Thursday, May 15, 2014

Touring the Blue Mountains

Day 3 of Easter Escapade saw us traveling far.
Katoomba. The name itself reminds me of the Malay word ketumbar also known as coriander in English. Day 3 of our Easter Escapade brought us here, a place I consider the capital of Blue Mountains as most of the must see attractions are centered around/nearby here.  You could embark on a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tour or spend some money and sign up for a guided tour. In order to maximise our visit, we signed up for a Half Day Scenic Tour offered by Blue Mountains Mystery Tours.

We said goodbye to Oberon at 7:30am to ensure we arrived at the agreed meet-up by 9:00am. Taking a leisure drive and not making any stops, we arrived at 8:40am. Just as I was entertaining the notion to scout around for coffee/breakfast, Pete arrived in his van. He came bearing with good news that it will only be just us as the others cancelled and we can start immediately, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. There goes my breakfast thoughts.

Our first stop was Scenic World, home to the four ways -- Cableway, Railway, Walkway and Skyway. We headed down to Jamison Valley via the world's steepest Railway! Being ahead of schedule meant we were one of the first few people in line and did not have to wait long to board. The normal looking carriage comes with an extraordinary feature - an adjustable bench seat! This meant you could customise your railway experience by choosing either Cliffhanger, Laid Back or Original option. Although I had wanted to select Cliffhanger, I decided against and settled for Original (52 degrees incline). I am glad too as during the ride down, I could feel my palms get clammy and my heart slide down to my stomach! To think we were going at a pace much much slower than a roller coaster.

Normal looking carriage, extraordinary seats
Steep enough to get clammy hands

At the bottom of the rail track, we commenced our tour of Jamison Valley along the 2.4km Scenic Walkway. Other than the opportunity to learn about the site's coal mining history, you will get the chance to spot animals in the wild including the elusive lyre bird, awe at the size of huge trees and water vines or even go on a search for sculptures currently on exhibit among the trees. Common birds were perched on the branches and were easily seen. The same cannot be said for the lyre bird, unfortunately. Despite hearing it nearby, it remained invisible to us. Walking along the deck, we passed by huge water vines too, prompting me to think this was probably Tarzan's mode of transport in those days. If the natural flora or fauna is not your thing, perhaps you would enjoy more the sculptures on display hidden at different parts of the forest. For the more adventurous, this is also the beginning of several bush trails. You could even walk up right to the first sister (of the famous 3 Sisters). After an hour of walking, we arrived at Cableway station, a sign for us to head back up. Our guide, Pete gave us a tip on where to stand take advantage of the good views. I would share it with you here but I have forgotten exactly where. I remember it is in front, not sure if it's the left side or right side. Hmmm.. just sign up for Pete's tour and he will tell you. Hahaha.

After the Cableway ride, we made our exit from Scenic World. However, instead of leaving through the same way we came, we were going to cross the ravine with the Skyway towards the other gate. Pete showed us the queue to the Skyway and told us he will meet us at the other side.

The Skyway is similar to Cableway except it carries more than 50 people at a time. It is hanging 270m above the national park. Here, Pete suggested we stand either on the left or in the middle (I remembered :D If you are coming from the opposite side, stand right or middle). Left gives you the best view of the waterfall, and middle gives you the best view of the ravine as you would be standing on a glass floor! Don't worry about the strength of the glass - it was demonstrated that it could withstand a hard stomp by the staff on duty. The demonstration somewhat shocked us, eliciting screams from some.

Peek-a-boo! These people did not know the glass was see-through as it was frosted at the start!

The trip across took less than 5 minutes. Apparently on a non-busy day, the Skyway operator would stop for a few minutes mid-air to allow passengers to take pictures of the waterfall. We did not get such special treatment as it was Easter and school holiday weekend.

Pete met us at the other side as promised and off we went to Echo Point to meet the famous sisters. Legend has it that three sisters from the Katoomba tribe fell in love with three brothers from another tribe. However inter-tribe marriage was forbidden. The brothers were determined to marry the sisters and planned to take them by force. In order to protect the sisters, a witch doctor turned them to stone. He did not get the chance to reverse the spell as he was killed before that.

A second version is the witch doctor changed himself to a lyre bird after changing the sisters to stone. Unfortunately, he lost his magic bone before he could change himself and the sisters back to human form. Is it said to this day, the lyre bird is still digging looking for the magic bone.

The sisters from Queen Elizabeth's Lookout.
We viewed the sisters from Queen Elizabeth's Lookout. It was a short walk down from the road. You could also view them from the lookout at road level or lower. Depends on how much walking you would like to do.

Pete also recommended we visit the sisters later in the evening, when the sun has set. They would be in greater limelight with the flood lights focused on them. We toyed with the idea and eventually made it back there after dark. It was a great decision and we have Pete to thank for. Do not be fooled by the dark surroundings. Do walk towards the edge of the lookout point for the reveal.

WARNING: Should you visit after dark, bring a torch light or use your phone's light option. Other than the sisters, nothing else is lit. It is so dark you can hardly see a palm in front of your face, what more concrete pillars. An elderly man was terribly injured the night we were there. He landed face first, seriously injuring himself and broke his glasses in the process. Although I recently received feedback from Blue Mountains City Council that the sandstone plinths will be removed in interest of public safety, no harm in going prepared.

We temporarily bid the famous sisters goodbye as we moved on to our very much anticipated next stop on our itinerary - morning tea. Yum yum. Our drive down the winding road deep into the valley began with the 300 million year old forest and ended at a 600 million forest. Within 30 minutes, we traveled through 300 million years. Believe it or not, you would have noticed the difference.

Megalong Valley Tea Rooms has a serene atmosphere around it. We had expected the place to be crowded as Pete's attempt to making a phone order before our arrival failed (the phone line was either engaged or left ringing). The amount of cars parked in front of the business seem to confirm our expectations. We were however surprised that it was not that busy after all (not by Malaysian standards anyways) with the number of tables available for our choosing. 

Hoping to increase our chances of spotting a kangaroo/wombat/eagle or anything wild, I chose a table in the garden. Pete in the meantime placed our orders at the counter - jam+scones+coffee for me, mushroom pie+apple drink for Mr H and chicken pie for Pete. We took a short walk down the garden while waiting for our food. Still no luck with the animals.

Our orders came and went straight into our mouths. The blackberry jam that came with my scones were not exactly to die for but close enough. I am not really a fan of blackberry jam, so coming to that conclusion meant it was good. I literally smothered the jam onto my scones (all 3 of them) leaving none in the bowl. In fact, I bought a jar ($8) back and now eat it with roast chicken too. Mr H's mushroom pie was not bad either. 

Garden seating @ Megalong Valley Tea Rooms

Beautiful weather meant the shed was unoccupied
After our tummy fill up, we headed towards the creek nearby hoping to catch some sun bathing water dragons. Our luck in spotting animals on this trip continues - we found none. 

No water dragons today.
Despite not finding any water dragons, we did enjoy the tranquility of the creek. The gentle sound of flowing waters, the cool fresh air and the sounds of our footsteps - what's there not to love? Reluctantly, we left Megalong Valley and headed up back to Katoomba to our final stop in our tour - Govetts Leap.

Govetts Leap is host to Blue Mountains highest waterfall. Instead of heading straight to view the falls, we took a small detour bush walk. We finally spotted the elusive lyre bird, not one but two! Our luck was changing after all. Pete also impressed us with his knowledge of the local flora and fauna, especially with the different types of bottle brush plants. This is one of the benefits of getting a local tour guide! 

Lyre bird still looking for his magic bone.

Mountain Devil flower.

After our walk, we strolled over to the lookout for the final show. We were greeted with a never ending landscape of blue and green. Right at the corner, there it was. Standing at 300m tall, Bridal Veil Falls got its name from the flowing trail of water that changes direction depending from where the wind was blowing. Apparently, if the winds are strong enough you would be able to feel the gentle spray of waters from the falls. Amazing right? 

It was also here I found out why the area is called Blue Mountains. Due to the large quantity of eucalyptus trees that release oil into the air during the day, the reaction of the oil with the air creates a blue hue. 
Bridal Veil Falls (300m tall).

View from Govetts Leap.

After a few more pictures, it was time to complete the circle of our tour. Pete drove us back to our car and we bid our goodbyes. An enjoyable half a day we had.

For the different types of tour provided by Blue Mountains Mystery Tour, go to

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