The Outback, Australia’s imaginative name for the nothingness consumed rural land that assumes everyone is facing the ocean, stood between us and Sydney, where we need to be by Thursday the return our car and catch our next flight. It was cheaper to drive our car back across country than it was to return it to Adelaide a week earlier, presumably because no one wants to drive it back without being given proper remuneration. With only a few days left down under we decided not to waste too much time and so took on the 14 hour, 1375km drive over two days. Seeing nothing or no one else for several hours at a time, it gave us a sense of the size of the vast country. Eventually after almost 13 hours on the road he flat land suddenly began to rise and turn into the foothills of the blue mountains.
Katoomba was our base to explore the Blue Mountains for two nights, after ascending but the hills into the town the temperature had dropped dramatically and suddenly we were in the midst of a Northern European winter climate, 5 degrees or less, so the winter clothes were again pulled from the bottoms of our bags. After a night rest to recover from the drive we set about exploring. Our first stop was Scenic World and the world steepest railway; an old mining transport system that takes you down into Jaimieson’s Valley. It was here we got our first glimpse of the region. Quite incredible, it seemed a world away from what we had driven through the previous day. An ocean of eucalyptus forest stretched out for miles in front of us, the further away you looked the more blue the canopy seemed – the hue created from the oil escaping from the trees.
Once we had descended the short railway we set off on a bush walk into the UNESCO World Heritage site, the first hour was quite technical: up and down over rocks above cliff edges. The winter layers were soon stripped off as the sun began to warm us up. Eventually we were low enough into the valley for the path to level off and we completed the next hour of the walk in dense forest but on flat ground. Our aim and destination was the so called ruined castle rock on top a medium sized hill out in the middle of the valley. When we got there I was pretty dismissive of it being called, in anyway, a castle. It was just a group of tall rocks. Having said that the views from the top were pretty spectacular, especially after we had scrambled up the tallest one. We enjoyed the views from here for a while before retracing our steps back to Scenic World where we, this time, rode the cable car back to base before riding a second cable car across some of the valley for some spectacular views.
With sunset still an hour away we headed around the rim towards the three sisters rocks (three tall slim rock formations that aboriginal legend suggests were once three sisters turned to stone by a sorcerer, which seems unlikely) past the Queen Elizabeth lookout. Named for her majesty after she viewed the park from that particular spot, she was missing out we saw better views else where I’m sure the duke could have given her a bunk up the rocks like I did Suzanne! We did spot the ruined castle we had walked to earlier though, to be fair you could see the resemblance of a distant castle on a hill from here so I stopped moaning about the name. Just as we began to lose the light we crossed the bridge that took us on to the first sister to touch the sacred rocks to end our great first day.
On our second day we packed up the car ready to head to the airport after checking out of our hotel at 10 am and drove 5 miles out of Katoomba to the head of the National Pass trail. Not flying till 9:45pm gave us plenty of time to enjoy a second day in the national park. Our chosen trail took us down the valley of waters track weaving around the Empress Falls as we descended the cliffs via steep metal stair cases and stepping stones across the falls. Strait away it was clear this was a better walk than the previous days dense forrest walk. Once at the bottom of the falls we followed the path for a bit before reaching a second water fall, Wentworth Falls. Neither of the falls had too much water flowing in them which meant they were quite funny to watch with random water falling all over the place and we were able to get really close for perfect photo ops.
After coming down there was only way to get back to the car and that was up. This time we ascended some even steeper steps that were cut into the cliff face. Taking us up with stunning views of Wentworth Falls and the valley in front of it the vertigo was well tested as we crossed overhanging cliffs back to the top of the hills above the valley. Our last hours in the blue mountains consisted of a rim walk back to the car park with more superlative views and lookout points seemingly every 5 minutes.
We driven to the blue mountains from Adelaide after spending 4 days with Suzanne’s cousin, Nicole, and her family. We were worried that Adelaide may struggle to compete with Sydney and Melbourne which we’d previously visited on our Australia leg, I’m glad to say that it more than held its own. On our first day we explored the city in glorious sunshine, visiting the oval (which you were allowed in for free) on the banks of the river as well as walking the North Terrace which is home to Universities, Art Galleries and Libraries all housed in architecturally impressive buildings. After meeting one of Suzanne’s old colleagues we were shown some local bar and enjoyed Friday night in the city.
Over the weekend Nicole took us to a local wildlife park where we could get as close as possible to the unique Australian wild life. Emu, Wallabies, Kangaroos and Koalas could be fed and stroked. Most of them had clearly been bed too much; the kangaroos, for the most part, weren’t interested enough in the food to come to you – you had to go to them, or they had learnt that they didn’t need to move for the food. The larger kangaroo look almost human when they lie on the ground propping them self up on their elbows, intimidating enough for me to stick to the smaller wallabies (if you ain’t gunner get up for you food mate, I don’t want to come and force feed it to you!) we ended the trip meeting a koala, they sleep 24 hours a day so you only have a short window! The pellets we’d been feeding other animal with were of no interest to them (cant say I blame them) so there was no feeding, just a cheesy photo shoot. And the koala was definitely more interested in him eucalyptus leaves.
The next day we visited some vineyards in the Barossa region just north of Adelaide, the home of Jacobs Creek. We had a very civil afternoon tasting (FOR FREE!!!) wines from the cellars of 4 wineries. The fact that you can just turn up and get merry without spending anything other than transport is reason alone to move to the area, but the views of the region with the autumnal colours on the vines gave you added enjoyment. The 4 different cellar doors we visited (including Jacobs Creek) each offered different novelties to try and understandably each was more enjoyable than the previous.
Now at Sydney Airport, it brings to an end 2 and half weeks down under, we have another hour or so till our flight taking us to Japan and back to the Southern Hemisphere. Into our last month, back to summer, but still plenty more to see!