In our first foray off the boat overnight since the summer of ’09, we headed for the mountains to do some camping with Mike & Hyo from s/v IO. Mike lived in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, for a year in his early 20s- leading canyoning trips and becoming a rockclimbing and abseiling (rapelling) guide. It’s a treat to be introduced to this place through his memories and favorites.
Katoomba is on a plateau in the mountains, close to state and national parks and the hub for activities. The town has a blend of history and outdoor orientation with a dose of New Age kitch that make me love it immediately… shades of one of our favorite haunts back at home, Port Townsend, but in a ‘turf’ instead of ‘surf’ way. We get lunch and snacks from a bakery on the main drag: Siobhan chooses a cream filled bun that’s almost the size of her head.
A short walk from the main strip of coffee shops and boutiques is the spectacular vista that draws most tourists to the area- sandstone pillars named The Three Sisters. They’re more stunning than the picture can show!
What the picture doesn’t show, though, are the hordes of people piling off tour vans and charter busses to gasp at the vista from behind the railing of a concrete platform. Glad they get to see the wonder of nature but it’s really not the way we like to experience it ourselves…. and it was kind of a madhouse.
Mike has better plans, of course. After our obligatory stop at the monuments he has us winding down a back road that turns out in a dirt track- a few hairpin curves later, and we’re at a trailhead. It can’t have been more than a 15 minute drive but we are far from the crush of crowds. Leading us down the trail, we get to see the places he took rookie climbers on their first climbing experiences. We wind up at the climb that was the first one he ever set as a new guide. He named it “wonderland”- and it is, truly, awesome.
Winding our way to the site, we pass tea tree plants in bloom. This isnt’ the tea you drink (I don’t think,a nyway!) but the plant we use for antibacterial properties… a tea tree essential oil is one of the ingredients in my everyday spray cleaner.
Large black cockatoos swoop over the canyons, then sit loudly cracking nuts in trees overhead. Wish I could have gotten a better pic of them…
A few hours later, we find a campsite and set up for the evening. The children are popping with excitement over their gear. They share a simple tent and carefully laid their sleeping bags out inside. When the air mattress acquired for Jamie and I to rest our (cough) aging bones on doesn’t fit inside our borrowed tent, they are truly ecstatic to find it fits their perfectly. The little blue dome finds a double life as a carnival bouncy house.
We were prepared for a little drizzle, but optimistic about the weather overall. As it turned out, things were really wet and pretty chilly… and our gear was not adequate for extended wet weather. We threw a tarp in the car at the last moment that turned out to be pretty helpful. For some reason I chose to observe from inside the cozy tent instead of out in the damp, though.
Until the leeches showed up, anyway! Eeewww.
On our second day, we planned on canyoning- riding through water-filled canyons on air mattresses (in wetsuits. It’s chilly!) but the air temp and rainfall steer us another way. Instead, we hike a well-trodden trail to a cave filled with glow worms, and are amazed to find that it really is like being under a canopy of tiny blue-green stars.
Just getting there is a journey through a very primeval feeling forest. I kept waiting for the velociraptors to come out from behind one of these massive fern trees.