It’s a soothing experience, sitting at the bottom of Protester Falls in the World Heritage-listed Nightcap National Park in northern NSW.
To my right, water ricocheted off stones into the pool with a gentle hiss, while to my left, it continued its journey, snaking along a rock face with a hurried ‘whoosh’ towards the rainforest below. In the background, cicadas made their usual summertime din above the whisper of a breeze.
Sunlight fell across forest on the cliff face, creating emerald leaves, dappled light and shadows in the quiet gaps where cold things lived. The place looked very old, beautiful and imposing. At the top, water began its descent, floating, then bouncing off rocks into the olive pool below. At the foot of the falls were roughly 12 people, half of them staggering around in their underpants in between a spontaneous dip.
I later found out folk shouldn’t have been swimming here, as it endangers the resident Fleay’s barred frog – one of the rarest frogs in Australia. Although I didn’t see a ‘no swimming’ sign, so perhaps this is something the park needs to make a little clearer.
Exploring the cliff base, I spied a snoozing carpet python, as well as a cave behind the falls. I didn’t go in the cave, I just sat there and watched the water in its various stages of travel and the algae glistening under the spray.
The walk to Protester Falls is short, about 15 minutes and it’s stunning considering how close it sits to the car park. Just a few metres in and it feels like you’re miles away. The aromas are incredible and the dense forest hosts rare, endemic flora such as Peach Myrtle and Nightcap Oak. I also spied a little bird flitting about, looking as happy as anything I’ve seen in a forest, or perhaps anywhere.
Protester Falls is indeed a special place – ancient and rejuvenating – and its name comes from the folk of Terania Creek who fought to protect it from loggers back in the late ‘70s. The protesters won, the name was born and the park gained World Heritage status a few years later.
Considering it’s merely an hour-and-a-half north-west of Byron Bay, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to visit this otherworldly place if you’re anywhere nearby.