The Blue Mountains – Part 1

Recently we visited New South Wales in Australia. It has to be said that the weather wasn’t inspiring. Over two weeks there were probably four days when we didn’t have a drop of rain and on some of the others it really hammered down. One part we especially enjoyed was the Blue Mountains. We drove up, but it’s easy enough to take the train from Sydney Central (two hours), and apparently you can pay for this trip with your Opal Card (buy one in Sydney) which has a daily cap of AUS$15 – you’ll never pay more for a day’s travel, no matter how many busses, ferries and trains you take.

Our base was the Hotel Blue, a fascinating old building wth the advantage of live blues and jazz several times a week. Unfortunately it seems that the hotel is changing hands and the music will stop, but at least we got to hear two acts while we were there.

It was about a fifteen minute walk down to the Information Centre where fine views of the Three Sisters and the valley below are to be had. We only got slightly wet walking back. Katoomba is remarkable in that it, and some nearby settlements, seem to be build right on the edge of a cliff that stretches for miles. They used to do coal mining down in the valley, and the remnants of that have been developed over the years into a major tourist complex.

They call it Scenic World, and it essentially consists of three rides and some walking tracks. We started with the funicular railway, a sort of train that plunges down the slope – more like a cliff – on tracks and suspended by a couple of steel cables. This is a short but spectacular ride, a little steeper than the image above suggests – cue a lot of appreciative noise from the mostly Chinese passengers. At the bottom there are various things to look at: sculptures, coal wagons, the mine entrance, and an extensive boardwalk. But to get back up again the best option is to walk around the foot of the cliff to the cable car. This is a traditional, if quite large, affair – a cabin suspended from cables which in turn are suspended from pylons.

The views from this are good, but especially if you can wedge yourself into the front or back where the windows show you uninterrupted vistas of the cliffs and valley respectively. Because it was off season we traveled up, down and back up again (You pay one fee for as many trips as you like on all three rides).

The final ride goes back across the valley hundreds of metres above the valley floor. The Katoomba Falls, seen below, are a highlight.

The way we did this, and perhaps the best way unless you’re feeling wildly energetic, is to walk from the Information Centre around the valley rim to Scenic world, go down, walk as much as you like, then go back up again. You can get a coffee or what you fancy at Scenic World, then cross the Skyway and walk back into town from there. More on the blue mountains in my next post, I think.