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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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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Roaming in Roma

Close to home #14 Roma

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

The western Queensland town of Roma is located more than 500 kilometres from the ocean and the landscape is often parched from lack of rain. But at Bungil Creek and the Railway Dams there are gentle walkways with water views and, after good spring rainfall, the area is beautifully green. In both locations, it’s all about the trees.

A huge bottle tree marks the start of the Adungadoo Pathway, which follows the course of Bungil Creek. Said to be the largest in the district, the tree measures more than nine metres around the trunk and is thought to be at least 100 years old.

Even older are the river red gums on the creek bank. Some have been dated to 400 years and, along with tall coolabah trees, provide shade for walkers and cyclists. In spring, birds are attracted to the golden flowers of the silky oaks.

There are places to rest along the pathway, but there’s also the chance to be more active.  The frisbee course, similar to a golf course, has baskets instead of holes and a par for each round. A gym circuit has exercise equipment suitable for all abilities.

In the past, there was also a lot of activity at the Railway Dams. Originally built in the 19th century to supply water for passing steam trains, the dams are now surrounded by the Roma Bush Gardens. Eleven distinct areas are planted with native trees and flowering plants found in the surrounding Maranoa region.

A circular walkway passes through all the gardens, past more river red gums and coolabah, brigalow and belah trees. Bottlebrush shrubs laden with red blossoms grow at the water’s edge.

Walkers aren’t the only ones attracted to Bungil Creek and the Bush Garden. Rainbow lorikeets and kookaburras perch high in the river red gums and blue-faced honeyeaters dart around the flowering bushes. Pacific black ducks and swamp hens forage at water level.

 Even on the hottest and driest of days in Roma, the walking paths beside Bungil Creek and the Railway Dams are cool and shaded.
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BYO Birdseed

Close to home #13 Bunya Mountains National Park

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

The Scenic Circuit walk at Queensland’s Bunya Mountains National Park is aptly named; there’s a beautiful view of the North Burnett region from Pine Gorge Lookout. But it’s not just the scenery that attracts visitors to this isolated section of the Great Dividing Range.

Fondly known by all who visit regularly as “The Bunyas”, the park is Queensland’s second oldest and home to the world’s largest stand of bunya pines. These magnificent trees tower above the subtropical rainforest at the top of the range. Every three to four years, they produce huge cones up to 30 cm in length which contain large edible seeds called bunya nuts. Although the distinctive pines dominate the landscape there is a wide variety of flora and fauna, some only found in this area.

Our circuit walk begins from the picnic area at the tiny settlement of Dandabah, where small groups of red-necked wallabies gather to graze. In spring and summer, flowering black bean trees attract crimson rosellas.

Once on the walking track we need to be on the lookout, because many of the forest’s inhabitants are timid. We almost miss a motionless eastern water dragon, sunning itself on a log by the creek.

Not so worried about hiding is a male brush-turkey, more interested in attracting a female to his mound of leaf litter than avoiding us.

As we continue along the path, an eastern yellow robin darts along the forest floor ahead of us.

Higher up, bird’s nest ferns hang from tree trunks, and overhead the spreading fronds of tree ferns provide welcome shade.

Not so welcome are the giant stinging trees, their leaves covered with fine, silica-tipped hairs. Even the lightest touch causes pain which can last for days. We’ve heeded the advice on the warning signs and worn our closed-in shoes on this walk, because even dead leaves on the ground can be harmful. Luckily there are no stinging trees close to the path and we move on unscathed.

After a dry winter, only a trickle of water flows over the rocks at Festoon Falls but it’s enough to sustain the lush ferns and mosses clinging to the rock walls.

In the shallow waterholes below we spot large brown tadpoles, half hidden by the dappled sunlight on the water. They will take up to three years to mature into great barred frogs, which live in burrows in the creek banks.

It seems as if all life in the mountains grows slowly; strangler figs take hundreds of years to completely overwhelm their host plants. The walking track passes spectacularly between the aerial roots of one giant fig. The tree is more than 400 years old and the space is all that is left after the host plant died.

The circuit finishes with a gentle climb from the forest floor up the hill to the picnic area.

In the late afternoon, birds gather when seed is put out for feeding and photo opportunities. Regular visitors bring their own birdseed, because small bags from the general store are costly. Crimson rosellas and king parrots compete for attention, while sulphur-crested cockatoos wait more patiently till the rush dies down.

Kookaburras would prefer to snatch a sausage from the barbecues of unsuspecting picnickers.

When you come to the Bunyas bring your shoes, bring some bird seed and definitely bring your camera. You’ll want to photograph more than just the scenery!

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Paving the Way

Close to home #12 Flagstaff Hill

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

At the north western end of Isla Gorge National Park in central Queensland, there is a remarkable example of  mid 19th century engineering – an isolated time capsule preserved in the bush. To reach it, we turned off the highway and headed towards Flagstaff Road. Wide, flat and unsealed, the road goes through private cattle properties. Several times we had to slow down as we crossed cattle grids and passed by stock grazing at the side of the road.

Ahead in the distance, the Dawson Range rose abruptly out of the dusty plain.

Just inside the national park boundary at the top of the range, a narrow walking track led through the bush to the remnants of a hand-made road.

Constructed in the 1860s, the road was used to transport wool from the western town of Roma to the coastal port at Rockhampton. For this 150 metre section up the range, massive slabs of rock were cut by hand from boulders on the site. No cement was used to lay the pavers; they were shaped to fit neatly together, creating a firm surface on the steep slope. Hand-made culverts drained rain water away, preventing erosion and conserving the area. Six men took six months to build the paved road at a cost of £200.

In the early days, bullock teams pulled massive drays loaded with wool on the journey east and returned with supplies for those living in the remote west of the state. The bullockies who managed the teams were highly skilled in the tricky maneuvers needed to reach the top of the hill.

The road was used until the 1930s but, when other sealed roads made the westward journey easier, most traffic was diverted. Today the hand-paved road up Flagstaff Hill lies hidden in the bush, a silent tribute to the men who laboured to build it.

Staying Up, Looking Out

Close to home #11 Isla Gorge National Park

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

Running the full length of Australia’s east coast for 3,500 km, the Great Dividing Range is the third longest land-based mountain range in the world. Formed more than 300 million years ago,  the range was named for its length and width rather than its height; erosion has worn the mountains to the extent that even Mt Kosciusko, Australia’s highest mountain, reaches just 2,228 metres.

The Great Dividing Range is a composite of mountain ranges, plateaus, tablelands and gorges. In the far north, the slopes are clothed in the ancient tropical rainforest of Gondwana, while in the south the alpine region is Australia’s winter playground. More than 50 national parks provide protection for much of the range and make its spectacular scenery and unique flora and fauna easily accessible.

In Central Queensland’s Sandstone Belt, one national park surrounds the rugged cliffs and dense bushland of Isla Gorge. There are no designated walking tracks into the gorge and only experienced hikers armed with navigational aids should make the descent. But it’s not necessary to go so far into the wilderness to see the sandstone cliffs and monoliths eroded by the waters of Gorge Creek.

From the car park a narrow path tracks along the top of the ridge, although even here walkers need to take care.

In some places, the escarpment falls away sharply on either side and elsewhere lichen covered rocky outcrops pile up, creating a steep, natural staircase.

At the end of the ridge a sandstone spur juts out, forming a level platform from which the vastness of the gorge is revealed.

The erosive power of water is evident all through the gorge, from the rounded mountain tops to the jagged pillars of the Devils Nest, standing like sentinels on the horizon. Why bother walking down, when the view from the top is as good as this?

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Rounded