Beauty in the Blue Mountains

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It was a long way from Port Macquarie to Katoomba.

Now that wasn’t a surprise – in a place like Australia, it’s usually a long way to anywhere.  Any country that can measure driving times in days isn’t exactly small.

Even with only a short stop for lunch in the small town of Morisset (highlight: explaining the concept of coin-operated barbeques as we sat on a park bench), it was still late afternoon by the time we pulled up outside the Katoomba Mountain Lodge.

Katoomba is the biggest of several towns in the Blue Mountains, but most of the accommodation, restaurants and bars sit in a compact area that’s easily walkable.  After several hours behind the wheel, that was fortunate – I wasn’t in a hurry to drive anywhere else.

3 Sisters, Echo Point, Blue Mountains

I’d only ever spent one night there in the past, many years ago, and the gentrification since then was apparent even before the locals at the pub started complaining about it that night.  Change was inevitable with the growing number of tourists from Sydney and around the world, and the new up-market cafes and bars were doing a brisk trade.

Given that, it was nice to be staying somewhere a little more traditional.  The floorboards creaked, the showers had only two temperatures: cold or scalding, and around every corner was another random kitchen, balcony or common room.  The owners were lovely, and while the place wasn’t fancy, it was quirky, cozy and relaxing.  We liked it a lot.


With a vague recollection that the sunset from nearby Echo Point was supposed to be impressive on the right day, we wandered down to the edge of town around 8pm in preparation.

I think it’s fair to say that this may have been the right day.

Later that night we were discussing our upcoming plans.  We had originally intended to spend the next morning doing a short walk, then head down to Sydney in the afternoon.  After two long days of driving, though, the idea of chilling out, staying another night and doing a longer hike seemed far more appealing – so, just  like that, we changed our minds.

Blue Mountains - View from the national pass

The following day dawned bright and sunny – a direct contrast to the previous week of wind and rain, apparently.  We opted for the National Pass Trail, a six kilometre walk carved out of the cliff face over a century ago and advertised as one of the best day hikes in the country.

Normally I take such descriptions with a grain of salt, but as it turned out, a few hours on the National Pass would turn out to be one of the highlights of my time in Australia.

Blue Mountains - top of a waterfall

The most striking part of the walk came early, crossing the top of the Wentworth Falls and descending dozens of rough stone stairs carved out of the cliff face.  You can still see the axe marks on many of them, a testament to the incredible effort it must have taken to form the track back in 1907.

Blue Mountains - Looking up at a waterfall

With fine mist filling the air and providing a brief respite from the heat, we crossed back in front of the waterfall and continued along the rocky path.  Occasional sculptures of the local wildlife sat alongside the track, serving to raise the anxiety levels of a certain someone just a little higher…

Blue Mountains - Snake sculpture

Shortly after the half way mark (helpfully marked with a sign that told us so), we stopped for lunch on a large rock.  For a blissful ten minutes we had the track to ourselves, the only noises being kookaburras in the trees and the regular splashing of a nearby waterfall.  Dangling our feet over the edge and gazing out at the blue haze that gives the mountains their name, this was a perfect little moment I didn’t want to end.

Blue Mountains - Trees at the lunch stop

All too soon, however, a large family group shouting their way down the trail behind us broke the spell.  We packed up and carried on walking, the previous rocky track along the ridge line giving way to lush green undergrowth and trees towering far above our heads.

Blue Mountains path

Far sooner than the time estimates suggested we found ourselves approaching Empress Falls, the final steep section of track leading back to the top of the cliff.  With plenty of puffing, panting and rest-stops-disguised-as-photo-opportunities, we slowly climbed our way up the rocky outcrops beside the falls.

Blue Mountains - Empress Falls

And with that, we were pretty much done.  Bypassing lunch at the fancy-looking Conservation Hut cafe in favour of a few mouthfuls of warm water and an apple, we completed the loop back to the car park by way of a ten minute shortcut track.  Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, was called the Shortcut Track.

All of the literature suggests the walk takes two and half to three hours, and – if you have even a moderate degree of fitness – all of the literature is wrong.  It took us barely two hours, including a break for lunch and stopping to take photos every few minutes.

Sitting on the deck that afternoon, cold beverages in hand, we talked about coming back to Katoomba for several weeks at some stage.  It’s not something I’d ever considered in the past, but with the sun on my back and the smell of eucalyptus wafting in the breeze, it suddenly seemed a very appealing option.  Add it to the list, I guess.

Add it to the list…

Thanks to our great sponsors for helping make this trip possible: for giving us a car to get there with!

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  1. This post makes me miss blue sky. It’s been gray nearly every day here in China for the past two months. We’re definitely planning a move to fresher and clearer climes. Maybe we should consider Katoomba!