Sydney’s Backgarden: The Blue Mountains

Drive for just under two hours from Sydney’s CBD, and you’ll assume you’ve been travelling months on end as you arrive at the start of the Blue Mountains. Despite being so close to the city, with various train and bus lines running to the area, I decided to book onto a tour instead. For $79, OzTrails would pick you up first thing in the morning, give you breakfast of sorts, and take you to a selection of sites around the mountains, before putting you onto a boat in the evening, for a ride through Sydney harbour. If I wasn’t on my own, I’d love to explore the region in more depth, but many of the best vantage points are a decent drive away from each other, and I don’t have the confidence (or money) to hire a 4×4 and go alone.

So, at 8.20 the next morning, we got on a very battered, well used mini-bus and headed out of the city. Our guide, Nick, was brilliant. Growing up in the area, and being of Aboriginal descent meant he gave us much more than the typical tourist spiels – but more on that later.

Nick briefed us on the area on the drive over, explaining that only 8% of the 11,000 kilometre forest has been explored (to give you an idea of size, the Blue Mountains are just over half the size of Belgium), and considering it’s home to five out of 10 of the world’s most dangerous snakes, and the world’s most dangerous spider, I’m not surprised. However, thanks to Australia’s world-class venom and antidote knowledge, no one has died of a spider or snake bite in five years.

In fact, Australia’s most dangerous animal doesn’t have scales, and doesn’t have eight legs. In the country’s 240 year history, this animal has killed over 10,600 people. At this point, I was beginning to think there was some terrible dark side to the koala or kangaroo, until Nick revealed it’s the horse. Ah. Killer of ten-thousand people they may be, but I’d much rather take my chances with Rodney than a funnel web spider.

We arrived at our first stop, Wentworth Falls, and piled out of the bus into glorious blue skies and warming temperatures. Considering that the mountains have had nothing but rain for over three weeks, everything was vivid green – and I finally got to see sunshine after almost two weeks of grey skies.

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The UNESCO world heritage site has over 120km of visibility; the reason behind the mountains appearing blue. Over large distances, our eyes struggle to distinguish between green and blue, so any green mountain ranges seen from far away will look blue – and due to just how green this area is, the blue is even more vivid.

Our next stop was ScenicWorld: home of the steepest railway line in the world. It cost $35 to get into the park, but the price included a trip on the railway down to the bottom of the ranges, a ride on the world’s steepest cable car back up to the top, and a trip over the valley. Considering these were the best ways to see the Three Sisters and Katoomba Falls, it seemed well worth it.

When we got to the railway, Nick asked for four people to sit at the front. Not really thinking about the whole ‘world’s steepest railway’ part, I momentarily forgot about my fear of heights and headed down. It wasn’t until we were strapped into the train that I realised just how steep it was: there was no track, just a hole in the mountain that we’d drop through. The Star Wars theme tuned started up, and the train began its vertical descent.

After an agonisingly slow ride to the bottom, we all leapt out, very happy to be on solid ground. The views were incredible: the Three Sisters were stunning, and looking out over the blue ranges was breath-taking.

Nick soon enough told us the Aboriginal story behind the rock formation’s name. There are many different versions, but they all follow the same story line: an Aboriginal father has to protect his three daughters from something (the ‘something’ varying from a bunyip to a group of rapists), and turns them into stone, then something happens to him that prevents him from turning them back. However, Nick followed up his incredibly unenthusiastic rendition of the story with a very enthusiastic “bullshit!”.

This area is a sacred space to any Aboriginal tribe, and no matter where you go in the country, and what tribe you speak to, they will always refer to the formation as the Seven Sisters. Nick burst into this story with much more vigour. The Aborigines have seven important stars: from these, they can find their way home, and navigate around the bush with ease. To help convey the importance of these stars, they made this landmark a physical representation of them, and created a story around them in order to teach their children the significance of the stars.

The story goes that a clan had seven beautiful sisters, all of whom were at marrying age. Their father arranged a marriage between the eldest daughter and a warrior from north Queensland, who was told he could have this woman, if he made the journey down from the top of Australia, to the Mountains. So, this warrior continues on his journey, travelling thousands of kilometres over many months. As is the way with warriors, he ends up killing many men while travelling. On his arrival at the clan, the father realises who he is – and announces that many of the men he killed were related to him and their tribe. Due to this, he is no longer allowed to marry the eldest daughter. He, having travelled all this way, is not happy about it, and threatens to kill the father and take all seven women. In order to save his daughters, the father changes them into stone – and in a fit of anger, the warrior kills him, rendering the girls as stone formations forever. This story has been told by Aboriginal tribes for thousands and thousands of years – while the story of the ‘Three Sisters’ was made up by white people, for white people.

While I’m not the biggest fan of organised tours – I much prefer being able to walk around and explore at my own pace – Nick’s commentary, love of the land around him, and Aboriginal ancestry made the day incredible. He gave us bush food to eat (lemony flavoured nuts that Aborigines use to keep hydrated while travelling) – and the honest truth (“go have lunch in that cafe, I get free lunch if you do”).

We finished the day on with a cruise down the Parramatta, and into Sydney harbour. It was my first time seeing the Opera House, and no matter how many times you see it on TV and in pictures, nothing can prepare you for what it’s like in person. The building is breath-taking, and gave me goosebumps just looking at it.

 

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