Think of Canberra waterfalls and Gibraltar Falls probably springs straight to mind.
For many years it was one of my favourite places in the ACT to visit. I'd often drive up the winding Corin Road and be rewarded with the sounds of nature in a spectacular setting. Sure, with a drop of only 50 metres, it's not the most amazing waterfall in our region (the locked-up Ginninderra Falls wins that hands down), but at least you'd usually have it to yourself.
Then came Instagram. And now it seems the very moment a Canberra millennial opens an Instagram account (and bags a drivers' license), they make a mad dash up to the falls. For most of these new-age shutterbugs, it's all about attempting to impress 'friends' with a 'likeable' photo of the infinity pool perched near the edge of the falls.
So these days, if you're a nature lover seeking to soak up the tranquility of the Gibraltar Valley, you've probably got better luck plonking yourself at the bottom of my driveway when the neighbour powers up his leaf blower, than searching for serenity at Gibraltar Falls. On my last visit, hollers of "more to the left, it's a better angle", or "flick your hair from side to side, it'll work better for Tik Tok" quickly drowned out the soothing sound of water gently trickling over granite boulders. Heck, what has the world come to?
I'm just glad they haven't found the other 20 Canberra waterfalls. It's probably because they aren't signposted, and preparation involves a bit more than a pit stop at the nearest McDonalds to pick up essential supplies on the way.
One man who has embarked on a quest to visit all these lesser-known falls is Andrew May of Lawson. Sure, the 31-year-old mechanic is an avid Instagrammer at @andyallanphoto, but for Andy a visit to a waterfall is so much more than just the photo. Hallelujah! In fact, due to the very nature of most of these falls, to 'visit' is a bit of a misnomer, it's more an expedition.
For Andy, hitting the waterfall trail is about the entire experience and includes carefully studying each fall's location on topographic maps before venturing off-track. Of course, if Andy snaps a drool-worth photo to share on his social media then he will, but if not, he just enjoys "going bush". How refreshing.
Andy's passion for tracking down waterfalls began in earnest just over a year ago when his dad, a seasoned outdoorsman, suggested he check out Rob Roy Falls, just a couple of kilometres from Banks. "I wasn't really aware of them beforehand, so it got me searching for other waterfalls in the ACT. I was hooked, especially after I found the definitive list of 21 waterfalls on Johnny Boy's Walkabout Blog, compiled by John Evans of the Canberra Bushwalking Club.
"A lot are off the beaten track and I usually go solo," explains Andy.
Not content with simply working his way through Johnny Boy's list (he's still got six to go), Andy has embraced the challenge to find even more secret waterfalls. "The harder they are to get to, the better," he attests.
In undertaking his quest, some might say Andy has chosen to ignore the advice dished out by Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes in arguably the world's most well-known song about waterfalls, 'Don't go chasing waterfalls' (TLC, 1994), which warned, "stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to".
Instead Andy confesses to spending "hour after hour on Google Earth zooming in on gullies and gorges to predict the likelihood for a waterfall".
And on several occasions Andy has hit jackpot. "At Guises Creek just past Royalla, I found a series of cascades which I then hiked to just after rain and it was magic," he reveals.
As you'd expect of any respectable waterfall chaser, Andy keeps a close eye on the weather but not just for obvious reasons. "Sure, you need a bit of rain like we had earlier this week for some of them to come alive, but I also look for overcast skies as when you can take better shots by slowing down the shutter speed on a cloudy day."
Despite his adventurous spirit, safety is also paramount for Andy and "while witnessing a powerful waterfall under full steam is awesome", he won't venture too close to a waterfall during extreme weather events. "It's just not worth putting yourself or any emergency services personnel in unnecessary danger," he explains.
So what's his No. 1 local waterfall? "It has to the multiple falls on Coree Creek in the Brindabellas." Sure, they're just over the NSW border, but they are so damn close that I'm calling them ours anyway," he laughs.
Andy especially remembers his first trek up Coree Creek last winter. "There were so many drops along the creek that I got carried away with one of the upper falls not knowing what hidden treasures lay ahead. I'm so glad I explored that little bit further because it led me to even more unexpected waterfalls. One was even sprinkled with a dusting of snow." Talk about icing on the cake.
It turns out the 'waterfalls' in TLC's famous song are actually a euphemism for promiscuity. However, when it comes to real waterfalls, Andy has well and truly proven that it doesn't always pay "to stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to".
If it's adventure you' crave, go with the flow
Ginini Falls: The highest in the ACT, these falls drain part of the internationally significant (recognised under the RAMSAR Convention) Ginini Flats sphagnum wetland. The falls, which tumble 140 metres, are located well off-track and in a rugged part of Namadgi National Park and are best visited with a local bushwalking club. Alternatively, if you happen to be flying the Canberra/Melbourne route shortly after or during a big rain event, you might catch a glimpse of the falls in all their glory.
Cotter Falls: Described by John Gale of Queanbeyan Age fame, who documented the far-flung falls after rain over a century ago, as "sublime" and worthy of being "ranked amongst the most famous falls in the world". Although I'm yet to make the trek to these falls, from perusing the photos of those who have been, I'm inclined to suggest that Mr Gale was a tad over-zealous with his description.
Rob Roy Falls: Another favourite of our waterfall chaser, Andrew May, who describes these falls "which rely heavily on decent rainfall to come alive" as "a little ripper hidden out the back of Tuggeranong in the Rob Roy Nature Reserve". Have you been there?
Elsies Falls: Despite a 1920s photograph of people standing in front of what are purported to be Elsies Falls, curiously, contemporary adventurers haven't been able to confirm the location of these falls which are supposedly at the far northern end of the Tidbinbilla Range. Waterfalls just don't go missing, do they?
Did You Know: Although it hasn't been spotted since the 2003 bushfires, the only known habitat in the ACT of the rare Alpine Redspot Dragonfly (Austropetalia tonyana) which lives near waterfalls in mountainous areas is at Gibraltar Falls. They sport a distinctive reddish-brown head and body with yellow markings and red-spotted wings. The Gibraltar valley is also home to several significant indigenous sites, including a rock shelter, axe grinding grooves and artefact scatters. An old ACT Forests sign near the falls also mentions a dingo fence in the valley but I've never found it.
WHERE IN THE REGION?
Clue: 9 Sydney Harbours
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Frances McGee of Curtin who was first to correctly identify last week's photo as a painting by Vernes Linde and his son Girts, both post-war refugees from Latvia, for the first Australian Citizenship Convention held in Canberra in 1950. It was initially displayed at the University College, then located in the Melbourne Building in Civic and subsequently moved to Telopea Park School in Barton. Frances, who "saw this painting on a tour of the school a few years ago" pipped the Hogans of Bonython and Suzanne Hecker who recalls the artwork "hanging in the large stairwell at the school when she was a student there in the 1950s and 60s".
Ann Tndern-Smith of Curtin, who has a particular interest in the first WWII refugees to Australia, says the painting was in a deteriorated state in January 2014 but "with assistance from an ACT Government heritage grant the painting underwent extensive cleaning and conservation procedures". She also reveals "Girts' name has nothing to do with the Australian national anthem - "it's the Latvian version of the German Girt or Gert, which in turn is German for Gerald, Gerhardt, etc."
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday May 8, 2021, wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
While recently exploring Pierces Creek Forest, Ian Jeffery stumbled upon this curious contraption on the forest floor near a rusting fence line, about 1km south-west of Murrays Corner. "I get the feeling it's probably part of a disassembled model spacecraft model," he says. "Then again, it could be from some sort of atmospheric research experiment." While Ian "loves the mystery of it", the proximity of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex is not lost on your akubra-clad columnist. Or am I barking up the wrong tree?
CONTACT TIM: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick