Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Perfect Day

Today is a milestone celebration. Hubby and I married 25 years today. It was touch and go for a while but both of us have managed to get the day off work. Unfortunately an overnight isn’t possible though. Hubby suggests we fulfil a long standing list item and take a drive out to Kanangra Walls in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, or more specifically, Kanangra Boyd National Park.
Though it’s a glorious sunny clear winter’s day we pack up the car with some sleeping bags and water and picnic set and some starvation rations. Insurance against breakdown in whatever remote spot we might happen to go through. We’re filled with petrol and on the road not long after 8 am. It’s still Sydney commuter peak hour so we decide to give the motorways a miss and head up the northern road which we join at Bringelly.
As we wind our way up the mountains the weather closes in and we have light showers of rain. We give a prayer that the western side of the ranges is getting some of it.

By 10:05 we are through the mountains and taking the turn off to Jenolan Caves. The road is perched along the edge of steep mountainside and in the final stages narrows considerably. Careful driving is essential. There are a few rest stops along the way with fireplaces and picnic tables and views across the road to the narrow valley. Finally we come to the dramatic Grand Arch at Jenolan Caves and drive carefully through, on the lookout for pedestrians as we admire this natural tunnel. We make a brief comfort stop at the Jenolan Caves facilities at approx 10:50am and continue our way to the national park negotiating the hairpin curves carefully and noting a number of accommodation places along the way.

The road is sealed all the way until the park entrance, where a pay and display station is located well before the park signs and maps. The elevation is about 1250 metres. Almost as soon as we hit the park we spot a wedge tailed eagle circling above the park.

It’s a fairly wide straight unsealed road out to Kanagra Walls. The road surface today is very smooth. Dirt roads don’t get too much better than this. In the early stage of the drive we pass though an open area of grassland bounded by high country forest. The parks website says the park includes snow gum forest, but I’m no expert on identifying snow gums – anyway they look like small eucalypts.

Turning a curve in the road – fortunately not driving overly fast - we disturb an eastern grey kangaroo on the road. The rest of its mob are nearby in the grass and all stand up straight to see what’s going on. There is a high wind blowing and the roos look like they are rather surprised to see people out and about today. They disperse in graceful bounds as I open the car door to snap some photos of the beautiful grasses that sway and dance in the buffeting wind. Georgeous. Grasses swaying in the wind always reminds me of my elder daughter, who at age 7 when visiting my cousin’s cane farm in Far North Queensland after snorkelling on the barrier reef commented that the grass swaying in the wind looked like a sea anemone swaying in the current…

We move on and back into the cover of the forest and very soon after a wallaby bounds off. This bodes well so far! The scenery is fairly consistent for most of the drive with thin trunked trees in large numbers fairly densely packed. A good proportion of scribbly gum amongst it. We’re driving at a reasonable pace, and hubby isn’t too attentive to birds but as we go we see some tantalising glimpses. A grey shrike thrush flying up. Was that a quail thrush scurrying off the verge? Then a group of what looked like maybe thornbills, a clear rich buff rump clearly visible as they fly, but we pass too quick for anything more concrete in the way of identification. There is a camp ground along the way by the road at Boyd River. The NPWS website says you get all manner of wildlife at this camp at night. I scheme for a campout when the weather warms up a bit.
As we move on bright green splashes of moss on the rocks introduce some colour into an otherwise subtle symphony of pale khaki, grey and white. Everywhere an understory of banksia shrubs in flower forecasts no shortage of honeyeaters.

We pull into the parking area. There’s a half dozen other cars, but not much in the way of people. A large brown bird flies from the bushes – just enough of a glimpse for me to see it’s interesting and not some everyday bird. Tease! Around the carpark are several varieties of banksia again in full flower. The banksia pictured looking all the world like someone had sketched in the colour using a yellow highlighter pen. Extraordinary. Though they are lying low out of the wind, there is abundant bird call all around. The New Holland honeyeaters clearly among them. I wait patiently for hubby hoping to catch a glimpse of someone but the winds are very strong and the birds aren’t risking it.
200 metres of level walking and we come to the lookout over Kanangra Walls. As we step down to the viewing area a wedgie suddenly soars straight up in front of us from below the cliff edge, only metres from the lookout. FANTASTIC! The view is stupendous. Wilderness as far as the eye can see. The dramatic cliff face of the walls is a golden brown in the bright sunlight. Rugged ridge tops and dramatic valleys all around. I won’t post a photograph. Discovering Kanagra Walls for yourself is more fun surely. But I’ll post the lookout map for you to give you an idea… oh and a teaser...from the entrance to the lookout..

I’m not overly fond of heights and I have a job convincing hubby to keep away from the edge… reminiscent of climbing the lookout at Stanley chasm, though that was worse..

Having taken our fill of the lookout we venture to the Waterfall track. This is rated as hard and suggested time is one hour depending on how long you spend at the bottom. Who doesn’t like a waterfall? So we set off. The track is simply a long steep staircase.

Along the way I stop to admire a beautiful hairpin banksia in flower. This is, without question my favourite banskia and one of my favourite flowers. Golden cones with true black styles that are the source of the common name. It looks exactly like a cushion stuffed with shiny black hair pins. Very dramatic. This photo doesn't really do it justice but it will give you an idea.

At the base of the cliff there is a viewing platform over a pool and stream of crystal clear water edged with ferns. To the left from the viewing platform is a beautiful waterfall, not hugely tall, but it is very pretty. The view is partly obstructed by vegetation, but lovely anyway. We only spend a short while down here before we set off on the return. We realise how comparatively calm it is down at the waterfall as the roar of the wind meets us as we climb back up. The whole thing took us 25 mins but we felt the cardio workout on the way back especially.
Heading back towards the carpark I stop to photograph some gum tree bark that is sparkling in the light where it has bled it's rich red sap.

It’s still only 12:35 pm so since some exercise was one of our aims, hubby encourages a go at the Plateau walk. This takes you down a long flight of stairs. As we go I’m thinking I’m going to regret neglecting my lower body after all this. Oh well…

In the wind this walk was a good choice. Down below the plateau on this side we are protected from the wind and in a short time it is clear the birds like this calmer area. Plenty of eastern spinebills are visiting the flowering banksias along the stairs. Not particularly bothered by us passing. Beyond the stairs we reach a comparatively level pathway bordered by an area of shrubs nestled against the cliff face. It is alive with birds. Many spinebills and also I believe buff rumped thornbills, suggesting my guess along the road as we were coming in was correct. Looking up at the birds above me the clouds racing over the edge of the rock face seem so close I feel like I could reach out and touch them. A thornbill lands in the shrub right near me and sings his little heart out with a lovely melodic warbling call. This is a new species for me. I dawdle for a few minutes and hubby gets along ahead. I catch up and pretty soon we arrive at Dance Floor cave. We explore the cave and read the interpretive signs explaining the use of the cave by settlers and stockmen who have constructed a small drinking basin at a seepage point in the roof. The dance floor is long gone now. The water dripping from the roof to the bowl is no doubt pristine, but who knows what some passing ratbag may have done to the water actually in the bowl so we don't sample it.. Coming back to the path water dripping over the edge of the cave sparkles in the light from shafts of sunlight. Lovely.
At this point as we rejoin the path we reach another flight of stairs that will take us up onto the plateau. An inward groan and we head on up with determination. This is the plateau above the Kanangra walls and it feels like standing on top of the world, despite not being the highest point in sight. The vegetation on top of the plateau is tough, dense heath which seems to grow on a grey sandy soil on top of the rock. It is quite moist at this time of year and round about are luxurious patches of rich deep green moss that brings to mind Miss Ellen's velvet drapes.

The scenery is mesmorising and if not for the wind I could easily hear pan pipes playing and float along like Miranda from picnic at hanging rock - well, perhaps not so gracefully. Perhaps a cross between Miranda and the dancing hippos from fantasia! The path for the most part is simply the exposed areas of rock between the vegetation. To this point the walk has taken us 35 minutes and we could turn back from here, but I see a hiker coming toward us from the end of the plateau demonstrating that there is path continuing in that direction. I pity the hiker with that huge pack in this wind. We quizz him as we meet and decide to continue on for a while. He's come from deep in the wilderness and climbed up to the plateau. He's very nice and helpful but I suspect he could cheerfully slap me for interrupting his rhythm with that pack. We spend about half an hour wandering about on the plateau our spirits soaring with the winds over the wildnerness to north, south and all around.

Finally we reach a point where we can look back along a section of the walls and we decide it's time to turn back. Returning back, the path is easy to lose. It is marked only by discrete patches of red tape attached to small bushes every so often but quite a distance apart. We have a couple of sessions of nosing about looking for the path. None the less we get back in good time. At the return up the flight of steps heading to the carpack track I channel my recently deceased grandmother and start to count the steps.. I'm part way up before I start but I get to 200 before the top. They rate this walk as moderate and suggest an hour depending on how long you spend on the plateau. By my estimation it is a bit more than moderate. Certainly it would have as many stairs in total as the waterfall walk, or close to it. You just get a break in between. The plateau walk has taken us about 1 1/2 hrs.

We feel a sense of achievement and spiritual peace as we return along the path to the car. Pleased to see the tree opposite our car space hasn't fallen onto our car in the wind. We break open the picnic set and have a glass of water each and set off.

I am tempted by the concept of a circle down around the mountains to the southern highlands for dinner in Berrima, but on consideration I note that it takes in the Oberon - Goulburn road and then from Wombeyan caves up to Mittagong. I've done both these drives before and vowed not to do either of them again so we decide to return back past Jenolan Caves. By the time we are parked and down at the cafe at Jenolan Caves it's about 3:10 pm. We have a look at Chisolms restaurant menu in the lobby of caves house. They are restoring Caves House and it has a lovely ambience. We head to check out the cafe and while hubby buys himself some lunch, I go across to see when the next cave tour is leaving. Some consultation and a shared chicken schitzel lavash (very nice) we head back over to the ticket office. The next tour is at 3:30 and I ask how strenuous it is, wondering how long my legs are going to keep agreeing to go up and down stairs... the bloke behind the counter cheerfully advises "not very" in a reassuring tone so we buy our tickets for the Chifley cave tour and head off to meet our tour guide in the Grand Arch, carefully stowing the passes that will give us free entry to the nettle cave and a half price tour valid for 12 months. A comfort stop near the departure point is interesting. They have just built a stone wall open to the roof of the arch with narrow little cubicles in it... different....
By this time we have noted in the guide book we've picked up that Chifley cave involves several hundred stairs hmmm. We set off with no incident. The cave starts out fairly modest and our guide points out a few nice features, however as the tour progresses we come to chambers jam packed with spectacular formations. Magical and very pretty. The only down side to the tour was a foreign gentleman.. well actually he wasn't a gentleman he was a dickhead* and proud of it - claimed he was a kid in a man's body. Despite repeated requests from our young guide he continued to go ahead and play with the lights. Even when people were coming down the stairs. Dickhead.
We emerge into the light and head up the hill to the car park. I've made it through the cave no worries, but the somehow the series of stairs leading up to the car park are getting pretty uncomfortable and I'm glad to sit down when we get to the car. Off we go to Katoomba / Leura for dinner as the sun sets, though it makes no particular display today. Along the way hubby reminds me of the depth of his love, pointing out that it is the state of origin decider tonight and he hasn't even taped it, but he is happy to make this heavy sacrifice in honour of our special day.. ohhhhh... I point out that it isn't that much of a sacrifice as the Blues are going to get done anyhow! LOL Ah hubby is so loyal and optomistic as a footie fan.
We don't have reservations so we drive around Katoomba in a fairly aimless fashion before heading purposefully to Leura on the off chance of a one of a couple of preferred locations there. Le Gobelet is closed. Good I'd rather go to Solitary anyhow and we are pleased to find it's open now (about 6:30). We are the first patrons to arrive and are seated by the heater. Fireside tables are booked naturally. We have a lovely leisurely dinner. Taking a happy anniversary call from daughter during the mains. Every dish was delicious including the complementary hors doevre. The service just the right level of attentive. A really lovely evening to cap off a perfect day. We're all done by 8:30pm and arrive home at 9:45 keeping abreast of developments in the game as we travel. We are home just in time to see the Blues get done in the last short period of the game. .. well at least hubby didn't have to miss the whole thing....

* my apologies if this term offends... it's an old Australian term for just this sort of person.... :o)

No comments: