Rain…we’ve had an abundance of it since we arrived in Sydney from Claresholm, Alberta. When we left our small rural hometown it was still in the throes of winter with snow and sub zero temperatures in the forecast so the warm rain we got in return was not ideal but better than home, for sure!
Now, a week after our arrival, we are venturing west of the city to the bushlands of the beautiful Blue Mountains National Park with the weatherman’s promise of blue skies and sunshine.
Our day begins early. We need to meet the train at Gordon Station at 7:45 am in order to arrive at Katoomba, the gateway to adventure, by about 10:30. Unfortunately, one of our connections was late so we waited a full hour for the next train, therefore arriving halfway through the day. We had much to do and see so we went straight to the tourist office to purchase passes for the Hop-On, Hop-Off Explorer bus. https://www.getyourguide.com This allowed us plenty of flexibility in terms of how much we could fit in to our day.
The bus travels in a circuit with about thirty possible stops. Many of the stops are in the town of Katoomba and might drop you off or pick you up from various hotels or attractions. The map we received with our pass was full of information about the various stops so we could pick and choose the ones that interested us the most. As well, the drivers were a wealth of information about the area, pointing out specific viewpoints and in some cases stopping for five or ten minutes to allow for photo opportunities.
With our pass, we also chose to purchase a pass for Scenic World. We wondered if we would get our value out of that since we essentially only had about five hours to use it. In retrospect, we are glad we did. It allowed us access to areas of the forest that we would not have had time to see otherwise.
The Blue Mountains are aptly named. Hundreds of species of Eucalypts make up the forests. Looking out across the vast panorama, a blue haze is apparent, a trick of the eyes as sunlight filters through the oils suspended in the air by the Eucalyptus trees.
Our first stop was Scenic World to make use of our additional pass. From here, there are four “ways” to travel the various trails below…the Railway, the Cableway, the Skyway and the Walkways. We chose the Railway first. This train travelled on an old mining rail and took us 310 meters down the mountain at a very steep 52 degree grade, making it the steepest passenger railway in the world. Upon disembarking, we found ourselves in an old coal mining area of the Janieson Valley from the 1800’s. Walking out on the boardwalk through the ancient rainforest, we saw remnants of the old mines and the shafts that would have taken the miners into the mountain. A miner’s hut gave us insight into the life of those men who worked underground.
From there, we ventured along hiking paths, spongy and wet underfoot, where lyrebirds dug in the underbrush for food, oblivious of all the cameras snapping at them. Water cascaded from rocky escarpments, the faint smell of eucalyptus in the moist air.
Following the boardwalk deeper into the valley past huge turpentine trees and termite mounds, we found our way to the Cableway that carried us 545 meters back up the mountain to the Scenic Centre at the top of the escarpment. A coffee and muffin on the lookout deck gave us a few minutes to bask in the warm sunshine.
Then we were off to experience the Skyway, a large tram with a partial glass bottom that glides slowly across the gorge, 270 meters above the ravine, offering panoramic views of the Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls and the whole Jamieson Valley. It was beautiful! I couldn’t help thinking that the only thing better might have been a zip-line across!
Our pass would allow us to use any of those three modes of transportation as often as we wished but there were other things we wanted to see so, when we got off the Skyway, we walked down to Katoomba Falls and along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. The trails are all well marked and maintained and even though there were thousands of people in the area the walks usually felt solitary and peaceful in the protection of the massive canopy of trees.
Back on the bus, we contemplated visiting Echo Point to hike closer to the iconic rock formation called The Three Sisters and Honeymoon Lookout but since we had done that hike the last time we visited the Blue Mountains, we decided to forego. We would recommend it to anyone who has not been before. Also at Echo Point is the Waradah Aboriginal Centre where guests can experience a live Aboriginal Cultural Show. Time would not permit.
However…a bit of history about The Three Sisters…Legend has it, according to both our bus driver and Wikipedia, that many years ago three sisters, Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo, lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe. They fell in love with three men from the neighbouring Nepean tribe, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters. A major tribal battle ensued, and the sisters were turned to stone by an elder to protect them, but he was killed in the fighting and no one else could turn them back.
The bus runs only till 5pm so we had time for one more short hike. A path and a series of steps took us deep into the gorge to see the beautiful Laura Cascades. Since there had been so much rain in the area in the past week, the falls were full on.
Our final stop was the lovely little town of Leura. We were famished by the time we got there but had no trouble finding a nice place to eat. Leura caters to the tourists and has wonderful little artisan shops, coffee shops and restaurants. Arriving late in the day, many of the shops were closed but the window shopping was great!
A day well spent, we boarded the train back to the city. It had been a quick but great visit to the mountains on an exceptionally beautiful sunny day.