Curracarrong Falls. Image by Daniel Tran Photography.
When most people think of the top things to see in the Royal National Park near Sydney, they tend to think of the Figure 8 Pools or the Wedding Cake Rock. But one of the most underrated natural wonders in the Royal National Park along the Sydney Coast Track is Curracarrong Falls, a waterfall right next to Eagle Rock.
Most waterfalls are formed in the upper sections of a river in steep mountains, but what makes Curracarrong Falls so unique is that it empties out directly out into the Pacific Ocean. Think about it, where else in the world have you seen a waterfall that drops directly into the ocean?
Wikipedia suggests that there are only 30 areas with coastal waterfalls, also known as tide falls, like this in the world, making them incredibly rare. In Australia, the only other recorded coastal waterfall is in Waterfall Bay in Tasmania. The rest are scattered around the world in places like Mealt Falls in the Isle of Skye, or McWay Falls in California. But surely there must be more? After all, how much can we really trust Wikipedia :)
In a recent publication in the journal Geomorphology, two US scientists Patrick Limber and Patrick Barnard state that coastal waterfalls with constant flow are relatively uncommon and there is no broad explanation of how they develop and evolve.
They suggest these coastal waterfalls are caused by a unique interplay of marine and terrestrial processes. Essentially, the horizontal erosion of the landscape caused by the impact of ocean waves (which forms sea-cliffs) has occurred at a faster rate than the erosion/incision of the earth through rain water. For this to happen, you will generally need to be in a place where the sea-cliff is retreating rapidly and wave energy is high, while the flow of water is relatively small.
One of the cool things about this science is that in the battle between these two erosive forces (wave impact vs rainfall), we still don’t know whether the rainfall will always be the eventual winner, with an incision creating a stream or topographic low into the ocean. Or whether these coastal waterfalls will remain forever. Are we merely witnessing a geological change in the making, or are we seeing the final result? Scientists are in the process of answering this question through modelling, but at the moment the answer is unclear.
I must admit, the first time I visited these Curracarrong Falls while hiking the Sydney Coast Track, I walked passed, admired the view, and then proceeded to take a quick photo of the rock that curiously looks like the head of an eagle nearby. I didn’t stop to think about the amazing geological circumstances that led to this weird and wonderful waterfall straight in front of me. Who knew it was such a rare phenomenon. Are there more coastal waterfalls that you know about that haven’t been recorded so far?
Curracarrong Falls is located along the Sydney Coast Track in the Royal National Park. If you go to visit, please make sure you keep a good distance from the rock ledges. There are no fences along the cliff, and you now already know how quickly the cliff is eroding. Alternatively, come join us on our awesome two-day adventure along this Sydney Coast Track.