Located inland of south coast NSW, the Southern Highlands is a scenic region best known for its dairy agriculture, its massive posh houses and its waterfalls. Thanks to a post-glacial rise in sea level affecting the uplifted lava fields of the Sydney basin, we ended up with dramatic and verdant valleys and, yes, tumbling waterfalls aplenty.
There are many waterfalls in the Southern Highlands, some famous and some hidden from the eyes of all but the most daring bush-bashers. However the big three, that draw visitors to the highlands year-round are Fitzroy, Belmore and Carrington. Each of these waterfalls is different and are all equally deserving of a visit, but please allow me to shed some light on their charms.
This is the most famous and most-visited of the region’s waterfalls. It is located just down the road from Robertson and is the most accessible and best equipped of the falls. It has a large visitor centre, a gift shop, a big cafe, boardwalks, pathways and a large car park. You need to pay to use the car park, but entry to the falls themselves is free.
Fitzroy Falls drop 81m down into Yarrunga Creek and, like all waterfalls, look their best after heavy rain. There are many lookouts situated around the rim of the valley from which you can view and photograph the waterfall, but the most famous is a very short 500m from the visitor centre. I can strongly recommend the walks around the rim of the valley, particularly the West Rim Walk which takes you past several excellent lookouts, a cool structure called The Grotto and on to Starkeys and Renown Lookouts. The East Rim Walk is great too, but doesn’t offer any views back on the main waterfall.
Is Fitzroy worth a look? Most definitely, but I’d make it the last stop of the day, so you can have a bite to eat in the cafe. Oh and watch your speed as you go through the village of Fitzroy Falls because there’s nearly always a police car clocking speeds on the way through.
Just to the east of Fitzroy you can find the infamous Belmore Falls. Located within the Barren Grounds National Park, Belmore is not nearly as well developed as Fitzroy, and all the better for it. There are a couple of lookouts and a bit of car parking, but that’s it. But why, you may wonder, are they infamous?
Belmore is a real thorn in the side of the parks authority due to the number of people who access the lower falls. There used to be an official track down to the bottom of the falls, but for safety (and, let’s face it, monetary) reasons, it was closed down some years ago. This has not stopped people from accessing the track and in fact, in this Instagram age when more and more people seek out adventure for the sake of a few likes on a photo, the numbers making the trek have steadily increased over the years. National Parks do not publicise the path down in any way, but they helpfully stuck a large sign that says “Danger, No Access Past This Point, Cliff Edge Ahead” right at the start.
So should you make the trek down yourself? Why not? In this Health and Safety obsessed era, why not take a bit of personal responsibility and check it out? If you visit in summer you can even swim in the big pool at the base of the falls. It’s a steep walk, but nothing too adventurous and I managed it fine when I was badly overweight and fairly unfit.
For my money, Carrington is actually the best of the three main waterfalls in the Southern Highlands. It’s the most scenic, the most dramatic and the most easily accessible. It has an awesome area behind the falls that’s perfect in summer for cooling off and there’s the added attraction of nearby Nellies Glen.
The main lookout at Carrington has been closed for a couple of years now, but assuming the water isn’t flowing too strongly, you can still access the falls from the northern side by parking up near Nellies Glen and walking across the rocks. There’s even a ‘mad bastard’ pool, right on the lip of the falls that people sometimes sit in for a stomach lurching photo opportunity.
There are great viewpoints to be discovered all around the edges of Carrington and it’s the easiest one to photograph up-close. It gets bloody busy during the summer holidays (thanks to the aforementioned flat rocks behind the falls) but should definitely be visited whatever the time of year.
Located right next to Carrington Falls, Nellies Glen is a small waterfall that doubles as a popular swimming hole known as the ‘Blue Pool’. No idea how it got that name, unless it was by someone with a sense of humour, because I’ve never seen it any colour other than brown. That’s not to say it’s not scenic – far from it – it’s a stunning and compact waterfall that’s well worth checking out. You can also scramble up a track on the right side of the waterfalls and explore the creek upstream. If you visit in summer be prepared to share the place with several hundred people!
Not strictly speaking in the Southern Highlands, Minnamurra is well worth a visit. The falls themselves are not as high as the big three, but you can get much closer to them, much more easily, thanks to a well-developed bush track maintained by the parks service. The attractions at Minnamurra include boardwalk access to the rainforest, a very large car park area, a big gift shop and a popular cafe. The walk up to the main falls isn’t terribly arduous and only takes about half an hour each way.
There are waterfalls everywhere around the Southern Highlands and on the escarpment. Others that you can explore include Yatteyattah Falls, Granite Falls, Mini Ha Ha Falls, Gerringong Falls, Nethercote Falls, Tianjara Falls and Macquarie Pass Falls. There’s also loads of smaller waterfalls which you can discover if you do some creek-bashing, working your way upstream at any of the publicly accessible creeks.
If you fancy have a refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day, then there’s nothing quite as nice as a mountain-fed swimming hole. My favourites are Flat Rock in Upper Kangaroo Valley, Nellies Glen, Hampden Bridge in Kangaroo Valley and Minerva Pool in Dharawal National Park.