Blue Mountains

To properly appreciate the Blue Mountains, I decided to rent a car, and with a journey to Melbourne planned I set the rental at eight days – plenty of time to visit several places between Sydney and Melbourne. Despite the initial tedium of getting out of Sydney city centre, through remarkably heavy traffic for a Saturday, I really enjoyed being back behind the wheel. I headed west to Katoomba, which is the gateway town to the Blue Mountains region, named for the mist of eucalyptus oil above the forest. My first stop in the area was Wentworth Falls, a 300m drop falls just to the east of Katoomba. There was a good 90 minute walk below the cliff-top, which provided brilliant views of the mountain valley and the waterfalls. I suspect my readers will have guessed by now that the falls wouldn’t be flowing at full rate, but the walk and views definitely made up for that.

Small falls at Wentworth Falls Wentworth Falls Undercliff track

I have to spare some time to describe the Katoomba YHA – which remains my favourite hostel to date. The architecture outside, and in the upper dorm floors might possibly strike some people as institutional, but the 1900s red brick, high ceilings and long dim corridors reminded me of school – and surprisingly in a good way. The main socialising area looks to have been a theatre at some point, with a raised stage, and art deco plasterwork, while numerous sofas and armchairs made it a very comfortable place to sit and chat in evenings. Even the music that was played (at a sensible volume) over the PA met with my approval – from Enya (yes, yes, I know… guilty pleasure) to Smashing Pumpkins. The final scene-stealer was outside – a statue in a koi carp pool. I doubt I’ll ever see anything close to that in a hostel again, although I look forward to trying to find something similar 🙂

Katoomba YHA louge Katoomba YHA rear mezzanine

The second day in the Blue Mountains was a walk/hike/trek from the hostel around the local scenic landmarks. Starting with a view of the Three Sisters, then down the Giant Staircase (900 steps!), the trail followed the cliff base for a few kilometres before another staircase led bak up again. A stop off at a spectacular waterfall (where I couldn’t resist climbing over the safety fence to take some better-positioned photos), up more steps, then a 3km walk across the top of the cliffs back to the start. It was a long, exhausting, sweaty but glorious walk with a mix of vast views, forest shade, open skies and tumbling falls – highly recommended!
That night, a fire alarm in the hostel provided half an hour’s extra entertainment, two fire engines and an ambulance turned up for what was suspected to be a 15 year old smoking in a dorm. For anyone counting, this was hostel evacuation number five of the trip.

Three Sisters at Katoomba Giant Stairway
Valley from Giant Stairway Katoomba Falls

Leaving Katoomba for Canberra, I was pleased to discover that the most sensible route would pass nearby the Jenolan Caves, a highly regarded cave system. While the resort itself was reasonably picturesque (in a twee pseudo-alpine style), the cave tour wasn’t great. There are about nine different tour routes that run through the day, and unless you are very patient you will go on the next available tour. My option appeared to be a route through some of the easier caves, and comprised a huge group of generally older tourists. The tour was slow, the guide was frequently inaudible, and to be frank the caves weren’t particularly inspiring. I enjoyed taking photos of trees smothered in low cloud more than the cave tour. Ah well 🙂

Rock formation in Jenolan Caves Misty forest near Jenolan Caves

Links: AtlasChoice car rental – cheap and cheerful cars

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