“Katoomba, perched on the edge of a 170 metre cliff, is the home of Echo Point and the famous Three Sisters and has been a popular bushwalking area for nearly 170 years….as well as the famous Scenic Railway, Skyway and Sceniscender Cable car” (made in Thun, Switzerland) and the Katoomba Falls.
As we drove closer to the Blue Mountains through the hills, the temperature dropped to 14C and it began to drizzle. Just the week before we were walking on the forecourt of the Nullarbor Roadhouse to pay for fuel when the temperature was 40C! The first town we encountered was Lithgow and we were surprised how busy the little town was, especially the McDonald’s where we went to use the facilities and enjoy a sweet chilli chicken wrap with a free senior’s coffee
. We sat next to and chatted to an Australian family after we noticed one of the ladies wearing a shirt sporting the Swiss flag. She was a Federer supporters and was all ready to watch the match later in the day and support the Swiss instead of her fellow countryman, Tomic the Australian!
Back on the road and a little further on we drove through Hartley Historic Village on the road to Katoomba - very different scenery to what we were used to on the way from Hartley to Gatooma!! On the way we passed the turn off to Mt Victoria and the Victoria Falls Road. We were very excited being in the mountains at last but before finding the Katoomba Falls Caravan Park, we stopped at a road side stall to buy some blueberries, picked that morning and locally grown peaches, plums and nectarines. To reach the caravan park we had to pass through the busy town of Katoomba but we were pleased to find the location of the park to be quiet and peaceful. We were allocated a good site on a corner and by 3pm all was set up including our annexe, tables and chairs. With our tea we ate the last of the biltong Mike had made in Perth and were really impressed that it had lasted eight days. We have reached our first holiday destination and are now looking forward to relaxing and enjoying walks in the forests surrounding the camp. “The Blue Mountains Park conserves more than 247,000 hectares of a spectacular part of Australian heritage
. The rugged beauty of the park provides a wealth of opportunities from site-seeing to bush walking. The sandy soil of the plateau tops is infertile and low heaths cover the most exposed places but in protected pockets and valleys, lush vegetation grows. In the main valleys there are tall open forests and patches of rainforest.”
The first evening here we cooked dinner in our annexe and enjoyed rice with boerewors, fried onions and tomatoes with a bit of English Spinach thrown in for good measure. The rest of the evening was spent watching the Australian Open Tennis and it was so cold in the caravan that Margaret wore red socks in support of Federer. By bedtime, when we went out to clean our teeth, it was so cold and misty it was as if we had just flown to another continent! It is strange that it is the middle of summer and as most of the country swelters, it is so cool here in the mountains - just what we were hoping to experience. Definitely bed socks and an extra quilt is needed during the nights here.
After a wonderful long sleep in the cool mountain air, we enjoyed a full brunch and then walked across the road to the start of the walking trails. We were enjoying our walk through the quiet bush when we were confronted by buildings. After walking around to the front we discovered we were at the very touristy Scenic World where the car park was full of Tour Buses
. We went inside to investigate and found it to be the starting point of the Scenic Skyway which crosses to the other side of the valley, Scenic Railway and the Scenic Cable Car down into the Valley. There was so much cloud we decided we would venture down into the valley another day when hopefully the sky would be clearer. Instead we made our way out of the crowds of tourists and headed down the bush path to the Katoomba Falls. After admiring the many falls and streams along the path, we took another track and ended up on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk which led to the Skyway Eastern Station. At this point a barrier was across the path, due to a recent severe bush fire, which would have taken us to the Echo Point Lookout. There were not many people on the walking tracks, but during the day, we met a couple from Belgium and a young couple from near Bologna in Italy who told us that they would never order Spaghetti Bolognaise in Australia as it was not made the same way his Mama makes it! It was mid afternoon when we crossed the road back to our caravan. Most of the other campers in the park are from Europe travelling around in motor homes. We met a couple, Elena and Carlo from Basle Switzerland who are in Australia for a long awaited holiday and who joined us for a chat and coffee after dinner which turned out to be a very pleasant time.
The next day we drove to Echo Point Viewing Platform and Information Centre
. Although there was a lot of cloud around, we still had a good view of the Three Sisters. As we drove to the centre of town we passed a Swiss Restaurant that Ronell had told us about but it was closed until the beginning of February so we couldn't sample its menu. In Katoomba and surrounding areas are many houses and apartments, many having been built in the last century. On the way to Black Heath we turned down a road to the Grand Canyon Look Out, then after refuelling we noticed the sign to Megalong Valley which had been recommended to us by our pastor Steve. We had a delightful drive down into the valley through tall trees and paddocks of horses and on the way back up we stopped at the Megalong Valley Tearoom. After a cup of coffee and delicious home made meat pie, we overheard someone saying he had heard in France that the best meat pies ever were to be found here at this tearoom. We came out of the valley just in time before the rain started again and the mist came down. After a quick visit to the local grocery shop where we stocked up on some food we headed home to a mist covered caravan park and the rain set in.
Wednesday morning arrived and it was still overcast but not raining when we set out just before 8am to go to the Jenolan Caves situated on the road to Oberon. We drove through mist and clouds most of the time firstly climbing high up the mountains and then zig zagging our way all the way down to the entrance to the caves
. On a downhill just past the sign “Please exercise extreme caution” we were thankfully going very slowly when a kangaroo decided to cross the road right in front of us, another near miss! As we descended down the mountain, we were soon below the low flying clouds and enjoying an amazing view over the tree tops and across to the other side of the valley. After driving through a short tunnel we were in Jenolan Village which comprises, beside the Caves Ticket Office, various types of accommodation including the Caves House. Here, guests can relax in Edwardian magnificence in the lounge by an open fire before going up to their grand suite, definitely out of our class. The tunnel and road through which we had come is closed between 1130 am and 1.45pm to allow access to tour buses as the road is too narrow for them to pass other vehicles. We had arrived at a good time and were able to go on an early tour of one of the many caves with only four other people. The tour lasted ninety minutes and we had a relaxed informative guide who has been caving all over the world including the Wookey Hole Caves in England and the Kango Caves in South Africa, both known to us from earlier phases of our lives. The caves here were part of Aboriginal culture for thousands of years, but the first Europeans to find them were two brothers in 1830 and since then over 300 caves have been documented. “Jenolan boasts 11 magnificent world-class show caves - a maze of ancient limestone caverns richly draped with exotic mineral deposits and cut by subterranean rivers
. More then 3 kms of formed paths allow comfortable access and strategic lighting highlights the best aspects of each cave feature.” The tour which we went on, as it was the next available, was down a cave 365m long and has 288 steps to reach the bottom. Here we could “marvel at the astonishing formations in this citadel of reflections and peace. High tech lighting and sound (beautiful classical music) enhanced the tour for a magical and unforgettable experience.” On Saturday nights, in summer, they frequently hold Operas in the larger caves where the acoustics are simply fantastic. After our tour, we had lunch in the bistro and then drove up through Oberon to make our way home as the rain really set in again. It eased a little as we went to explore the Historic Village of Hartley before getting back to the caravan. The rain continued throughout the night and we lay in bed listening to it beating on the caravan roof which is just so relaxing.
On Australia Day we woke to no rain and a clearing mist. This was our day to walk across the road to buy a Day Pass at Scenic World which allowed us to go up and down the Cableway and Railway and across the Skyway as often as we wished. When the centre opened at 9am there were already bus loads of Asian tourists waiting to go in but they all had their tickets bought by the tour guide so we didn’t have long queues to contend with when we went to buy our ticket
. With so many lookouts, a large shop and various eateries in the centre and three different modes of transport to use, all the people soon dispersed over the large area. The queues for the rides were not long and once we reached the base station it was not long before we were on our own away from the crowds. We did meet with a few people every now and again but not many Asians ventured far away from the railway or cable car. At the base of the railway we learnt that historically, coal was mined in the valley and took the obligatory photo of the shiny bronze life size pit pony. Peering through the replica pit office window the replica mining foreman gave a commentary about the mine to all who cared to listen. For the first half hour on the boardwalk we walked with a Sydney couple about our age but very different from ourselves. Margaret in her denims and hiking boots in contrast with the lady in her garden party hat, skirt, stockings and sandals! Her husband seemed much older than Mike though it turned out that he is a couple years younger, so they soon had enough walking and went off back to the cable car and we continued our way around the rest of the boardwalk.
After reaching the Rainforest Room on the boardwalk and making sure we had been on every inch of the walkway, we walked through the gate onto the bush track into the Blue Mountains National Park. It was an enjoyable bush walk with the track winding its way along the valley, going up and down while we attempted to avoid the many muddy puddles
. We reached well known landmarks such as the bases of the Katoomba Falls, Echo Point and Three Sisters. During the walk we could hear birds singing in the trees high above us and then stumbled across a Lyre Bird on the ground just in front of us disappearing into the bushes and out of sight but still singing beautifully. Margaret’s mother had read about them with their beautiful tail feathers and song and had always wanted to see one but sadly they are not found in Western Australia when she visited us. When we decided that we had gone far enough we turned back and just reached the boardwalk in time to use our new small compact umbrella when a short sharp rain shower surprised us. We rode the cable car back to the cliff top and found a quiet outside table where we could sit and enjoy an Aussie Day Special Meat Pie and coffee. Just as well we were outside as Mike noticed the first of the five fat leeches which had penetrated his sock and latched onto his skin. It was a mad scramble to remove footwear so that the resulting damage of these blood suckers could be ascertained. Firstly, the leeches had to be removed and the bleeding bites washed. One of the little blighters was so gorged with blood it had trouble moving whilst another that we found clinging to Margaret’s shoe was so skinny and just stood on end dancing around trying to find someone to cling onto. Mikes feet are now covered in plasters until the bites heal.
During the afternoon the skies cleared enough for us to make a return trip on the Skyway to Echo Point, where the bush was destroyed by a bush fire three weeks earlier, and up and down the railway a couple of times
. We managed to secure seats right in front of the railcar on our second ride so that we could see the steep incline that this railway travels. As late afternoon approached we went back to the caravan when the last of the fat leeches, which had escaped earlier detection, came off with Mike’s socks. He was left with four bleeding holes for Margaret to administer first aid. After we showered, we went across to the camp kitchen to BBQ our Aussie lamp chops and celebrated Australia Day on our own before the rain came down and set in for the next 24 hours. The next day was a good day to relax and read, as we had been able to see and do all that we had planned in this beautiful region. We watched a bit of TV before falling asleep and awoke to sun shine which lasted just long enough for the annexe to be brought down and put away. After a delicious brunch with home made hash browns, steak, bacon, mushroom, egg and tomato, we set off to wander around the town of Katoomba. It drizzled a little but was not a problem as we mingled with the crowds looking through some antique shops in the main street. There was a large amount of magnificent vintage cars parked outside the Carrington Hotel with all its yesteryear charm. We returned to the caravan where we sat around for about an hour in the most sun we had seen for a week, had dinner and edited our little story. It was nearly time to say goodbye to Katoomba and the Beautiful Blue Mountains as tomorrow we pack up and make our way to the country’s Capital City, Canberra
KATOOMBA IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS - for a week from Sunday 22/1.