Our final planned destination was in the Blue Mountains. This range is about 50 miles west of the coast near Sydney. It was a major obstacle to settlement when Europeans first came to Australia. They are not very high - only about 3000 feet. They consist of a high plateau rather than peaks but they have a very steep escarpment on all sides that makes it very difficult to find any way through. The main highway west from Sydney goes through them, so there are a string of small resort towns along the highway where it crosses the plateau.
We left Coonabarabran a day early (see last post) around noon. We were heading for a town called Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. The drive there was pretty. Most of the way there were huge fields of purple flowers in bloom. Reminded me of the lavender fields in Provence, except that there were no regular lines, just fields full of purple.
Since we skipped lunch to leave town quickly we were getting pretty hungry as we drove through the afternoon. Mudgee was the only sizeable town that we would pass through. As we got close we saw a sign by the road and Sandy and I both exclaimed "McDonalds!" at the same time. The town was actually big enough that it took us a while to find it. Shannon doesn't like hamburgers, but since there was also a McCafe, she ordered a muffin. She didn't like it though. Her comment was "Why do they have orange poppyseed muffins instead of lemon like they have at home." For me that summed up globalization in the 21st century in one sentence. You can be 10,000 miles from home in a foreign country and be surprised that what you order isn't identical to what you get at home.
Blackheath is the highest town along the highway through the Blue Mountains at slightly over 3500 feet. That makes their weather a little cooler than the rest of New South Wales. They even brag that on average they have snow twice every winter! (Doesn't Wisconsin average snow twice every summer?) But that meant that it seemed quite chilly early in the morning when we Singapore residents left the motel for our hike. We started at Echo Point, which is a spectacular viewpoint just outside the town of Katoomba along the escarpment of the Blue Mountains. But there isn't any parking there nor is it permitted anywhere nearby. Fortunately since it was early we were able to find a spot in town only a few blocks back along the road. There is a trail that follows along the top of the escarpment but that would be too easy. Instead we took the Giant Stairway, which heads straight down the cliff. I had to promise Sandy that there was another way back up. The Giant Stairway lived up to its name. It went straight down the cliffside. In some places it was very steep stone steps cut into the rock. In others it was a metal stairway bolted to the side of the cliff. It certainly was steep! A good place to hold the handrail Although easy enough, a stumble would have been very serious. It took us about a half an hour to get down.
In the Blue Mountains, a pass is the lowest point of a trail dropping down, instead of the highest point on a trail that is climbing up like everywhere else in the world. So from Dardenelles Pass we turned onto a trail that made a long traverse along the cliff about 500 feet below the top. Now it was warming up and with clear blue sky it was a beautiful day. The trail went though light forest which kept us in the shade and kept it cool, but was open enough that we had nice views all along the way. Even though the mountains aren't high they rise steeply enough that there is quite a bit of rainfall. In some of the sheltered spots it is quite wet, and it looked like genuine rainforest. At spots as we hiked along we could see through gaps in the trees up to the lookout on Echo Point where we had started our hike.
After about an hour of traversing we reached the an area directly below Scenic World. That's a tourist attraction perched right on the rim that operates a number of for concessions, most of which involve a way to get up and down the cliff face easily. There is a "railroad" that goes at about 60 degrees. I would have called it a funicular. Sandy and Shannon decided that it would be fun to ride it up the cliff. I took set of stairs that went up to Scenic World. I hustled up the stairs so they wouldn't have to wait for me and thought I did pretty well to reach the top in only half an hour. As soon as I walked into the Scenic World parking lot, trying very hard to not look out of breath, Sandy was waving and yelling for me to run, the bus was about to leave. So I ran across the parking lot and we hopped on a bus that took us back to our car.
We found a really good place in Katoomba for a late brunch. After that we spent some time wandering up the main street where there were a lot of shops. I was impressed that there must have been a half a dozen climbing shops. And they had serious stuff, from hiking gear to rock climbing to major expedition equipment. I guess there must be quite a concentration of Australian climbers in the Blue Mountains area. Sandy wasn't so much into the rock climbing shops, as the rock shops. She found a place that had really beautiful opal that were quite a bit cheaper than what we had seen in Sydney. We decided that she could pick out her Christmas present and she got a really spectacular opal necklace.
After that it was anticlimactic but we did spend the afternoon checking out the other nearby towns for shops, going to some of the other scenic viewpoints, and looking for quilt shops. I did manage to get my first real fish and chips of the trip in Blachheath while Sandy was checking out the only quilt shop she did find.
To be continued...