Monday, December 31, 2007

The Giant Staircase, Katoomba NSW - A great work out for your legs

Too much Christmas indulgence new Christmas present CDs to listen to so daughter and I are hitting the open road intent upon a walk down the giant staircase at the Three Sisters Katoomba NSW. We’re late getting away and it’s already almost 1:30 PM. Not my preferred time of day for such activities, early morning is much better but oh well.
Given the time we decide to stick with the freeway rather than take the scenic route up the Northern Road. 5 mins from home and we’re on the M5, M7, and finally the M4 before hitting the Great Western Hwy and slower speeds up through the mountains. It’s a fairly painless drive and the novelty of Lighthorse interchange has yet to wear off. Lighthorse interchange is the intersection of several major motorways and is featured by huge flyovers. Named because the Australian Light Horse trained in this area at the time of the Great War. Along the approach there are numerous poles sticking out of the ground in long rows, they have bits of cable sticking and drooping out of the top. We originally were puzzled as to what these are and thought they must be light poles unfinished with the electricity cables in ready.. but no, we eventually found out they are sculptures intended to represent the Light Horse. I guess the cables are supposed to denote the emu feathers on the caps…. We hated the whole thing at first, but they’re growing on me a bit. I guess they’re cheap to replace if a truck slams into them LOL.
Anyway selected Supertramp classics keep us bopping. Daughter finds that she does know these songs afterall, just didn’t know who sang them or their name. We follow up with classic Elton John. Daughter’s gift to me so more than usually appropriate. We’re all on a bit of an EJ kick at the moment having sold a not very popular relative into the slave trade for (very good) tickets to his recent show. Unfortunately hubby couldn’t go as he hadn’t been well, but the EJ fan offspring (both daughters and elder son) and I headed up to the Hunter Valley for the show. Just EJ and piano. Excellent, he is such a magnificent piano player, it’s worth going just for that really. Though his voice has really deteriorated and I’m glad I saw him several times back in my younger years. Ah, that concert with Ray Cooper – now that was brilliant! EJ butchers Daniel these days, but we were also treated to some of my other favourites that he can still sing up to par, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters and Ticking. 2 ½ hrs performance that flew by like a snap of the fingers. An awesome thing to see him live. (Venue sucked though). Anyway I digress…
We arrive at Echo Point at about a quarter to 3 I think it was. Clearly my brother has stayed home today as his parking angel has come with us and we get a brilliant spot right near the lookout. I didn’t even embarrass myself reverse parking which is always a relief. LOL. Meter parking all around this area. It’s pretty warm today about 26 or 27 C even up here in the mountains. A LOT of people about. It’s always been popular but you can really see that it’s hit the international tourist agenda these days. The mountains and Echo Point in particular always make me thing of Gang Gang cockatoos which we used to see at the feeder at the info centre. We still have them hanging around at our place now which is surprising, though I guess it has been cool so far this season. Usually they are just winter visitors and they would have headed back up into the mountains by this time of year. We do this walk every now and again. It’s one of our favourites, but we do it more in winter than summer and there’s generally less people about. We waste no time and with hats and sunscreen applied as appropriate we head off down the path to the three sisters and the start of the walk. Admiring the magnificent views along the way. Our intended walk is suggested as 1 ½ hrs duration. Last scenic railway car leaves 4:50 pm so we should have plenty of time. The first section is very busy with people doing the initial section that takes you over to the first of the sisters. There’s also a number of people coming up the staircase and going further on, but as we progress these decrease in number and spread out. The stairs themselves are quite challenging, high risers narrow treads. The treads in many places are rock and eroded so uneven. It really is necessary to watch where you are going and hold the rail. A great test of leg strength. At the bottom of the stairs we have an option to head towards Leura or back towards the railway. Both are modest distances. We take the 2.5 km to the railway as is our traditional route. The path is a rough bush path, and traverses a number of modest hillocks with stairs up and down along the way. We’re a bit over the ones going down but the up sections along the way are a welcome relief LOL. The bush is looking gorgeous after all the rain we’ve been having. New growth on trees and banksias particularly noticeable. Tree ferms are lush and bright. Moss on rocks everywhere in prime condition. Still some lovely pink wildflowers along the path. Bellbirds and Crimson Rosellas calling and an occasional Eastern Whip bird and others make me want to sing the Carol of the Birds but I don’t know the words so I have to be content with humming a little bit of it. Along the way we pass a loudly chattering group of crimson rosellas and stop to try to spot them. It’s amazing who well these colourful birds blend in with the bushland and we don’t spy them until they fly over the path. Who’d have thought red and blue are camouflage? It never ceases to amaze me!. There is really no better place for a bush walk than the Blue Mountains and these walking trails around the mountain villages. Glorious.
Along the way we pass a poor young woman who appears to have hurt her ankle or foot. She is being assisted by at least one good Samaritan who passed us earlier (very fit skipping down the staircase without even holding the rails) and a young woman. Another guy is heading off for help, meanwhile the others are helping the injured girl hobble in the direction of the railway. Lucky she’s a slight little thing. Still a couple of kms to go. Ouch! Wish we were carrying a bandage or something to support her foot. Nothing we can do so we skip on past with a cheery comment. Looks like a great travel story in the making there! I think they might be finding it challenging seeing the funny side of things just at the moment but she tries at any rate! That’s the spirit! At least they aren’t somewhere seriously remote.
We’re not hanging around, we mean business on this walk today. Just before the railway we come to Katoomba falls which are flowing with plenty of water at the moment. We fantasise about climbing down and playing in the water a bit and there is clear evidence that others do so given the moss is worn away on the rocks at likely vantages, but we press on, with just a slight pause to admire the gully. Our thoughts have been brought back to the injured girl a couple of times along the way as we clambered over or under fallen trees that are creating entertaining obstacles on the path… well minor if you aren’t nursing an injury.
We are a bit horrified when after an hour walking we hit the lengthy queues at the railway, and we puzzled at first as to how to join the queue as it comes in and snakes around and we seem to be hitting the side of it. In the end we conclude it’s a merge situation so hop in line and make a note that perhaps winter on a week day really is the best time for visiting this place LOL. A couple behind us give us a look that suggests they’re with us on that! The queue travels pretty quickly and the train shifts a lot of people on each trip, we only have to wait for the second departure so all in all it wasn’t bad and we were quickly up at the pay station forking over the $10 each for the privilege. Actually felt quite festive being in the crowd which was full of international tourists. Quite like being on holiday really. The shop at the top is ridiculously crowded we make a bee line straight out and how lucky, there’s a trolley bus just about to go, so give cursory consideration to walking back to EP (our usual practice) but daughter votes for the bus. $2.80 each for the bus and I just have enough change. Not spot on correct money, I need a little change (less than a dollar) still, the driver enquires if I have right change. Sorry only other cash I have is fifties. (Tip: make sure you take small change for the bus). The bus is pretty crowded and we wonder if people trying to get on at the stops along the way are going to fit, but they seem to squeeze in OK once a few people get off.
Back at Echo Point we decide not to hang around and head straight for the car. We zip down through Leura and back on the highway for a bopping ride and we’re home before 6pm. Ah, got to love Macarthur. Central to all the best places.

PS: There was indeed a change of government at the federal election. BIG swing and the Prime Minister lost his seat. It was a VERY interesting election night, not even Antony Green was giving things away early in the night. MP Stephen Smith, now Australia's foreign minister got it absolutely spot on and he made his prediction as soon as polls closed. Very impressive. When he first spoke the commentators were fairly surprised at such a bold prediction when the polls had been all over the shop. Incidentally there was some fall out over the huge variation in the polls given the outcome with questions raised about methodology of some mainstream pollsters.