Nepean Basin Falls: Bargo River

The Bargo River is fed by the waters of the Nattai and the Upper Nepean.

We use many words to describe the canyons, pools and falls of this area. The First People called this region "the Narregarang". It is a powerful word. When you say it aloud, the world shakes or, perhaps, you feel the murmur of the world's heart. First Europeans settled on the "Wollondilly", the name of one of the rivers here. The meaning of Wollondilly is contested. Perhaps, it means water running on rocks. This may not be the case but the word has a soft, flowing sound.

This may be one of Australia's most dangerous place - many have died here.

It is difficult to get to and is not publicized. It is full of waterfalls, and strange swirly rocks, deep swimming pools and natural 'pictures' on the walls of the canyon. Still, you will find here some 'human sized' falls, fun for playing and swimming, there is no better place to look for grand designs.

I know about some of the dangers from first hand experience. I have good memories of this place, but also broke both wrists in a fall on top of the canyon (the left tendons struggled to regain abseiling strength 6 months on). I had an eye out for all the obvious dangers (and this place has plenty), to which i must now add a sudden drop of temperature and snow fall which formed ice as I walked it. I break lots of bones, but seldom in such an inglorious manner.

It is good, if confronting, to talk openly about danger. People come to these places seeking beauty, solitude and pleasure. If people remember that these also come with risk, they may themselves exercise a little care. I felt a savage joy to stand here, without safety rails. But it comes with the realization that many have had accidents here, some fatal. I do not know what the answer is in terms of risk, but it must be heart breaking for those who have lost a friend or relative.

Why come to a dangerous place like this? Why take risks? There is never good answer to 'why?' Perhaps it is no more than because it is there. I must accept that when I take risks, I will sometimes get injured. It always makes me more cautious. Every tear increases my capacity to smile, in equal measure.

People have been coming here for tens of thousands of years: it is a spell-binding location - perhaps, it has been the home place of humans for more than 2000 generations. More recently, many similar canyons have been flooded to provide permanent water for Sydney. In a cruel twist of fate, we know more of the ancient waterfall dreaming stories and names of one particular stretch of river, now obliterated by the Warragamba Dam.

The first time you come, you should come with friends who know the area or follow a group who know what they are doing. Any canyon is potentially dangerous, but this one is particularly deadly. This is not a place to drink, smoke, look over the edge, jump into pools that have no way out, or surf cascades. You must be alert at all times.

The Narregarang: Bargo River Canyon

Just before meeting the Nepean, the Bargo River cuts a deep canyon.

Pitted by potholes, the Bargo River might seem empty, but this is just an illusion. It is full of the past. This place is a traditional birthing place of the first people. The naming of the place as the Narregarang may be based on actual events. Mermaid Pool formed in relatively recent times by the collapse of part of the canyon wall after an earthquake.


Pot Hole Falls

The "Pot Hole Pools" is a curious fall. The top of the falls has clear water revealing deep circular 'pot holes' just below the surface (which can also be seen in the shape of the top of the falls. Downstream, the water is deeper and takes on a deep aquamarine hue.

The falls, from this angle look at little like a necklace, against a background of swathes of different color. On the left, dark pearls, and the right flashes of light.

The sandstone here is 'soft', erodes into all sorts of strange shapes and takes on the most beautiful colors. Like paw-prints of a dingo, sandstone pot-holes tell us where the water once poured.

Someone once explained pot holes as the cumulative result of abrasive rocks swirling around in the one place, another as the result of inherent weaknesses in the rock, and a third opined that these were once temporary basins for their own, now long gone, waterfalls. Perhaps all played a part.

Perhaps these are brush holders made by a giants finger: the giants that paint the spring time.

Perhaps just close your eyes and imagine how past unfolded, and how the future will proceed. In that dream, all you need do is follow the footsteps of the shape of water, in company of all those who once dreamed the same story.

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See Through Pools Falls

The "See Through Pools" are swimming holes with a large natural rock platform used for jumping when summer water levels permit.


The cascade to the left falls over a garden of ferns and mosses. The symmetry between the fall and the mosses and lichen suggest they were trying to become the waterfall as well.

If you sit by a waterfall (or any fast moving water) for a while, some scientists tell us that you will build a complex model of the flow in your head: you start to perceive the fall as a 'dynamic model' rather than a snapshot of individual droplets. I cannot confirm this - sitting by a fall for any length of time leaves me feeling dreamy. But I like the idea in the theory above that, if you sit and watch a waterfall for a little while, for a moment you become the waterfall.


This whole area is dominated by the round exfoliated rock structures. Some of the holes are quite deep, some have their own waterfalls flowing through.

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Heartbreak Cascade

Deceptively peaceful. pot holes in the center of a waterfall gutter are a risk in Australian waterfalls. Active potholes can be deadly, particularly when hidden by the flow or at the bottom of a high pool. The flow of even a modest drop can create enough pressure to trap or pull you into the pothole. Never swim in a pool immediately above a waterfall.

The 'heart' at the top of these cascades formed as the waterfall slightly changed path to create three potholes. The remains of other potholes can be seen in the picture, suggesting periods of (low flow?) stability interspersed with periods of rapid erosion of the entire shelf.

Next to a series of sheltered caves, this wash flows above and below the surface. The surface is honeycombed by holes and passages.

Locals recall that, in earlier times, this place (above Mermaid Pools) may have been used as a birthing place by the first people. Water birthing by first people is recorded in other regions, particularly the Blue Pools near Cairns.

The wash includes a deadly pothole that sucks the entire stream below the surface for short distance.

Local knowledge suggests one death at this pothole and a near miss, when a person was swept over the hole and down the cascade (Heartbreak Falls) to the waterfall plunge into the pools.

This has been used as a cooling pleasant refuge from the sun for tens of thousands of years.

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Mermaid Pool Falls

The "Mermaid Pool Falls" empty into a large deep pool created by an earthquake.

A waterfall feeds the pool.

This pool is extremely dangerous. Visitors have died slipping into the pool, falling while climbing out or suffering shock in the water. It is difficult to climb out of with steep cliffs around. There are two safety ropes presently in the pool.

In waterfall environments, the eye is often challenged by surfaces that appear level, but which are angled. This can leave you feeling off balance - not good near a cliff edge.

Not content with the waterfall and pool, nature has also painted the sides of the canyon wall with minerals from slow seeping rocks. When wet, these light up (the modern name of the pool, "Mermaid" derives from other natural designs on the canyon walls).

A lot of what I see in the wilderness is an assault on the imagination, and I come away from some of these places on a high. I sometime find natural features resonate with local wildlife, or even the myths and legends of childhood. Sometimes the features have been carved, sometimes just natural. When I come across something like this by yourself deep in the mountains, I trust that sudden apprehension of fear, regardless of how irrational it might seem.

Coming to these places, your senses are overwhelmed. I find I wish to do little more than sit and experience - but I try to rouse myself to look further. Sometimes there is unexpected magic. I used to love watch clouds float by, and imagine animals in the shapes. A harmless bit of fun - and probably no different to looking at watermarks on a cliff edge. A friend died a while back, and on the way to his burial, I saw a cloud take the shape of an anchor. It seemed sharp and distinct at the time, and it shook me a great deal. From a distance of years, I can now ask whether it was the sky or my mind trying to find significance in the sadness of the day.

If this was a birthing place, did those who came here look at those images - and if so, what did they see?

When you start looking for pictures in the bush, sometimes your mind will start imagining all sorts of objects. Here the name of the pool derives from the watermarks on the side of the cliffs.

This is a very different 'water fall' - the slow seep from a canyon rock face over eons. The seep has left behind 'ink' drawings on the rock faces high out of reach of human hand. Nature surprises me every time.

The colors of the scene initially reminded me of Greek vase painting. I like the idea of spirits watching over the pool.

There are almost two rows of images. I can see fire from the dragon in the lower one - or is it a cooking fire? Perhaps an elephant, or a pot of stew with someone stirring it or a woman or a man with one leg. The Greeks imaged both men and women fishtailed beings - Poseidon's oldest son Triton was a man with a fish tail - a merman :) When i saw that image the first time, i saw a male as well - Triton.

But these are just watermarks. There is no possibility that they were made by human hand

The pools here are quite deep and the sides of the canyon are pitted with caves and overhangs.

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Woodhouse Creek: Cave Creek Falls

Woodhouse Creek is further upstream, and is an interesting example of a creek that has cut a deep canyon, but which today enters the top of the canyon via a cave system, terminating in a small waterfall.

I caught these waterfalls with just a trickle of water and a dry pool after a very dry winter.


In times of ample water, the waterfall plunges into a cave pool. This canyon is full of ferns and leafy trees, and I arrived here to see the first bloom of spring lighting up the flowers in the bush.


Be prepared to find the cave in deep shadows. This is one place where a long exposure may offer the best opportunities of a clear shot.

The Woodhouse Creek Canyon is near the town of Hill Top. A pleasant walk (2.6km return) will take you from the trail entrance to various caves formed by the creek and a deep canyon. Through this fractured landscape, this creek flows partly underground until emerging at the floor of the canyon.

The falls themselves can be found at the far end of the main canyon, inside a cave open to the elements. Above the canyon are a number of accessible caves.

There is an old official sign “End of Track” on the right wall. In addition to the official graffiti, there is some (older) unofficial graffiti (which I seldom see). Water is gradually wiping all the graffiti away.

A disused rail line comes very close to the caves and is remarkable for having the deepest cutting in the Southern Hemisphere (it may be possible to catch a bus from the nearby functional Yerrinbool Railway Station to the walking trail entrance at Wilson Drive, Hill Top).

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Goanna Falls

A little to the south of the Bargo Basin near Berrima is a town Commons sporting a small fall on the Cordeaux Creek. The reserve holds some interesting rock formations and some hidden barb wire, tread carefully. Otherwise, perhaps a nice place for a picnic :)

These might be the smallest falls i have included in this collection - less for any claim of the spectacular, and more because the people of this area chose this place to come and meet: a place to watch the world turn.

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In the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. I attach a map centered on these falls - the individual falls are not separately identified on the map. This is a very dangerous place - many people have died here. The only safe access is along a track starting to the south where the Rockford Road crosses the Bargo River. There is a small parking area named 'Pothole Reserve' at the crossing. At one stage, a series of mud-maps were tacked to trees. These appear to have been removed.


Cave Creek: The trails starts at Wilson Drive, Hill Top some distance from Yerrinbool Railway Station

Note on rating system: 
The rating system has been developed for SE Australian Waterfalls by weighing 5 different qualities, namely Access, Visible, Pristine, Safety, and Spectacle. These are presented unaggregated and aggregated in a single result out of 5. Most falls look good when running but arriving at a running fall is in the lap of the gods, so the quality 'Spectacle' is determined irrespective of flow. All waterfalls are unsafe. If you go to a fall, be prepared (slips, snakes, sun, spiders, and edges).

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Author: Peter Quinton
Date Published: 2019-02-24
Date Last Revised: 2019-03-22


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