The Blue Mountains

Trip Start Dec 11, 2002
Trip End Sep 07, 2003

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Monday, January 13, 2003

Stu was staying with us during January as part of his holiday in Oz. He kindly hired a car and took us away to the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney for the weekend. Early Friday afternoon we headed out of Sydney on the Great Western Highway. The road runs along the mountain ridge right to the heart of the Blue Mountains National Park. Some explorer guys tried to get across in the 1800s by following the valleys but just kept getting stuck at the huge sheer cliffs, until they tried following the ridge top instead. So - all the Blue Mountains towns are high up and bloody cold - well, cold for Oz!
On the way we stopped at Wentworth Falls where there was a stunning viewpoint over the Jamison Valley - got my first taste of the vastness of Australia, as we stood on the clifftop with an immense expanse of wilderness stretching below us on the valley floor. Thick forest covering hills and sheer rocky mountain sides, with Wentworth waterfall plummeting off the ridge into the valley below. No sign of life was visible in all directions for miles & miles - and this is only a tiny corner of this huge country, only 100K from central Sydney.
We arrived at Katoomba - the main tourist centre of the Blue Mountains and checked into our "traditional" hotel (translation: cheap shitty backpacker hostel). Stu was a bit dismayed at having to slum it, but managed to persuade us to blow our budget and eat out both nights at Katoomba's many art-deco restaurants and then get pissed at the Carrington Bar, where the whole town seemed to be drinking.

Woke up Saturday morning to crappy mountain weather, so we decided to abandon any bush-walking plans we had and head off instead to Featherdale Wildlife Park. Spent a fantastic day meeting many of this country's freaky critters for the first time. Highlights were the galahs (sadly not "flaming" as Alf Stewart would have us believe), the wombat basking in the sun, the tasmanian devils with fierce teeth, echidnas (funny porcupine type creatures with backwards feet). Dozens of kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos were bounding about all over the place - but I'm still confused what the difference is. Several weren't in enclosures so we got to feed and stroke them. Quolls and quokkas were my new animals for the day (small marsupials with spots), whilst dingoes, a "saltie" (evil looking thing), and the kookaburra birds completed the picture.
But the absolute highlight had to be the koalas - the cutest animals on the planet. Most were just sitting in trees doped up to the eyeballs on eucalyptus leaves, but there was always one of them on constant "petting duty" so we got to pat it and get our photo taken.

No rain on Sunday, so we went and joined the hordes of other tourists at Echo Point to gawp at the Three Sisters rock formation. This is a series of 3 giant rock pinnacles that jut out into the Jamison Valley from the cliff edge south of Katoomba. Unfortunately the whole thing has become horribly commercialised with a big concrete viewing platform sticking out over the valley and dozens of old-dear coach parties cooing over the stuffed koalas and mass-produced boomerangs in the tacky souvenir shop. The view, despite all this, was magnificent and as we began the long climb down the 900 steps past the base of the Three Sisters, we left most of the lazier coach-party tourists behind. We walked down "The Giant Stairway" into the valley below and joined "Federal Pass" - a footpath at the bottom of the rocky escarpment. Hardly an intrepid bushwalk, but nice enough. We saw lorikeets or were they rosellas? (bright parrot-type birds) in the trees, and the strange trees and ferns were pretty intriguing to our European eyes. At the end of the walk we were met by a tacky Disney World type arrangement, with a 19th century mine display complete with plastic miners and pit ponies, the "World's steepest railway" back up the cliff and the new "Sceniscender" - a cable car which we took back up to the top. Totally out of place in such an ancient and beautiful wilderness, its presence could be forgiven for the incredible views it provides. No such forgiveness for the rollercoaster in mid-construction at the top! Return in 5 years and you'll probably be confronted by a full-on theme park hanging off the cliff edge!

To anyone coming to the Blue Mountains, I would definitely recommend some sort of organised bush walking, as the scenery is breath-taking - and anything that gets you into the wilderness and away from the tourist tack that is hanging off the cliff top south of Katoomba has got to be a good thing!
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