’s a significant engineering feat and has been trashed several times by falling trees but on our visit was in as good a shape as ever and all the more interesting for the collapses. Collapsed railing and stairs have been cast aside with the dead trees either side. My knees are not happy with the going down movement however and I was much slower than Col on the descent.

At one stage we were passed by a couple of girls and, soon after, one of them took a bad tumble and was fortunate not to injure herself badly as she crashed full length on the walkway. Then there was the falls; not at their flooding best but with enough water going over to maintain one’s interest and enough noise to know that you’re in the presence of something special.

It was time to soak in the glory of this place and tune into the sounds of nature; watch the flicking leaves keeping in the rhythm of the waterfall while we snap randomly away for various angles. All too soon it was over and the ascent was on. Fortunately the steps are of similar height with flat spots here and there for some sort of recovery but I was in my element and the legs didn’t hurt going uphill so I kept a solid pace while Col suffered behind. It felt so good when we reached the trail again; there’s a definite sense of accomplishment, enhanced as we thread through the fern-lined lane back to the carpark, where a cheeky humanised scrub turkey had taken a liking to Col, probably because he was offering the turkey a bit of biscuit.

We only paused a couple of times on the way back to Comboyne where we stopped at the once famous Udder Cow Café that was closed a decade ago, but reopened just over four years ago and still serves mouth-watering desserts. Apart from Col demonstrating the handling qualities of the Mercedes on the twisting downhill run to Wauchope, there was no more excitement for the day; other than downloading our pictures, of course!

Have you taken a road trip just to get away from the day-to-day? Where have you discovered?

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