Australia

The Blue Mountains

I wrapped up at work on Thursday afternoon and was looking forward to heading out to the country and see something other than Sydney. I was having a great time in the big city, but wanted to see a different part of Australia. A number of people had mentioned going to see the Blue Mountains. Mark had a cabin up there and graciously offered me a place to hang my hat as it would give him reason to go check on the place since it had been a few weeks since he had been up there.

I checked out of work and met Mark at the central train station. For a 60 mile journey on the train, fare was only $8.50. I’m thinking not bad, mate! I was right on time (a rarity) and the train was leaving in 6 minutes. Not really sure where I was going and not having internet, I was getting a bit uncertain. Should I get on the train or not if I don’t see Mark? Was he on the train already? A minute before the train was to depart, Mark comes around the corner and off we went.

It’s a two hour ride up to the Blue Mountains. All I really knew about them was that the horizon has a deep blue to it. Mark laughed that I wanted to see a kangaroo. He joked about it a number of times, re: silly American. Go an hour out of town and you see them! It was too dark for photos, but I was happy.

We got to see the sun set over the mountains. The sunset was gorgeous. It’s unfortunate I couldn’t get a good photo of it as the window on the train was dirty. The mountains had a deep purple cast to them and the sun brilliantly illuminated the clouds with sharp rays as it made it’s last stand before succumbing to the night. While the mountains here have the feel of the eastern US topographically, the sunset was right out of Colorado.

Katoomba was much bigger than I thought it was. I figured the train was going to let us out in the middle of nowhere (like the outback). Katoomba was a lot like Angels Camp for the Californians or Helen for those in Georgia. It was about a 10 minute walk from the strain station out to Mark’s cabin and it was the perfect spot for the night. With all of Australian Internet TV at our fingertips, there was nothing really on. We wound up watching Gardening Australia as I was looking for something I couldn’t get in the States. While a bit corny, I did learn a few things about succulents and the different climates in Australia. Mark had to head back to Sydney at oh dark thirty and I fell back asleep.

It was a beautiful morning in Katoomba.  I was surprised to find poppies here.  Being the state flower of California, I just didn’t expect to see them here.

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Mark’s neighbor had a cat that wanted to say hello as soon as I walked out the door.  No blog is complete without some cat pictures.  At first the cat was genuinly curious,  After a few photos those, I got the “I’m going to hurt you look!” as I was blocking the sun.

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I’ve only ridden one of those giant buses that screams I’m a tourist once (in Savannah, Georgia). My options today was the giant bus or a cable car. I didn’t come 7000 miles to ride in a fake cable car.

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So the bus it was. Mark suggested to go see the rainforest as well as the three sisters. Since he was the expert; that was the plan.

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The area to the west of the Blue Mountains starts getting into the Outback. Thus a lot of hot, dry air blows over the mountains on its way east. The rainforest sits in a wind shadow and has a large number of tall ficus trees keeps the moisture down in the soil. I met up with a group that seemed to have some good knowledge about the area. Our guide was very much what you’d expect to find out in the Australian country.

The easy way to get down to the rain forest was to take a series of gondolas down into the canyon.

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The first gondola had a glass floor and it was neat to see the canyon 1000 feet below. I ran into one German guy who didn’t speak much English but we referred to each other by our lenses. He was 24-70 and I was 24-105. The infrastructure to make this gondola work was pretty impressive.  The guide on the lift was pretty cool in getting us down there.

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I was lucky enough to run into a tour group that was happy to take on one more straggler.  I learned a lot about the area from him.

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The rain forest itself reminded me a lot of the areas around the redwoods at home mixed with the denseness of vegetation you find back east. Ferns are big here. There are a few species of ferns here that have thick trunks like palm trees but leaves that are very typical of ferns.

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At about 1pm I was realizing how little time I had. Usually in the States I make the hiking estimates by the park. Here, not so much! Guess they calibrate to faster walkers. The last bus came at 4:30 and not making that bus was not an option. On the cable car ride back up I met one of the construction workers doing maintenance on the cars. He noted that the first cable car didn’t look to good. Glad I didn’t have to ride it again. The scaffolding crew all had jerseys on that read “24 hour erections available” I’m sure I’m not the only one that smiled.

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Most of the area in the Blue Mountains is sandstone.

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The hike down afforded some nice views of the mountains, foliage, and alas, no fauna.

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The Three Sisters are a series of rock outcroppings that have eroded over the years. Normally the area is very temperate. Today it was in the high 80s.

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After a full morning of walking around I wanted some ice cream. I normally go for cookies and cream ice cream and did the same today. The odd thing was the ice cream was yellow. The awesomeness was that you could really taste the cream.

Walking down from to the valley floor is about 1000 steps down the mountain. I didn’t have time for the entire trip so I stopped at the first viewpoint some 200 steps in. The rock up close was awesome.

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The climb out, not so awesome. They were steep stairs and were dissolving into the mountainside. I also need to hit the gym more.

I had some time to kill so it was fun to hit the store to spoil my niece and nephew for their birthdays! I had about half an hour to see some sights and I’d heard good things about Honeymoon View. It was aggressive to see the view and make the bus, but I had faith that I could make it. I was only going to stop once at the view (and actually held to it).

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Can you see the waterfall?

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The problem was I didn’t exactly know where I was going. As my time was expiring I was pusing harder and harder. I kept hearing from people going the other way I was “close”. I finally made it out and saw the bus. I did my best to wave my ticket, but alas the last bus of the day was gone.

Meeting Nikki was probably the best thing that could have happened in that moment. Nikki drove an air conditioned Lexus and could clearly see my predicament. With a thick Australian accent she told me to hop in and we were going to catch the bus. For the 5-10 minutes we spent together I told her how much I loved Oz and she told me how much she loved San Francisco. We both laughed how much we enjoyed each other’s lives. It was a serendipitous moment in time. We saw the bus stop. I jumped out and was on my way. Thank you Nikki. Your generosity and quick eye saved me much heartache.

The bus had no ac and was full of hot, sweaty tourists. Apparently the Scottish that make these buses that don’t have AC as it not needed. Each time I got on the bus we all got the same story. I ran into 24-70 again from Germany and it was nice to catch up on the adventures of the day. Hopefully both of our pictures come out. As I was walking back to the train I smacked right into the pole of a parking sigh! Ooy!

A nice day all in all. I’m feeling comfortable here. The culture and the people resonate with me. It’s a great feeling. Mark: Thank you. Today was due to your insight and kindness.

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