There is something magical about the Blue Mountains for me
The year was nearly over and Christmas was around the corner, the first one that I could spend with my family in many years, as well as the first since getting back to Australia (last Christmas I was in quarantine in Darwin!). I have to note that I am writing this in June 2023, more than a year and half since these events actually happened, but both 2022 and this year have been very, very busy; University is now only part-time but still taking up a lot of time, plus a new full-time job to add to that. Life has a way of keeping me busy and away from taking photos as well as writing this blog. The positive news over the past year and a half is that my partner has been able to join me here, after being separated by the pandemic for the whole of 2021. I was really looking forward to being reunited and to be able to be together again after so long. Sometimes I don’t know how we survived – maybe not possible 10 or even 15 years ago without smartphones, instant chat and (free) video calls. Anyway, this trip to the Blue Mountains would be my last solo trip for a while (not a bad thing!), and also a chance to have a break before the mania that is Christmas Day with family. I decided to start at Katoomba again, like my last hike in April, but go the other way, through Leura and onto Wentworth Falls. I jumped on my favourite train, the Central to Lithgow, which has leather seats and carpet, both purple, and chugged up to the mountains exited to be hiking again - just me and the Red Beast! I have always loved the train ride as well - there is no traffic, someone else is driving you, and it's just so relaxing to be able to put your feet up, look out the window and enjoy the view... just try not to miss your stop!
I didn’t take a GPS tracker this time, as I was sticking to paths and not really going too far away from anywhere. The path I was taking was a self-made one though, just following walks and then linking up with other walks, and stopping to camp somewhere along the way around Leura, my half-way point. I am always excited when I’m in the Blue Mountains – I spent a lot of time up here in my childhood, at my grandmother’s house, and walking around the bush with my dad and siblings. There is so much to see and do up here, and I love the expanse of nature as well. I got off the train and walked down the main strip of Katoomba, all the way down towards Echo Point, but instead of starting here as normal, I swung off to the right and headed for Katoomba Cascades. These small waterfalls are a popular spot for picnicking and families, as it's accessible and beautiful. I remember spending time here as a kid and always loved the little falls (called cascades). I stopped for a few photos and then got on the path and headed down the cliff walk towards the Katoomba Falls, the big waterfall that runs right off the cliff and down into the valley. Immediately you step into a rainforest world, ferns, huge eucalypts and steep sandstone cliffs on either side. It's beautiful and quiet, apart from the occasional birdcall or voices of other walkers, but you could almost imagine that nobody else was here, kind of like Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs. It wasn’t long before I reached Katoomba Falls, and I took my backpack off, had a snack of nuts and chocolate, and sat down to look at the water for a while. The weather was spectacular, with crystal clear blue skies and a few puffy white clouds, and with just a touch of a breeze to make the water mist out a little at the top of the falls. There were a few people here, some jumping the fence and wandering to the edge for a risky selfie, but it was fairly quiet a great little stop. There were also a few cockatoos enjoying the falls, one crazy little one was wandering around right on the edge, drinking here and there, and screeching to his friends, like he had been challenged to do something silly and he was boasting his success. The view past the pool at the bottom of the main waterfall was also spectacular, looking straight out to the Megalong Valley and Mt Solitary.
I pushed on, going down some more, holding onto the handrails that hugged the cliff face, down to the Federal Pass and then turning left and heading towards the 3 Sisters. I wouldn’t be coming back up that way today, instead walking right underneath them and into the wetter part of the park that is the Fern Bower walk. With the cliffs now on my left, the valley out to my right, I walked along the path that cut right through the dense scrub and trees, making my way to Leura Falls. I hadn’t planned my walk to be honest, just roughly my starting and finishing points, and more or less where I would be stopping. This mainly depended on when it got dark and where I was, but I planned to get to either a small reserve or lookout where I could pitch my tent and sleep for the night. Leura Falls aren’t as big or as beautiful as the Katoomba ones, but there is a nice grassy area for picnics and families. I kept walking, now heading up and out of the valley and back to the cliff tops. It wasn’t too hot today, but between the backpack and the steps, I was sweating. I trudged up and up, stopping occasionally to appreciate the view and take a few pics (my excuse for having to catch my breath), and finally made it to the top. I stopped for some water and some photos at Olympian Rock. By this time the sun was starting to set, so it made for some wonderful photos, all green bush and orange skies. It was also time to look for somewhere to sleep for the night, and I was kind of hoping to make it to Sublime Point, a lookout right out on a outcrop of rock. I wasn’t sure if I would make it before it was too dark, and I really didn’t want to be hiking anywhere by headlamp if I could help it. I walked for a bit further along the road and found a nice little grassy spot to pitch my tent. I probably shouldn’t have been camping here, as it was at the edge of a reserve, but it had toilets, picnic tables, and the spot I had chosen was well hidden from anyone nearby. It suited me just fine. I cooked my dinner, without the luxury of a campfire like last time, and went to bed.
I had no problem falling asleep, as it had been a slightly tougher day than I’d expected. I did, however, wake up with a fright sometime around 2am. I heard a weird noise somewhere in front of my tent, and it sounded about 10m away but I was unsure whether it was coming from the ground or the trees. I got my phone and recorded the sound, as it was like nothing I had ever heard before – a weird sort of croaking noise, almost like an evil laugh. While recording (hoping that it was picking up the sound) my heart was beating fast, and to be honest I was a little scared. I know there was nothing really dangerous out there, but the fear was more because it was a really strange sound from an unknown animal; was it an owl? A frog? I needed to find out when I got back. After recording, I decided to get my headlamp and poke my head out of the tent in an attempt to see my tormentor. I got ready to spring, torch in hand, psyched myself up and jumped out shinning the light at the grass and the trees desperately. Nothing, absolutely nothing. No movement, no more noise, not even the glow of eyes. It was like I was being laughed at wickedly by an invisible ghost. I managed to calm down and go back to sleep, and I slept ok in the end, waking up early and ready to start the second leg of my journey. I later discovered that the mystery monster was in fact a possum! Hard to believe, but I found someone on Instagram asking the same question, and so the mystery is solved! I rolled up my tent and packed it away, hoping nobody in the nearby houses would see me, or a dog walker visiting the park, as I had actually camped much closer to civilisation that I had originally thought. I set off, walking along the Pool of Siloam track, taking a quick stop at Golf Link Lookout, before continuing on to my breakfast spot – Sublime Point Lookout. There was nobody else at the lookout, so I got to sit at the only picnic table there and have breakfast. Within minutes though, I had company; 2 large crows and their hungry, screeching baby. I ate my muesli and shared some of my nuts with the family, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the view. The lookout is a flat rock that juts out over the valley and gives more than a 180-degree view, including the 3 sisters, Mt Solitary and way over to Lincoln’s Rock and even as far as Wentworth Falls. The beauty of this place will never stop amazing me.
The next part of the walk involved walking along some of the back roads of Leura, which were pleasant because I got to see cute little country houses, the well-tended gardens, and look at something other than a blanket of trees. One of these houses even had a name and a sign out the front: ‘The Fibro Majestic,’ which is humorously derived from the building material of the house (fibro, which thin sheets of fibrous cement typically used in Australia during the post-war periods), and the Hydro Majestic (the famous art deco hotel in Mount Victoria, build in the early 1900s). From these streets I had to turn off and walk through the grounds of the Fairmont Resort, a large and far newer addition to the hotel scene than the Hydro. The hotel is built right on the cliff, offering great view out over the valley, and its a wonderful spot for a weekend away... if you can afford it! I walked in the main gate, a little unsure that this was the way I needed to go, passing people in golf clothes while I had hiking boots and a big red backpack, but I followed the signs and found where the path picked up again. One side of the trail was the golf course, the other side the cliff and the national park – you wouldn’t want to slice your tee shot too much! The trail led me down to the Valley of The Waters and Empress Falls, a secluded waterfall surrounded by rainforest. The steps were quite steep and a little damp, but I made it down without slipping over, and chilled out at the bottom of the falls for a bit. A few people were coming down and continuing down the path, and although I was tempted to go a bit further and explore more, I knew that it would be too much for one day and resisted. After a snack and some water, and a few photos of the falls, I threw the beast back onto my back and headed up and out of the valley, climbing back to the clifftop and on towards Wentworth Falls.
I reached the top of the cliff and had a quick sit down and refresh, as it was really getting hot now. I was close to Wentworth Falls, as within a few minutes I reached the busy carpark where all the normal people start their walks, compared to me who wants to see Wentworth Falls but starts from Katoomba. The main lookout spot for Wentworth Falls is a wide-open space and gives a wonderful view of the valley and the falls themselves. Made up of different tiers, Wentworth Falls is just under 200m in height, and as there had been some recent rain, the water ran down the rocks and off the edge in a spectacular show of nature’s beauty. The trail runs down right to the bottom, but after 2 days of hiking in heat, I decided to just go down to the small falls and pool, just before the big drop. I did see people heading down to the bottom, and knew they would be struggling back up to their car, as it is very steep and quite long. It was also obvious that many people didn't know what they were getting themselves into, going by the state of some people coming back up. I casually wandered down to the pool, had a quick dip for my feet, having a short break there before choosing a different path back up. I remember this spot as a kid too, jumping the concrete stepping stones across the water, and hassling my parents to take us all the way down, getting upset when they refused, not realising of course that they’d be carrying me back up. I got back onto the local streets of the town of Wentworth Falls and headed straight for somewhere to get a beer and a feed, as my just reward. As it turns out, there is only one pub in Wentworth Falls, and that’s the Grand View Hotel, which sits right on top of the hill on the main road through town. I had a great pub meal and a couple of beers, stretching my legs out and enjoying the sun. I checked the train times and made it to the station to get the train back to Sydney, very happy with my small, 2-day hike accomplishment. There is something magical about the Blue Mountains for me, and I am always happy to be here, whether it be a quick drive, short walk or multi-day hike. Can't wait to come back!
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. December 2021.