Scenic World

Summer arrived with the second month of Spring and beckoned us out of the house and up into the mountains. It’s been over twenty years since B and I headed up to Katoomba for all the usual tourist stuff on one of our very first dates. Now we have Alex, a fan of interesting forms of transport.

We first stopped at Leura for lunch. The main street was a riot of cherry blossoms, darker than their Japanese cousins, but no less spectacular. The town was hosting a garden festival under perfect blue skies nad the streets were busy with amateur photographers, mostly Asian by the look of it.

However, we were not here for the flowers and, after burgers, pasta and an amazing lemon and lime tart, continued onwards to Katoomba.

On such a lovely school holidays long weekend Scenic World was naturally crowded. The queue for tickets was somewhat long, so I quickly purchased them online using my phone and joined the near empty prepurchased queue, whereupon we had to wait for somebody purchasing an annual membership…

Both Alex and I were initially terrified of the scenic railway. At a maximum incline of 52 degrees it is the steepest passenger train in the world. I watched the group ahead of us enter, the train start slowly, then suddenly go over the steep edge like a roller coaster.

I’ve done this before I consoled myself as we sat on the highly angled train benches. And it wasn’t scary, more like a lift than an amusement park ride. At first you are in a tunnel, then a crack in the rock appears above your head, widening until you emerge into the rainforest. It’s all over too fast.

A wooden walkway runs beneath the rainforest and bushland canopy, allowing you to walk to the cableway back up the ridge. Or you can catch the railway back up again. It was originally build to carry coal and oil shale mined in the valley up to the Katoomba power station above. It’s incredible to think that the massive sandstone ridges above us were originally beneath the ocean and that the coal layer itself dates back to wetlands 250 million years old. The oil shale was originally a thick mat of algae.

If only all the coal and oil shale mines could be converted into tourist attractions rather than sources of global warming.

Tall blue gums, turpentines and tree ferns towered over us while vines form intricate patterns between. Remnants of the mines were displayed along the way, old winches rusting away between shrubs, a furnace to draw fresh air into the underground mines, mine carts and a miner’s wooden shack. We spotted a lyre bird digging through leaf matter on the ground and a lawyer vine waiting to irritate those who touched it. Lyre and lawyer.

The Scenic Cableway was my favourite of the rides, shooting up out of the canopy and up towards the top. There were spectacular views of the sandstone ridges, Mount Solitary and the Jamison Valley, as if we were flying. Indeed, when I have flown into Sydney from the West the ridges have always reminded me of giant walls around the city.

Last of all was another cableway, the Scenic Skyway across the top of the valley to Echo Point. As you glide along you can see the famous Three Sisters rock formation and the Katoomba Falls which plummet a couple of hundred metres down the cliff face. Liquid crystal windows in the centre of the cable car suddenly become transparent allowing riders to look below, though they are rather smudged which spoils the effect to some extent. I was rather looking forward to a case of vertigo.

We did the short walk out to Echo Point to take in the view. Up close the geology of the sandstone became more apparent, with dark layers and some with larger pebbles, indicating rivers rather than seas above. It’s amazing to think of the uplift that must have occurred to reveal a sea bed almost a kilometres above the current sea level.

Then we returned across on the Scenic Skyway and headed back in the car towards Sydney. With cherry blossoms, cable cars and funiculars it felt more like the kind of think we do while on holidays in Japan than in Australia, but it was fun to do something like this in our own backyard.

There were plans for another ride – a rollercoaster. Not for me!