August 30, 1999 - Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Another good day in Australia. We started the day by working our way out of Sydney (but not before having a quick breakfast at, of all places, McDonalds which includes a newspaper with their breakfast meals), travelling along a road directly west of the main area of the city, a very easy ride. It was interesting to see as the city was left behind, shops came fewer and fewer until we were on our way into the Blue Mountains National Park.

After passing through Penrith we stopped at the first tourist information booth in the park which was very helpful – I find it a bit odd and we both agreed that many times you only obtain information when you actually enter the area. We travelled along the only road into the park, passing through a succession of small towns each at a higher altitude than the previous. Each town was veyr small and contained a modest number of wonderful houses overlooking magnificent forest and rolling hills.

Eventually we reached our first stop at Wentworth Falls, following a small road that lead through some residential areas and ended in a car park at the top of one of the 'mountains'. We parked alongside a large number of other cars and walked over to a place right beside the car park where we could look out over the magnificent Blue Mountains which were covered with a blue haze which is, evidently, caused because of the sun hitting the oil in the air from the trees that grow there. They stretched quite a ways into the distance.

Wentworth Falls

We walked along the exit road a short distance then down a series of steps made out of timber down to Prince's Rock that overlooked the magnificent Wentworth Falls which is a small creek that dumps it's contents over the edge of a mountain down a large rock face then splashes onto the rocks below and continues on from there to crash finally to the base of the mountains. Quite something. There were lots of people there including a tour from Sydney so we had to wait a bit to get a good look. The area was very well marked (once parked at the falls area itself), though a bit tricky to watch for where to turn off the main highway.

From Wentworth Falls we once again clambered into the car to head down a short way to Katoomba, one of the biggest towns in the park. It is funny since all towns are on the single road that goes through the park between east and west. There are only a few roads that come off the main highway but only stretch for short distances to specific destinations. We travelled along a back road to Echo Point where we were surprised to see that you had to pay for parking – $2 for an hour! In the middle of, literally, no where…

Blue Mountain National Park

We parked and immediately walked along a path to get a close look at the Big Sisters themselves. They are a series of three rock pillars made of sandstone that have basically been carved out by continual water weathering and now tower over the floor of the valley. We looked out right at the top of the mountains near the three sisters themselves, of course only able to see the first 'sister'. We walked down the first of a series of 900 stairs to the floor of the valley to see immediately in front of the first pillar (there were 800 more steps down which we skipped).

Giant Staircase

We continued back to Echo Point and took a look (along with all the other tourists) at the Three Sisters in all their glory, in the context of the rest of the area – quite magnificent. Not a lot of rocks, a lot of trees and the ever present blue 'fog'.

Three Sisters

We had heard about and seen pictures about the Scenic railway so we took a small road down a little of the mountain to where the Katoomba Scenic Railway & Skyway main building was. We took both the railway and the skyway (two separate attractions, two different sets of tickets). The skyway we tried first which took us on a short trip across from one point to another (and back) over Katoomba Falls, a smaller falls than the one we had seen earlier. It was just a small gondola but there were a few people on board, busy snapping pictures during the short trip.

Blue Mountain National Park

The next trip was on the railway which is noted as being the steepest railway in the world where we essentially laid down in the cars (we were lucky enough to be able to sit in the very front) as we were dropped on the car down the side of the mountain area. It took us to, basically, the bottom of the valley where mother and I took a short walk down a path to a strange display within an old coal mine cave which was composed of a video screen showing a series of slides about the history of the area. Evidently the area was mined for coal at the turn of the century (closing in 1930) and they used the railway to bring the coal up the mountain. We continued along the path to see where there were a few more mine shafts and even the remains of some mining cars and cables.

We returned up the railway, enjoying the trip almost as much as the way down (weird going up backwards).

The drive back was not terribly eventful as we made our way onto a motorway which quickly took us south (after leaving the Blue Mountains along the road we had taken in) and eventually to Canberra at about 8 PM. It was rather disconcerting as we kept watching the number of kilometres to the city decreasing but not seeing any sign of it – not until about 10 km from the city did we travel over a small hill and see the lights of the city – a city much smaller than Sydney, only about 300,000 people. We were concerned looking for a hotel in Canberra and had decided to give looking for a hotel (motel) as we travelled in along a main road another try – this time it worked (unlike Sydney) and we turned in at a promising looking motel which turned out to be quite large and fairly clean.

Upon the recommendation of the person at the front desk we headed down the road to an area where there were a fair number of restaurants where we grabbed a dinner in a Vietnamese Restaurant which was far superior to the meal we had the night before in Chinatown in Sydney. It was a much nicer (and quieter restaurant – last night they kept ringing a LOUD bell when an order was ready) restaurant with very well prepared food. I am finding the food a bit more expensive than I had expected but much cheaper than in England.

Tomorrow we begin to explore this city…

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