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Follow that river: Our local source to sink

One and a half hours south of Sydney, sandwiched between the sandstone-capped Hawkesbury escarpment and big drink, the Pacific Ocean is a thin strip of urbanization, the Illawarra region.

The sheer cliffs of red through brown sandstone soak up and bounce off the warm glow of the morning sun that peeps up over the horizon from the east. These same cliffs then swallow up all scratches of light in the evening, often a tad earlier than we would all like – especially in winter.

Along the edge of the Illawarra escarpment are pockets of rare, remnant sub-tropical and warm temperate rainforest, like Minnamurra rainforest. Complete with giant Strangler Figs, Giant Stinging Trees, and Tarzan-esque jungle vines, these pockets of nirvana once stretched the entirety of the Illawarra.


Image credit: Mick Evans

The ability for these gems to remain are due to a phenomenon called the orographic effect, which causes condensation of moist air on the seaward side of the escarpment, culminating in an area of moderate to high rainfall.

As the escarpment plateaus off towards the west it catches this rainfall and ultimately producing the source for all of the water that we drink. But, more enticingly, off of this plateau cascades innumerable torrents of water as they flow inevitably towards the ocean. The Kangaroo River, the Shoalhaven River, the Nepean River. Our local source to sink.

Why am I schooling you in the natural phenomenon that characterise the South Coast you might ask? Well, c­ombine this inevitable flow with minute cracks in the underlying sandstone, add several hundred million years and a bit of luck and you end up with something like this:


Image credit: Mick Evans

This beauty is but one example of a smorgasbord of majestic cascades and falls that abound the Illawarra escarpment, and let’s face it – everybody loves waterfalls.

Interestingly, most of them flow west, off the backside of the escarpment, following their tributaries until donating themselves wholeheartedly to the cause of the Kangaroo River which ultimately snakes it’s way into the Shoalhaven, to meet the salty brine of Shoalhaven heads. The ultimate game of Pooh Sticks.

With all the rain we’ve experienced lately, now is the perfect time to experience the falls of the Illawarra in full flight. Yet without public transport and local knowledge, such sights are a distant fantasy for many visitors to the area. The breath taking power of Gerringong, Carrington, Belmore and Fitzroy Falls and majestic flow of the Shoalhaven River, are mythical beasts to those of us who spend more time on the footpath than the backyard.

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Image credit: Mick Evans

If you’re the kind of person to get a tingle in their fingers and a twitching in their toes when the road turns from tarmac to dirt, there are numerous adventures to be had alongside the Led By Locals crew circumnavigating the rims of the Illawarra’s falls for a Jurassic Park-esque vista. Those intrepid enough may even find a way to the deep, tranquil, albeit stiff-nipple-cold, plunge pools at their bases.

An icy plunge, however, is the fruits of a tough arduous climb down old goat tracks carved into the sides of 100m+ vertical cliffs, clambering over four-metre high algae covered boulders, and navigating dense, riparian bush – all to have the air forced involuntarily out of your lungs with the first cowabunga into Antarctic-temp waters. PHWOOARH!


To find out more about the Illawarra region’s incredible natural wonders, and how you might get amongst them go to the Led By Locals website or email them at



The Local

The Local is an easily unlocked pseudonym for the Led By Locals crew. The three young lads, Isaac, Adam and Ben, who want to share their undying passion for the natural wonders of the Illawarra and South Coast regions with everyone they meet. With their tertiary studies in the natural sciences and complimenting local knowledge of the South Coast region, they aim to provide a unique, local insight to the wide range of landscapes to a wide range of people.

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