While staying at Urunga, we decided to exchange our thongs (flip flops) for walking boots and head to Dorrigo National Park, a one hour drive from Coffs Harbour. The chance to explore part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, the most extensive strip of diverse rainforest anywhere on earth, with a TrailRider lured us away from the coast. Although we can access many lookouts and some short walks with BJ’s wheelchair, immersive and adventurous walks are few and far between, making this attraction a must do for us.
As the car climbed to the top of Waterfall Way the temperature outside steadily dropped and the scenery changed from hills dotted with banana plantations to rainforests with waterfalls flowing freely on the roadside.
DORRIGO RAINFOREST CENTRE
Arriving at the Dorrigo Ranforest Centre we decided to start with the Skywalk using BJ’s regular wheelchair. The elevated Skywalk is wheelchair accessible and allows visitors of all abilities to experience life at the top of the rainforest canopy. We marvelled at the thick jungle-like covering stretching as far as the eye could see and the many birdcalls we could hear in the distance. The Skywalk, we are told, offers views from “the forest to the sea” but a thin mist hung around during our visit obscuring the coast.
Although the view from the Skywalk was stunning, we were keen to get amongst the rainforest and do what is usually off-limits to wheelchairs. BJ happily swapped his chair for the TrailRider and we were off on our adventure. National Park staff advised the most suitable route and the distance we would manage with two people guiding the TrailRider. Armed with a map and enthusiasm we set off on the suggested 2.5km walk.
The start of the walk was steeper than we’d envisaged and our minds churned over the return journey because although easy enough going down, we knew it would be a slog getting back to the top.
Those thoughts were soon forgotten as we were lost in the mythical-like environment of strangler vines, delicate hanging moss, exotic looking fungi and huge ferns. The trees dwarfed us, standing tall and clambering for their share of the sunshine.
I had forgotten how social it is for BJ when he’s in the TrailRider. Fellow walkers stopping to chat, commenting on his “cool ride” and high fiving him as he goes by. The TrailRider certainly breaks down communication barriers for BJ and he loves the social interactions.
We met Mark, an Indigenous Ranger, who chatted to us about the animals who call the National Park home, including 128 kinds of birds, 30 types of mammals and 44 species of reptles and amphibians. The dense forest provides an ideal hiding place and during our visit the animals successfully remained out of sight. I was hopeful of a Pademelon sighting (a small marsupial which looks like a small kangaroo) but a common brush turkey was the only thing we spied. I suspect our joyous chatter proved a forewarning of our approach long before we got near them. Mark encouraged us to try bush tucker and picked some berries from the nearby trees for us to taste. The small red berries didn’t have much flavor but were crisp and refreshing.
The loop walk we tackled had a good surface with either bitumen path or boardwalk all the way. A few tree roots acted like speed humps in spots but that made it all the more fun for BJ . Much of the track is level but there are steep inclines which tested everyone’s fitness. The more Hubby puffed the more amusing BJ found it. As designated photographer and videographer I left it to AJ and Hubby until the final incline. It was a very pleasant walk indeed!
On our return, we stood at the base of the ramp we had predicted would be tough and with the reality of the push ahead we made a pact that once on the move there was no stopping, no matter how hard. I won’t lie, it was tough. But we made it, and now have an amazing adventure in the family memory bank for our efforts.
As we arrived at the top the skies opened and we were reminded that much rain is needed for a rainforest to thrive. We were glad it didn’t receive its top up until we’d finished. Although enthusiastic and can-do I think it would have put a dampener on the occasion as BJ isn’t a fan of getting caught in the rain and being an optimistic person, I hadn’t packed rain weather gear.
This is a beautiful walk but if you are thinking of tackling it, keep in mind BJ is 55 kgs and we found parts of the walk a good workout. It may be prudent to have 3 guides if you are unsure how you’ll manage the steeper portions.
It felt absolutely wonderful being a part of nature and exploring all its wonders, so I highly recommend a day trip if you are in the area. I couldn’t help but silently thank David Stratton who was instrumental in bringing the TrailRider to Australia. You can read David’s story here.
We’ve used the TrailRider on many occasions and you can read more about our initial trial here to see if it’s right for you.
The staff at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre require visitors to watch a short video to familiarize themselves with using the TrailRider. Although there’s a helmet available at the centre, I recommend, for comfort, taking your own if you have one.
You will be required to fill out some paperwork and then you can be on your way to explore the walk.
If you’d like to know what to expect, take a virtual walk with us by watching the video below.
The Canopy Café has a range of meals and snacks to fuel you before or after the walk. Unfortunately, it was raining for lunch so we sat inside but I’d imagine on a fine day it would be the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the views and reflect on all you’ve seen on the walk.
There’s no stand-alone disabled toilet facility at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre (see below for alternative toilet facility.)
Accessible parking is available.
Barbecue facilities are available at The Glade and there’s an accessible long-drop bathroom facility (see photo if you haven’t been initiated into the wonders of the great Aussie long-drop toilet)
Download the Dorrigo Rainforest app prior to getting to Dorrigo. If you forget mobile phone service isn’t available at the Rainforest Centre but they do have 30 minutes free WiFi available to guests.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast prior to leaving the coast. We left a fine sunny day and it was drizzly and misty in the mountains which turned to heavy rain later in the day.
A donation of $2 per adult and $1 per child is requested for entry to the National Park.
You can plan your visit and read more about Dorrigo National Park here.
WHILE IN THE AREA
If you are prepared to go a little further afield after a visit to Dorrigo National Park, the countryside is beautiful.
Just a short drive from the National Park is Dangar Falls which is wheelchair accessible and only a short wheel or walk from the parking area.
The railing could be a little high for some wheelchair users.
We continued a further 45 minutes west to Ebor Falls with the promise of a double waterfall which would be flowing well after the rain.