Dorrigo National Park: Waterfalls and Wildlife

Just south of the Queensland-New South Wales border, Dorrigo National Park is a green rainforest refuge, one part of World Heritage Site known as the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. The patches of rainforest here are all that remain of the thick rainforest that once blanketed Australia millions of years ago. Thick mists and rain nourish the forest, and the water flowing from the soil collects into streams that tumble from rocky cliffs. And uncleared by humans, these forests remain a refuge to thousands of species: microbes, plants, fungi, and animals. Just a brief stroll through the forest reveals a kaleidoscope of wildlife, carrying on just as it did when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

We visited Dorrigo National Park on a rainy day, raingear ready and cameras poised to capture what we saw. Sometimes we were surprised. Sometimes we weren’t fast enough. But here’s a sample of what we found in the 7 km loop from the Dorrigo Rainforest Center:

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Peek: a tree that has fallen across the trail sports a family of fungi

 

 

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This shy bug has pulled his eyestalks in and waits for me to leave.

 

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A heavy vine winds around a tree and runs up into the canopy above

 

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Little family: mushrooms of varying age and fray clustered together

 

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Crystal Shower Falls, at one end of the Wonga Walking Track

 

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The view from the carved crevice behind the falls, where water collects and forms mud

 

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Eco-friendly graffiti: Hikers put their hands in the mud pools behind the falls and leave their prints on the wall.

 

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A skink rests on a rock near the falls. Possibly an orange-speckled forest skink (Eulamprus luteilateralis)

 

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Hiding out: more tiny mushrooms huddle in a woody crevice.

 

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Red fruit hangs from a walking stick palm (Linospadix monostachyos)

 

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Spot the leech in this picture. Leeches were all over the forest, and we had a few get onto us and suck blood.

 

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Ascomycete fungi grow from a tree trunk.

 

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A large bird (Australian brush turkey?) dashes off into the forest.

 

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Tristania Falls, the second waterfall on this hike.

 

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The water of Tristania Falls flows over the contours of an unusual rock formation

The Goblin Forest of Taranaki

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At the west end of the Forgotten World Highway is a rainforest like no other. Around the volcano of Taranaki nestles Egmont National Park, the nicknamed “Goblin Forest” famous for its waterfalls and gnarled, moss coated trees.

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First, this trail, or set of trails, is fun. Just plain fun to hike up and down with plenty of variety in surface types, elevation changes, and scenery. The trail takes you from dense low forests to open rocky pools, across bridges and muddy stairs and stepping-stone paths.

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The famous trees of the Goblin Forest are these thick-branched moss covered creatures which probably would look very spooky at night. During the day they’re vivid sun-dappled green, often covered in dew or rainfall.

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The Kamahi tree is the dominant tree in this forest, unique in New Zealand. They sometimes start out growing on top of other trees, twisting their branches and creating the gnarled shape of the forest.

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The high year-round humidity is a great environment for moss and lichen and they spread prodigiously here. Nearly every available surface is covered. In some areas the combination of twined branches and leafy outgrowths blocks a great deal of light, creating darkness in the daytime.

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Along the way we saw rock-slides.

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Then crossed a bridge, safe but bouncy.

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To get to the Wilke pools.

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There’s a tiny cove/cavern at the bottom. The water is instantly numbing. Great for a hot day or for icing a bruise. We did go “swimming” but only for a moment.

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We climbed the rocks around the pools only to find more pools up higher – also extremely cold. Past this is technical rock climbing territory so we turned back.

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And climbed some very muddy stairs.

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To get great views of the forested mountainside.

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And of the volcano itself.

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Along the way we took some closeups of the flora..

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The moss and ferns covering the trees, dense and superbly healthy.

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And some very pretty white and pink flowers.

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Capturing this was tough – the wind kept swaying the ring of flowers, but it was worth it. Natalie also took a couple of really nice insect shots, following below. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea so feel free to end the post here. For anyone who’s curious, scroll on.


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A vivid orange mosquito-hawk (I think). You can see the little ball-ended stubs it uses to balance while it flies.

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I don’t like flies, but this one has an amazing abdomen. That blue is unreal. It may be a bluebottle fly but I’m not sure.

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The famous weta of New Zealand. We never saw one alive, nor did we see the amazingly huge ones they show in National Geographic, but it was cool to see these up close.

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Natalie’s favorite creature, the jumping spider, poses for the camera. They have good enough eyesight to tell you apart from the background and often interact with the camera while you’re shooting.

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This beautifully colored orbweaver is the Colaranea Viriditas.

Explore Nature Around Quito with Mindo’s Waterfall Hike

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An aerial view of the waterfall hike and surrounding forest from the gondola

The small mountain town of Mindo is a perfect getaway from the city of Quito. Located only 2 hours away, it boasts amazing hikes, a bird sanctuary, an orchid garden, and chocolate tours. For those of you looking for a nice half-day hike, look no further than Mindo’s Santuario de Cascadas, which leads you through tropical cloud forest to several beautiful waterfalls.

Getting There

There are two main ways of getting to Mindo: booking transportation with a tour, or taking the bus. In either case, prep for the trip by bringing hiking shoes (this hike is a real one so don’t just come in flip flops and then slip and fall to your death), a swimsuit, some food, and some cash.

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Waiting to ride the gondola across the valley to the waterfall hike

The tour option: This is better if you want to do multiple activities in Mindo and you’re short on time, since it will work on your schedule. You can book a tour to at nearly any agency in Mindo, but I’d recommend Gabby Segova’s Ecuador Family Tours; we booked our Galapagos cruise through her and couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful person to help us.

The bus option:  The bus may not work for those on a tight schedule, but it’s cheaper ($3.10 as of December 2016) and great if you have a couple of days to spend exploring Mindo. There are a couple of bus lines that run to Mindo, but all but one drop you off outside of town and you have to flag a ride to finish the trip. Only the Flor de Valle line, which leaves from Terminal Ofelia, goes into Mindo itself. It departs Quito->Mindo and Mindo->Quito only a few times a day, so double check the schedule at Terminal Ofelia. For those of you planning a day trip to Mindo with the bus, the ride takes 2 hours; if you’re on the 8:00 am (first) bus out, you have 7 hours to explore Mindo before you have to catch the last bus out. Buy your ticket for the last bus in advance (i.e. when you first get into Mindo), because it can sell out.

It’s a 15-minute ride from the town to the entrance to Santuario de Cascadas. Pick-up trucks here double as taxis, so flag one and ask to go to “Tarabita y Santuario de Cascadas Mindo” or just “Cascadas del Mindo”. It’s not a cheap ride ($6.00 in 2016), so share it if you can.

The Hike

The hike is only accessible by gondola, which costs $5.00 a person to cross — that includes the trip back, so don’t worry about paying again when you return. At busy times you might find yourself waiting for 20-30 minutes for the gondola. The ride itself takes only a couple of minutes, and while the picture below might seem scary, this type of transport is fairly routine in mountainous parts of South America. If you’re afraid of heights then sit, don’t stand, and definitely don’t look down.

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Riding the gondola

There are two hikes you can do from where the gondola drops you off: a 45-minute hike with one waterfall (left when facing the gondola building) and a 1-3 hour hike with six waterfalls (right when facing the gondola building). We chose the six-waterfall hike because we wanted a longer walk, so the rest of this post will focus on that hike.

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Hikers make their way down the steep trail

The first part of the hike was a pretty steep downhill trail with semi-formed stairs that can get pretty slippery when wet. It was mostly packed earth when we visited, but workers along the trail were building new safety rails and steps, so it looks like either the locals or the park service is investing in improvements.

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Workers lay rebar for a railing along the trail

The first five waterfallswere the most crowded so we hiked on through to the last waterfall and had our own private swimming pool. When another group finally caught up with us nearly an hour later, we packed up and worked our way backward, visiting each waterfall.

None of these falls are Niagra or Iguazu, but each has its own personality formed by the flow of the water around the rocks. For those completionists out there (like me), here’s a list of the waterfalls from closest to furthest from trail start:

Cascada Nimbillo

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This is the busiest waterfall, with a dedicated (but somewhat run-down) changing area. We saw a lot several families swimming and playing near this waterfall.

Cascada Ondinas

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A small waterfall that has a small wooden seat near the edge. The pool is shallow, so it’s better for having a picnic or relaxing than getting wet.

Cascada Guarumos

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This waterfall had a fairly deep pool, but I don’t remember seeing anyone swim here. It’d be a great place to check out on the next trip.

Cascada Colibries

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This shy waterfall is veiled by canyon walls, but if you wade upstream a bit you can get a great photo opportunity. It’s popular with visiting locals for photos, so you may have to wait for a few minutes to get your shot.

Cascada Madre

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The penultimate waterfall is surprisingly busy for how far it is from the trailhead. It’s got several easily accessible and deep pools, so it’s popular for swimming and soaking in.

Cascada Azul

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This waterfall is the least busy, since most people stop at Cascada Madre. Several pools around the area are deep enough to soak in, although there’s not much space to swim. We had this waterfall all to ourselves for an hour before other hikers showed up.

The Wildlife

I’m a biologist, I can’t help myself. Here here is some of the amazing wildlife we found on our hike:

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A shield bug (Pentatomoidea) on a leaf.
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Mushrooms grow from a woooden post along the trail
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A caterpillar on a leaf
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A longwing butterfly (Heliconius, probably H. melpomenes) drinks water from a concrete post along the trail.
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Tiny white mushrooms grow in the leaf litter of the forest floor.