- Day 1: SURPRISE WATERFALL BONANZA
- Day 2: MORE WATERFALL SURPRISES
- Day 3: IT’S BEEN TOO DRY FOR TOO LONG
Day 1: SURPRISE WATERFALL BONANZA
It was 5:00am when Julie and I awoke, checked out of the Downtown Motel Wollongong, and headed straight for Kiama at 6:15am. I thought we could get a few more looks at the blowhole without looking against the sun (like yesterday arvo). I thought we might also get a chance to check out the Little Blowhole nearby as well.
And so by 7:03am, we were once again before the blowhole at Kiama. The sun had already risen and hidden itself behind some dark and threatening clouds. It was rather chilly and windy this morning, but we had no trouble photographing the blowhole. We momentarily had it all to ourselves though other early birds soon started showing up.
By 7:34am, we got back in the car and arrived at the Little Blowhole – seeing how it was still too early for some of the brekkie places in Kiama town center to open.
Finding this place was a bit trickier because we had to weave our way through some hilly residential neighborhoods to find it. But eventually, we found the little reserve right in front of some house that was for sale.
This particular blowhole was definitely a more consistent performer and had a more geyser-like behavior than its larger counterpart. Despite her reservations, Julie actually enjoyed this one as did I. Sometimes I wonder how often the locals who live nearby come out here to see nature in one her mood swings.
By 7:45am, we headed back into the waterfront town center of Kiama and had a very decent brekkie at the Park View Cafe. Afterwards (8:56am), we were refreshed and fueled up for our anticipated waterfall sightings of the day.
First up was the Minnamurra Falls.
It wasn’t long until we arrived at the well-forested Minnamurra Rainforest at 9:22am. After paying our fee and parking the car, we headed to the visitor center where a sign said the following:
“WHAT’S ON AT MINNAMURRA
Welcome to Your Park
Water flow over the falls is low due to the drought conditions But the whole Rainforest experience is still exceptional…”
The low water flow part was particularly disconcerting. Still, we proceeded through the visitor center and started the well-developed 2-hour return walk to see the falls.
As we strolled along the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, we noticed several interpretive signs talking about the rainforest. It was quite lush and peaceful. After about half an hour, we reached a trail junction where a spur to the waterfall led steeply uphill. It was easy to see why wheelchair access was no longer possible at this point.
We huffed and puffed up the seemingly relentless hill. While we were busy concentrating on making it up the hill, we unknowingly startled a kangaroo. And for the first time, we heard low-pitched thuds as it landed on each hop as it ran away from us.
“Their hops are pretty loud,” Julie said.
“Kind of makes you wonder how they run from predators… Oh wait, they don’t really have predators here,” said I.
Eventually, the track flattened out as it followed some narrow ledges. We would eventually pass above Lyrebird Falls, which we could hear but we couldn’t photograph since we were too far upstream from it. But a few minutes later, we could finally see the Minnamurra Falls.
The falls itself was actually flowing quite well – contradicting what the sign we saw at the visitor center said. Sure it could’ve had higher flow, but with the drought and all, we were glad to take what we could get.
It turned out that the falls was actually the Upper Minnamurra Falls. We could see through the foliage a taller, louder, but mostly hidden Lower Minnamurra Falls. An interpretive sign mentioned how there used to be access to the base of the falls and it was the main draw of the walk. But a landslide did away with it and now all we get to see is an unsatisfying profile view into its narrow slot gorge.
Julie and I lingered at the Upper Minnamurra Falls for quite a while. But finally by 10:55am, we started to head back to the visitor center. On the way out, we started to notice more people heading to the falls so I guess we beat the rush. Many of them took advantage of the many rest benches along the way to catch their breaths after the steep uphill part.
Next, we drove to Carrington Falls and got there at noon. There was a small bit of unsealed road to get here, but otherwise the car park was big and the tracks were easy to follow towards its multiple overlooks.
When we first saw the falls, we were surprised at how well it was flowing. Julie remarked how this was easily the best falls we saw. Obviously she didn’t think too highly of the Blue Mountains waterfalls to make that statement. It was probably because this one still had the volume and it had converging columns in sort of a Y-shape at its top.
We spent time looking at the various angles of the impressive waterfall afforded to us from the established overlooks. The sun was finally out though, which make long exposure photography tricky and difficult at best.
At 12:45pm, we finally pried ourselves away from Carrington Falls and proceeded on to Belmore Falls. Along the way, we stopped by a road shop selling meat pies. We didn’t eat them until we got to the car park for Belmore Falls at 1:20pm and then after we viewed the falls.
Once again, the road to get there involved a bit of unsealed driving on narrow roads, but it wasn’t at all bad. There was a one way loop that ultimately took us to the official car park for the falls.
From there, we kept the meat pies in the car while we anxiously went on the short walk to the overlook. And when we got there, we oohed and aahed at the towering two-tiered waterfall. Sure the falls were far away from the viewpoint, but once again we were quite satisfied with its volume – especially in light of the drought. Perhaps the rain that followed us around really did deliver the moisture we needed to revive or at least sustain the flow of the falls.
When we returned to the car, we finally had our meat pies which were still quite hot. As we picnicked, an elderly couple parked next to us and asked how the falls were going. We proudly told them it was going well and off they went to experience the similar joy we had just experienced.
By 1:50pm, we had left and it wasn’t until 2:15pm did we arrive at the well-developed car park for Fitzroy Falls. Surely with this much infrastructure, this waterfall must be doing well. So we parked the car, fed the parking fee kiosk, and placed the printed ticket onto the dashboard.
From there, we headed to the visitor center, where we spoke to the lady working at the cashier office to inquire about park passes (considering how we probably could’ve saved a good deal of money in Western Australia on our previous trip to Oz). It turned out that we didn’t really need one of those park passes unless we were camping. So we continued with the pay as you go mentality.
We also engaged in a friendly conversation with her. Upon learning that we were from Los Angeles, she went on to tell us that she has a cousin living in Pacific Palisades. Not knowing what a well-off neighborhood that was, we made it known to her that he certainly must be doing real well to be living there. She then went on to tell us in response that she’ll be making plans to visit her cousin to see his place 😉
And with that, Julie and I walked onto the well-established track. At the first overlook, we had a top-down profile view of Fitzroy Falls and the valley beneath the falls. It was hard to see all of the falls from here, but the view was quite impressive nonetheless. Still, storm clouds were looming in the horizon and it was just a matter of time before this view would become clouded over and wet.
So on we went towards the next major overlook called the Jersey Lookout. It was here that we could finally get nice direct views of the Fitzroy Falls. We spent quite a bit of time enjoying the scenery here before we continued onwards towards the so-called Twin Falls.
Now since I hadn’t known about this waterfall prior to the trip, I was real curious to see what it would look like. After a few minutes of walking beyond the Richardson Lookout (the next one beyond Jersey Lookout), we made it to the well-signed Twin Falls.
Before us was a pair of cascades. The nearest one to us was the most impressive with nice volume and unobstructed views. The other parallel column of water was more obstructed by foliage and had less flow. Together it was easy to see why it was called Twin Falls.
By now, the misty rain had arrived and we headed back to the car park. By 3:18pm, we had left Fitzroy Falls and proceeded to drive towards Canberra – the Australian capital.
The weather remained most misty and cloudy, but as we continued on the Hume Highway, we could start to see brown grass and bare trees. We were hard pressed to see any green and every time the road would cross a bridge over some creek, I swore neither Julie nor I saw any water in any of them. Even the rivers looked either dry or just a tiny stream leaving the rest of its channel overgrown or bare.
There were some dark clouds up on the horizon so perhaps that provided some hope that it would dump rain on some of the area we intended to see near Canberra.
By 5pm, we had finally crossed the Australian Capitan Territory boundaries and eventually into the city of Canberra. After passing by some sobriety check point on the north end of town, we were on the main street in search of our motel.
The first thing Julie and I noticed were how wide the streets were. It almost reminded us of how things were back in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the Western US. It totally didn’t have the “tightness” we felt in Sydney, Wollongong, Kiama, nor even the townships of the Blue Mountains.
Eventually at 5:25pm, we arrived at the Comfort Inn Downtown Canberra just north of the CBD of the city. After parking the car, it took a while for Julie to get checked in. The delay, it turned out, was that they didn’t have bookings for us despite our voucher saying otherwise.
Julie started having concerns as to whether it was a problem on the hotel end or if it was a problem on the tour operator (GoWay) end. In the end, they put us in one of their roomy luxury suites at no extra charge. Still, if the problem was on the tour operator end, Julie was very concerned about whether we’d be shut out of other accommodations later in the trip.
Once we got settled, Julie and I proceeded to walk into the CBD looking for a place to eat. After a few minutes of strolling around, we eventually walked into a sort of promenade area where there were plenty of shops, restaurants, and even theaters. Many of the restaurants looked and sounded busy. In fact, many of the patrons were dressed up as if they were going to the prom or something. We started seeing more and more of this phenomenon as we walked deeper into this CBD area.
And so as Julie and I continued strolling around the CBD of Canberra looking for a bite, we couldn’t quite figure out why so many people were dressed to impress. Complicating the scene was the menacing skies relentlessly dumping its rain. I was amused watching people either taking shelter or allowing their clothes to get drenched. But Julie kept an eye out on me as she kept pinching me painfully every time some attractive well-dressed lady would walk by as if to ensure I didn’t have wandering eyes.
Eventually, we settled in on some Italian restaurant called Mamas Trattoria. While Julie could order her linguini pescatore, I would have some pizza (hadn’t had one of those in a while). When I inquired with the waiter why everyone’s so dressed up, he told us it was the Melbourne Cup.
Ah, so that’s what Triple J Radio was talking about.
My sentiments kind of echoed one of the Triple J Presenters (or DJs) as he mused that it was the one day Australians cared about horse racing. For the rest of the year, just about everyone but the most hard core followers couldn’t tell one horse from another. But on this one day, everyone cared. And everyone got dressed up for it while almost everything stops (including shops and businesses) during the horse race. In other words, it was the race that literally stops the Nation.
Anyways, some Japanese-owned horse won it this year. It got the Presenters trippin’ about it.
By the end of dinner, Julie and I were quite satisfied. This place also served up sticky date for dessert so of course we allowed ourselves to have another helping of this – knowing weren’t likely to find something like this back home.
It was quite cold this evening back at our motel, but this was the type of conditions that made things easy for me to sleep. And that I did…
Day 2: MORE WATERFALL SURPRISES
The next morning was considerably sunnier than yesterday. It was still a bit chilly, but we could tell it was going to be a warm day as the storm over Canberra seemed to have passed. By 6:52am, we traveled light and got in the car as we were southbound for Cooma.
The big excursion for today was to try to see Tuross Falls. I had reservations about this excursion because the literature mentioned that the unsealed road to the trailhead was suitable for 4wd, which we didn’t hire.
I didn’t really tell Julie this fact because she would’ve stopped me from trying out this excursion. Still, I felt compelled to drive to Cooma and talk to the folks at the visitor center there to get a more first-person take on the situation.
It was 8:28am when we got to Cooma. The town looked like it was a gateway to Kosciuszko National Park, which was known for skiing. However, everything was dry and brown around here with no snow in sight, which was not a good sign for our waterfall prospects.
Nothing was open yet except for an internet cafe, which is what Julie took full advantage of. So we lingered around until the visitor center opened at 9am.
When the visitor center did open, Julie continued internetting. In the mean time, I headed over there and proceeded to ask the clerks there about Tuross Falls while picking up free literature.
Upon the inquiry, the first young lady I talked to was about to say it wasn’t flowing due to the drought. However, she thought about it and asked an older lady in the back about it. She, too, thought about it and told me that she was in contact with someone who’s in the area and that they had been getting a lot of rain lately. Based on that, she went on to tell me the falls could very well be flowing, but the road might be a little rough due to the recent rain.
When I inquired further about the road conditions, the younger lady told me that they go there often in a passenger vehicle so it’s not necessarily exclusive to 4wd.
Now that was what I wanted to hear.
I was game to try out this excursion and these ladies provided all the motivation I needed.
As I left the visitor center, Julie was headed my way. I proceeded to start the car and set up our GPS tracking. In the mean time, Julie spent a little more time picking up a quick brekkie takeaway for us.
And with that, we left Cooma at 9:50am.
The drive was fairly straight forward and the falls were properly signposted as we were in the vicinity of Wadbilliga National Park.
Sure enough after about half an hour of driving on sealed roads, the road became unsealed. At first it wasn’t too bad, but it did start to get rough and rutted the further we went. There were a few close calls where the ground threatened to scrape the undercarriage of the car and there was a couple of steep hills as well.
The hike was on a pretty well-developed track (considering the remoteness of the area) and easy to follow. There was a bridge crossing at the start of the track with no water running beneath it. So certainly that was a bad sign.
But as we got further along the track we could see evidence that there was a fire that raced through this area at some point. So with all these signs telling me that the falls won’t be doing so well and a cynical Julie wondering why we took the trouble to go this far, we started to hear the slapping sounds of water in the distance.
There wasn’t any wind so we knew we weren’t being fooled and the falls were legit.
As we descended some wooden steps towards the overlook, Julie and I delighted at the sight of Tuross Falls. It wasn’t flowing at its best, but it certainly had sufficient flow to look beautiful.
We wasted no time taking photos and basking in the reward for our hard work to get here.
But by 11:57am, we managed to pry ourselves away from the place and walk back to the car. It was 12:35pm when we returned to the car park. Having accomplished this task with its most pleasant surprise, we headed to Gibraltar Falls, which we knew was on the way back to Canberra.
We noticed a kangaroo staring right at us as we were driving the rough road out of Wadbilliga National Park.
After getting momentarily lost due to a closure sign that turned out not applying to us, we managed to finally get to the signed car park at 3:13pm. From there, the short walk led to an overlook perched midway down the tall but rocky cascade. The falls continued further down the cliff, but there was no way we’d scramble down there.
Considering the dry conditions surrounding this area, we were once again surprised at this waterfall’s fullness. I started to wonder whether all our fears about the drought impacting our waterfall experience were overblown.
Anyways, we returned to the car at 3:40pm and made it to the visitor center in Canberra at 4:53pm. Since the facility closed at 5pm, we had to quickly get the literature we were after and also try to learn the whereabouts of Ginninderra Falls during that time.
Well that was when a guy working there told me that the falls was on private land. And unfortunately, the cost of insurance (liability) was too much for them to bother with so they just closed off access to the falls. So in his words, the falls “no longer exists.”
As we left the visitor center, I made an attempt to use the Australian saying “No Worries” considering how often it gets used here. I couldn’t quite recall the exact context I attempted to use it, but I induced a sarcastic laugh from a young female worker as everyone there who was closing up shop.
Hey, at least I tried.
Back in town, Julie and I went back to the CBD. This time, she had another one of her southeast Asian cravings and we ended up eating at this Chinese restaurant called Sammy’s Kitchen that served some laksa as well as other southeastern-influenced dishes. Julie picked this spot because of how busy it was; so it must be good, right?
Well the meal was satisfying. We were amazed at how many Chinese people we saw in Oz. Julie theorized that many of them left Hong Kong when the Brits had to give it back to China. I’m sure their open immigration policy at the time didn’t hurt either.
After the meal, Julie and I continued into the town center to pick up some groceries from the Supabarn. We were low on water and munchos (our little term for snacks) so we stocked up on this before we returned to our motel.
And with that, another satisfying day came to a close. Tomorrow, we planned on seeing some of Canberra and their Parliament District before heading out to Tumut…
Day 3: IT’S BEEN TOO DRY FOR TOO LONG
Julie and I slept in for a bit on this day as I hadn’t planned on seeing any waterfalls on this day. As we checked out of our room at the Comfort Inn, the lady at the desk told us that the screw-up with the booking was with the tour operator.
Uh oh. Julie’s fears were true.
So since we planned to roam the CBD for a little bit before checking out their Parliament District, we took this opportunity to peruse an internet cafe that was a bit on the expensive side. Since Julie felt compelled to use it to try to communicate with GoWay about the booking snafu, it was a price we were willing to pay. Who knows what else got screwed up?
Once that was done, we walked back into the CBD to have a lunch. Julie had a kabob wrap craving as she knew Oz was one of the few places where you could get such a thing with sweet chili spread within the wrap. And after the satisfying lunch at a takeaway place called Ali Baba’s, we returned to the car parked at the motel and proceeded to drive towards the fancy government buildings at 11am.
The center of Canberra was basically a well-planned series of gardens, government buildings, and war memorials spanning several city blocks. In the middle was the parliament house with its unusual prismatic structure hovering in the middle of the building. Around it was the memorable Anzac Parade, which led up to the War Memorial. We also had a chance to see an impressive fountain (hey, aren’t they on water restrictions?) in Lake Burley Griffin.
There were numerous other interesting things we checked out in our brief tour of Canberra’s Commonwealth Park, which reminded Julie of something similar she saw in Geneva, Switzerland; except she thought the Swiss one was more impressive – and that’s saying something.
Anyways, after a brief visit inside the Parliament House, we finally headed out to Tumut at 1:07pm.
After more driving on wide highways through more brown and dry farmlands, we eventually arrived at the Tumut Visitor Center at 3:35pm. While in there, I was picking up some free literature when I noticed a pamphlet talking about Buddong Falls. Since I didn’t expect to see any waterfalls today, I thought perhaps maybe we might squeeze this one in today if it was close enough to Tumut.
Well, it turned out to be less than 30 minutes away and the sun doesn’t set until after 8pm. So I figured why not.
But Julie urged that I ask the clerk at the visitor center about whether it was flowing or not. And the lady told me the falls would be trickling at best.
“It’s been too dry for too long,” she said. The warm, cloudless weather certainly made things feel dry, I reckoned. I guess you can’t win them all.
And with that, I caved in to Julie’s urge to get to the motel to check in.
When we arrived at the motel, the first thing Julie noticed was that it was no longer a Comfort Inn Motel. The address was right, but the building was not. Instead, it was the Ashton Townhouse Motel.
It was yet another screw up on GoWay’s part, she thought.
Anyhow, we paid for this night out of pocket and used the free internet there to inform our GoWay rep about the problem here.
“We’re not using GoWay again,” Julie kept telling me.
Anyways, at least we had a place to stay.
After getting settled, we walked around the sleepy town. There were a few cafes open, but we ended up settling for some pizza place called Eagle Boys to save a little money. I got some kind of pizza they called “The Australian,” which was kind of a reef and beef pizza – i.e. sausages and shrimp (oops, I mean prawns). It was a filling meal, but we couldn’t help but feel guilty for eating something so greasy.
And so ended another eventful day in Oz. We spent a warm night thinking about tomorrow’s excursion, which would put us out of New South Wales and into the state of Victoria across the Murray River. I kept my fingers crossed for similar successful waterfall sightings, but something ominously told me that Victoria would be considerably drier than NSW had been…