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 8.5km walk along an uneventful couple of fire trails. The first one, Budderoo Plateau Fire Trail, is about half an hour inland from Jamberoo, and you follow it for about 6km. The second, Hersey Fire Trail, begins at a turn off from Budderoo Plateau (after about 6km of walking). You then follow this for 2.5km.
The exciting bit is the next bit: a kilometre 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 800m 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 warned last week, are “not easy to get to.”
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 (it’s 8.5km). If you walk, expect a good 2-3 hour slog. 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, hunched over the whole way, 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 secret path was seeing a couple hiking up it. If this hadn’t happened, I probably would have given up then and there. 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 very careful, as various people have become stranded or fallen off cliff ledges attempting to find or return from Gerringong Falls over the years). Also: remember you need to conserve some energy to make it back out. It’s a 19km walk in total, 17km of which is the firetrail, and 2km of which is the sketchy secret waterfall path bit.
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).
Reconsider This Hike If You Have Vertigo
Walk My World doesn’t give quite the same impression that Londoner In Sydney does that the walk is a death trap, but they still say you need to be very careful. They describe it as follows: “You’ll need to be comfortable negotiating a rough track for approximately 1km.”
“Whilst there are short patches of easy level track, the majority is rocky and there is plenty of loose leaf litter which can be slippery. Small parts of the track are exposed and would not be much fun for vertigo sufferers.”Walk My World
Don’t Climb Down Obstacles You Couldn’t Come Back Up
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.
The Ribbons And Markers Are Useful, But Don’t Rely On Them (And Keep Your Eyes Peeled)
As Walk My World puts it: “There are no official signposts and people have left many arrows and tags which are often pointing in different directions and can actually be more of a hinderance than a help (although we have no doubt they were left with good intentions). Taking a wrong turn could be potentially dangerous if you stray too close to one of the cliff edges.”
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 4:30pm. 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
It took me an hour of wandering around near the creek at the end of the Hersey Fire Trail to find the start of the secret 1km down-to-the-waterfall part of the walk. And the only reason I found it is because I saw someone coming back up it. I’m not the only one to suffer navigational niggles, either. Blogger Travel Made Me Do It got lost on the fire trail section itself (there is a turn off about 5km in which they missed). Assume, if this is your first time doing it, you will waste time at certain points, and factor that in.
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 (after climbing down it I decided to climb straight back up and go home). 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 scary stories of people getting stuck in the dark, and tragic stories of people being airlifted out and sent to hospital 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
Apparently, they love the boulders down in the middle of the river.
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 daylight.
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)