Monday – Wednesday, November 14 – 16, 2011: Katoomba, Australia
We had a very early morning on Monday, waking at 3:30am, getting to the airport by 4:15am, and boarding our plane at 5am for our flight from Cairns to Sydney. Thankfully, all of the above events didn’t require too much brain power as we were probably half asleep most of that time, but shortly after 9:30am, we arrived into Sydney’s Domestic Airport, back where we had started 10 weeks earlier. We grabbed our bags, and havig a much better understanding of where things were and how they worked, we quickly made our way into the train station and picked up our train tickets to Central station.
About 30 minutes later, we were on the platform, tickets in hand for our train ride to the northwest and into the Blue Mountains, one of our final stops on the journey. It would take just about 2 hours to make the trip up to Katoomba station, but the train was clean, efficient, and just after 1pm in the afternoon we had arrived to our stop.
Leaving the train, again we were struck by the signficant shift in the weather yet again. We had left the humid, sauna like northern coast, and has arrived into a howling windstorm. The gusts thankfully were at our back as we took the short 1km walk to our accommodation, the YHA Australia Blue Mountains.
We were able to check into our room on the 3rd floor and took a short nap as the wind blew the trees and the gusts slammed against the building. We were never concerned for our safety, and the weather report said that things would calm down later in the evening, but it did provide a wonderful natural air conditioning in our room from the normally hot sun against our side of the building.
We headed out later in the afternoon and picked up groceries at the local supermarket and once we had gotten those back and into the community kitchen, we headed out to jump on the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus for the last circuit of the day.
The Blue Mountains Explorer Bus is a Hop-On/Hop-Off bus that permits riders with tickets to pick up the bus at any of 25 marked stops in the Blue Mountains area, and permits unlimited travel for three days. This allows for folks to see and experience the area without the need for any transportation (rental car, etc.) and services nearly all of the local sights. In addition, the drivers are also extremely knowledgeable guides that provide fun and informative commentary along the route.
One complete loop of the Explorer Ciruit takes an hour so we used the last run of the day to familarize ourselves with the area, see some of the places that we wanted to visit the following day, and plan out our strategy to see and do as much as we could. It worked out to be a great setup as the last bus of the day wasn’t too busy, the driver was able to answer any and all questions, and we got to ride on the second deck (think the big red buses in London) right at the front with a birds eye view of everything.
Our driver was kind enough to drop us off close to our place at the end of the run and we headed home for a nice dinner and to get some sleep. The wind continued to howl but given how early the day started for us, we didn’t think anything could keep us up that night.
The next morning, we got to sleep in an extra hour or so, had breakfast in the comfortable and spacious dining room, and headed out to meet the first bus of the day at 9:45am. The buses generally run about twice an hour allowing folks to spend any amount of their choice at a specific destination, as long as it aligned to a 30 minute block. Our first stop of the day was to Stop Number 10, the Katoomba Cascades. The most impressive part of the entire Blue Mountains Explorer setup is that if you don’t want to take the bus everywhere, most of the bus stops are connected by hiking paths that allow you to walk or hike from one stop to another, so you could get off the bus at #10, hike to number #12, take the bus to #15 and then hike to #14, then pick the bus up again, etc. throughout the day.
With this flexibility in mind, we had a grand master plan and did our best to achieve it, allowing us some amazing walks along the edge of the valley, with commanding views of the Blue Mountains and the surrounding areas. So back to our story… We got off the bus at Stop #10, Katoomba Cascades. From here, we got to take a 2.5km hike along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk and the Round Walk with opportunities to see amazing sights like Reids Plateau, Rainforest Lookout, Witches Leap, and the Juliet Balcony. All of these stops provided scenic vistas or waterfalls and allowed us to enjoy most of these places entirely by ourselves, away from the hustle and bustle of the major tourist stops.
We rejoined the Explorer bus about an hour later back at Stop #12 and our driver proceeded to take us to our next stop, #15, Honeymoon Lookout. (They have the best names for places here.) We got off the bus and hiked back towards stop #14 Echo Point, and along the way enjoyed stops at The Giant Stairway and got our first view of the Three Sisters rock formation before we ended up at the Queen Elizabeth lookout to enjoy lunch in the shade as we overlooked the entire valley.
After a nice, leisurely lunch, we jumped back on the bus at Stop #14 and continued along the circuit to Stop #18, Gordon Falls. (We swear, this really does make sense and is quite easy with the map and the guide book they provide.) Once we arrived there, we took off on our final and longest hike of the day, a 2.5km stairmaster in the middle of the hot afternoon sun. It was a lot of work and quite hot (where did that wind disappear to?), but along the way we got to enjoy a number of lookouts at Elysian, Olympian, Tarpeian, and Majestic. We even walked through a portion of the area that had been recently burnt out by a large wildfire a couple weeks earlier. It was all worth it once we had reached Bridal Veil Falls and the Leura Cascades, worthy prizes for the effort of the hot hike with stops at beautiful waterfalls and the cooling shade and mist they provide. The one unfortunate drawback was that we couldn’t touch any of the water as it has been contaminated by the fire retardant from the aforementioned fires and no swimming was allowed.
Hot, sweaty, and a bit bummed about not being able to take a dip, we were still in surprisingly good spirits, though quickly needing some rehydration, we hopped back on the Explorer bus at stop #17, Leura Cascades and took it to the town of Leura Village, stop #21, where we just walked around the town and picked up some cool drinks and ice cold pineapple at the local market.
From here, we reboarded our bus and decided that it was time to call it a day. It was a wonderful day of exploration in the Blue Mountains, we had covered a lot of ground (about 5 miles on foot) and had seen a nearly the entire edge of the Katoomba/Leura area of the region. We got back to our place shortly after 4pm and started to get packed up for the final trip back to Sydney and our eventual return home.
It was a great visit to the Blue Mountains and though we wish we could have stayed longer, we made the most of our three days here. It was time to take the train back into Sydney, which we did early Wednesday afternoon. We got to spend one last great day in the area with some great friends, but that is for our next story that will be shared very soon.