Beyond the beaches lie a handful of idyllic spots to cool off.
It’s better known for its surf beaches, vibrant cafe scene and laid-back lifestyle, but the east coast Australian town of Byron Bay is also blessed by its proximity to the world’s most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest. One of the few places on earth where plants and animals remain relatively unchanged from their fossilized ancestors, this network of national parks and nature reserves known as the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia are also home to some of Australia’s most breathtaking waterfalls. Better yet, most of them are accessible to anyone with a hire car and a sense of adventure. Here are the best options within 75 minutes drive from Byron.
WHERE: Nightcap National Park
Plunging more than 300 feet over ancient rhyolite cliffs into an emerald gorge, Minyon Falls is the most spectacular–and popular–waterfall in far northern New South Wales (NSW). There’s a viewing platform beside the top of the falls, just a few minutes’ walk from the car park, but for a front-on view, you’ll need to drive about half a mile around the rim of the gorge to the Minyon Grass picnic area. Both spots have barbecue facilities and are also linked by the Minyon Falls walking track, a stunning eight-mile hike that weaves down through the forest to the base of the falls, then back up the opposite side of the gorge. Don’t forget your swimming costume!
INSIDER TIPLook out for the huge lace monitors that tend to hang around the barbecue areas, but do not feel them, which can be harmful to the lizards (and you).
WHERE: Nightcap National Park
Named for the group of local environmentalists who protested against the rampant logging of northern NSW in the late 1970s (which led to the historic formation of Nightcap National Park in 1983), the base of this tall, wispy waterfall is accessed via an easy mile-long return track weaving through lush palms, giant stranger figs, and moss-covered boulders. Swimming is prohibited to help protect the threatened Fleay’s barred frog and pouched frog that call the waterfall home, but it’s a peaceful spot to sit still for a while and soak up the sounds of the forest.
INSIDER TIPKeep your eyes peeled for pademelons, one of the smallest macropods in the Aussie bush.
WHERE: Goonengerry National Park
Despite its proximity to Minyon Falls (as the crow flies, at least), even most Byron locals haven’t heard of Goonengerry Falls. The relatively new Goonengerry National Park is still lacking marked tracks and facilities, so it’s particularly important to inform a responsible person where you’re going, and when you plan to return. It’s relatively easy, however, to locate the park’s namesake waterfall via a 15-minute loop from the parking area on South Boundary Trail Road. More of a lookout than a swimming spot, the sweeping views from the top of the falls–which plummet into an enormous gorge – are pretty special.
INSIDER TIPDownload an offline map (try the MapsWithMe app) to assist with navigation, as cell service can be patchy.
WHERE: Mt Jerusalem National Park
If you can get past the name (which remains a local mystery), this waterfall makes for a great little adventure. Following the course of an ancient lava flow (we’re talking 200 million years old), Hellhole Falls is more of a string of small waterfalls linked by a series of swimmable rockpools before the creek plunges into the Tweed Valley. Like Goonengerry there are no marked trails or facilities, and it’s a bit of a scramble down to the first swimming hole, just over a mile from the car parking area (at the junction of Middle Range Road and Middle Range Trail), so plan accordingly.
INSIDER TIPBring plenty of drinking water for the uphill hike to the car park.
WHERE: Killen Falls Nature Reserve
The closest waterfall to Byron, this wide, 30-foot-high plume in Tintenbar is perfect for visitors short on time, or with restricted mobility, as it’s a just a short walk from the car park along a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk to a platform with a pleasant outlook over the falls. It’s a further 10-minute scramble down to the base, where swimming is allowed, although the pool is quite shallow–if you have reef shoes, bring them along. You can also walk behind the curtain of water, where you might be lucky enough to spot a freshwater turtle resting.
INSIDER TIPHead here early in the morning to avoid the crowds at this popular spot.
Marom Creek Falls
With nearby Dalwood Falls now closed following a string of deaths linked to jumping from its high rock walls, this smaller double waterfall outside the town of Rous is a great alternative. While technically located on private land, the falls are easily accessed via a quarter-mile walk through a paddock off Dalwood Rd (just before it becomes Rous Rd). Cool off in the shallow pools at the top of the falls, or jump off the edge (with care) into the deeper pool about 10 feet below. It’s also possible to climb down the side of the waterfall to access the main pool.
INSIDER TIPThis waterfall is on private property, but the owner has been quoted in local press saying he doesn’t mind the public accessing the falls via his property.
It’s difficult to believe this charming little waterfall in Alstonville lies less than 300 feet from (but is entirely separate to) the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Just a five-minute walk from the end of Johnstons Rd at the northern end of town, the falls tumble about 10 feet into a sun-drenched pond on Maguire’s Creek cocooned by a thin tract of rainforest. A shaded, grassy area in front of the pond makes a great spot for enjoying a picnic while watching local kids leap from the top of the falls into the deep pool below.
INSIDER TIPThe waterfall is not on Google Maps, but signs point the way.
Whian Whian Falls
WHERE: Whian Whian Conservation Area
Located just north of the town of Dunoon (park your car on Whian Whian Rd north of Simes Bridge), Whian Whian Falls is a popular local swimming spot during the summer months. The waterfall stretches the width of Rocky Creek after heavy rain, but at most times of the year, you’ll find a single or double plume gushing into a pool surrounded by plenty of sunny rocks to relax on. Jumping from the top is not advised here, as there have been accidents.
INSIDER TIPIf the main waterfall is crowded, follow the stream for a few hundred feet below the falls to find your own private swimming hole.