The Blue Mountains

Last weekend we headed north to explore the Blue Mountains West of Sydney.  It was just over an hour drive from the airport to a mountain town called Katoomba.  It was right on the edge of the cliff looking over a valley stacked with gum trees.  In fact, that's supposed to be how the area got its name - from the blue haze created by eucalyptus oil being emitted from the trees.

The Three Sisters
First we went to a lookout to see the Three Sisters and took a hike along the surrounding cliffs.  While the scenery was nice, we found it disappointing because the place was absolutely packed with tourists.  One of the things we enjoy the most about travelling in this country is the surprising lack of people, but the Blue Mountains felt Americanized with overcrowding and charges for parking and maps that would normally be free.  

We spent the rest of the day doing the must-do attractions like riding the Skyway (the highest cable car in Australia!), Cableway (the biggest cable car in Australia!), and Railway (the steepest railway in the world!)  

Riding the Railway
Katoomba Falls from the Skyway
The Skyway
After being surrounded by tourists the day before, we were looking forward to a day full of adventures.  We started off the morning doing some abseiling down rock faces (rappelling).  We went with a guide and a small group of people, starting off with a 7 meter abseil, than moving on to a 30 meter rock and finally a 70 meter rock.  We had a lot of fun, and the wind certainly made the experience of hanging off a cliff on a rope more interesting as it spun us in circles.  If we had any doubts about whether we were afraid of heights before, I think that question was answered!

Phil starting an abseil
Hanging out
Then we left the group behind and the guide took us canyoning down in Birrabang Canyon.  We started by hiking in and then abseiled down another rock face.  Once we got to the canyon floor we rolled up our pants and hiked through the chilly creek water.  And then when I fell into the water I gave up all pretences of trying to stay warm and dry and focused on the scenery instead.  The canyon was beautiful, and what made it even better was having it all to ourselves (except for a couple of yabbies we saw in the creek).
Up to our knees in chilly water
Our guide hadn't been through this canyon in several months and several storms had greatly increased the amount of downed trees across the path.  This meant we ended up creating our own path straight up the hill to hike out which made it even more of an experience.  With sore muscles that we didn't even know we had, we finished the day off with some pizza and local beer and called it a very early night.

Birrabang Canyon
The Explorers
Birrabang Canyon
The next day we took the long route back to the airport by way of the Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens. It was a good time of year to visit because of the stunning views of the leaves changing colours.  That is a site I did not see much of growing up in San Diego.

Autumn colours in the botanic park
The canyoning definitely made the trip worth it, but I doubt most people get to see this part of the mountains.  I get the impression that when most people come visit Australia they just see Sydney and the touristy parts of the Blue Mountains.  In general we found these places to be overcrowded and overhyped - if this is all you've seen of Australia, you need to come back and see some more of this country.  It has so much more to offer!


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