Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Leura Forest, Blue Mountains – 10 September 2014

A spell-binding short to half-day walk for bird lovers, nature photographers, or people seeking Shinrinyoku*. Moderate fitness and an ability to cope with lots of steep stairs required for the walk as described below, however less strenuous options may be available from Leura.

Bathe (metaphorically) in an unbelievably green forest - a great place to practice Shinrinyoku

Bathe (metaphorically) in an unbelievably green forest – a great place to practice Shinrinyoku

*Thanks and credit to Jane for the word ‘Shinrinyoku’ that best describes my Leura Forest experience, and the link borrowed from her Mildly Extreme blog post.

Start/Finish: Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

Distance: Approx 6.5km

Time: Approx 3hr 20min (Note: our ‘moving time’ was 2hr 40min)

Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Leura Forest Circuit from Echo Point - map and elevation profile - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Once again, this didn’t turn out to be a fast walk. Not just because I had a camera in my hand (which is my usual excuse, true though it is), but because of (a) the birds and (b) the magic of Leura Forest itself.

I shall explain. (You saw that coming?)

Feeling positive after yesterday’s walk to Ruined Castle, we wanted to do a really awesome walk on out last full day here. But with so many walks to choose from it was hard to know which would tick all the right boxes. Stephen wanted to walk to the township of Leura, so we set off once more for Echo Point.

It was an early start – for us. We were walking by 8:10am which is very nearly unheard of on any holiday where we set our own schedule. Starting out along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk towards the Giant Stairway we spotted a White-browed Scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis) and a couple of Rock Warblers (Origma solitaira) hunting for insects in the leaf and bark litter by the side of the path. A good start to the walk.

Rock Warbler (left) and White-browed Scrubwren (right)

Rock Warbler (left) and White-browed Scrubwren (right)

For much better photos, see here for Rockwarblers (sometimes spelt as one word) and here for White-browed Scrubwrens.

Another windy day meant Northface jackets on while we were on the ridges. Out of the wind and climbing down the Giant Stairway we definitely warmed up enough to warrant taking that layer off.

Reaching Dardanelles Pass Walking Track we turned left this time, heading towards Leura.

Setting off along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

Setting off along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

The beautiful forest, thick in parts with bird calls, just got more and more beautiful the further we walked. Right beneath the cliffs my Garmin was constantly letting me know it was having trouble finding satellites (so I’m surprised that there’s anything remotely sensible on the map above, even though that’s Stephen’s data again) but I didn’t really care at that point. The cliffs, so close and towering above are magnificent. The boulders you pass are a reminder that things larger than pebbles occasionally fall from the heights – although, by the extent of moss covering the rocks, there haven’t been any recent falls.

Walking along here I experienced feelings of utter bliss, awe, tranquility and harmony – that was probably aided a great deal by the fact that there was no one else around. I didn’t even know how far ahead Stephen was. I wanted to hurry to catch up – yet at the same time I wanted to slow down and savour this almost spiritual experience, too. The forest was so green! Slow down and watch the small birds on the forest floor hop over the logs and flit over rocks to hunt out insects. See the fungi helping to break down the dead wood and return nutrients back into the earth. There are plenty of lyrebirds too, who turnover the forest floor, like a gardener with a hoe, as they dig for invertebrates. It’s an amazing place, and we are privileged to be able to share it, as it’s part of a National Park. To be able to walk through it in peace and quiet was really something special.

Can you spot two white-browed scrub wrens here?

Can you spot two white-browed scrub wrens here?

There’s a picnic area – tables and bench seats – just before the path crosses Banksia Streamlet and starts heading up out of the valley towards Leura township. We crossed and walked on to the first set of stairs at the lower end of the Marguerite Cascades, where we stopped to watch another lyrebird before she moved on, and question whether we wanted to continue up to Leura or back via Federal Pass. I don’t remember exactly why now, but we decided to go back.

Federal Pass Walking Track drops almost immediately quite a bit lower down the hillside than the Dardanelles Track. It’s a very different walking experience; a more undulating track through a completely different habitat. Once again it was interesting to observe how different the forest can be just by moving a short distance away.

It was decision time again when we re-met the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track. I confess it was more Stephen’s decision than mine to climb back up the Giant Stairway, but the alternative choice of walking around to Furber Steps or Scenic World was something we’d already done, so up we went!

Stephen smiling encouragingly at the bottom of the Giant Stairway - but what choice did I have?

Stephen smiling encouragingly at the bottom of the Giant Stairway – but what choice did I have?

At the time, and even now, my first thoughts are thank goodness for the handrails! Yes, I was definitely using my arms to help pull myself up. But what if the lovely stairs and beautifully smooth metal handrails (that would have taken an enormous effort and cost a lot to put in) weren’t there? Well, I’m not sure it’d be open to the public. I’d like to think I’d give it a go if there was a chain or similar, as there are in sections of walks around Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park, but since the stairs and rails are there, this is purely speculation…

The benefits of walking on a weekday and not during school holidays is the decreased likelihood of encountering other people – I was glad there wasn’t anyone coming down while we were walking up the 883 (per Stephen’s count) stairs. The first people we saw were at the bridge to the first Sister. There are plenty of people willing to walk the couple of hundred metres there from the Visitor Centre and get just a taste of the stairs.

It was good to be back at the top, even though it meant being blown by the wind again. We took a short detour to Spooners Lookout, just for completeness.

When we started that morning we were the only tourists at Echo Point; now the place was its usual bustling self. Do those people milling around the lookout have any clue about the wonders I’ve just seen and heard?

Given we had finished this walk so early (it was still morning!) we had time to fit in another walk that afternoon. It would turn out to be the most stunning of our walks in the Blue Mountains yet!

: )

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Ruined Castle, Blue Mountains – 9 September 2014

A half-day walk for anyone of moderate fitness wanting to escape the crowds, get a different view of the Three Sisters, and who isn’t afraid of stairs. The walk can be extended to a full day walk depending on your starting point, or to include over-night hike options for experienced hikers.

Start/Finish: Glenraphael Drive, Katoomba

Distance: Approx 9km (+0.5km each way to where we left our car)

Time: Approx 4hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Ruined Castle hiking map & elevation graph - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

The geological feature in Jamison Valley known as ‘Ruined Castle’ (circled in red below) is visible from Echo Point Lookout as a little rise between Mt Solitary (which rises up directly in from of you from the middle of the valley), and the Narrowneck Plateau which has a ridge extending into the valley from the right.

Ruined Castle from Echo Point Lookout - it's the small rise circled in mid-distance - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

After yesterday’s (slightly disappointing) walk, we were looking for something a little more challenging – and one that would ideally also take us away from other people! We were on holidays, after all!

Our New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service (NSW NPWS) Walking Track Guide suggested the walk would take 6 hours, and rated it medium/hard. This didn’t faze us; along with the description of walk it sounded just what we were after. The SV Map had a slightly more conservative estimate of 5 hours to complete the walk. You’ll note from the graph above that we weren’t exactly racing along (camera-in-hand syndrome) and we did it in 4hrs, so… mind you, we didn’t really stop as we climbed back up the steps. Just one or two photos on the way. Yep, have a cruisey walk then race up the cliff at the end (with, ahem, the aid of the handrails). Makes perfect sense.

Glenraphael Drive was very easy to find; it was once we got there that the fun started. Yes, we have asked the MINI to pretend it’s a 4wd before and it’s done admirably well to date, but the further we went along this unsealed road, the larger the ruts and holes got! Fortunately there was a spot we could park on the side of the road which turned out to be only about 500m from the start of the Golden Stairs, so it wasn’t too bad.

We were looking forward to getting down into the valley – it was incredibly windy on the ridge tops. It had blown in overnight; a cold wind too, for all that it was a bright, sunny day.

The Golden Stairs are steep, though on average possibly slightly less so than those of the Giant Stairway, but more than the Furber Steps. The signs advise to allow half an hour to walk the 800m to the bottom where the steps meet the Federal Pass Walking Track, that more or less follows the old tramway put in when coal was being mined in the area by pick and shovel.

As on the other stairs in the area there is a handrail for a lot of the way down. I shudder to imagine what it would have been like to climb up and down, in all types of weather, for people back when the area was being explored and mined (late 1800’s I think). Apparently the stairs got their name from a Salvation Army Officer who was known to sing a hymn on the way back up, after holding services for the miners below.

Federal Pass Walking Tack is wide and flat at the bottom of the steps, perfectly matching what we expected to find from an old mining tramway given our experience around Walhalla in Victoria (see here and here). It doesn’t remain like this the whole 3.4km to Ruined Castle, so you will need to watch where you put your feet, but does remain reasonably level, as it follows the base of the cliffs. As you follow the path out along the base of the cliff and into the valley, the forest changes from a dark rainforest with a high canopy and moss-covered rocks littering the forest floor, to a much more open eucalypt forest with ferns and then grasses as the dominant ground cover.

Right before the turn off to Ruined Castle we came upon a couple of NSW Parks rangers hard at work preparing foundations for public toilets. That was a double surprise! We don’t often see park rangers doing things in a park while we’re out on our walks (normally staff wearing Park uniforms are seen behind desks or cash registers at information centres) despite evidence that work has taken place (at some point in the past). For once we had a chance to talk to – and thank in person – the people doing the hard work!

NSW Park Rangers hard at work (photo taken on our way back)

NSW Park Rangers hard at work (photo taken on our way back)

The second surprise was that they were putting in loos. Maybe the overnight walk to Mt Solitary (an extension of this walk – advised for experienced walkers only. Someone required rescuing from there a day or two before we did our walk) is more popular than we realised.

A comment made in the NSW NPWS walking track guide book is there is some rock scrambling required on the path up Ruined Castle (see also here, about half way down the page). Now, either they’ve smoothed the path somewhat or we were supposed to bring our own rocks – I’m not sure which. I’ve done more rock scrambling around various beach heads. The path up is pretty obvious and not that tricky. If you stick to the path and don’t climb up the ‘castle’ there isn’t any ‘rock scrambling’ required.

I was rather disappointed to see building materials had been choppers in to build steps up the side of the hill. Are we causing that much erosion? Or are we intent on making everything boardwalk grade?

At the top of the short rise the track winds its way between the banksia trees and rough-barked eucalypts on top of the ridge leading to the ‘castle’. Most of the way along the ridge you can’t actually tell how far away you are from the formation. We followed the path through them and around the other side of the boulders making the formation known as ‘Ruined Castle’ before picking a spot to have lunch.

Picking your way down the other side is trickier than climbing up. The path is steeper and the loose dirt and litter (leaves, twigs, gum nuts, pebbles) between the rocks can make your footing less certain. It was good to make it down to Federal Pass without any slips.

On the return trip we found more new facilities for hikers – shelters in clearings below the main track, and completed toilets. Evidence that the two Park Rangers had been hard at work for a while.

In a case of being at the right place at the right time, we were privileged to witness a male lyrebird’s display, performed on a fallen tree not far from the path. I recorded most of it on my camera…I just don’t know what happened to it! Stephen got a couple of photos, but I wish I could share the performance with you.

Male lyrebird on a tree trunk - Federal Pass Walking Track, Jamison Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

When we reached the bottom of the steps again we didn’t go straight back up but decided to see what the Federal Pass track is like between this point and Scenic World. We just went a short way – going all the way to Scenic World and back would have added about 2hrs to the walk – enough to see that, as on the side of the steps, the track narrows and seems to become a more typical, undulating path through the rainforest, not one you can reliably push a pram along.

Federal Pass Walking Track from Golden Stairs back to Scenic World or Furber Steps

Federal Pass Walking Track from Golden Stairs back to Scenic World or Furber Steps

There wasn’t a hymn going through my head as we started back up the Golden Steps. I think I was just focusing on keeping up a steady pace. The sign at the bottom gave an indication of 45min for the climb (as opposed to 30min for the descent). We managed to shave 15min off that which was I reasonably pleased with, as we don’t live or regularly train anywhere hilly.

Then it was time to hold onto (or remove) hats again before they were blown back into the valley as we emerged from the forest onto the exposed ridge and walked back to the car. It was a really enjoyable walk.

: )


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Katoomba Falls Circuit from Echo Point, Blue Mountains – 8 September 2014

A short, to half-day walk for anyone of reasonable fitness and mobility who is visiting the Blue Mountains and wants to see some iconic sights.

Start/Finish: Echo Point Visitor Information Centre

Distance: Approx 7km

Time: 4hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Accuracy not guaranteed!  Please equip yourself with local knowledge (maps and weather forecast), appropriate attire and kit (including water) before starting your bushwalk.

Accuracy not guaranteed! Ensure you are equipped with local knowledge (maps and weather forecast), appropriate attire and kit (including water) before starting your bushwalk.

This was our first walk for our stay at Katoomba. Although armed with local knowledge, in the form of an SV Map and a Walking Track Guide for the Katoomba area produced by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (both purchased from the Echo Point Visitor Information Centre), I felt like a new employee feels heading off to work on their first day: you know how to do your job (in this case, pack a backpack, dress appropriately and walk), but you’re not really sure what you’re going to encounter on your expedition.

Our starting point was actually 3 Explorers Motel, approx 500m from Echo Point Lookout and Visitor Information Centre.

There are people on the bridge to the first sister - Three Sisters, Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

There are people on the bridge to the first sister – Three Sisters, Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

After the obligatory photo of the Three Sisters from Echo Point Lookout, we headed back towards the Visitor Centre. To get to the Giant Stairway you follow the Prince Henry Cliff Walk for a short distance. Pick up the path at the stone arch between the Visitor Centre and the public facilities. The track leading off to the right almost immediately is just a short walk (maybe 50m) to another lookout.

Start of our walk - The Prince Henry Cliff Walk next to the Visitor Information Centre, Echo Point, Katoomab, Blue Mountains

The path is quite beautiful along the ridge next to the banksia trees. The only shame is that so many people have chosen to carve their initials or unreadable messages into the exposed sandstone rock and any smooth-barked tree unfortunate enough to be located beside the path. The rock is really so lovely – cream coloured with maroon ribbons of much harder layers running through, I felt so sad to see the sooth stone used like the back of a public toilet door. Stephen offered another view – maybe in a few decades time these carvings will be valued as a glimpse of this time in history. Well, that’s one view I suppose.

I still disapprove.

Roughly 400m from the Visitor Centre, the track to the Three Sisters and Giant Stairway branches off to the right. Just before you pass under another stone archway, there’s a sign asking people to remember to “Please take your rubbish out with you“. This is a National Park, but even if it weren’t, if you can’t find a bin for your rubbish, that is what you’re supposed to do anyway, right? Right?

Path to the Three Sisters and Giant Stairway - Katoomba, Jamison Valley, Blue Mountains

Pretty much as soon as you pass under the arch the steps start. There’s a plaque saying there are 900. Stephen counted on the way up a couple of days later and didn’t quite reach 900, but near enough. Many are natural stone that have been worn in the middle of the tread from countless footsteps. Despite being wet they weren’t slippery thank goodness, but I wasn’t taking any chances and kept one hand on the hand rail. Like when you’re a kid mastering a trick and call out to your mum to watch, and as soon as she does you stack it – I wasn’t going to let my guard down and use anything but my feet to descend, thank you.

 

Today was the best day we had weather-wise; sunny but not hot, and not windy. Walking across to the first sister was a breeze, so to speak, but the staff at the Visitor Centre had warned about crossing when it’s really blowing a gale.

The layers of rock are just fascinating.

If anyone’s up at the lookout you can wave and possibly be in someone’s photo! I don’t think I made it into anyone else’s album.

Echo Point Lookout from the bridge to the Three Sisters

Echo Point Lookout from the bridge to the Three Sisters

A good portion – half, if not more – of the steps are metal treads and look pretty new, although due to the steep gradient they’re often fairly narrow and one or two were a tad slippery. I can only imagine how much effort it took to put everything in – especially the railings, which seem jointless. I take my hat off to the NSW NPWS staff who worked on this!

In a couple of places falling trees have taken out part of the stairs or railings. It’s doesn’t make the path unnegotiable, just a little trickier if you’re relying on the handrail. (Hey – they put it in, why not use it?!)

Although you’re descending into the valley, the view is still good, so don’t forget to stop and look – and listen! The bird calls are fantastic! The dominant call we heard ringing up out of the forest below was the single chiming call of numerous Bell Miners (Manorina melanophrys), a medium-sized native bird, a little smaller than a Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) which many people living in the eastern states of Australia would be familiar with. (For overseas readers, they’re about the size of a Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris).

About half way down, as I was pointing out rubbish in illogical places to Stephen, we came across a huge bag of rubbish that looks like it’s to be ‘choppered out. Wow. Ok, so I don’t know how long it’s been there, but if they can fill a bag like this and there’s still enough plastic bottles and wrappings around to make me think a collection is most certainly due… that’s incredibly disgusting. So much for the sign at the top, hey? ‘Take your rubbish with you’? Yeah, sure, a lot may be blown in, but that says to me it wasn’t properly disposed of in the first place.

A bag of rubbish ready to be helicoptered out - Giant Stairway, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

At the base of the stairs you’re on the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track. We turned right here and walked around the base of the cliffs that are the Three Sisters.

Giant Stairway meets Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

Giant Stairway meets Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

In about half a kilometre the track Dardanelles track joins the Federal Pass Walking Tack. This section of Federal Pass Walking Track seems to get a lot of traffic. It’s easily accessible via Scenic World’s railway or cable car if walking down (or back up) stairs isn’t your thing, it’s well maintained and easy to negotiate for almost everyone.

The downside of this accessibility is every smooth-barked tree is scarred with nonsense, and there’s rubbish where there shouldn’t be. Was I glad to see a Brown Antechinus feeding on the path? Well, had it been eating an insect or lizard it had caught – yes, I’d have been stoked! As it was attracted by broken biscuit pieces someone had carelessly dropped (along with the packaging) I was less than thrilled. We aren’t walking lightly through our national parks, we’re stomping! Intentionally or not, we are changing the habitats and habits of our remaining wild paces and the species that live there.

A shopping trolley, an umbrella, random pieces of large and small plastic junk, treated wood posts… it’s amazing what a small landslide can introduce into an environment like this.

Garbage that turns up in a landslip - Federal Pass Walking Track, Jamison Valley, Blue Moutains

Soon enough we arrived at Scenic World. I was amazed to see they provided a rubbish bin at the entrance – which just proves my theory that most people will take the lazy option whenever they think no one’s watching them. We disposed to the bits of rubbish we’d picked up off the path along the way – not everything we came across – we didn’t come equipped with giant garbage bags after all.

ScenicWorld provides bins (trashcans) at the boundary between their property and the National Park - no excuses - Federal Pass, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Not to give you the impression that the walk isn’t worth doing, here are some photos of what was beautiful:

Now we were at Scenic World’s ‘scenic walkway’ it was time to make a call on whether or not to catch the railway back up. Everyone I know who’s been on it raves about it. Yes it looks steep and a fun ride, but at $14 per adult for a one-way trip… we watched the ‘train’ arrive and set off again, had a short look at the old coal mine entrances as you venture along the boardwalk, but quickly lost interest since there’s not much information there and there aren’t tours going in. After watching a second exchange of passengers on the railway, we retraced our steps to where the Furber Steps join Prince Henry Cliff Walk above with Federal Pass Walking Track below. We’d decided to walk up.

A good call, if I may say so myself. The Furber Steps aren’t nearly as numerous (~700) or as steep as the Giant Staircase, and you get to enjoy views of Katoomba Falls (for free!), Vera’s Grotto and Witches Leap (‘leap’ being a Scottish word for ‘waterfall’). Oh, and other tourists seem to quickly vanish from view. Strange that.

Rejoining the Prince Henry Cliff Walk at the top, I was struck by how distinct the boundaries between the different ecosystems are in the area. Approaching Katoomba Cascades is different to the cliff tops, which seem in complete contrast to the lush valleys with their heath scrub growing out of grainy yellow soils.

Because there had been rain recently there were puddles on the track. Some were large puddles. And when puddles form on dirt tracks, you get mud. Unfortunately for the many tourists who arrive by coach and decide to take a stroll along the cliff (no doubt having been told it’s an easy walk – which it is), they usually come unprepared for mud. Call me heartless if you wish as I freely stride past in my hiking boots, but we see examples of woefully unprepared tourists almost every time we go for a walk.

I don’t know why I felt the return cliff top walk seemed to go for ages. Maybe it was the people. Maybe it was just me. The graph at the very top stops short of the end as Stephen’s garmin ran flat…and I haven’t uploaded my data yet. I wasn’t sure we’d get any usable walk info actually because on all the walks we did they kept beeping to say they’d lost satellite connection. Well, that’s what you get when you’re walking in forest at the base of tall cliffs!

You might also have noticed that we weren’t exactly breaking any speed records. That’s never the case when my camera’s in hand! It’s a bit of a trade-off between burning more calories and really seeing more of what’s around me. I find that when I have a camera in my hand I look at the world slightly differently, like I’m looking through an imaginary lens. I’m not the only one, I hope? I know some people say they can only take in and appreciate a moment without being distracted by cameras and the like. I’m the opposite. If I haven’t photographed it – or imagined photographing it – chances are I won’t remember it.

All up this wasn’t a bad walk, but if you appreciate untouched wilderness and being alone on the track, this not the walk for you. (Things do improve on our following walks – posts coming!)

If you’ve got no time for anything else, then why not do this one! If you don’t stop to take as many photos as we did, or watch the railway come and go, you can cut down the time by a fair bit and take a wee bit off the length, too.

A Pied Currawong, indignant at having its photo taken - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Pied Currawong at Echo Point Lookout

: )