Tag Archives: blue mountains

Wednesday, September 18

Last day in Australia. I was up at dawn and walked across town, photographing everything in an effort to somehow hang onto it. Then I headed to Circular Quay, to the spot where all the day-tour buses gather, for my visit to the Blue Mountains. The area was crowded and the buses were filling rapidly, which was to be expected, but it made me wonder whether this was going to make any quiet communing with nature possible. Still, I was headed for the mountains, so I was happy.

One bus filled, and I was among the first on the follow-up bus, which meant I got a great seat—window near the front. This made the drive out of the city and up into the mountains a delight. I’ve posted so often about these mountains (Sept. 20, 2010, Oct. 23, 2011, Nov. 21, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2011) that I’ll spare you the rhapsodizing and detailed descriptions here, but suffice it to say I was enjoying the fragrant crowds of eucalyptus trees and sheer cliffs of the range.

The mandatory stop at a wildlife sanctuary offered joy in the form of wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, brolgas, cockatoos, penguins, and other Aussie classics. I never tire of these creatures, so I was pleased to have them filling my eyes again. Then it was off to Katoomba, to stop at the spot I’d visited previously, perhaps to hike, definitely to see the Three Sisters rock formation. It had begun to drizzle lightly, but the scenery was still wonderful. Sadly, however, things at Katoomba had become more touristy. The little restaurant and shop at the site had been built up considerably, and one wing was packed with video games, and all the machines were in use. I was pretty stunned that people would come to a place of stunning beauty like this and stay indoors playing video games, but clearly nature wasn’t the draw for them that it was for me.
I wandered outside, hood up against the light mist, and strolled the short distance to the edge of the cliff. As I had seen on my previous visit, there were numerous parrots gathered nearby, especially king parrots and crimson rosellas, lured by a few well-stocked feeders. I was happy to note that, with everyone packed into the restaurant or occupied with the video games, communing with nature was actually pretty easy.

We’d been released for a couple of hours, so I began to hike through the damp foliage. It was quiet and peaceful and exactly what I needed. When I finally made my way over to the Three Sisters rock formation, there were breaks in the clouds, and I was treated to the remarkable sight of a rainbow arching over the three rock pinnacles. I was delighted beyond words. It seemed the perfect climax to the trip—a moment of quiet serenity and remarkable beauty. Tonight, I’ll pack. Tomorrow, I’ll leave. But at this moment, I could simply relish this perfect cap to a wonderful trip. I felt grateful and blessed.
Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

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Crossing the Blue Mountains

As I mentioned in the post “When is a Mountain Not a Mountain,” the Blue Mountains are actually the remains of an ancient plateau that has simply been worn away until only a long, relatively narrow, and wildly carved strip remains. As a result, the usual approach to crossing mountains–look for a mountain pass–didn’t work. Explorers, adventurers, and escaped convicts had been trying since 1790 to find a way to the other side, but those who followed the area’s streams in hopes of finding a valley to lead them through the mountains invariably ended up facing a vertical stone wall.

That is until 1813, when Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson, and William Charles Wentworth decided to give it a try.

I had not written about these three previously, as one cannot include everyone, but a comment left on my previous post about the Blue Mountains reminded me that these three were worth noting, if for no other reason than so visitors to New South Wales understand why these names appear so often in areas near Sydney.

All three men were well educated and fairly successful at the time of their exploration. Blaxland and Lawson were born in Britain but had come to Australia voluntarily. Wentworth was born at sea, en route to Australia. Blaxland’s family had known the botanist Joseph Banks, who had explored Australia’s coast with Captain James Cook. Stories of the new land, combined with the government’s promises of abundant property for “settlers of responsibility and Capital” had made Australia seem an ideal destination for the ambitious Blaxland. Lawson was in the military and arrived in Australia as part of the New South Wales Corps. Wentworth arrived as an infant, in the arms of his mother, who had been convicted of stealing “wearing apparel.”

Blaxland had hit upon the idea of climbing a series of ridges, rather than trying another foray up a dead-end valley. He invited Lawson and Wentworth to join him, and the three men set off in May 1813 from Blaxland’s farm, to try to learn what might lie on the other side of the mountains.

It was slow going, as the brush was dense and the men had to hack their way through the undergrowth. However, Blaxland’s idea worked. The ridges carried the men up to the top of the plateau, where they were impressed by the abundant trees and vistas of grassy plains that, as Blaxland noted in his journal, offered “enough grass to support the stock of the colony for thirty years.” More importantly, as Wentworth wrote in his journal, “we have at all events proved that they [the mountains] are traversable.”

It may not seem like it, but crossing the Blue Mountains was a very big deal for the colony. The narrow strip of flat land to the east of the mountains was already proving inadequate for supporting the growing colony of New South Wales. Crossing the Blue Mountains opened up the continent. It was the beginning of the colony becoming a new country.

Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson all had interesting lives after this important accomplishment, though Blaxland did not end as well as the other two. However, before his decline, Blaxland had one other important impact on Australia. He imported grape vines, made wine, took 136 liters of his wine to London, and was awarded a silver medal. Five years later, a larger shipment of Blaxland’s wines earned a gold medal in London. Though grape vines had been brought to Australia by the first European settlers in 1788, Blaxland’s wine was the first wine to be produced for anything other than local consumption, and it is viewed as essentially the beginning of Australia’s international reputation as a wine producer.

Lawson went on to be the first person to take cattle over the mountains in 1815, and he became a key figure in developing the colony. Wentworth became a lawyer and a poet, and worked tirelessly and effectively at obtaining a representative government for the young country.

If you’re interested in knowing more, the Australian Dictionary of Biography offers more detailed information on each of the men and their accomplishments. In addition, you can read the exploration journals of all three men on the Internet.
Biographies:
Blaxland
Lawson
Wentworth

Journals:
Wentworth’s
Lawson’s
Blaxland’s

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More Blue Mountains

The fog didn’t keep us from exploring. Neither did the light rain that fell intermittently. Small towns with bookstores and tearooms helped when things were too wet to wander, but when it was simply damp and not actually raining, we continued on. Because it was gray and cloudy, there weren’t a lot of people, so we heard a lot more birds, including bell birds, which I loved.

The dampness highlighted the beauty of the mountains and the lush foliage, as you can see in the photo below, left.

Coming down the mountain, we stopped at an old, sandstone bridge. It is hard to identify things simply from photos, but searching for old bridges in the Blue Mountains, and comparing the photos online to the one I took (below, right), it seems that we had stopped to explore Lennox Bridge, the oldest bridge on the Australian mainland. (An older bridge exists in Tasmania — in Richmond — which I had seen earlier.) Built in the early 1800s of sandstone blocks, this bridge was for a long time the only way into Sydney for those traveling over the mountains. Today, it is still in use, though more modern bridges now serve busier highways. It has been designated a Heritage Site. But that first day, all I knew was that it was old and charming and looked oddly out of place, wedged between steep mountain walls.

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Govett’s Leap

Govett’s Leap is one of the great places to visit in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney. It is a lovely waterfall that drops about 540 feet from the greenery on top of the plateau to the even denser greenery at its base. Govett’s Leap was named for William Romaine Govett, a surveyor who was the first European to come to this spot. The waterfall is in a splendid, World Heritage-listed area that is a popular place for bushwalking.

Near the waterfall, there is a lookout that is famed for its glorious vistas out over valleys and the surrounding tree-covered plateau. However, as is not entirely uncommon in coastal mountain situations, it can be given to bouts of fog. Hence, the “glorious vista” on the day I visited was pretty much like staring into a wall of cotton. However, I did get a photo of the historic market that tells us about the William Govett — but beyond that, a great nothingness. So I guess I’ll just have to go back someday!

Lookout at Govett's Leap

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King Parrot

In my book, I mention wrapping an arm around a tree and leaning out over a cliff to take a photo of a king parrot I saw while visiting Katoomba. The photo I took is below. But what amazes me when I think about it is the things I do when a camera is placed in my hands that I would never consider without a camera. Close-ups of bees, hanging over cliffs (not just here, but as mentioned in my post on the Annan River Gorge), leaping in front of running horses or athletes. Somehow, the shot becomes the priority when I’m holding a camera. Of course, this is fading a bit as I age—I have a greater appreciation of the possibility of injury or death. But it is not gone.

Judging by the images I see in such outlets as National Geographic or Outdoor Photographer, I know I am hardly alone in this. It seems to characterize a wide range of photographers. I think it has to do with the fact that the photographer is even more focuses than the camera.

The king parrot is a splendid orange and emerald bird. The bright splash of color behind the king parrot is a crimson rosella, another beauty of this region. But the rosella appears in a previous post, so this time, it’s the king’s turn.

King Parrot

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Katoomba

One of the most popular places to visit in the Blue Mountains is the area known as Katoomba, a name derived from an Aboriginal word that refers to the waterfalls located there. The first stop for anyone visiting Katoomba is to view the Three Sisters, a rock formation associated with an Aboriginal myth. I related that myth previously here. The photo with that post was from my second trip to Katoomba—in fact, my second trip to Australia.

The photo below left—the Three Sisters, with the Jamison Valley as a backdrop—is from my first trip. The photo to the right is from half way down the cliff face. On my first trip, the weather was better (that rainbow in the picture from the second trip was, in fact, because it had been raining), so I was able to spend a fair bit of time hiking the area’s trails, enjoying the beauty and drama of the cliffs and trees, as well as the smaller blessing of beautiful wildflowers and lovely birds.

On my second visit to Katoomba, in addition to rain (it was spring on that second visit, summer on the first), there were a lot more tourists than on my first visit. But it’s still worth seeing. The view you get there of the Jamison Valley is wonderful. Then you can go somewhere else to hike if you want to get away from the people.

Three Sisters and Jamison Valley

Katoomba

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When is a Mountain Not a Mountain?

The Blue Mountains outside Sydney are remarkable beautiful—but they are not technically mountains. They are the remains of a great plateau that has been worn away until all that is left are cliffs and gorges. From the ground, it looks quite a bit like a mountain range, especially from a distance, but once you reach the flat top, it becomes more obvious that this is a plateau.

The photo below overlooks part of the Jamison Valley, an area known for its beauty, waterfalls, bird life, and great hiking trails. The shot is from my first visit to these lovely non-mountains.

Jamison Valley in the Blue Mountains

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