Tuesday 27th March 2018
The early start is because Wendy and I are ‘going bush’ as they say around these parts. We are catching the 0653 train to the Blue Mountains.
Another of the many advantages of our hotel is that it is less than ten minutes walk from the main Sydney railway station, Central Station. It is a mighty fine station with all the lofty proportions and broad concourses that you would expect and without all the stalls and ‘marketing opportunities’ that British stations are cluttered with. We jumped on an ‘intercity’ train to Katoomba, a small town in the centre of the Blue Mountains.
The Blue Mountains are not really mountains but an eroded sandstone plateau of deep, steep ravines all covered in thick rainforest. It proved a real barrier to the early colonists, preventing them moving westward. It took our dear friend Lachlan Macquarie to drive through the Great Western Highway to open up the grassland that had been discovered on the other side.
The community of Katoomba is like a scene from a 1950’s film set in the American Midwest but with ‘art deco’ highlights. It grew as a resort town, a genteel alternative to the more rumbustious Bondi Beach for Sydneysiders. Even now it has a quaint and quirky air and you get the feeling that everyone knows everyone else. It turns out that all the attractions in the surrounding area cooperate together to work for the benefit of the community, for example they run a circular bus service that travels around all the major (and some of the minor) attractions and guesthouses and you can buy a ticket that allows you to hop on and off and gives you free entry to most of them.
Our first stop on the Explorer Bus was Katoomba falls. Here we followed a bushwalk from the road, through the rainforest to a ‘look out’ over the 150m high falls cascading below us. The east coast of Australia has just been hit by a cyclone so the water levels were spectacular. Then we took a cable car, the Skyway, across the gorge to Scenic World that proudly boasts it is the second most popular tourist destination in New South Wales! We were looking for breakfast. I could tell from the increasing frequency of Wendy’s chuntering that she was getting hungry. Unfortunately Skyway is not set up to cater for early birds such as us and the café doesn’t open until eleven o’clock. We had to use the snack bar, but the girl serving us assured me that it is very Australian to have a four and twenty pie for breakfast (there were no blackbirds harmed in the making of the pie – it was pure steak!) and so I did. Wendy is keen for me to make clear that she had the more refined choice of fruit sourdough toast!
Suitably refilled and Wendy smiling again we jumped on the rack and pinion railway down to the foot of the escarpment cliff. This descended at an angle of 62˚ and that is steep enough to ensure you hold on despite the security of the reclining seats. The train followed the track of an old coalmining railway that hauled coal and miners up at the beginning of the twentieth century, without the benefit of modern safety. Not many died!
From the bottom of the cliff we left the normal tourist route and took a path out of the site into the National Park to the foot of the Katoomba Falls. Walking in the rainforest away from the crowds was very special. It was dark, very little light penetrates the canopy and all around we could hear strange and wonderful birdcalls. Suddenly, out from the undergrowth to the side of the track stepped a bird about the size of a large pheasant, but with a much longer tail that was arched back over its back. It was a lyrebird; the symbol of the park and a bird that was supposed to be very shy and so rare to see. There was nothing shy about this fowl. It inspected us closely up and down and from side to side and then promptly forgot about us and began to scratch in the leaf litter at its feet. After a couple of minutes of this the bird slowly began to make its way down the hillside and out of sight. Lyrebirds are important factors in the ecology of the rainforest, they shift kilogrammes of leaf litter everyday in their search for food and in doing so create the right conditions for seeds to germinate and also for the rich humous to be washed further down the valley by rain.
Back at the foot of the cliffs, we spent a while pottering around a boardwalk that took us up into the trees and also prevented any damage to the environment from the many thousands of feet that pass by each year. This was a slightly longer ‘while’ than we had planned, as it seemed we had the only map that hadn’t been marked to show where routes had been shut for maintenance. As a result we walked around the site a couple of times and were about to start our third when a fellow tourist came to our aid and showed us the amendments that had been made to his plan.
We took another cable car up the cliff rather than the railway and in doing so; apparently, we missed an even more exciting ride than our descent according to the bus driver who took us to our next stop the famous (well famous in NSW) Three Sisters and the Honeymoon Bridge.
The Three Sisters are three pinnacles of rock that jut out from the cliff and the Honeymoon Bridge is a bridge that has been built to allow people to cross the ravine and touch the first of the Sisters. By now the day was well into its stride and everywhere within 400m of a coach stop was getting very busy. The crowds were very easy to avoid though by walking a little bit further along the trails. The ‘look outs’ were prime sites to watch the photographic habits of the Japanese tourists. We are clearly novices in the art of the posed holiday snap (as you have probably already deduced by our mediocre efforts so far?); however the further east in the world you live it is clear the more practised you are in the nuances of producing the perfect holiday image. This involves a subtle bend of the knee, the correct profile, a slight sucking in of the cheeks, but above all the Churchillian Victory V. Preferably with both hands! In Singapore and in Sydney we have seen people of all ages, from toddlers to elderly matrons from Tokyo, singly or in large groups, all flicking the Vs to the camera. Sometimes at the expense of whatever beautiful edifice is supposed to be in the background. Wendy joined in with a coachload of Japanese women all arrayed as if for a class photo in front of the Merlion on Marina Bay. You couldn’t see the fountain for the fingers waving in the air. There must be mantelpieces from Sapporo to Nagasaki crammed full of photos of grandparents in exotic locations with their fingers up.
We climbed the steps down to the bridge, touched the Sister and left the madding crowd behind as we strolled through the National Park eventually popping out of the forest bush by a bus stop to take us back to Katoomba. The effects of the four and twenty were wearing off and we found a very popular café on Main Street. My eye had been caught by something on the menu displayed on the pavement – Kangaroo steak – what could be better on this typically Aussie day? Terry Wogan would have been disappointed, it didn’t taste like chicken, it tasted like good rump steak, and very good it was too.
Waiting on the platform at Katoomba Station for the Sydney train there was a young lad, Arith, with a touring bike fully laden with panniers fore and aft. It turns out he had just completed his degree in Sri Lanka and now was preparing to cycle around Australia in celebration. He was on the final stage of is shakedown trip before he sets off for real. He is going to post a blog of his adventures so we swapped site addresses (I really did try not to bore him too much with my cycling adventure – ask Wendy!). His site will be at www.soloandlost.com when it is up and running if you want to check it out?
This evening we packed our cases with rising excitement (and clothes) as we are catching the 0830 plane to Brisbane tomorrow!