"I imagine you're surprised to see me here"
- Lincoln Hall
I typically don't think of Australia as featuring much in the way of mountains. Well, to be accurate: didn't. The age of the continent -- the oldest of the seven -- means that the eons of weathering have taken their toll and largely eroded any vast peaks of sharp escarpments. Yeah, Ayers Rock and the mountains of Queensland, but the rest of the continent is relatively flat. At least, that's what I thought.
There is also a spiritual side to the Blue Mountains, as many of the caves in the hills are regarded as a excellent places for The Dreaming -- the aboriginal altered consciousness in which the dreamer is in contact with the past, present and future, and all things become one. In fact, the most notable landmarks in the park is a three-pillar sandstone formation known as The Three Sisters. According to legend (or folklore), they are the daughters of the Katoomba Tribe chieftain who was worried that his daughters would be captured in a battle with his neighboring tribe -- the chieftain of that tribe had three marrying age sons. The daughters had fallen in love with those sons, but the marriage was forbidden. A battle ensued and to protect the daughters the chieftain had an elder turn them to stone. The elder was killed in the ensuing battle -- leaving no one to restore the daughters to their human form.
(We have a friend who recounts his own visit to the area a couple of decades ago in which he wandered into a cave and doesn't remember much about it until he was found, hours later, by his friends. All he can recall today is the immense feeling of peace and calm.) (CAVEAT: Unless you're an experienced hiker and woodsperson, I'm not recommending you wander off the path and get lost. NOT a good idea.)
Our first stop and effective morning agenda began just off the main highway, and down a dirt road to a spot called Lincoln's Rock, one of the best out-of-the-way viewpoints in The Blue Mountains National Park. Named for famous Australian explorer named Lincoln Hall, the first Aussie to scale Mount Everest, the rock is an open-air unguarded overlook across the Jamison Valley. It's a terrific spot which is enough off the beaten path that only small tour vans will go there, meaning it's you and handful of visitors instead of the parade of Canon-clutching herds dropped off by the megabusses to noisily interrupt both pristine views and quiet moments. (This is the power of a small-group tour. While I have no particular problem with the megabus tours when nothing else is available, if you have an option I strongly recommend finding a small group tour that leaves earlier in the day and allows for a more intimate connection with the sights and sites.)
|The Three Sisters|
At the park are three rides, and all three are strongly recommended unless you enjoy steep hikes up and out of the canyon. The first is a glass-bottom tramway that takes you from one side of the canyon to the other. It's only a minute or two in duration, and has some spectacular views, though it goes by relatively quickly. There is a road which you can take to the visitor center, but the ride is impressive, as is the view.
The ride bills itself as the steepest railway in the world and I have no reason to think they are anything beyond exactly accurate. As the cars leave the station the track suddenly curves down like a roller coaster and plunges you into a very black tunnel for a moment before you emerge into the nearly pre-Cambrian rainforest below. It's a real shift between worlds and nicely done, though if you're prone to a fear of heights the cars have three adventure settings for the seats: completely flat, slightly angled and "whoa Mama, I'm falling!". For fun we chose the latter and managed to hold onto almost everything except a single bottle of water that went careening down into the darkness below. (We recovered it at the end. The seats are securely caged on all sides by steel fencing -- despite your fears and a lack of seat belts, you really can't fall far nor hurt yourself. There's a padded bar for your knees, and plenty of hand rungs to grab onto. Still, it's a roller-coaster-scream inducing moment if you're prone to that sort of thing.)
At the bottom of the railway --- after passing a couple of educational exhibits on the coal-mining once done in this part of the mountains -- there is a walk through the rainforest on well-maintained pathways, clearly marked with three different levels of challenge.
|The primeval views|
This is probably a good time to bring up one of my angriest pet peeves: mobs of tourists from the megabuses who act like mobs of tourists.
In this instance we were enjoying ourselves in the quiet serenity of an amazing natural beauty. The setting is very primeval, as I've noted. Scenic World has a wonderful series of hiking trails through the rainforest on the floor of the valley. As were were casually walking along we we became aware of a lot of chattering voices on the path behind us. A lot. We paused, figuring the best way to get back to the serenity would to wait for the mob, let them pass and let their voices vanish into the distance.
Within a few moments they caught up. Some twenty people noisily talking moving down the path as a single unit. Pausing every once in a while to take photos of themselves amongst the greenery, while entirely missing the experience of the moment. To them it was a simple nature walk, perhaps something they could have had in a local park back home. Despite the periodic signposts explaining something about the plants and ecology, the only pauses in forward motion came at those moments someone wanted themselves photographed in front of a tree, or a bush. And no stop to the chattering in either case. It's a shame that they missed such a spectacular moment to simply absorb nature -- but far the worse that they were so oblivious to their surroundings that they impacted the experience for everyone else on the trails.
|Tram back up from the base of the Valley|
I certainly don't object to taking day tours to experience the destination...but too many of those tourists really aren't trying to internalize the adventure. It's their loss, but their discourtesy to others trying to have an adventure of their own is a very sorry state of affairs. It's likely always been that way.
Thanks for the vent. Now, back to our story.
Again, to each their own, but if you're the sort of person who believes pristine rainforests ought to be quiet and experiential spots, the sudden appearance of the madding crowd can be a bit jarring (as, undoubtedly it is for the forest's inhabitants, who likewise won't make an appearance under those circumstances).
If you're a nature buff, or simply enjoy a stunning view, I strongly recommend the Blue Mountains as a great daylong side trip from Sydney.
Just don't be a tourist about it.
Scenic World Park - http://www.scenicworld.com.au/
For more information on explorer Lincoln Hall: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Hall_(Climber)
|The Jamison Valley|