Trip Start Mar 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 11, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Sunday, May 15, 2011

We pulled into Katoomba just after sunset and located our pre-arranged accommodation.  We'd tried to get as close into town as possible, and so when we pulled up, we figured we'd hit a great spot.  However, when we started to check in with the somewhat confused manager, we discovered we were being sent elsewhere!  He told us that the ensuite rooms were to be found down the road (despite there being a board above our heads advertising ensuite rooms) but it was OK, we might end up with an upgrade!  He told us we'd be heading to one of two places - he wasn't sure which, but if we went to the first, we'd find out.

OK, back on the road.  We drove down the other end of the street, right near the cliff's edge and not near town at all, and it quickly occurred to Erin that she'd been on a French excursion to this place back in the mid-90s!  So into La Maison (formerly a French restaurant!) we went, to strike another rather confused manager.  We were very lucky to be upgraded, or so we were told!  This was a boutique hotel with a spa!  Well, it was semi-boutique (actually, it was advertised outside as the same very reasonable price we paid for it)! Absolutely perfect for us, but for some unknown reason they weren't boutique enough to activate their heating anywhere in the building apart from the rooms themselves - an interesting move as the temperature was close to freezing that night!  Anyhow, we moved into our rather comfy room and made a beeline to the hot tub.  Awesome.

And we were delighted to discover that we'd timed our arrival perfectly.  We got out of the hot tub just in time for another episode of Masterchef!  And even better, once that was over, we stumbled onto the Eurovision Song Contest Final!  For anyone who's never watched this, it is one of the most entertaining pieces of television you'll ever come across, and for a wee taste, check out the Moldovan entry:

Monday was a step away from high European culture and into the ancient surrounds of the Blue Mountains!  Planning a solid day of walking we were ecstatic to have breakkie included with our wasn't exactly much of a breakfast, belonging more to the backpacker variety of weet-bix and toast, but it did the job!  We took a quick trip to the local supermarket to stock up on a picnic lunch and returned to the B&B - it may have been a far cry from town but it was within walking distance of the major attraction in Katoomba - Echo Point and the Three Sisters.

The Blue Mountains aren't 'mountains' as such... certainly not of the Swiss Alps variety, but they're a nicely dramatic piece atop of the Great Dividing Range that runs down the east coast of Australia.  It was the old coast line, millions of years ago, and it's called 'Blue' because of the blue-tinged vapour given out by the eucalyptus leaves.  We pulled into the info centre once we got to Echo Point to plot our day - our buddies Nicola and Stephen had given us some excellent tips for a great walk to do from here, and so we were after maps to plot our course.  Thanks to the help of an info officer on his morning tea break (carrying his lamingtons and tea!) we looked at a route that would take us across the cliffs almost to the next town, Leura, and then down into the rainforest below via the Federal Pass back to Katoomba.  It was a good 5 hr walk - we were excited!

We started with a walk down part of the Giant Staircase (a crazy Victorian tourist attraction!) to the viewpoint at the Three Sisters, but didn't progress down there further - it's steep in the Angkor Wat vein all the way down to the rainforest below!  We walked on along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, jumping out at the various lookouts, noting again that we seemed to be the only people wandering about.  That was until we discovered the school excursion group!  A 60-strong pod of teenagers were coming the other way along the track, so we quickly pulled ourselves out of the way to let them pass. 

Twas rather hilarious watching them go by.  They were obviously on a nature walk or some such, with loads of them gossiping to eachother, or walking solitary with their earphones in, listening to their ipods.  Most would jump out at the lookout we were sheltering on, and snap a picture of the opposing cliffs with their iphones, then run on.  A bunch of them said hello to us - they were very polite! When most of them had passed us we resumed our route, but we still bumped into a few stragglers.  Our highlight of the encounter had to be when we overheard one of them say to his mate, "Look, it's real bushwalkers!" as if they'd spotted some obscure wild animal!  So, in our early thirties, we're the stock of David Attenborough documentaries to these guys! Hilarious.

And so we continued on to Jamison Lookout near Leura, from where we took the track downwards past a bunch of mini waterfalls into the rainforest below.  As per tradition, we cracked out the array of cheese and meat we'd brought for the journey and had a lovely lunch under the gigantic trees. While lurking in the undergrowth we managed to spot a bunch of lyrebirds - a rather shy but interesting native bird who can mimic almost any other bird in the forest, as well as chainsaws, car alarms etc!  They're usually pretty hard to find, but we saw a bunch of them on our track.  Justyn decided to follow one a little into the surrounding ground - it was then that he was... attacked by a poisonous tree! 

We were waiting for some kind of trecherous incident to happen - after all, this is the most toxic nation on earth! We just didn't think it would come in the form of a tree!  By the time we got back to the B&B we discovered it had attacked his back, under his right eye and his right index finger.  Terrible!  But a real man of the bush, he continued on!  Once back near Katoomba on the underside track, we had two options: climb back up the Giant Staircase or take the Scenic Railway back up to civilisation.  We took the Scenic Railway! 

As it advertises, its the steepest funicular railway in the world, and goes up a rather sharp line from the rainforest to the top of the cliff!  Erin had done this as a child, having lived just down the bottom of the mountains, but seriously did not remember it being this steep!  It used to be a mining track that was converted into a tourist attraction at the turn of the last century and moves through a cut out tunnel.  The photographer would like to apologise for the lack of photos on this particular journey - she was too busy paying attention to the ride itself!


Once back on the surface we wandered back to our B&B, catching the sights of suburban Katoomba (and seeing a girl from Erin's former touch football nemesis school planking* on the side of the road) before jumping in the car and running into town for a hot chocolate.  The tour guide was hoping to take us to the Paragon, a gorgeous art deco cafe where she had many a pie and hot chocolate in her youth, but alas it was shut!  Apparently 5pm is a bad time for a country town!  We checked out some dinner options before grabbing a takeaway hot chocolate and heading back to Echo Point to catch the sunset.

Not that we're addicted or anything, but we planned to watch Masterchef at the B&B and then head out for dinner.  We called the Italian restaurant we'd earmarked to make a booking for 8.45pm.  Apparently it was a bit late!  And indeed, we formed one of two tables at the restaurant that night!  Still, they stayed open for us and we sank a rather delicious meal.

Tuesday morning we started to make our way down the mountains, first with a breakfast stop at Wentworth Falls.  Breakfast again looked precariously like lunch the previous day.  Delicious!   While we were seated at our picnic table, Justyn made friends with another local - the kookaburra.  The tour guide had told him much about the rather plump and loud creature, but had failed to deliver until now!  And unlike the cockatoo, it was pretty happy to hang out with Justyn and not attack the tour guide.  Success!

After a quick walk out to the falls viewpoint we drove out to nearby Conservation Hut for a cuppa with Erin's buddy Rachel (lawn bowls champion!) and some all important banana bread!  We then proceeded down the mountains with the intention to drive to Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney's west, before heading to our buddy Matt's house on the Northern Beaches.  But first we were making a pitstop at one of the lower entries to the Blue Mountains National Park, at Glenbrook - right at the bottom of the mountains.  Our intention was to go to Euroka Clearing, a classic haunt for kangaroos and a great picnic spot.  Since we'd cleaned up on our food stocks for the day, we wandered in and out, spotting a few roos on the way.

Next, we were set to meet them...

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