The Blue Mountains are truly blue but not especially tall. The highest elevation in all of Australia is Mount Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains, which tops out at 7,310 feet. The highest point in the Blue Mountains is Mount Werong. It’s only 3,992 feet. Nevertheless, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney are among Australia’s most popular tourist areas with almost countless attractions. That’s why Ruth & I have been there 3 times and will go again. They’re really blue because eucalyptus trees exude oil that fills the air with a fine blue mist.
If you’re visiting Sydney, you can easily day-trip or overnight. A City/Rail train goes to Katoomba, the Blue Mountains most interesting city, from Sydney’s Central Station. Just make sure that you, unlike us, are on the right one. Many trains go toward the Blue Mountains but reverse in suburban stations.
That Blue Mountain trip was memorable for at least 4 reasons: it was our longest stay in the Blue Mountains, I wrote an article about its Zig Zag Railroad for a train magazine, it was late winter (late summer Down Under) and there had been many horrific, arson-caused fires, and Ruth and I took the best walk of our lifetimes. The Zig Zag near Lithgow has since closed due to a fire and has still not reopened. The Blue Mountain’s forests have recovered from the fires and are reportedly lush again.
Eucalyptus trees burn interestingly. Because of their natural oils that turn the air blue, the flames might eventually reach the top to throw off fire bombs that can travel for miles. These are called crown fires. We saw many devastated burn areas. Koakas have been known to survive such fires.
Our historic walk began at Katoomba’s Echo Point. There are several viewing platforms at Echo Point because it looks out to Australia’s most iconic sight, the Three Sisters, which are more or less part of this country’s equal to the Grand Canyon. The sisters are 3 side by side rock towers that look like sentinels guarding the valley below. Their Aboriginal names are Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo. There are some legendary stories about them. In one, 3 actual sisters were turned to stone by a sorcerer.
The best way to access the Jamison Valley below for a bush walk is down The Giant Stairway. This well-named attraction takes hardy hikers down 1,000 feet via more than 800 steps and walkways. The walk at the bottom is scenic and sensational. On it we saw a lyre bird and had no idea what it was. This strange avian creature looks like a Frankensteinish peacock and is incorporated into one of the common Three Sisters legends. Those who attempt this walk through the Jamison Valley on a hot day, get tired, or don’t want to climb back up the stairs can take the Scenic Skyway back up to Katoomba.
Ruth and I were happily back in Katoomba in 2014. Its steep streets were still lined with art deco buildings containing interesting stores and restaurants. Lonely Planet got it exactly right when it called Katoomba the Blue Mountain’s crowning glory and added that this town “manages to be bohemian and bourgeois” at the same time.
Like some cats, koalas can look grumpy too.