The Blue Mountains are about two hours west of Sydney and have some fantastic trails to discover. For my first weekend in Australia, I headed out with my friends Caroline and Chris to see what we could see.
Fun Fact: The Blue Mountains are so named because they are densely populated with eucalyptus trees and the air is filled with tiny droplets of eucalyptus oil, which scatter shortwave light, giving the area a blueish tint.
It’s winter in Australia and quite a bit colder than I expected, especially at night. As we headed into the mountains the temperature dropped even more and became downright freezing (literally). I’m more of a warm weather girl, but in this case the cold added to the experience. And we got to play with fire.
We rented a house in Leura for the weekend, but unfortunately it seemed to be lacking in both insulation and functional heaters. When we arrived late Friday evening, the house was at least as cold as the outside and we couldn’t get it warmed up. Much of the first evening was spent bundled up in our coats and wearing our full collection of scarves, hats, and gloves. Luckily, we had brought blankets and our hot water bottle (my new favorite thing), so we managed to not turn into popsicles.
Saturday morning we headed out early to the Three Sisters overlook in Katoomba. According to Aboriginal legend, these three rock formations are a trio of sisters who were turned to stone by a witch doctor to protect them from harm. Unfortunately, the witch doctor was killed before he could turn them back so they remain in their rock form. Bummer for them, cool for us.
After taking in the view from the top of the canyon, we descended hundreds of steps into the valley for a hike. We caught a glimpse of a wild turkey and a tree-full of squawking cockatoos, but otherwise there wasn’t much wildlife around. The scenery, though, was beautiful.
We passed a few waterfalls and took in views of the spectacular cliff face rising up above us as we hiked for several hours. We eventually ended up at the bottom of ScenicWorld, where we had the option to take the tram or train back up to the top, rather than climb those hundreds of steps in reverse.
After a quick look around at the exhibits about the old coal mine that used to be there, we opted for the Katoomba Scenic Railway, the steepest incline railway in the world.
The train is completely closed in and everyone faces forward (which means you’re moving backwards if you take the train up, like we did). Once the train starts to move, you almost immediately increase your incline to what feels like vertical (it’s actually 52 degrees). The views of the valley are amazing, but the whole experience is kind of surreal because you feel like at any moment the “roller coaster” is going to release and you’re going back down the track at 90 mph.
Safely at the top, we grabbed some dinner and matches and headed back to our icebox. Once home, all attention turned to the fire. We managed to get it started and keep it going well into the night. Score one for fire skills.
The Grand Canyon
For our second day of hiking in the Blue Mountains, we headed to the Grand Canyon. I’d heard that it was supposed to be a cool hike, but didn’t really know what to expect. As we pulled up to the parking lot, there wasn’t anyone else around and it looked as though we wouldn’t have much company.
The trail began to descend through eucalyptus trees, much like Saturday’s hike, giving no indication of the tropical paradise below. As we got lower into the canyon, the trees gave way to more and more ferns and the trail was dotted with puddles and moss.
It was a strange feeling to be cold in a rainforest, but the waterfalls and amazing creek crossings made up for it. Portions of the trail were cut into overhanging rocks and, in places, the creek dropped down into canyons too deep for us to see the bottom from our vantage point.
As we made our way back out of the canyon, we ended up at Evan’s Lookout, taking in views of the valley below. The massive expanse was certainly a sight to see and we hung out here for about 45 minutes taking it all in and resting up from our hike before heading back to Sydney.
Pro Tip: The Grand Canyon hike is almost a loop, although you can start from either of two parking lots (when you finish the hike in one parking lot you’ll follow a 1.4 km path back to the one where you started). I recommend starting at the lot marked “Grand Canyon Walking Track.” The stairs on this side feel a bit steeper (better for going down, rather than up) and hiking in this direction means you get rewarded at the end with Evan’s Lookout.
Check It Out
Even in freezing temperatures, the Blue Mountains are a sight to see and should not be missed if you’re in the area.
There are tons of hikes here and I’m sure that at least most of them are awesome. We only had the chance to check out these two, but they were both incredible and I highly recommend them.
If you’ve done other great hikes in the Blue Mountains, let me know in the comments below!