Ok, there are some advantages to being woken at sparrows by little ones too excited to sleep. A comforting cuppa while watching the pre-dawn sky transition from tangerine to lilac to muted blue. The tiny duckling grazing on the lawn, the mist rolling low and slow under the bridge, and jumping fish breaking the mirrored surface of the river. Everything is calm, quiet, renewed.
It was wonderful waking up on the waterfront at Bellinger River Tourist Park. We thought we must have struck it lucky with a picture perfect morning, but Annette assured me this is the norm. Hard to leave, but breakfast beckoned.
At Anchors Wharf we were joined by a passing parade of pelicans, fish and seagulls. As we tackled towering plates of fluffy pancakes, we took in the tranquillity of the wide blue river.
They say Urunga is where the river meets the sea and the Waterfall Way begins. So we headed west for Dorrigo National Park – and what a drive!
Past lush green fields with chocolate soil, dotted with the purple plumage of majestic jacarandas. The steep escarpment jutted out of the valley before us as pebbly creeks babbled beside the road.
After an ear-popping climb we reached the top of Dorrigo Plateau. At an elevation of 760m, the scenery returned to fertile farmland. Much of the plateau was once covered by lava from the nearby Ebor Volcano which was active quite recently, geologically speaking, about 18 million years ago.
At the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre Kathryn and Anton offered a warm welcome and showed us around the interpretive display, shop and café which provided an air conditioned refuge from the unseasonable heat.
There was a bit of smoke haze today, but there is no doubt the skywalk would be simply breathtaking on a clear day. With the subtropical rainforest canopy beneath our feet, the plunging escarpment cliffs dropping off to the side, and a panoramic view stretching far out in front all the way to the distant Pacific Ocean.
It is impossible not to be in awe of nature in a place like this – we walked beneath trees thought to be 1000 years old, as the songs of over 120 species of birds were carried through the mountain air.
We set off for the Crystal Shower Falls and found a magical place where fairies, elves and sprites surely reside, in the dark, cool cavern hidden behind the cascade.
The walk back up the hill tested Master Four, but the promise of an ice-cream at the Canopy Café with friendly chef Wolfgang spurred him on. Miss Two travelled in style, on Daddy’s back.
Next stop, Dorrigo – where the mountains reach the sky. Only an hour from Coffs, it is a popular day trip for visitors to the region. A quintessential Australian country town, I remarked, as a tractor puttered down the main street.
Lunch was simply divine, at a little piece of heaven in the heart of Dorrigo – Food Angel Café. Jo and her team prepared delicious, crisp smoked salmon salad and a country style cottage pie, while we browsed the eclectic collection of charming wares. The kids discovered a bookshelf groaning under the weight of timeless classics and children’s stories.
Just five minutes from town Dangar Falls was a delight for weary little legs, with the viewing platform providing a spectacular vantage point just metres from the car park. For those with some more energy, the walk to the bottom for a swim in the waterhole would be well worth the effort.
As we unpacked our bags into the comfortable cottage at Bellingen Farm Stay we discussed how soon we could come back for a longer holiday – this is the kind of place I could rest, read and recuperate for days on end. The reading material on offer immediately struck a chord with me and hinted at the mood of the place – ‘The Celebration of Abundance: A simple guide to discovering life’s treasures’. And indeed we have.
The kids fell in love with owner Fiona at first sight, Master Four running to give her a huge hug. Kids have a sense for these things. So we were more than happy to leave them in her capable hands while we snuck into Bellingen for date night.
Almost everyone we’ve met over the past couple of days spoke so highly of Oak Street Food and Wine – and now we know why. Each plate celebrated the unique flavour of each individual ingredient, while melding the layers and textures to take the dish to a new level. Quality meats, locally sourced vegetables, back-yard grown herbs and wines from the surrounding regions of Uralla and Tenterfield combined to create an elegant, enjoyable experience. As a trained sommelier, Phil knows his wines and takes great pride in matching them with the fine food on offer.
We enjoyed a slow roasted pumpkin, pinenut and goat curd salad, as well as the grilled squid and prawn to start. Both dishes were light and fresh and had our tastebuds tempted for mains. The lamb cooked two ways was succulent and flavoursome, while the chicken in carrot and ginger broth was zesty and tender. The caramel and white chocolate parfait with pine nut praline gave the old classic gaytime a thrilling restaurant twist. I have no doubt we will return to this restaurant time and time again.
We hear there is some great live music just around the corner, so we might just pop in for a toe-tap on the way home.