Located only a couple of hours south of Sydney, I’ve driven through it many times but never done a bushwalk in Macquarie Pass National Park. My bushwalk today is along the Clover Hill Trail, an old logging route that starts on the Illawarra Highway. The first challenge is finding a parking spot – there’s a small carpark near the locked gate at the start of the the Clover Hill Trail, which is full. Parking is not allowed along the Illawarra Highway, but there is a bit more parking a bit further up the road.
It’s easy and very pleasant walking through rainforest along the wide trail.
The trail is lined with ferns and tall coachwood trees, and is fairly flat as it follows the side of the wide valley.
We cross a couple of creeks, one of them on a concrete weir, and can see and hear some small cascades below the Clover Hill Trail. There’s been a bit of rain over the past few weeks, so all the creeks are flowing nicely.
After two kilometres there’s a cleared area, and a junction with a trail going up to Clover Hill. This is where Ben Turner, his wife Jean and their English Sheep Dog Roger lived for over fifty years. The original house built in 1949 on Clover Hil burnt down in the 1970s, and was replaced by a Tudor style house known to the locals as Ben’s Folly. Although the National Parks and Wildlife Service resumed his property to form part of the National Park in the 1970s, Ben was permitted to remain on the property until his death in 2001 (at the age of 91). Only a few foundations from the Tudor house remain today.
Soon after the trail up to Clover Hill, there’s a glimpse through the rainforest of the wide valley at the bottom of Macquarie Pass, and a view of the escarpment ahead of us.
The last few hundred metres of the track abruptly turns from a nice, wide trail to a narrow, muddy and slippery walking track as it descends to Rainbow Falls – the official end of the Clover Hill Trail.
At the end of the trail is the Macquarie Rivulet and Rainbow Falls, the first of a few waterfalls we’ll pass along the trail.
It’s an impressive waterfall, although you can only see it from the top – and you can’t swim at this one. In the slot canyon below the falls are a few canyoners, making their way down Macquarie Rivulet (Clover Hill Trail being the main access point).
From here, there isn’t really a track, and progress is much slower. The route crosses the Macquarie Rivulet just above Rainbow Falls, where there is a wide but shallow pool.
There are a few rough tracks that follow the Macquarie Rivulet upstream. They initially follow the river fairly closely, before veering a bit higher up the steep gully.
Occasionally, a pad leads down to the river, providing access to some of the cascades and waterfalls along the Macquarie Rivulet. One of these takes you down to Balancing Rock, an enormous boulder perched above the river above a series of small cascades.
The rough and muddy tracks gets a bit steeper, as it continue up the side of the gully.
The next scramble down to the river takes you to Mulangong Falls, where the Macquarie Rivulet drops into a small pool. This pool is deep enough to swim in.
The trail gets steeper, muddier and more indistinct as it continues upstream, past the top of Mulangong Falls.
The next major cascades don’t officially have a name, but I’ve seen them referred to as Marble Falls. It’s an apt name, as the river cascades under a number of large, moss-covered boulders.
The last section of trail is the hardest, as it heads away from the river and up the gully, past large vines and tall rainforest trees.
The very steepest section is the part-walk and part-scramble down to Clover Falls, where a few different routes take you straight down the side of the gully to the river.
The highest and most impressive waterfall, Clover Falls drops into a deep pool and swimming hole. Although not much sun reaches the base of the falls, on a warm day this makes a great spot for a swim.
It’s possible to continue even further upstream to McAndrews Falls, which drop off the top of the escarpment. But we don’t have time today, and the terrain gets even steeper and more treacherous – so we leave this for another day.
It’s taken us about three hours for the return walk, which combines easy walking along the Clover Hill Trail with some fairly challenging hiking through the rainforest up from Rainbow Falls.
Getting to the Clover Hill Trail
The start of the Clover Hill Trail is on the Illawarra Highway near Macquarie Pass, about half an hour from Wollongong or just under two hours from Sydney. Parking is fairly limited in the small carpark at the start of the trail; if it’s full, continue up the Illawarra Highway a short distance to another informal parking on the opposite side of the road.
More information on the Clover Hill Trail
Beyond Rainbow Falls there are no marked tracks and the terrain is fairly rough, so I’d recommmend some off-track bushwalking experience and good hiking shoes. If you’re keen to explore this area but don’t feel confident to go on your own, Epiphany Tours includes this bushwalk in their program.
- National Parks (NPWS) – Clover Hill Trail
- Shellharbour City Museum – Benjamin Horace Turner
- OzUltimate – Macquarie Pass Canyon track notes
About Macquarie Pass National Pass
Created in 1969, Macquarie Pass National Park is located – as its name implies – near the pass that has been a major route into and out of the Illawarra coastal plain since 1898. The park contains considerable areas of cool temperate, warm temperate and subtropical rainforest, and a large number of threatened or regionally rare plants are protected in Macquarie Pass National Park.
There are a number of short bushwalks in Macquarie Pass National Pass – Clover Hill Trail (or Clover Hill Road) is the longest of these walks.