As the great nature lovers who we are, we could not travel south through Sydney without taking a side trip to the famous Blue Mountains. This mountain range starts 50km west of Sydney and covers 11,400 square kilometres. The range is a part of the great dividing range. Many other travelers had recommended it to us so our expectations were high. In order to explore the area properly we booked three nights in The Flying Fox in Katoomba. For this adventure we teamed up with our best travel friend Matthias, whom we already met in other countries. He had been there years ago but was happy to go again. The easiest way to get into the Blue Mountains is by train (Top tip: buy an Opal card!).
After a slow but scenic train journey, we arrived in the town of Katoomba. Following an easy check in we were out again and went for the famous and popular cliff top walk along the edge of town. We started at the Katoomba cascades and slowly made our way across to Echo point and the Three Sisters. Along the southern end of town are impressive vertical cliffs about 100m high. The edge was littered with lookout points, which provided views over the jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape. It looked a bit like the Grand Canyon in the US, but it was all covered in lush rain forest. This area is also very popular with day tourists coming on tour buses from Sydney, but luckily it was not so busy that we had to fight for space. The paths and lookouts are very close to the edge but separated by a solid fence. Despite this, Asian tourists climbed across it to have their photo taken while sitting as close to the edge as possible.
After the Three Sisters, we carefully climbed down the steep Giants’ Stairs to the valley below. We heard many different bird calls around us, but saw very few birds. People had told us that Lyre birds lived in this park, but they were very elusive and shy. It totally surprised us when we spotted three of them walking along the path and pecking about. They either did not notice us, or at least did not care about us. We watched them for a few minutes pecking and wandering along the path until the flash on Zoë’s camera fired accidentally during one of her photos. This (unsurprisingly) scared them away as fast as they could run. We continued and climbed up the stairs back to town. In the evening, we treated ourselves to grilled kangaroo steak and sausages with fresh delicious salad (the latter courtesy of Flying Fox). Roo steak was very tasty; it had hardly any fat marbling and tasted a bit like venison but sweeter.
On our first full day we had a big trip planned, so we got up early and tucked deeply into the complimentary breakfast. We then marched back to the cliff edge and down a different flight of stairs and paths. Near the bottom we passed the lower station of the worlds steepest funicular railway (up to 52 degrees). The foot of the nearby cliffs had many mines and tunnels dug into them to extract coal. They were only small, but they railway was originally designed and built to raise the coal up to the plateau were it was them loaded onto other modes of transport to travel further afield.
The mines are all closed up now though. Our paths veered of the scenic boardwalk for the day tourists and followed the contours of the hills to the end of a valley. It was well signposted and only once did we get confused when we crossed a landslide site. By then we were back in the lush green forest which made for a serene scenery and joyful walking. We were then also very close to our destination for the day: the Ruined Castle rock formation. Standing on top of a hill, it rewards the slightly adventurous visitor with supreme and breathtaking vistas across different valleys and imposing cliff faces in the distance. We were a bit unfortunate because cold wind made lunch on top of the rocks uncomfortable. Instead, we hunched down beside the rock needle and enjoyed our lunch in the sunny shelter.
As clouds moved in and the wind picked up temperatures dropped we sought refuge amongst the trees and started walking back to town. None of us were in favour of treading the same path twice and so we turned uphill after about half an hour to the ridge top. On the other side of it we got a glimpse of the other face of the Blue Mountains: rolling hills covered in green fields and forest. From then on, our return route took us along roads with some views. By the time we reached our accommodation we were all pretty hungry and devoured the spaghetti followed by a big mud chocolate cake.
Even though the area to the south of Katoomba looks like a green version of the Grand Canyon, there is another, much smaller valley to the north that actually bears that name. Due to a mixture of deserved recovery sleep, a good breakfast and last minute planning we had to take the train from Katoomba to Blackheath to make it to this canyon and back in one day. Once out of Blackheath, we followed a picturesque river path until we hit a dramatic cliff top. A platform allowed impressive vistas: there were completely overgrown vertical cliffs on one side and a vast open canyon on the other. The fairly flat path then led us along the hill side to a car park and the Valley Lookout point; a near perfect lunch spot.
After this well-deserved refreshment, we descended into the Grand Canyon. Unlike the other canyons we had seen so far, this one was narrow and tight. After descending down a stony flight of stairs we found ourselves surrounded by damp and lush forest filling the less than 30m wide bottom. It had been carved out over millions of years by a small river which we followed for about 3.5km. The air was damp and quiet. All we heard was the water running over stones and the occasional bird song. Our path crossed the stream a few times, passed under rock overhangs and over big fallen rocks. The atmosphere was totally different from what we had experienced in the area so far and we absolutely loved it. Sadly it was over way too soon and we emerged back on the plateau on the edge of town.
The rest of the day was an uninspiring and boring return to the train station along roads. All three of us could not wait to put our feet up after these two long hiking days.
On our last day in Katoomba we returned to the cliff top walk. This time we started near the Lyrebird Dell where a small stream had carved its own little groove into the cliffs. It also featured some waterfalls but at the time we were there they were a bit short on water. After a quick lunch stop and finishing our last chocolate biscuits, we followed the Prince Henry Clifftop Walk past grand lookout points back to town. We still had to polish off some left overs before making our way to the station and back into Sydney.
The Blue Mountains are a must-see side trip for any nature and/or bird lover traveling along the east coast. They are conveniently reached by train too. Many tourists visit them on a day trip including a ride in the cable car and the funicular railway or simply stroll along the cliffs. We highly recommend spending at least three days there to delve into the wonders of the national park. Katoomba is a great base; offering plenty of local transport, shopping, accommodation options for every budget and even bars and some clubs. A word of warning: it will get super busy during school holidays and in summer, but mainly close to town where day visitors go. Leave this zone and you will be very well rewarded.