Saturday, December 8, 2012

The mountains of Australia

Compared to what we are used to the mountains of Australia can hardly be called mountains, but being Australians how can we not explore the mountains of Australia :-) Our final destination was Melbourne in Victoria in our journey down virtually the entire east coast, so the Blue Mountains outside Sydney were the first ones for us to visit. We stayed at a town called Katoomba, which was a perfect central location to visit the Blue Mountains, in a guesthouse called the Metropole. The perfect place for cold nights with its large 1930s rooms and furnishings complete with guest lounge, games and reading rooms. Unfortunately we arrived during the December heat wave and it was terribly and unseasonally hot.

Katoomba Falls

Luckily though this made our first day there perfect for exploring. This included taking the Scenic Skyway which is a ride across the top of the mountains with spectacular views including the Katoomba Falls, and the Scenic Cableway takes you down to the Scenic Walkway, which is a series of walks through the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area Rainforest. We came across a lyrebird and there is also a coal mine that is mocked up like the olden days. All of the above can be found surprisingly at a place called Scenic World (not as much an adventure park as the name sounds).

The Three Sisters are iconic rock formations that you can see from most spots but especially at a place called Echo Point, from where the rocks are lit up at night. The legend goes that the three sisters fell in love with boys from another tribe and to prevent them getting hurt during the tribal war the witchdoctor turned them into stone; unfortunately the witchdoctor was killed and so the unlucky sisters are still stone today.

Our timing was perfect as the next day we went to the Jenolan Caves just as the weather changed and we were literally enclosed by the clouds as they rolled in. Unique feeling being rained on while under cover. The caves were magnificent. We have seen some amazing caves; in particular the Cango Caves in South Africa were amazing in the sheer size of their huge caverns but these caves were much better preserved, intricate and beautiful. For texture, colour and variety I don't think I have seen better. They went on for kilometres and you have a huge range of caves to choose from. Fair warning, you should phone and book the cave you want to visit as they are seen by tour only and you could wait hours or even miss out if you just turn up.

From here we headed to Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains (on the border of New South Wales & Victoria) and my goal to climb the highest mountain in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko. It might be small at 2200m but that is only because it is much older than larger mountains and so has had a lot longer to be worn down. So this grand-daddy of mountains was going to get the Granpa Fab experience.

Unfortunately the weather had different ideas. Day 1 was windy and cloudy so we were told not to go as the view would be disappointing. Instead we checked out the town and did a lovely forest walk to a nice place called 'Dead Horse Gap' (luckily it did not live up to its name). Day 2 was bloody snowing, is this not SUMMER? We spent the day at the indoor pool and gym at the local leisure centre and even played some basketball. Because we had only planned on needing two days we added another day on to our stay.

Day 3, JACKPOT! Beautiful sunny day. We set out early and took the chairlift to the highest restaurant in Australia (Eagles' Nest). From here we walked on a nicely set out path to the top of the mountain. On the way we stopped and used the amenities at the highest toilet block in Australia. Finally we made it to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, with only one tricky part. There was so much snow that at one bit we had to walk through a large section of steeply sloping snow. A bit difficult without crampons and we did fall on our butts several times and slide a bit. (On the way back we went with it and slid down on our butts on purpose, reminding us of our paddle ride down the volcano in Pucon.) Finally the top: magnificent views, pictures of our achievement, post to facebook and down we go.

Sunset over the Blue Mountains
The rest of the day (only half left as it was a 13km round trip to Kosciuszko) was going on the bobsled ride six times (as I have said before, growing up is overrated), and another swim in the pool. That night was a trip to our favourite Thredbo restaurant, a solid satisfying night's sleep and then off to Melbourne in the morning!

Elizabeth on the bobsled

Me on the way down on the bobsled

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