Top and bottom

The top of the ‘train line’ is at top right of this photo; the bottom is at bottom left.

The photo above captures the top and bottom of the Scenic Railway in the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney). From its website: “Discover the thrill of a 52° (128%) incline in open terrain riding the steepest passenger railway in the world, the Scenic Railway. Following an award-winning redevelopment in 2013, the fifth generation train travels an unforgettable 310 metre route through a cliff tunnel before emerging on the floor of the Jamison Valley. Passengers can choose their level of adventure, adjusting their seated position up to 20 degrees. Choose CLIFFHANGER at a steep 64° incline; LAIDBACK for a more relaxed journey; or for loyal fans, ORIGINAL at 52°.
The original railway was built in the late 19th century to serve the Katoomba coal mine. Acquired by the Hammon family in 1945, it has operated for tourists for over 70 years thrilling 25 million passengers.”

If you can’t make out the top and bottom, I’ve circled them below.

I thought people might be curious about what the train is like to ride, so have included two non-“top” photos (although they are square!). This is what an observer sees as the train comes into the bottom station. Looks like a ride at a funfair or amusement park, doesn’t it?

Hurtling into the ‘station’ at the bottom.

This is what you see inside the train. This is going up.

The view from inside.

Becky is back with her squares, and for April the theme is “top“.

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A parched walk in the Blue Mountains

Blue sky! That’s not cloud on the horizon, however — it’s bushfire smoke.

In October, I walked a portion of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk from Echo Point to a track junction that leads to Merriwa St in Katoomba. Then, the rain was unceasing and the temperature was about 10deg C (50deg F) (see “A soggy walk in the Blue Mountains“). Since then, bushfires have raged in the Blue Mountains and the entire national park (some 2,690 sq km / 1,040 sq miles) was closed due to fire danger. On 31 December, when I walked again, only one track was open — the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. So I followed it in the reverse direction this time, and from Gordon Falls Lookout in Leura to Echo Point in Katoomba. (Map source)

This easily accessed walk was the only open trail.

I was very lucky with the smoke — the morning was clear, the first blue sky for quite a while, I was told. Not so lucky with the temperature, though: it was 30deg C (85deg F) when I began walking, and 35deg C (95deg F) when I stopped. That’s really not ideal for the ups and downs and sometimes rough terrain of such a walk!

A potion of the trail, very dry.

Even this trail, skirting the towns of Katoomba and Leura, is not safe from fire. Some, inexplicably, are deliberately lit by arsonists.

Recently burned area beside the trail.

Recently burned area beside the trail.

Recently burned area beside the trail.

In this view from a lookout, the burnt areas are clear. Again, that’s smoke on the horizon.

View from Olympian Rock lookout — the orange patches are burnt forest.

Finally, I got to Echo Point. This walk is only about 7km but I deliberately went slowly and rested often. The heat did not make for pleasant walking, and I hadn’t taken enough water so I was feeling about as parched as the forest! The blue sky of my start had, 2.5 hours later, mostly given way to murky, opaque smoke.

Contrast the photo below of visitors at Echo Point with one from October of the same spot.

Admiring the view, Echo Point.

The views from Echo Point are extensive. Sadly, this time the views include spot fires and smoke.

Spot fires visible from Echo Point.

Spot fires visible from Echo Point.

No ice cream or cake at the end of this walk, something more substantial was called for. 😉

An icy cold glass of Tooheys Old beer.

Posted as part of Jo’s Monday Walk.

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A soggy walk in the Blue Mountains

A splash of red in a foggy monotone, Echo Point.

In October, I went to the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney) for the weekend. My plan was to see the various gardens in the Leura Garden Festival on the Sunday, and get in a walk on the Saturday. I’ve been to this region a number of times, but always in summer, so this exposure to spring was quite an eye-opener. The temperature struggled to get over 10deg C (50deg F) and for most of Saturday it rained. But I had my waterproof boots, a showerproof jacket and an umbrella, so was determined to have my walk. I decided on the section of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk from Echo Point to where the path brushes against Merriwa Street in Katoomba, at which point I would walk back to my hotel. In all, about 4km. After laughing at the people admiring the view of the fog, I headed off.

This first path section is wheelchair and stroller accessible, and is usually teeming with visitors.

Here’s the real path. Jump the puddles, or go around?

This way to Lady Carrington lookout.

The view from Lady Carrington lookout.

No, the skies did not miraculously clear! I just wanted to show you the view from Lady Carrington lookout in good weather.

Looking back to the lookout through the fog.

Raindrops keep falling on my head — and on everything else!

There were many more photo opportunities of rain and mist and fog and puddles, and some quite impressively gushing waterfalls, but keeping the camera dry and shooting one handed (holding the umbrella with the other) was just too difficult. On the entire walk, I encountered only two other people, a couple, and they looked bedraggled and unhappy. By the time I reached Katoomba town centre, I was cold and wet, and well deserved the trio of hot chocolate.

Posted as part of Jo’s Monday Walks.


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New Year’s walk – a giant stairway and a miniature train

Blue Mountains near Leura - no crowds and no parties here!

Blue Mountains near Leura – no crowds and no parties here!

New Year’s Eve in Sydney – either you embrace it, or you escape it. As much as I love the fireworks, I hate the crowds. I also hate being subjected to the parties going on until the early morning in the back yards of the houses down the hill or in the flats adjoining mine.

So, in a decidedly “bah humbug” frame of mind, I left Sydney after work on 30 December to spend two days in the Blue Mountains. My base for two nights was the Leura Gardens Resort.

On New Year’s Eve day, my plan was to walk the roughly 10km (6 miles) from Gordon’s Lookout in Leura to Scenic World in Katoomba.
First, though, a stroll around the resort’s gardens was called for. The grounds incorporate the Lady Fairfax Garden, created by Paul Sorensen for Lady Mabel Fairfax in 1933. (more about the gardens here)

Then I caught a cab to Gordon Falls Lookout (no point adding extra kilometers!) to begin the first leg of my walk. I followed the Prince Henry Cliff Walk as far as the Three Sisters in Katoomba.

The path, as you might guess from the name, runs along the edge of the cliffs and offers sweeping views over the hills and valleys, and also lovely, tranquil paths through the forest. The path was constructed in the 1930s – spare a thought for the men who built this trail with pickaxes and shovels, carving steps from the rock, building metal stairways, fencing off the lookouts perched at the edge of thrusting spurs with vertiginous drops. The walk was named in honour of a son of King George V, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who spent 20 minutes at Katoomba railway station in 1934. (source)

This walk is rated “medium” for difficulty. My book of walks (Blue Mountains Best Bushwalks) breaks it into two sections: from Gordon Falls to Leura Cascades, you descend 110m and ascend 150m; from the cascades to Echo Point (the Three Sisters), you descend 170m and ascend 90m.

link to map 1

click for larger image of Bridal Veil Falls

At Echo Point, it was time for a toilet stop and a cold drink. There are also fantastic views of the Three Sisters (a series of cliffs that jut out in a point), but I’ve seen them a number of times so skipped the view, although I have included an older photograph in the gallery below for reference.

Now came the fun part: the stairs.

Oh pooh pooh, you say, how hard can stairs be? Well, it’s not called the Giant Stairway for nothing. It’s 540m long and descends around 300m (or ascends, if you’re coming up!). Some 900 stairs are cut into the side of the cliffs making up the Sisters, or, in places where that is not an option, metal stairs are bolted to the rock. According to the book, there are “910 stone steps and 32 steel staircases of almost vertical descent”. These are not stairs for the faint-hearted or those who have a problem with heights. At times, there is only a metal grid between the soles of your shoes and the valley floor hundreds of metres below. Looking at the Three Sisters photo below, the stairway is on the other side; the path then runs out around the base of the cliffs and back.

Construction began in 1916 but was halted two years later. Work resumed in 1932 and was completed that year.

link to map 2

Once at the bottom, in the cool dappled shade of the forest, it was time to sit for a while until my leg muscles stopped trembling. I’ve gone down the stairway a number of times, but never up! I can’t imagine how a person’s legs feel after slogging up those stairs and ladders. The rest of this walk is a tranquil stroll among trees and ferns, past little waterfalls and over tiny streams. The sounds of birds fill the air, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot a brightly coloured parrot or two.

Of course, at the end of the walk you’re still a few hundred metres from the top of the cliffs. There are two options: walk back up to the top, or take the train. Yeah, you know what I opt for!

The Scenic Railway ascends 310m and is the world’s steepest passenger railway, at an incline of 52 degrees (click on the first picture below, I’ve circled the top and bottom points). When you get into the cars you are uncomfortably sprawled backwards, but as the train starts moving up that cleft in the cliff you are pushed forward. Hands shoot out to grasp the overhead rails and knees press against the padded rail in front.

The walk from Echo Point to the base of the railway is graded “hard” due to the stairs, but the actual walking is easy. After all that, I felt that I deserved a cool refreshment back on my balcony at the resort.

A well deserved cool beverage.

A well deserved cool beverage.

The next day, New Year’s Day, I had time for a short walk before returning to Sydney. I settled for a 4km jaunt from the resort to Inspiration Point and back. (I couldn’t find a map of this walk on the National Parks site, so the one in the gallery below is a rough approximation.) This little walk is graded easy, with ascents and descents both of 70m over gradually rising (or falling) stairs.

The two lookouts offer more stunning views of weathered cliff faces and gum trees sweeping to the horizon, all under the deepest blue sky imaginable. Then it was back to the resort to take a cab to Leura station for the train to Sydney.

click for larger image of the stunning view

Oh, and in Sydney, one of my neighbours had a party that started mid-afternoon and went on into the night, so my cunning plan to avoid the doof-doof-doof of music and the shrieks of drunken delight was not entirely successful.

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This post is my first contribution to Jo’s Monday Walk. You can find interesting walks by Jo and other bloggers on her site each week.

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