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Numimbah Valley and Natural Bridge

water fall cave

Natural Bridge cave water fall

The cave water fall at Natural Bridge has to be one of the most photographed and duplicated Australian images for tourism promotion in southern Queensland. It’s familiarity as an image does not prepare you for the impact of seeing it live.

Accompanying the visual splendour is the thundering sound of the falling water and the cool feel of the water spray that fills the air within the confines of the cave. Adding to the pleasure is the surrounding luxuriant subtropical rain forest and its large trees.

Natural bridge is a small section of Springbrook National Park that provides an easy one day excursion from Brisbane, the Gold Coast or areas in north east New South Wales around Murwillumbah.

The beauty of this waterfall and its surrounding forest is only part of the reason for taking this trip. The Nerang-Murwillimbah Road through the Numinbah valley is very scenic with close forests and views of steep escarpments. There are three picnic spots along the way, one at the Hinze Dam and the others on the banks of the Nerang River. Another possibility is to continue the scenic drive through to Murwillumbah after a walk at the falls.

Getting There

We travelled from Brisbane via the Pacific Highway to Nerang (exit 69) where we stopped at Earls Plaza on the left going through Nerang for coffee and picked up some sandwiches. Our trip odometer measurements are from this point.

Natural Bridge is 37.5 k from Nerang along the winding and picturesque Nerang-Murwillimbah Road. The road initially traverses the ridges and gullies of the Hinze Dam western catchment and has some very tight prolonged curves. Glimpses of the Dam can be seen through the trees at some points. At Advancetown, Pages Pinnacle can be seen in the distance above the trees to the left. This Pinnacle is thought to be a plug from a side vent on the slopes of the Tweed volcano. The curves and hills on this stretch of the road make it a favourite for motor bike riders and frequent road-side danger signs indicate some over estimate their riding skill. This convoluted section is now signed as a high crash zone.

There is a forested picnic day-use area at 23.9 k on the banks of the Nerang River before the Numimbah Valley is reached. It has picnic tables, barbeques and a covered area.

A Numimbah Valley sign announces the beginning of the valley and the scenery is delightful. Pastoral views are mixed with forests and steep escarpments. The road follows the Nerang River which has eroded the valley from the slopes of the ancient Tweed Volcano centred on Mt Warning.

Egg Rock and Lamington NP escarpments

The Valley is sandwiched between the Numinbah and Lamington plateaus (Binna Burra side) with stunning views of escarpments either side of the road (Springbrook to the east and Ships Stern to the west). The first escarpments appear at 30.8k (Lamington Plateau).

Egg Rock is visible dead ahead before a sign-posted tight left curve followed by a narrow bridge. Egg Rock is the remnant of a side vent on the Tweed volcano. On the far left of Egg rock is Turtle Rock (barely visible) just in front and to the right of Ships Stern, the peak in the background just slightly to the left of Egg Rock is Mt Roberts on which Binna Burra is situated, and on the right the northern end of the Lamington Plateau. There is room to pull off the road to take photographs or admire the landscape.

The road continues in and out of closed forest areas to the Natural Bridge turnoff with additional views of steep escarpments. An open, day-use area on the banks of the Nerang River appears on the right at 33.1 k. It has picnic tables, a covered area and barbeques. The road in this area follows the Nerang river for some distance and is fringed with thick forest before emerging again to open pastoral views and escarpments below Mt Hobwee.

Natural Bridge

Geologically this area is part of volcanic rocks originating from the ancient Tweed volcano centred at Mt Warning. Google Earth provides a good view of the Mt Warning complex and the reference by Willmont (1992) page 39 discusses the geology visible on this drive.

Natural Bridge is part of Springbrook National Park and sits below the southern end of the Numinbah Plateau. The Park has a sealed 1k walking circuit with an easy grade and a number of steps. The clockwise direction makes for less strenuous walking should fitness be a concern as the walk’s steps are all descending except for a few at the cave. It crosses Cave Creek twice, once downstream of the falls and again upstream at the top of the waterfall cave. Our notes follow the clockwise route.

Large tree base with woody vines

Sloanea woollsii butresses with woody vines

On the walk keep a lookout for the distinctive characteristics of sub tropical rainforest –

  • Closed, uneven canopy
  • A large variety of tree species
  • Strangler Figs
  • Plank buttresses on some trees
  • Large woody vines
  • Large epiphytes (Stag Horns, orchids and Birds Nest Ferns)
  • Smaller epiphytes (mosses and lichens)
  • Palms (mostly walking stick Palms and Wait a While vines in this forest)

At the start of the walk there are Hoop Pines and Brush Boxes. As you descend there is a large Black Bean with Birds Nest Ferns on its trunk beside the picnic shelter. Descending further to a tight left hand curve is a large Strangler Fig (Ficus watkinsiana) with epiphytes in its upper trunk and branches followed by a Sloanea woollsii (Yellow Carrabeen) with large plank buttresses and tangled woody vines. On the walk you will see more strangler figs, woody vines and buttresses at various stages of development. Remember to look upwards often for epiphytes and observe rocks and tree trunks for lichens.

Hoop Pines

Hoop Pines and woody vine at walking track exit

As the track descends towards the creek and the atmosphere becomes moister –

  • Hoop Pines and Brush Boxes disappear
  • large and small epiphytes increase in occurrence
  • trunk-fringing plants such as Pothos and ferns appear
  • Walking Stick Palms mosses and lichens become more abundant

Note on the left at the last set of steps before descending to the creek some plank buttresses on a young tree beside a young strangler fig whose roots are fibrous and the host tree still alive. Walking Stick Palms are now numerous.

Large staghorn fern

Epiphyte (Staghorn)

Pause on the bridge over Cave Creek and look up to see abundant large epiphytes and note the moss-like lichens hanging from lower branches of small trees on the left beside the exit from the bridge. The track continues zig zagging upwards towards the waterfall cave which is reached via sets of stairs. Moss and lichens abound here.

The outstanding attraction of this park is the cave water fall formed by erosion of a basalt cave roof by Cave Creek. Read the National Park information board for a description of the cave formation process. Stairs lead down into the cave.

The roof of the cave is honey-combed and has a glow worm colony. Glow worms are the larvae of a small fungus gnat and are terrestrial snare-spinners. They live on the roof of caves and other damp dark places where they produce silken strands studded with mucous-like sticky, luminescent droplets that attract and ensnare other insects. Further information on their biology can be obtained from The Springbrook Research Centre and the ABC.

Water fall cave

water falling through top of cave roof

The track continues upwards towards a viewing platform over the creek above the hole in the cave roof then crosses the creek. After the upstream crossing there is a short side track above the waterfall cave with a view of the water gushing through the cave roof. Note the large colonies of white crustose lichens on the rocks as you descend the stairs to the viewing platform. A large group of Stag Horns and Crows’ Nest Ferns can be seen on trees above this lookout. The final stretch of the circuit comes back into Hoop Pine forest.

Various companies offer glow worm tours to Natural Bridge mostly from the Gold Coast and details can be found on the web.

This small park is popular especially in summer when parking may be difficult. There are limited picnic facilities with a separate parking area on the one-way road out from the main parking area.

For a PDF file with details of this park look up the Qld DERM website for Springbrook and scroll down to the section headed “Walking Tracks”

Mountains and escarpments

Escarpments of Mt Hobwee and southern Ships Stern

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