Sydney to Katoomba New South Wales 4 to 6 August 2007.
13 Aug 2007
Before leaving Narrabeen, Jeff went to take more photos of the bay in the daylight, then a quick visit to the local shopping centre and we were on our way. We had decided to drive up to Palm Beach, the most northerly of the Northern Beaches, the road runs along the coast passing many lovely beaches and then up the narrow stretch of land to Palm Beach. On one side lies the South Pacific ocean and on the other Pittwater, a sheltered inlet that borders on to Ku-Ring-Gai-Chase National Park. At the very top is Barranjoey Lighthouse with over 500 steps to reach the top. The normal path is undergoing reconstruction so we were diverted to another path which wound its way up through the wooded slope to the top. When we reached the top we discovered the path was the smuggler's path, I don't know what they were smuggling, but they had a long way to carry it and not a lot to do with it when they got it there. The views from the top were great, and being a Saturday there seemed to be lots of boats out on the water, Australian's enjoying their leisure. After catching our breath we had a walk around the top and discovered the lighthouse keeper's grave close by his place of work, no mention if his ghost still assists the shipping in the area.
We returned back to our van, after watching a sea plane make a landing and then later take off again, and had some lunch. It was now time to start to head for our next destination which was to Penrith at the foot of the Blue Mountains. We had to retrace our steps back to Mona Vale and then cut across country to pick up Highway 2 which would lead us to Highway 4. On paper it looked simple but in reality it was not so easy and we got lost. As navigator I knew we had to head in the direction of a place called Parramatta, which was well signed posted, so we just kept going. At Parramatta we thought we would pick up signs for Penrith but no, every other city, town and village seemed to be signed but not ours. Nor was the Blue Mountains signed, which we thought would have been. So we reached Parramatta and had a tour of the city at about 4.30pm when everyone else was making their way home.
Our guide book said that this city was the second to be colonised after Sydney and we did see a lot of really nice old buildings, so at least we got to see another piece of Australia. Eventually we saw a sign post for our destination and were on our way once more on the Motorway towards Penrith. Our journey today was through continuous traffic and major roads, clearly Sydney and its environs is a large sprawling area. We had thought about stopping at Penrith but on consulting our camp site book there did not appear to be a site here, yet we were sure we had read of one. As it was getting late we felt we would keep going to Katoomba, the main town in the Blue Mountains, and reached there at about 6.30 pm. The office was still open and it seems most people seem to arrive late here as another 4 vans came in after us. We were now high up in the mountain area and this was noticeable with the cold.
The Blue Mountains National Park was given World Heritage Listing in 2000 for its biodiversity, and it stretches for over a million hectares. Sheer cliffs dropping into deep canyons and glorious eucalyptus forests make up some of the most spectacular landscapes to be seen in Australia. The Blue Mountains are not really mountains, but a vast sandstone tableland deeply incised by watercourses. They acquired their name because of the blue haze produced by the scattering of the sun's rays striking dust particles and droplets of moisture in the atmosphere. The blue haze is magnified by the droplets of oil produced by the extensive population of eucalypt forest within the Blue Mountains. Our campsite was only 10 minutes walk from the popular tourist attraction Scenic World. Here you can board the scenic railway or cableway to take you down to the forest floor or the skyway ride over the Jamison Valley. On the Sunday we were visiting they were holding a 'snow day' with lots of activities based around the snow being made by the snow machines.
Today we had decided to walk the Great Round Walk which incorporates two of the most popular and historic walks in Australia, The Prince Henry Cliff Walk and the Federal Pass. Both walks take in some of the Blue Mountains most famous icons and some stunning scenery. We started at Scenic World where we purchased tickets for the Skyway, to the Prince Henry Cliff Drive, the start of the walk. More importantly we bought tickets to return from the forest floor to the top of the cliff on either the cable car or railway, after our walk. The journey on the Skyway crosses the Jamison Valley, a distance of 300 meters. It has a glass panel in the floor which you can walk on and look down onto the trees 220 meters below; you also get good views of the Katoomba Falls dropping down into the valley. We were treated to some spectacular views as we walked to Echo Point, where a big viewing platform gives some close views of the Three Sisters, a well known sandstone formation and one that is probably the most photographed formation in the Blue Mountains. It is quite a busy place as all the tour buses stop here and disgorge their passengers to take photo's, so we also stopped and took our pictures before moving on to our next part of our walk.
Our descent to the forest floor is by the Giants Staircase. Construction of this stairway was begun in 1909, as a means of attracting tourists from Sydney, and due to lack of funds was not completed until 1932. It follows a ledge around to the first sister, then doubles back onto the cliff face as it zig-zags down the cliff with approximately 896 steps. As we were slowly working our way down the steep steps we met many people puffing and panting on their way up. Some even told us they had gone down on the train and were climbing up, we were glad we had taken the advice of the guide book to walk down and ride up. Once at the bottom we set off on our walk, first on the Dardanelles Pass which took us around to the Leura Forest and Leura Falls. We turned around here and walked back on the Federal Pass through the forest and under the towering cliffs, at one point we found ourselves under the Three Sisters, and at the foot of the Katoomba Falls. Here another choice faces the walker, to ride up in the train or walk up the Furber Steps (1040 steps) although more steps than the Giants Stairway it is less strenuous. For us there was no choice, we had all ready bought our tickets and did not want to waste our money.
A short walk from here brought us to the base of the scenic railway and the boardwalk taking you around to the cableway. Having been stuck in a cable car at Singapore I am not too enthralled in them so decided to travel up on the train. The railway claims to be the world's steepest railway with an incline of 52 degrees. It was originally built to bring coal out from the mine, when tourists kept trying to hitch a lift up in the coal wagons. Seeing a market a passenger train was built and it has been running ever since. On the way up you ride backwards and have to hang on tight as it was like riding the start big dipper the wrong way. Once up we had something to eat before walking to the top of the Katoomba Falls on our way back to the site.
Monday morning saw us wake with legs feeling like we had spent too much time doing step aerobics, so we thought we would have a quiet day and visit The Edge Imax cinema showing a film about the Blue Mountains area. We missed the turn off on the road and finished up at Wentworth Falls, where we found another lot of steps down to a viewing platform. Going down was not too bad, coming up was the worst. We eventually found the cinema and enjoyed the film and the sit down even more.
We left Katoomba and headed along the Great West Highway stopping at Evens Lookout to view the Grand Canyon and then at Govetts Leap where we had stunning views over the Grosse Valley. This area was devastated by the bush fires last November (2006) and it brought back memories of the television coverage we saw at the time. All the walks in this area are closed for regeneration and repair work. On our way once more we turned off onto the small road to Bell where we found a nice spot for lunch before continuing to Lithgow the home of the Zig-Zag Railway. We found our campsite after a bit of touring around and learnt that all the cabins were taken by rail workers, who were working on the repairs to the railway line behind the site. It seems they only work during the day and the freight trains roll down the main line to Sydney during the night. So our night was quite a noisy one.