Monday, 3 February 2014

Sunday Stroll In The Mountains

The Blue Mountains National Park.
Need to get away from the busy city that is Sydney? Need that 'mini-break' from the rat race? Some people hit the coast for camping and swimming, but there is nothing like the fresh mountain air for me! The Blue Mountains, part of the Great Dividing Range which runs top to bottom all along the east coast of Australia, are only an hour's drive from the heart of the city. There are many pretty little villages to call in at, but my favourite is Katoomba.

The 3 Sisters - Meehni, Wimlah abd Gunnedo.
The witchdoctor turning the sisters to stone.
Frozen forever in stone.
The Blue Mountains are one of the city's top tourist attractions, and are visited by bus loads upon bus loads of (mainly) Korean and Chinese tourists. The reason for this - The 3 Sisters. Not actual sisters, unless you believe the Aboriginal legend. 3 Beautiful sisters fell in love with 3 brothers from another tribe, and wanted to marry them. This of course was against tribal law, as the 2 tribes were feuding - West Side Story style. Anyway, the sisters, Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo, were from the Katoomba tribe, and the brothers (no names, as only the pretty ones are remembered) were from the Nepean tribe. One day, the brothers decided to ignore the law, and tried to steal the woman away, which caused a battle between the tribes. A helpful witch doctor from the Katoomba tribe took it upon himself to help, and so turn the sisters into stone, to protect them from harm. Unfortunately the good doctor took a spear, or possibly a boomarang, to the head (maybe) and died. As only he could reverse the spell, the 3 sisters remained as they were, and now stand at Echo Point, a short distance from the village of Katoomba.

Katoomba Station - your ticket to fresh mountain air!
Normally I drive up, as it's quick and convenient, but this time I was going with my English class, and decided on the train for the relaxing trip and the view along the way. That and my class wouldn't have fit in my little clown car... The train from Central takes 2 hours, running from the CBD through the Western Suburbs and over the Nepean River which marks the edge of Sydney. You can fully appreciate what a big city it is on this trip, as it seems to stretch forever and it gets your full attention as you're not battling the traffic. After crossing the river, the train snakes it's way up the mountain, 1000m above sea level, and through small towns and villages, following the highway. Getting out at Katoomba station, you are immediately hit with fresh air, quiet streets and a more subdued pace to life - just the way I like it!

The 3 Sisters from Echo Point.
The original 1950s cable car, which the Orphan Rocker's rails in the background.
The view from Scenic World.
Most people head straight for Echo Point and the 3 Sisters, and I don't blame them. There is much more to see in the area, but who doesn't want to see 3 900m tall women? There are all throughout the National Park, but as the stairs had been damaged in a recent landslide, we were limited to walking along the cliff-top. This trail, hugging the cliff on one side and looking down to a 300 meter drop on the other, is the best way to see it - not in a car. An easy walk though! We walked from Echo Point to Scenic World. This place, built in 1958, is still running and now bigger than ever. Originally it ran the Scenic Skyway, a cable car that goes right out over the valley and offers a stomach dropping view. Before it opened up as a tourist attraction, it had a 'railway' to haul up coal, which later became the Scenic Railway. This railway is one of the steepest cable-driven funicular railways in the world at a gut wrenching 52 degrees incline!

The Skyway going over the valley and past Orphan Rock.
The first Sister, and the only one you can get on.
In 2004 they replaced the old Skyway car with a brand-newie - yes, they had been running that old bucket for nearly 50 years... and yes, I did go on the old one, but haven't been on the new one - I don't think it would be the same! In 1984 they started building a roller coast here, called the Orphan Rocker, which was to run around the cliff face, and hammer around corners and scare the life out of people with its rails going within a meter of the 300m straight-down drop. It never opened sadly, but you can still see the train running around the grounds, and they are still talking about finishing it... not that I would ever go on it!!

As we didn't have a car, we had to walk everywhere. This wasn't a problem, but the weather was very warm, so it was a bit tiring. We stopped off for lunch back in the village (as I hate paying Tourist prices!). Katoomba is a chilled out place, with some trendy cafes and arts & crafts shops as well as a few antique stores too. If you look closely enough, you can tell that the village had it's hay day in the 20s. Neo-Gothic 20's buildings can be seen, an old cinema which is now a cafe serving all-day breakfast, to the more obvious Carrington Hotel - a grand old building restored in 1998 to it's former 'Outlook Hotel' style grandness. It was first built in 1883 and served the wealthy Sydney folk with somewhere to get city comforts in a country setting - Im happy that its back, even if I can't afford to stay there.

The Blue Mountains - one of my favourite places in the world.
 The day was drawing to an end, and so we had to hit the stations and jump back on the train, back to the rat race of the Big Smoke. It was a lovely day out, and it was great to share it with my students - I am so happy that they make the most of their time in the country by going out and doing this all the time, and even spending a bit of time with their (cool) teacher! Thanks guys!!

My and my cool students! 

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...