Hidden Beneath

Kevtoberfest #13 Jenolan Caves

Surrounded by forest-covered mountains and accessible by a single narrow winding road, the tiny village of Jenolan is one of the most visited places in New South Wales. The heritage listed hotel is picturesque, the pretty gardens are filled with cool climate plants and the river walk is scenic, but they’re not the main attractions.

The road to the village passes through the Grand Arch, a massive open cave at the base of the mountain. With a length of 127 metres, the cave gives an indication of what is to come. It has entrances to more caves and features a stone bathroom reminiscent of Fred Flintstone’s style.

Deep inside the mountains is a glistening wonderland: stalactites and stalagmites, shawls and crystals, massive caves, underground rivers and ancient fossils. The Jenolan Caves are among the oldest in the world, formed more than 340 million years ago from limestone dated to 430 million years. Eight show caves, each with its own unique natural display, are open to visitors on guided tours while more can be seen on self-guided walks.

The most difficult choice will be which of the caves to see. Tours allow for groups of different sizes and have varying levels of difficulty and accessibility so everyone is catered for. The circuit walk through Chifley Cave, with its high chambers and sparkling grottos, has 421 steps over 690 metres. This cave was the first in the world to be lit with electric lights, originally multi-coloured displays designed to decorate the formations. Now, more subdued lighting enhances the natural colours in the limestone, showing up the ripples and waves.

The Orient Cave contains both the smallest crystals and largest formations in the cave system. Covering a distance of 470 metres and 358 steps, the walk through the chambers is illuminated using the latest lighting technology, giving better views of the stalactites and stalagmites while protecting them from unnecessary heat.

There are several walks in the caves area, and one of the easiest is the River Walk. Starting from the Grand Arch, the track passes around the shore of Blue Lake. Formed in a natural swamp when a dam wall was constructed in 1908, the lake is coloured by dissolved limestone particles in the water. The still water reflects mirror-like images of the surrounding she-oaks and ribbon gums.

The dam wall is part of a hydro-electric plant which still produces power for Jenolan. Remnants of the original system are visible further along the track on the Jenolan River, where it cascades over boulders and drops in rushing waterfalls on its way out of the valley.

Crimson rosellas dart through the trees and Eastern water dragons can sometimes be seen basking on the rocks by the river.

On the return journey, Carlotta Arch is silhouetted high on the ridge above the road. The jagged limestone stalactites hanging from the ceiling give one last reminder of the beauty hidden beneath the surface at Jenolan.

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Kevtoberfest #12 Blue Mountains Part Three

After scaling the heights of Prince Henry Cliff Walk and negotiating 900 steps on the Giant Stairway, you might think we’ve had enough adventure for one day. But at Scenic World there are four record-breaking options for seeing the Blue Mountains from completely different perspectives – our day is not yet done.

We arrive at the Scenic Railway just in time to see the shiny red train departing Bottom Station on its way up the mountain. The 310 metre track goes through a tunnel in the cliff at an incline of 52°, making it the steepest passenger train in the world.

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We join the crowd on the platform and don’t have long to wait; the train runs every ten minutes and it’s soon back at the bottom again.

We take our seats and, while Glen would have liked the front row seats, I’m secretly relieved we’re sitting further back. Like the other passengers, we hold on tight as the train begins its steep ascent.

Next we ride on the Scenic Skyway, which we’ve already seen gliding across the Jamison Valley at the start of the day. Travelling 270 metres above the valley floor, the cable car is the highest in Australia.

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As we leave the station, the glass floor beneath our feet changes from opaque to clear. Far below, cockatoos rest in the treetops. The water of Kedumba Creek drops over the edge of the escarpment and tumbles over rocky outcrops on its way to the forest floor.

As we come to Skyway East Station, it’s easy to see how close to the edge the walking path and lookouts we’ve been to earlier in the day really are.

After returning on the Scenic Skyway, we take another ride in a different direction. The Scenic Cableway carries Australia’s largest cable car from the top of the mountain, over the edge of the escarpment and down 545 metres into the Jamison Valley. On this ride we pass close by Orphan Rock, once accessible but now closed to walkers, and wonder how they ever got to the top.

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Instead of returning in the cable car, we decide to walk back to the Railway via the Scenic Walkway, 2.4 kilometres of elevated boardwalks through the temperate rainforest. We’re hopeful of spotting one of the lyre birds which live in the forest but it’s late afternoon and they’ve gone into hiding.

We waste no time searching because the last train leaves Bottom Station at 4.50 pm – and we don’t want to walk back up those steps!

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#MarchSquare slideshows – March Squares with Becky

From the Top to the Bottom

Kevtoberfest #11 Blue Mountains Part Two

After wandering at a leisurely pace from Katoomba Falls to Echo Point and stopping again to admire the expansive views, our walk continues to Spooners Lookout. There’s a good reason we’ve chosen to walk in this direction. The next section, downwards from the Three Sisters to Dardanelles Pass at the base of the cliffs, includes 900 steps!

From Echo Point we’ve already seen where we’re going next – to Honeymoon Bridge. This narrow footbridge links the main part of the range to the first of the sisters. It crosses the gap high above the valley floor and leads to a wind-eroded sandstone overhang halfway up the rocky outcrop.

We cross the bridge over and back, and then begin the downward climb on the Giant Stairway. Some of the 900 steps are metal and easy to negotiate, while others are made of timber sleepers or simply cut into the sandstone.

There are switchbacks and curving turns, wider sections where gaps between the trees reveal more beautiful views, and several benches where we stop to rest awhile; we’re in no hurry.

Near the halfway point, we hear bellbirds. Their chiming song fills the canopy, although again the elusive birds remain hidden in the dense forest.

Finally, we reach the last few steps down to Dardanelles Pass. More benches set into the narrow pass at the base of the steps beckon and we take a break for lunch.

After walking down the Giant Stairway, the next section of level track is easy. We turn onto the Federal Pass track, which curves around the base of the Three Sisters and heads across the valley towards Scenic World. Tree ferns shade the path and, as we look back, we can clearly see where we’ve come from.

Ahead we hear moving water. After flowing over the cascades at the top of the range, the waters of Kedumba Creek drop over the cliff edge, falling more than 200 metres to the valley floor.

At last we reach the entrance to Scenic World.

After meeting only a few other walkers on the track, we can now hear many people up ahead. They’re seeing the Blue Mountains from yet another perspective, and we’re about to join them.

To be continued…

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More Than a Walk in the Park

Kevtoberfest #10 Blue Mountains Part One

There are many ways to enjoy the splendid scenery of the Blue Mountains. From lookouts like Echo Point, perched on the edge of the escarpment, views of the sheer sandstone cliffs and forest-filled valleys are magnificent.

More than 400 kilometres of walking tracks allow visitors to explore both on top of the mountains and down below.

For those less keen on hiking, there are options to soar above the valleys in Australia’s highest or largest cable cars, wander through the forest canopy on the longest elevated boardwalk in the country or ride on the steepest passenger train in the world. When it comes to seeing the Blue Mountains, it’s possible to take advantage of all these choices in a single day.

Our day long exploration begins at Katoomba Falls, where Kedumba Creek tumbles down waterworn cascades before wending its way to the cliff edge. Here the walking is easy, along a level graded path with wide steps leading to the beginning of Prince Henry Cliff Walk.

Not far from the start we come to the Scenic Skyway East Station. We’re right on time to see the cable car silently gliding over the valley, soaring like a golden bird 270 metres above the forest floor.

After the station, the track becomes narrower and hugs the edge of the cliff, skirting between massive sandstone formations and windswept eucalypts clinging precariously to the steep edges.

There’s not always a fence and we are careful to walk closer to the rock wall, slowing down when other hikers pass by.

There are many lookouts on the track and, although this is listed as a 45 minute walk, we stop so often it’s nearly two hours before Echo Point and the Three Sisters come into view.

Even though we’ve already been to Echo Point we halt once more, lingering to take in the beauty of this place before walking on.

To be continued…

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By Day, Into Night

Kevtoberfest #9 Echo Point, Katoomba

The Blue Mountains Region, west of Sydney, is part of the Great Dividing Range and covers an area of 11,400 square kilometres. The rugged sandstone escarpments, sheer cliffs and deep valleys filled with dense eucalypt forest are World Heritage listed and visited by millions of people each year.

One of the best vantage points to view the splendour of the mountains is Echo Point, at Katoomba. Perched on the cliff edge are several lookouts, some jutting out over the valley floor.

With spectacular views of the Three Sisters, the lookouts are popular at any time of day, and especially at sunset when the colour of the stone and sky changes by the minute.

There’s a sense of excitement as the sun begins its descent but, when the last rays of light disappear behind the cliffs, most people watch in silence.

Even the sulphur crested cockatoos, settling into the gum trees for the night, cease their screeching as the daylight begins to fade. It’s an awe-inspiring sight for everyone!

Did you know? We didn’t!

Kevtoberfest #8 Capertee Valley

Begin a conversation about canyons and most people would probably think of Arizona’s Grand Canyon. It’s one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, with more than five million visitors each year. But they might be surprised to learn that the Grand Canyon ranks fourth in order of the world’s largest.

Until we stopped at Pearson’s Lookout on the Castlereagh Highway, we would have been included in that group: we didn’t know Australia has the world’s second largest enclosed canyon. One kilometre wider than the Grand Canyon but not as deep,  Capertee Valley is the widest canyon in the world.

From the lookout, there are 180° views of sheer sandstone cliffs rising up to 627 metres above the valley floor. The scene is dominated by Pantoneys Crown, a craggy sandstone monolith surrounded by dense eucalypt forest.

Capertee Valley is recognised by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area and is listed in the 50 top birdwatching locations in the world. On the day we were there, it seemed as if the valley was filled with bellbirds. Although we didn’t see any, we could hear their tinkling songs rising up from the treetops.

So the next time you’re talking about canyons, you’ll be able to impress your friends with your knowledge by telling them about Capertee Valley, the widest canyon in the world!

Showing Its Age

Kevtoberfest #5 Cassilis

After leaving Tamworth later than we planned, our scheduled stop at Mudgee was out of reach. Instead of pushing on in darkness, we stopped for the night at a small campground outside the village of Cassilis. Across the road was a field of canola, its golden glow almost iridescent in the late afternoon light.

Next to the campground stood a small country church. It may have only been little more than 100 years old but, having withstood the harsh seasonal extremes of central New South Wales for more than a century, the church was showing its age. From the rusted iron gates to the weather-worn sign, the Anglican Church of St Columba of Iona looked as if it had been there for much longer.

Some of the older headstones in the churchyard had seen better days, while more recent ones showed signs of loving attention.

As afternoon became evening, the fading light accentuated the weathered stone of this sacred building.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Weathered