A short climb to nowhere, only to turn around and go back down again – why would you even bother? There’s a lot more to Ferny Face than first appears.
Before Waterfall Way there was the testing Dorrigo Mountain Road, cut between 1882 and 1888. Before that, access to the Dorrigo Plateau for timber-getters was on the steep Ferny Face track up the spur. Needless to say, there is rainforest and ferns, but also tall sclerophyll forests and lots of bird life.
The innovative cedar getters developed a novel but wasteful method of getting cedar logs down to the Bellinger River, 2000 feet below the Plateau. Logs were dragged by bullock teams to the edge of the Plateau, and were slid, or “shot”, over the edge of a precipitous descent called Ferny Face. They were retrieved at the bottom, hauled to the banks of the Bellinger River, and rafted downriver for pickup by coastal vessels sailing to Sydney or beyond.http://media.lrrsa.org.au/odic100/Light_Railways_100.pdf
This description of the Ferny Face Shot conjured all sorts of glorious images in my over-active brain of cannons and yells of “Below!” as logs arced through the air before plummeting hundreds of metres.
Sadly, as I discovered when we climbed the Ferny Face trail, the “shot”, or “shute” as it was also spelled, had more in common with dirty laundry chute than cannons. A log shaped ditch in the ground can still be seen alongside the track today.
Look closely at your NSW topo map and you will see an odd pattern with the Bellinger River NP boundaries around Fernyface Trail. That narrow winding gap is Crown land reserved for travelling stock. This is travelling stock route TSR52678 from Thora West up Dorrigo Mountain, now primarily used for fire management and bushwalking.
Local elders, Rod and Ruth Holmes farm on the Dorrigo plateau above the Fernyface trail. Ruth describes how her father, a shire counciller, would travel on horseback down Fernyface to check on the Darkwood community in times of flood.
Access to this trail is tricky. There is a small grassy parking area with a hidden on the uphill side of Waterfall Way, above Thora. Fernyface Trail begins here. Note where the National Park boundary is on your map, as the upper part of the trail is private property.
After your walk, drive up Waterfall Way to Griffiths Lookout for expansive views over the forested ranges to the ocean.