I Tried The Dangerous Waterfall Experience Australians Have Been Warned About…

Video: Ascending ‘The Chimney’ Near Gerringong Falls

On a recent trip to NSW’s south coast, I had a literal white knuckle experience. I tried to hike to Gerringong Falls – the Instagram famous attraction dumb Sydneysiders like myself have reportedly been flocking to.

The first part of the trip involved an 9km walk along an unventful fire trail called the Budderoo Plateu Fire Trail (the start point of Budderoo Fire Trail is about half an hour inland from Jamberoo).

The exciting bit is the next bit: an hour-long (if you don’t get lost) clamber down to the falls themselves. This is where I had a mildly nerve-wracking experience, which made me turn back less than a kilometer away (I believe) from the falls, sacrificing all opportunity for Instagram glory in the process.

Despite regretting this, I don’t regret the experience as a whole, for a number of reasons.

Interesting piqued? Here’s everything I learned during my failed trip to Gerringong Falls, which The Daily Mail Warning last week, are “not easy to get to.”

Left image credit: Londoner In Sydney (at the waterfall). Right image credit: James Booth/DMARGE (in the chimney, on the way to the waterfall)

Bring A Bike For The Fire Trail

The Daily Mail was right: it’s not easy to get to. So unless you love walking long flat stretches of long flat fire trails (almost 20km of them!); rent a mountain bike. If you mountain bike from the car park then getting to start of the waterfall walk will probably take you 45 minutes or so (9km there, 9km back). If you walk, expect a good 2-3 hour slog (each way). And that’s before the tricky bit even begins…

Pay Proper Attention To Whatever Obscure Online Blog You Are Entrusting Your Directions To…

When you get to the end of the fire trail, there is a creek. I crossed this creek and bush bashed my way through a very overgrown path for about half an hour, before realising, “this can’t be right.” I then backtracked to the creek, re-checked the screenshots of a blog that explains where the secret entrance to the waterfall path is (there’s little-to-no phone signal), and finally found the start (if you’ve gone as far as the creek you’ve gone too far).

The only thing that gave me the confidence to continue down the path though (even when I found it I wasn’t sure if it was it) was seeing a couple hiking up the hill. If this hadn’t happened, otherwise I probably would have given up at this point. Looking at photos other people have taken, in my experience, was really only helpful in hindsight (ah, now I see what they mean).

Ensure You Have Adventure & Navigational Skills Of Your Own, Too

Always bear in mind that you shouldn’t place your life in the hands of some random internet guide. Don’t attempt this hike unless you are confident in your own bush bashing, climbing and hiking abilities (and even then, be careful as various people have become stranded or fallen off cliff ledges attempting to find or return from Gerringong Falls).

Do Your Research

Some bloggers – even ones who were smart enough (unlike me) to rent a bike – have come away from this walk saying “this hike was probably one of the most dangerous hikes I have ever done, and I have hiked all over the world” and “If you are even considering doing this hike, I strongly recommend against it.”

Londoner in Sydney, in 2017, wrote: “Finding the path and then the way down is absolutely impossible and if you do find your way down, it’s a death trap waiting to happen. No place is worth this kind of hike at all.”

They also added in 2021: “On some hikes around Sydney, you might see ribbons or markers on trees to help you guide the way. When we did this hike and wrote the above article in 2017, there was absolutely nothing to guide us which is why it was so hard.”

“If you are a very experienced hiker then obviously you might see this article differently. We are trying to help day trippers who might not be used to navigating off the beaten path hikes, because this hike is not on the same level as going to The Royal National Park where there are well marked hiking paths for example.”

Londoner In Sydney

The takeaway? Don’t just buy into the social media hype. Check in with yourself if you are really up for a hike like this. And then check again, and be bloody careful (and don’t go when it’s really slippery).

Don’t Climb Down Obstacles You Couldn’t Come Back Up Of Your Own Accord

If you’re relying on the rope to make it down the chimney, you’re not alone. But the experts would probably say it’s dodgy to place your faith in something which might be there one week, and gone the next.

Set Off Early In The Morning

Don’t do what I did and set off at 2pm. Even in summer when it’s light until quite late. Otherwise what might end up happening is that you spend the majority of your afternoon walking on a nice, but not amazing, fire trail, and then start the more serious (read: slightly sketchy) part of the walk around 430pm. And then get to the chimney and freak out and decide to turn back before you find yourself stuck and wandering around in the dark.

Assume You’ll Get Lost At Least A Couple Of Times

I got lost before even finding the start of the waterfall part of the walk (at the end of the fire trail). Blogger Travel Made Me Do It got lost before even reaching the end of the fire trail (there is a turn off about 5km in). Assume, if this is your first time doing it, you will waste time at certain points, and factor that into your timing.

Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

5 years ago I probably would have sneered at myself for turning back after the chimney. And sure: the fact I didn’t make it all the way to the falls is going to haunt me. And sure: if you have a super experienced hiker leading the pack, even some families have been known to do this walk.

But after hearing horror stories like Londoner In Sydney’s (“the non-existent path was more like bush bashing right next to a steep drop and the worst part was, we had to climb over loads of moving rocks and branches”) and of tragic stories of people getting stuck in the dark, and worse (people have had to be airlifted out after falling off cliffs) I’m glad that for once in my life I made the boring, but smart, call.

Watch Out For The Brown Snakes

Apparantly they love the boulders down in the middle.

Bring Plenty Of Water

Especially when it’s hot.

If You Make It There, Enjoy Nature’s ‘Power Shower’

But look out for leeches…

Leave Plenty of Time To Get Back Up

It’s hard enough with plenty of day light.

Remember: If The Walk To The Bottom Of The Falls Is Too Much, There Are Options At The Top Too (But You Still Need To Be Really Careful)

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