Sydney is iconic, no question, but travel a little further afield and you find one of Australia’s most recognisable natural features: The Three Sisters. Situated 100km out of Sydney, Katoomba, our stop for the next two nights, is the must-do stop for exploring the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park.
We left Sydney in warm sunlight but as our elevation increased, we noticed growing cloud cover and the wind picking up. By the time we reached the Blue Mountain tourist drive, it was 7 degrees with 37 kph winds. Couple this with sheer cliff faces that funnel the winds upwards and stopping at all those famous lookouts just became an endurance event.
At Cahill’s Lookout, the wind was so strong it pushed John into another muddy, wet puddle. Or at least that was his excuse! Knowing we weren’t really dressed for such extreme temperatures, and now being one jumper down, we decided to make a quick dash to a Katoomba department store for some more winter wear. Typically, everywhere now only stocked their summer range, so what we envisaged as a quick stop became a gruelling quest. Eventually, we managed an extra layer each and we were ready to tackle Echo Point.
Our accommodation for the duration was Echo Point Motor Inn. It was a tired, old-fashioned motel with not too much to recommend it, except the location, location, location! It was literally a five minute walk from the Three Sisters lookout which gave us the opportunity to visit as we pleased, avoiding the tourist throngs.
Our first visit to the lookout was bitterly cold. With wind chill, it read -0.7. The boys were chattering and Connie decided it was perfect weather to remove beanie, socks and shoes.
So, it was time to rethink our plans and wardrobe – again! The motel staff said the weather was actually quite unusual for that time of the year but with the real possibility of a frozen, whinging family for the next two days, we decided we must invest in some winter accesssories we discovered at the tourist information centre. We bought the boys gloves and tied a scarf over Connie’s beanie to keep it on.
Out we went to brave the wind again to get that famed shot of the Three Sisters. Although we were finding it hard to stand still against the wind, at least the clouds were moving quick enough to produce that glowing afternoon light shot.
However, with fingers turning blue on the shutter button, enough was enough. It was time to warm up. Fortuitously, as we chattered our way down the main street looking for a meal, a sign beckoned us forward. “Pizza and LOG FIRE!” We were sold. And by the end of the night we had a glow in our cheeks and a glow in our bellies.
The next day, the kids were up early and a cloudless blue sky greeted us. The wind had dropped too so it was time to take advantage of our location and head to Echo Point before the tourist hordes descended. We had the place almost to ourselves. Unfortunately for the only other person there, he was practising yoga. I think the Knights interrupted his zen.
We noticed that you can actually walk across a little bridge to the first ‘sister’, Meenhi. Mostly, it was a flat walk but the last section was a very steep staircase.
Stephen strapped Connie to himself and down we went, carefully. It would have been lethal had we attempted this in the conditions of the day before, but this day it was simply glorious. Once again, our early start meant it was just us taking it all in.
Scenic World is a small theme park that Stephen had wanted to visit ever since he read about it in a roller-coaster magazine 23 years ago. They have four attractions but what most interested Stephen was an abandoned roller-coaster that never opened to the public. Its rusty track remains visible here and there around the park.
Of working attractions, the world’s steepest railway was our big draw-card. In the late 1800s the railway was used to transport coal from the valley below. However, once that venture collaspsed (quite literally) the crazy owners thought it would make a great pleasure ride. The 310 metre descent follows a 52 degree incline but you can recline your seat for a full 64 degree ‘cliff-hanger’ experience. It really is the most exhilarating experience.
There is plenty more to do at Scenic World although no attraction is for the acrophobic. There is also a cable-way which does the same trip to the valley floor and a glass-bottomed sky-way that takes you between two opposing cliff faces, beside the impressive Katoomba falls.
Waterfalls were a recurring feature that day. We walked around the top of the Katoomba falls and later in the day took a break from Scenic World to stop at Leura Cascades too.
But the highlight of the day was definitely the scenic railway. In the afternoon, after the crowds had cleared, we used our all day ticket and went back to Scenic World to ride down and up on the glass-roofed train all afternoon.
The final treat for the day was dinner. We ate at Papadinos, recommended as it provided children with their own pizza dough and rolling pin. Each child’s finished masterpiece was popped in the oven and then popped into a hungry mouth.
Finally, we capped off the evening with a night viewing of The Three Sisters. Having a knack for interrupting tranquil moments, John’s cries of ‘I need the toilet’ rang out over and over and over Echo Point. It was definitely time to leave.