The Walk To Australia’s Tallest Waterfall: Wallaman Falls
‘CAUTION’ the sign at the entrance to the Wallaman Falls hiking trail warns, ‘people have died as a result of heart attack or heat exhaustion’. It’s not the kind of information I like to hear before descending 300 metres through thick forest in the Wet Tropics of Queensland. Nevertheless, I remind myself that I’m a healthy twenty-nine-year-old woman with a large bottle of water in my denim backpack, and continue downwards on a dry mud path.
I follow in the determined footsteps of my boyfriend, Dave, as the escarpment quickly narrows and we are forced to hike in single file. Pulling my long hair into a topknot so as to remove it from my sweat-soaked neck, I attempt to catch glimpses of early morning sun over vine-thicket treetops that stretch for 288 kilometres along the Herbert River. It’s a task easier said than done, as the open forest winds into dense rainforest. One slip of the foot could cause me to tumble down the steep drop to my left, plummeting into the gorge. I gasp in humid air and concentrate on the uneven track.The ‘Djyinda Walk’ to the base of Wallaman Falls, Australia’s tallest single drop waterfall, is a mere 3.2km return. The challenge is not in the length of the walk. Classed as a ‘moderate’ trail, it demands a good level of fitness to clamber across vines and uneven rocks. According to the signage, a return hike should take roughly forty-five minutes, though I’ve been told by others this is a seriously understated estimate. I’m quickly discovering why. The biggest challenge is the need to monitor every foot placement, whilst ducking umbrella trees and palms growing freely across the walkway. A twisted ankle or a bruised head is easily possible here, I muse, as my eyes dart up, then down, then up, then down.
Reaching the walk to Wallaman Falls was an experience in itself. Located north of Townsville, the waterfall is known as the highlight of the Girringun National Park, which sits one-hour inland of Ingham. Accessible only by self-drive or as part of an organised tour, there is just one route, a sealed road that crosses through banana and sugar cane farms before snaking up the side of the Herbert River Valley. As the tarmac took us upwards, aerial views of nothing but green bush prompted ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from where I sat in my campervan passenger seat.
Just 100,000 people visit Wallaman Falls annually, which is astounding considering there were a total of 8.7 million international yearly visitors recorded in September 2017, according to Tourism Australia.
Of those that do visit, many simply take the scenic drive up to the Wallaman Falls lookout point to witness the water dropping in slow motion over the edge, before heading back to the coast. It’s only the adventurous among us that tackle the Djyinda walk so that we might feel the mist of the tallest waterfall in Australia on our upturned faces, standing at its base in awe.It’s this thought that keeps me going as I battle slight vertigo and feel the strain of the downward hike on my knobbly knees. I consciously avoid thinking about the return journey upwards, which will be all of the same strife without the rewarding end.
Eventually, the twists and turns of the descent arrive at a small wooden deck surrounded by large boulder rocks. We reach the base of the waterfall, and from below it is truly mesmerising. I have to tear my gaze away from the misty water to scale the somewhat slippery rocks and inch closer to the 20-metre pool it meets.
Vertigo and exertion forgotten, Dave and I perch comfortably on a boulder, the only people around to watch white water fall 268 kilometres over the lip of dark cliffs, a mist hovering around its path. Despite the sheer drop, it’s as though the stream of water moves slowly, gracefully, and almost silently. It caresses purple toned rocks on its plunge, causing them to glimmer.
Above, light grey clouds roll over the gorge walls, almost separating us into our own private world below. The only sound is the trickle of the water as it flows between the rocks and green shrubs, headed downstream into the full depth of the river.Every now and then the heated wind scatters light mist onto our faces, relieving us from the warmth of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. It’s so peaceful we sit for at least thirty minutes, resting and reflecting on the incredible Australian road trip we are currently on.
Regretfully, we can’t stay any longer, as we’re due to arrive in Cairns by mid-afternoon. It’s time to make the gruelling climb back to the car park.
Huffing and puffing, we both struggle in the tropical climate. The effort of walking an uneven track uphill means it’s a longer hike than our descent. Through snatched breaths, we both agree this is one of the toughest hikes we have done so far, tougher even, than Karijini National Park in the forty-degree Western Australian heat.
Yet, as the track finally levels out and we find ourselves above the treetops once again, en-route to the car park where our van waits, there’s one more thing that we agree on – the discomfort of the hike is one hundred percent worth it.
Wallaman Falls Information:
When to go: The rainy season in Queensland runs November through April, so I’d recommend visiting Wallaman Falls in the winter months of May-October, though I hiked in early November. The climate is hot and humid all year round.
How to get there: You can reach Wallaman Falls by self-drive or organised tours departing from Cardwell, on the Queensland coast. The waterfall is part of Girringun National Park, north of Townsville.
Tours: Personally, I felt that one of the best parts about hiking to Wallaman Falls is that the trail and rewarding view is almost empty of people. For this reason, I’d recommend self-drive rather than visiting with a tour operator where possible.
Where to save money: Tours to Wallaman Falls start at $150, so I’d suggest renting a car between multiple people if possible and taking the self-drive option. You can also opt to camp in the national park, but if you do, make sure you pay online before heading into the park as there is no mobile signal, and payment is only possible online or by telephone. As I found out when I arrived!
Are you one of the 100,000 a year to witness Wallaman Falls in all its glory? Let me know in the comments below and share this post with friends if you enjoyed reading it!
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