Feeling Blue

Just a two hour train journey from the hustle and bustle of Sydney’s CBD are the scenic Blue Mountains. Regardless of the difference between nearby surroundings however, the Mountains were the most picturesque location of my trip. At least they were eventually, there was one instance on the first day when the fog/cloud (is there even a difference at 3,337ft?) gave Katoomba a distinctly Silent Hill look about it, and I can’t deny that the YHA hostel I was staying at reminded me slightly of The Outlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. Despite these horror tale appearances however, the Mountains were as lovely as I had been lead to believe, and as far as being bitten by bloodsuckers goes, I got off rather lightly

There are mountains in the background. Promise.

There are mountains in the background. Promise.

Staying in Katoomba my first walk took me along the cliff edge just outside of the town and towards one of the mountains’ most recognisable formations, the Three Sisters. It also took me round them, as the better view comes from the other side of the Sisters, where the further two aren’t obscured by the big sister in front. There is also a great view from Spooners Lookout, which is presumably for those not quite committed enough for a Lover’s Leap?

An enjoyable hike and luckily the on and off fog/cloud had cleared by the time I arrived, but also made for some great sights of their own on the way. At times the entire view was obscured, but at others I was able to watch as the clouds rose from the forest floor below, and up over the mountains themselves.

You can't help but look down.

You can’t help but look down.

The Mountains was also another location in which my trip coincided with that of my friend/travel buddy/co-stalker Lisa, and so we again spent a day together, this time at Wentworth Falls; the same railway which gives you passage up the mountains is also a gateway to other towns and areas, with plenty more hiking trails to enjoy. Although known as the Mountains perhaps Cliffs would be a better suited name seeing just how steep the edges could be, but nonetheless the waterfalls themselves were very impressive, as was the very steep path from top to bottom. The falls area offers three trails to choose from, essentially top, middle, and bottom of the surrounding cliffs, with the paths leading between them somewhat more extreme than those I’m used to on Exmoor; it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to add National Parks to the list of everything in Australia can kill you.

Wentworth, and well worth, Falls.

Wentworth, and well worth, Falls.

We walked along the bottom and then back across the top, each with no view of the middle so I can’t give any indication as to what that was like, but those which we did take offered unparalleled sights of the forest floor, and almost inconceivable views for miles and miles (and miles!). Six hours, two Lyra birds, and several leeches later however, we made it back to the station alive and well.

The next day I took the train two stations in the other direction, and went for a hike from Blackheath. This also involved a hike through Blackheath as the start of the trail was a lot further away than I anticipated, but like the others was well worth the effort. If for nothing else, I can now say I’ve walked from the top to the bottom, and back again, of the (a) Grand Canyon, and all in one day!

I'd rather them than me.

I’d rather them than me.

The following morning I had enough time before my return train to Sydney to head back down to the Three Sisters, and continue from where I left off previously. This took me on a short walk to Katoomba Falls, and underneath the Scenic Skyway, a cablecar which cut a short corner around Katoomba Falls.

In terms of elevation it might not have been much higher than where I was standing, but I much preferred to see the splendour of the Blue Mountains with my feet firmly on the ground.

And free of leeches.

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The real Mackay

Remember how I said that good things happen when you actually talk to the people you meet whilst travelling? Well my recent trip to Cape Hillsborough proves it that little bit more, even if it wasn’t me who started the talking.

I decided to travel to Mackay as it was a place I had heard several people say they were going to, but knew very little about, and what better way to find out than by going there. I knew there was a National Park nearby (although where isn’t near one round here, Mackay even has two), but when I arrived at the hostel I was told that the tours weren’t running as there was not enough people interested. The receptionist also told me that one of my roommates did want to go however, and that it would be possible to rent a car, as long as we arranged it by nine that evening, and picked it up early the following morning.

If you can't tell, it's a squid.

If you can’t tell, it’s a squid.

Having arrived in the early evening and with other things to catch up on (you can’t put off laundry forever), there really wasn’t much time to arrange anything. Therefore I spent the next day just exploring a bit of the city, which included a sculpture walk along the river, ending at an environmental reserve for migrating birds. This walk also took me past an abandoned and somewhat derelict fishing port. Whilst I had got used to seeing as many empty shop windows as I did back home, I would have to say that what I saw in Mackay had to be the most run down area I had been to since coming to Australia. It is for this reason that I considered the yarn-bombed tree I found in the civic district to be even more charming. As long as its people could brighten their parks with multicoloured woolen decorations, then the city might be down but it would never be out.

Best. Tree. Ever.

Best. Tree. Ever.

And watching me watch this tree, was another backpacker recognising her own kind. She came up to me and started talking about Mackay, asking how long I was here for, and if I was as interested in seeing the National Parks as she was. Laundry done, I indeed was, and skip to the end, we agreed to rent a car together the next day. It even turned out that a whole car was cheaper than a single tour ticket would have been, and after speaking to my roommate again, were able to split the bill three ways rather than two. Cheaper transport, and a new group of friends to experience the park with; Bargain!

There was some confusion the next morning as Lisa had been offered a scenic morning flight round the area before we were due to set off, but not from the airport where we had to pick up the car. Philip, my roommate had also met another guy at the hostel who needed to go to the airport to catch a flight, and who, unlike the taxi driver, very patiently waited with us while Lisa literally ran to meet us. Another cab later and we were at the airport, in our Hyundai, and on our way. In the wrong direction, but on our way nonetheless.

A U-turn and closer inspection of the road signs later and we, or should that be me, were/was driving along the Bruce Highway to Cape Hillsborough. As a side note, obviously Australia has more than one comedy stereotype, and thanks to Monty Python in particular, I have to admit that I love the fact the main highway between Cairns and Brisbane is called Bruce. If I was going to drive on any road in the whole country, well I’m glad it was that one.

We got to Cape Hillsborough a little later than we had originally planned, but had made it and set about enjoying ourselves. Due to the time we began our walk along the beach, where there was an outcrop that became a separate island at high tide. We headed for this straight away, although took our time along the glistening sand. We waded in the waves not just because the sand was burning our feet, but also because of the fact that due to the combination of quite literally the sun, sea, and sand, it looked as though it we were walking amongst flakes of gold, it was that shiny.

The shoes had to go back on in order to make our way across a stretch of rocks to the outcrop, but you can’t have everything. Once here we were surprised at just how long and strong some spiders’ webs can be, climbed the gentle cliffs and saw sea turtles down amongst the crashing waves, and had lunch with a nice Australian family who lived nearby. Not that I can blame them at all, if I lived nearby this is where I’d choose to spend a large portion of my time as well.

There was still enough time to take a photo.

There was still enough time to take a photo.

We said good-bye as they made their way back to the beach, and we continued exploring some more. We climbed higher still and saw what had to have been a shipwreck hidden in the rocks down below. Looking back at the beach we had been walking along not an hour ago we saw the family had made their way back across the now slightly thinner stretch to the mainland, and we all had fun waving and making loud noises at each other across the distance. This new path we had chosen was a short one however, and soon we were making our way back to the thinning stretch ourselves. Or at least we would have been if it was still there. Instead we were making our way to the two faster than we had realised incoming tides, that had now joined in the middle.

Our pace quickened as soon as we noticed this, and needless to say our feet, ankles, and legs got wet as we wade our way back to the mainland. The family was there on the other side waiting for us, and it we began to wonder if their earlier shouting and waving at us was actually a warning rather than just simply being friendly? Either way they were friendly nonetheless, and for the next stretch of our walk we had a six-year-old tour guide, showing us the way along the hillside path that ran parallel to the beach. In fact so eager was she to help us on our way, she wondered why we were stopping at the “dead-ends” when the path went of in another direction. As much as the path did indeed not go anywhere when we got to these, I think I still prefer our definition of calling them “amazing views”.

Luckily the rest of her family caught up with us about the time we began to wonder what they might think of her going off so far with three strangers, and all of them continued on their way when we reached another outlook. By the time we had made it back to the beach it is fair to say that we were somewhat exhausted by our hike (how kids can have so much energy I’ll never know), and much use was made of a picnic bench.

Well it's definately a marsupial.

Well it’s definitely a marsupial.

Unfortunately by this time it was getting darker and also a little colder, so we were unable to cover any more trails, but all agreed that what we had seen had been more than worth it, and set off back to the car. This small walk involved seeing either a small kangaroo or wallaby (we couldn’t agree on which one), but the drive back to Mackay involved the more alarming sight, and heat, of a rather tall fire by the side of the road. Unsure what to do we reasoned that if it wasn’t a controlled fire then the fire service would have already been called by the occupants of either the nearby house or parked up jeep, but we would mention it when we got back to Mackay.

We arrived back at the airport ready to drop off the car and grab a taxi back, which is exactly what we would have done if the airport wasn’t actually closed at half past seven in the evening. Luckily the rental was for 24 hours and 59 minutes, as it looked like I’d be coming back tomorrow morning.