Friday, September 8, 2017

Blue Mountains

 Our friends and fellow Stanfordites, Alan and Karen Mela, arranged a tour of the Blue Mountains for one of our days in Sydney. The Blue Mountains are an uplift west of Sydney part of the Great Dividing Range that separates the eastern coast from the rest of the continent. The Blues were an impasse to the west as the first explorers tried using the valleys as a route through. Unfortunately, they were stymied by the cliffs that make the region such a beautiful and magnificent natural area. It wasn’t until they tried following the ridges to the west that they found the route through. Today both trains and a highway link Sydney to its hinterland over these mountains.

While a park was first proposed in 1932, it was not until 1959 that it was declared a national park. In 1999, the UN designated the entire region a world heritage area. The region takes its name from the blue cast to the colors of the forest and the valleys. The park is popular with hardy hikers as well as those just looking for a pleasant place to spend a warm sunny day. Short, easy hikes are commonplace along with some real treks that take several days of difficult hiking. Climbers also enjoy the many fine climbing sites.

Our trip began with a train ride to Strathfield where we met Peter, our guide. A former teacher, Peter did a great job accommodating our wishes as we explored the region. His car took us into places no buses and few minibuses ever go making it a special tour for us. Our first stop was to see some Aboriginal rock art near his boyhood home in Faulconbridge. Totally unprotected, it is amazing that these ancient carvings are still in tact. Peter also talked about Banksia, a tree with an interesting seed style. The pods grow spines almost like velcro. Then when the pod dries out it becomes a hard cone with holes in that same shape. Round banksia pods are often made into decorative items for eucalyptus oils and sold as souvenirs.

An emu
A few miles later we took a walk to Echo Point where we first saw why this area is so special. Steep, nearly impassable cliffs surround what appears to be an impenetrable forest on the valley floor. The blue cast to the view made clear the reason for its name. Peter explained that Aussies call “Kooooo-ey” when trying to find another person. His call echoed from the surrounding cliffs.

Another slightly longer walk took us to Pulpit Rock for more views. This site includes stairs down to three other more prominent viewpoints. Alan and I joined Peter in the climb to these spots with their even more spectacular views.

After lunch in an old bank building, we stopped at the Lost Bear Gallery. That visit and a stop at an antique shop in Heathcliff in the morning showed us two more reasons so many people regularly visit this area. The antique shop is in an old theater and decorated with an interesting mural showing of the local flora and fauna.

In the afternoon we made a short stop for pictures of the iconic Three Sisters. The story is that these three sisters were coveted by three brothers from a neighboring enemy tribe. To protect the young ladies, they were turned into these rock spires. Unfortunately, in the ensuing battles, the only person who could change them back was killed leaving them forever as a reminder of the follies of men.

The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters

A path down Leura Cascades was another beautiful and restful walk. The path meanders about a mile alongside the stream. Following our walk here we made another stop at Wentworth Falls lake, another lovely picnic area where we watched a sulphur-crested cockatoo digging with his beak for something he thought was in the ground. We watched several minutes, but our lack of reward for the time spent was the same as that of the unsuccessful birds. He may have been successful later as his persistence clearly outlasted our patience.

Our final stop was down another dirt track to Lincoln’s Rock. Locally known as Flat Rock, it was largely unvisited except by locals until pictures began appearing on Instagram and other sites. Today it is usually busy with couples taking wedding pictures in the late afternoon sunsets. Only couple was there the day we visited, but even with the clouds obscuring the sunset, it was a beautiful end to our day. Peter also pointed out a cooking depression created by aboriginals and still being used today.

We finished the day with dinner at a Chinese restaurant above Sydney’s Fish Market. The market was long closed, but the restaurant was still busy even in this lonely part of the city.

Striped Honeyeater

The End of the Day

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