Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are technically a suburb of Sydney: you can travel to Katoomba, a popular tourist town, with your Sydney MyMulti travel pass, and people actually commute from there to the CBD.  Which for me is utterly crazy, and just shows how spoilt Sydneysiders are, that you can live somewhere so spectacular and still work in a cosmopolitan centre (which is a rather lovely city anyway).

I work around 40hrs a week in Sydney, which means I lose sight sometimes that I came here to travel, and not to work in hospitality.  But a couple of weeks ago I realised I had a whole weekend free, and made the impromptu decision to head to the Blue Mountains by myself.  As it happened, a friend from work was excited to come along, and my little idea for an out of town jaunt became an excellent mini-trip.

 The Jenolan Caves I'd spotted on the official Instagram for Australian tourism, and was smitten by the idea of visiting.  I adore caves and crystals, and these are some of the best in the world.  My friend Barbara and I woke at the crack of dawn (not unusual for us) to take the train from Central to Katoomba, a good 2hr journey which afforded us an opportunity for sleep, but got us in ten minutes before our bus pick-up for the caves.  From Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves is almost another two hours, which is why its necessary to make an early start, but the bus driver provided us with plenty of commentary on the area, and was happy to discuss with us the recent bushfires that had decimated many parts of the Blue Mountains (although not any area we saw during our brief visit).

 We'd opted for the combined package of bus tour (you can't get public transport to the caves, only car) and ticket for the Orient Cave, which was described on the website as one of the most beautiful caves in the world.  It didn't disappoint: highlights include the Indian Canopy (the formation of stalactites on the top right), and the multitude of pillar-like formations.  It was also incredible to experience absolute darkness for possibly the first time, when the tour guide shut off all the lights.  You begin to lose sense of spatial awareness, and then balance.  It was a real insight into what caving and mining would have been like for the early discoverers.  The Orient Cave also has a stunning underground lake, although it very rarely fills with water.  I'd love to return to the Jenolan Caves later in the year to visit one of the many other show caves.

The area surrounding the caves is rich with wildlife: less pleasant are the enormous cicadas, which my natural revulsion for winged insects made me keep stopping in my tracks.  But there are several large lizards sunning themselves or skitting across your path, platypus (platypi?) swimming in the lake, and most amusingly, brightly-coloured parrots begging like pigeons for scraps of food.  You aren't supposed to feed them of course, but tourists still do, meaning that while you chow down on your burger on the caves' bistro patio, there are several gloriously plumaged birds a chip's throw away.

After a bus journey returned us to Katoomba, we spent the rest of the day enjoying Oktoberfest (which had been delayed til December because of the bush fires) and sampling Katoomba's cultural life...that is to say, not so much.  A few beers, some Indian food, and we ended up at a completely dead cinema watching a Scottish crime drama, of all things.  But the Blue Mountains Backpacker Hostel is excellent value for money, so there's that.  We woke bright and early, checked out and headed for Scenic World which would dominate our itinerary for the second and final day of our trip.  The full pass at Scenic World allows you to ride their railway, two cable cars, and walk through their forest boardwalk.

"Skyway" is the cable car that passes over the Katoomba Falls, offering stunning views across the mountains and taking you to an excellent vantage point from which to see the Three Sisters (first picture in the post).  The legend surrounding this mountain formation is commonly attributed to local Aboriginal tribes, but was in fact made up by a white Australian decades ago to increase tourist interest.  That wasn't necessary in my opinion, as the entire area is already breathtaking.  Another site of interest is Mount Solitary, a huge looming rock opposite the Three Sisters and Scenic World that is the same size as Uluru.

The Scenic World railway is supposedly the steepest in the world, shunting you quickly down the mountain (although hiking is an option).  Barbara and I got pretty sidetracked as this point and found ourselves accidentally on Federal Pass, a great trail for seasoned hikers or people with time to spare in the area, but not so much for a couple of city girls with a train to catch that evening.  Retracing our steps we ended up back in Scenic World, where we head off on the Boardwalk.  This part of the site was probably the most underwhelming, as you are elevated a few metres from the ground are there are so many people that animals keep their distance, unlike Federal Pass where I saw many pure white cockatoos soaring above.

One thing Scenic World does have to offer though is an accessible approach to nature: you can experience the beauty of the Blue Mountains, the almost jungle-type foliage and beautiful Katoomba Falls, even if you are inhibited by physical disability, age, or have small children with you.  The boardwalk is easy to traverse with wheels, and the cable cars are a great safe way to get the best views - although obviously not recommended if you're afraid of heights!  Going back to work after my weekend in nature was a bit of a downer, but having not experienced much of the Australia I'd seen hyped, this was a fantastic glimpse, and I know the Blue Mountains are just a train ride away if ever I need a respite from city life.

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