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
*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.
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.
Echo Point just after 8am on a weekday, and there’s no one else around
Where is everyone? You could land a plane here!
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)
Reaching Dardanelles Pass Walking Track we turned left this time, heading towards Leura.
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.
Beautiful, bird-filled forest along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track
Lichen and fungi on a fallen sassafras(?)
The shape of the fungi reminds me of a sea shell
The cliffs are close and impressive
More fungi on another tree
Heading into Leura Forest with its mossy rocks and clear understorey
Beautiful green Leura Forest
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?
A lyrebird scratching in the groundcover
A male lyrebird dashing out of sight near the tree stump
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.
An unexpected but lovely picnic area in Leura Forest
Any gardens we create are but a poor reflection of the magnificence that is nature
Moss covered boulders beneath towering trees
Perfect spot for lunch – and to quietly take in the serenity
A break in the forest affords a glimpse of the cliffs above
Stepping stones across Banksia Stremlet
Banksia Streamlet, Leura Forest
Lower end of Marguerite Cascades and start of walk up towards Leura township
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.
The forest structure changes noticeably as the Federal Pass drops quickly down the hillside
Like tall, pale candlesticks, these gums are magnificent
Not the same as Leura Forest, but still beautiful to walk through
Less canopy cover means more ground cover, so ferns galore in this spot!
Almost where Federal Pass meets Dardanelles Pass Walking Track below the Three Sisters
Here we are again – NPWS sign Federal Pass & Dardanelle Pass intersection
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?
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.
Back at the top it’s a lovely, if windy, day
Rock Warbler along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk
Three Sisters from Spooners Lookout
Tourists on the lower platform at Echo Point Lookout
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!
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
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
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.
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.
Prince Henry Cliff Walk on the way to the Three Sisters
Vandalism or graffiti that may have value in the future?
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?
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.
The stone steps are showing a bit of wear
Walking down to the Three Sisters – backwards
Looking back up from the first ‘sister’ it’s never as steep as looking down
It’s steep enough – thank goodness for handrails!
The vegetation on top of the first ‘sister’
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.
The rock is extremely granular
The rock underfoot seems to be quite different to that on the ceiling
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
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!
Steep stairs down the cliff
What goes down must come up
An easier section of the path
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?!)
The orange fencing shows where falling trees have taken out rails and steps
Not impassable, and fortunately not on a very steep section
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).
Still good views on the way down
A beautiful little plant growing on the cliffs
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.
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.
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.
Dardanelles Pass Walking Track below the Three Sisters
Dardanelles Pass meets Federal Pass Walking Track
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.
If you love someone, don’t carve it on a tree in a national park
After a while the messages become unreadable, but why do it in the first place?
More tree scrawl
Crumbs on the path that attracted the antechinus. There’s way too much litter in this photo.
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.
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.
Not to give you the impression that the walk isn’t worth doing, here are some photos of what was beautiful:
Federal Pass Walking Track
Moss on tress roots
Rainforest in the Jamison Valley near Katoomba Falls
A boulder-filled creek
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.
Waiting to see Scenic Railway train to arrive – it’s not a busy day
Here’s the train
Most people looked like they had fun on the Scenic Railway – there weren’t any screams of terror
A replica of the original rail cars
Doors up on both sides for a maintenance stop
Katoomba Coal Mine, display at Scenic World
You get a good view of the Three Sisters from the Railway platform
Heading back to Furber Steps
Scenic World attractions – Cablecar, Railway & Skycar from Echo Point Lookout
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.
More rock formations and plenty of steps through the forest
At the base of Katoomba Falls
Coral ferns line this section of the Furber Steps
There is plenty of opportunity to stop and admire the view…and catch your breath
Katoomba Falls from Furber Steps
A large flock of sulfur crested cockatoos was gathering around the middle section of the Katoomba Falls
Katoomba Falls with Scenic Skyway (cable car) overhead
Easier than Giant Steps, but there are still a few steep steps to climb coming up the Furber Steps
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.
Above Katoomba Falls
Cockatoos are always a crowd pleaser
Returning to Echo Point on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk
The plants and soil on top of the cliffs are so different to the forests below
Scenic Skyway returns to homebase
Young plants and moss on a rocky outcrop
Some parts were pretty muddy – if you weren’t wearing walking shoes
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.
When my young sister announced that her wedding venue was booked for somewhere just outside of Sydney, my second (or possibly third) thought was, “Ooh! We can visit the Blue Mountains!”
Three Sisters with morning cloud in Jamison Valley – Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba.
Neither Stephen or I had visited the Blue Mountains National Park before, although we’d both flown to Sydney on a number of accessions, either for work or leisure. We elected to drive because 1) we can take more stuff, 2) the Hume Highway is pretty good and Melbourne to Sydney (at under 900km) can be done in one day, 3) you get to see a lot along the way and, 4) taking the MINI was the most convenient and cheapest option.
We left Melbourne at just after 9am, and with just two stops along the way (lunch at Albury and petrol at Yass) we pulled up at our hotel in Campbeltown on the outskirts of Sydney at about 6:30pm. I didn’t take photos along the way; I didn’t think I’d be writing about it! I am sorry that there was very little natural light left as were getting closer to Sydney as the Hume Hwy crosses some spectacular looking gorges that I’d definitely like a better look at next time!
Like many small towns that used to be a day’s travel away by horse and buggy from the capital when they were first settled, Campbelltown has since been swallowed up by urban sprawl. Because the majority of these towns are some of the first that white settlers created, the road signs invariably label these towns as ‘Historic’. With the help of the (very enthusiastic but also nice) lady at the local information centre, located in the town’s original school building, we found Campbelltown’s remaining historical strip, Art Gallery and Japanese Garden. We also found Waminda Bakery, opposite Mawson Park, and had a delicious pie each for lunch. Stephen confirms their custard tarts are top-notch, and I reckon if you like peppermint, you’ll love their generously-sized peppermint slices.
Town Hall, Theatre & Fire Station on the side
Theatre and part of historic strip in background
Another historic building
Shelter in Japanese Gardens
Panorama of Japanese Gardens behind Art Gallery
So there are still a few nuggets of gold to be sifted out of the otherwise bland-looking, franchised, chain-stored, concreted, same-as-the-next-suburb, Campbelltown.
Another nugget, if I may continue the metaphor, to be found nearby are the Australian Botanic Gardens at Mount Annan – just down the road as you head towards Narellan. We didn’t spend much time here unfortunately, but I’m so glad we visited. These gardens are managed by The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust – the people who look after the botanic gardens in Sydney, and The Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens at Mount Tomah.
With plenty of walking tracks, barbecue areas and picnic facilities, it’s not hard to see why this is a popular place for families to come and enjoy. It’s also the home of the Australian Plantbank, which we simply ran out of time to see – we had a wedding to attend! Next time, for sure.
From Campbelltown, Katoomba is only about a 90min drive away. It had been cool and overcast with light showers all morning down on the plains, and when we arrived at Katoomba it was cold (not surprising) and wreathed in clouds (a little surprising). Needless then to say, we couldn’t see the famous rock formation known as The Three Sisters from Echo Point Lookout. I hoped the weather would improve over the next day or two so we could get at least a glimpse of it before we left!
Arriving at Katoomba shrouded in cloud
Katoomba Street (the main shopping street), Katoomba
Restaurant end of Katoomba Street
We stayed at the 3 Explorers Motel, located about 300m from Echo Point. Comfortable, great host, close to bush walks and ScenicWorld (a popular tourist attraction). Walking back into town only took us 10min – add another 10min to get to the train station at the other end of town. There’s a chocolate shop directly opposite the motel, and a corner shop (note: not precisely a convenience store) a block back towards town that makes great sandwiches at a reasonable price (corner Lurline & Goyder Streets).
MINI at the 3 Explorers Motel, Katoomba
As for restaurants, we visited two during our stay. My parents joined us on the mountain for one day/night and shouted us dinner at the Old City Bank Brasserie. Good food, generous portions, not overly pricey. Owned by the Carrington Hotel next door, there is an invitation at the bottom of the menu to go and look at the hotel after dinner. So we did.
What a grand old place it is! Visitors are only allowed to explore downstairs (guest rooms are upstairs) but there is still much to see and admire.
Carrington Hotel at night
Dining room of the Carrington Hotel
Travel poster advertising The Blue Mountains as ‘Today’s Holiday Resort’
More Blue Mountains tourism posters on display in the Carrington Hotel
Ornate dome and light – Carrington Hotel
Behind the hotel is the Carrington Cellars and Deli. The huge chimney seen rising above the hotel is actually part of the cellar/deli which used to be where they generated power for the hotel, using coal brought up from the mines at the bottom of the cliffs.
The other place we ate out at was Station Bar & Woodfired Pizza, located right next to the train station. I had the Wentworth Falls and it was de-lic-ious! Do note though, that the pizzas are about 30cm across – the only reason why we managed to finish two between us was because we were hungry and, being wood-fired, they have thin-crusts! I am pleased to report that they have local beer and cider on tap for visitors to try – and they’re pretty good too!
As we had no local knowledge of the walks, we bought maps from the Visitor Information Centre at Echo Point. All were very useful.
Echo Point Visitor Information Centre
Over the next three days we did the following walks:
How I wish we had more time there! So many walks still to do – and we only realised the Grose Valley is so much more awe-inspiring than the Jamison Valley on our last full day there. Next time we’re definitely planning to stay somewhere in Blackheath.
In a change of tac, I’m not going to write about the above walks in this post – each are going to get their own… as soon as I get time to wade through the photos and select/reject, describe them, type post, etc… But here are a couple of photos just to (hopefully) whet your appetite.
Checking out the ‘Ruined Castle’
Returning to the MINI on Glenraphael Rd after our walk to Ruined Castle
Leura Forest picnic area
Grand Canyon waterfall
You’ll have noticed from the photo of the three sisters at the top of this post that the weather did indeed clear after we arrived. Monday was gorgeous, Tuesday and Wednesday were rather windy but down in the valleys you’re protected from the wind as it whistles over the tops of the ridges, so bush walking – while always a good way to spend time – becomes even more appealing for this reason.
The Three Sisters of an evening from Echo Point Lookout
Sunset from Echo Point Lookout
But good things always come to an end, and so it came time to head home. On the return journey we were heading south via Bathurst, Young, over-nighting in Wagga Wagga, then the final leg home to Melbourne would mostly rejoin the Hume Highway.
As we headed off we made a quick stop at Blackheath to view Govett’s Leap (aka Bridal Veil Falls) which can be conveniently viewed from Govett’s Leap Lookout at the end of Govett’s Leap Road. It’s well signed – you shouldn’t miss it.
Govett’s Leap Lookout from the car park
Pulpit Rock in the mid-distance – a walk for next visit
Govett’s Leap aka Bridal Veil Falls
Very nicely made facilities at Govett’s Leap picnic area
Clearly signed facilities at Govett’s leap car park & picnic area
Sheltered picnic tables at Govett’s Leap picnic area
Govett’s Leap cairn at the lookout
By the time we were done here it was after 9am and the NPWS Heritage Centre and Shop (Visitor Information Centre) a few hundred metres back up the road was open. They have information displays on the history of the Blue Mountains, the wildlife in it, maps, reference books and souvenirs to purchase as at the Echo Point location.
Blackheath Visitor Information Centre
Old fashioned hiking boots with tricounis soles
One well-known attraction of the region that we didn’t visit, despite urgings from various parties, were the Jenolan Caves. Next time we’ll hopefully have more time to visit them. A side trip to the caves would have added at least 2hrs to our day, and while it’d be a mistake to think that if you’ve seen one lot of limestone caves you’ve seen them all, we’ve fairly recently been to the caves around Margaret River (WA), compared the pleasures between a self-guided and group cave tour, and so were happy to leaves these ones to our next visit.
That meant our first stop after leaving the mountains was Mount Panorama, Bathurst.
Yes, Stephen wanted to drive a lap of the famous Bathurst 1000 racing circuit. We ended up doing two laps (my fault – lack of warning from the driver meant the photographer wasn’t aware that an iconic part of the track was coming up, resulting in a quick shot that unfortunately focused on the bug-smeared windscreen instead of through it. Gah!). It’s a public road, so speed limit on a non-event day is 60km/hr. A good thing because not only do people live alongside and within the circuit (which I wasn’t previously aware of) but people are cycling, jogging and pushing prams around the track! Just check that the track hasn’t been booked out on the day you visit or you may be disappointed.
We stopped in town for lunch found the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG), in the same building as the Bathurst City Library on Keppel Street. A lovely space and some lovely works on display at the moment by Jason Benjamin. I was really taken by the massive single-piece of carved Mintaro slate as the table top in the Rees Reading Room.
Lunch was just across the street at Carah’s Cakes & Pies. Can’t go past their pepper beef pie, and we were impressed with their attention to detail in keeping the pies warm and even warming the serving plates when we said we’d like to eat in.
Not surprisingly, the countryside so far had been hilly and reasonably green (being early spring, you’d hope so – whether more rain comes so it lasts is another question). We had expected the landscape to become flat and ‘boring’ as reported by some, but it didn’t. The road isn’t new or dual carriage way, so it takes a bit more concentration to drive than the Hume to avoid the rough spots, but it’s still a good and interesting drive. At this time of the year one sight you cannot miss or help being awed by is the number of fields – and the size of those fields – planted with canola. They are easy to spot – they’re the ones coloured gold!
Canola fields in bloom, NSW
Canola fields, almost as far as you can see
Further down the highway is Young. We didn’t realise that they claim to be the ‘Cherry Capital of Australia’ but having driven by and seen the orchards visible just from the highway… yes I think I can believe it. I’m not sure where all the cherries go – probably Sydney, maybe into Queensland and also exported. I think most or all of the cherries we buy in Melbourne come from within Victoria, maybe Tasmania.
Pulling into Wagga Wagga our windscreen was rather more than speckled with bugs, and starting to get in dire need of a clean. You cross the Murrumbidgee River a couple of times as you come into town. We stayed at the Carlyle Suites & Apartments between the river and the main street. The rooms are large and there’s an in-room complementary breakfast of cereal, fruit and juice. After a quick walk down to the river the following morning to see the river (instead of just driving over it), we were on the road again.
Not far out of Wagga Wagga you pass The Rock. A striking geological feature, reminiscent of the Grampians, the area around the hill is a nature reserve. There is a walking track to the top – I’m sure the view would be quite rewarding as the hill rises 354m above the surrounding countryside.
We rejoined the Hume Hwy just outside of Albury. This time it was too early to stop for lunch there so we pressed on, back over the border into Victoria and into Benalla, which sits a short way off the highway. I’m glad we did. Another pie for lunch; this time a square pie with the best pastry yet, at Bertalli’s. After lunch we took a walk along the main street which lead us over the bridge spanning Lake Benalla to the Benalla Art Gallery and Botanic Gardens. What a fine building design! They have a cafe there (had we but known… but our pies had been very nice) and the exhibition spaces are large and beautiful – especially with the triangle windows in the roof letting natural light into the space. Beautiful architecture. If all buildings were designed as creatively as art galleries and the like, what lovely places we’d all live and work in.
Benalla Art Gallery next to Lake Benalla
Entrance to the Art Gallery at Benalla
Looking back into town from the Art Gallery, Benalla
Quite a striking and lovely building – Benalla Costume & Pioneer Museum
Benalla Costume & Pioneer Museum
Bertalli’s Bakery makes great pies – Benalla, VIC
We didn’t go into the Costume & Pioneer Museum. Despite how inviting it looked, it was time to tackle the last 200-odd kilometres back home.
We’d had a great time, and feel like we’ve just started to discover the Blue Mountains. Driving a different route back (over 2 days) was a good decision, too. Next time we’ll probably travel up that way. It’s interesting seeing rural towns, even if it’s just as we’re passing through.