I love watching the light change while walking through the forested valleys of the Blue Mountains. I love watching the light change while walking anywhere, but it can be especially pretty in the mountains... the dappled light through the canopy of trees and ferns, how it softens into late afternoon before the day's grand finale: a golden hour glow heralding nightfall.
One morning over the Easter long weekend I took a walk from Katoomba to Leura, looking for light in the forest — I knew I'd be walking into crowded mayhem visiting Katoomba during a long weekend, but sometimes you just get called to a place.
I hadn't been to Echo Point in a year, so I started my walk there. You can take the bus from the train station down to the look out, and many people do — the stream of buses looping from Katoomba Station to Echo Point are near constant. I walked, because it's not so far really — the walk from the station down to Echo Point is about 2 and a half kilometres and takes just over a half hour. And besides, the walk allows for a stop off at Hominy Bakery along the way — and life is too short to ignore freshly baked bread.
Being a sunny day on a long weekend, Echo Point lookout was buzzing with people out to enjoy the weather and catch a glimpse of the Three Sisters and the stunning view across the Jamison Valley.
After making my way through the crowd, I got to the starting point of my walk for the afternoon: the top of the Giant Stairway. I slowly made my way down the more than 800 steps and gave quiet thanks I had the good sense to have not planned a walk that saw me attempting to climb these steps up and out of the valley at the end.
Once in the valley I made my way toward Leura on Dardanelles Pass, but not before stopping for lunch (a ruse really, to give my shaking legs some time to get over the steps).
The walk from Katoomba to Leura is a good and varied one, winding through valleys of ferns, tall trees, moss covered rocks and logs, over streams, and around cascades. Some parts of the track are wonderfully dark, with the tree canopy blocking much of the daylight... and then it will open up to a section of full sunlight before winding through tall trees and ferns back into dappled darkness.
Walking through Leura Forest I came across about a dozen lyrebirds, I'd never seen so many at once, so I stood quietly watching them until they were startled by a group who came barrelling through with music blaring. Turns out lyrebirds aren't much into the early 00s music of Eminem.
It can be challenging walking when a lot of people are out and about: there's always more noise to contend with, and other people's litter to pack out too (discarded Tim Tam wrappers and Gatorade bottles aren't known for their biodegradability).
And then there's those who aren't quite sure where they are or where they are going. On this day I was asked by a dad with a young kid about where they were headed and was able to help them figure out a good route for the rest of their walk, I showed a map to a guy ready to call it quits who had no idea how close he was to where he wanted to be, and I pointed a group of backpackers — trying to find a good end to their walk that'd get them easily back into town — in the right direction
These encounters could probably be lumped together with the noise and little issues and be seen as frustrating and irresponsible, but this wasn't exactly a jaunt out to Mount Solitary, or an off-track adventure — so I found these moments affirming. It's encouraging to see so many people choosing to spend their time in the mountains, and asking for advice when feeling uncertain. And I know they'd all really have been just fine without me or others to ask advice of. Thanks to the work of NSW Parks maintaining these tracks, thousands of people are able to safely enjoy days out in the mountains. It made me think of what Bob Brown had to say at the Wild Rivers forum a month or so ago:
We may not know where we're going, but there's a reason so many of us are called to be out in the mountains on our weekends and days off... why when a long weekend rolls around, we pack up our gear and head for the bush or the coast. We need the beauty of nature in our lives. It's a reset. It inspires us, fuels us, and readies us. Wild places give us perspective and serve to remind us that we are part of something big, beautiful, and unfathomable. Nature shows us that there is greatness without us. We see in nature that everything is connected. Nature reminds us why the word 'awesome' exists.
Walking from Katoomba to Leura on Dardanelles and Fern Bower
I don’t like to hike with too much photography gear weighing me down — camera body with one lens, plus a few back-up batteries and memory cards does it for me, generally. But that does means some improvisation when I end up in spots with waterfalls and cascades.
I used a helpfully placed NSW Parks track sign to steady my camera so I could take a 2.5 second capture of the first mini-cascade I came across (pictured, right).
Once I'd made my way up the valley through the ferns and waterfalls of Leura's Fern Bower track, I joined the Prince Henry Cliff Walk along the top of the cliff line.
The afternoon light was golden over the hazy valley as I passed Olympian Rock and Elysian Rock before settling at Gordon Falls lookout to watch the sunset and the sky turn pastel pink.
The view from Gordon Falls lookout across the valley is sweeping, and, thankfully, much calmer than the frenzied and buzzing Echo Point where I'd begun walking just a few hours earlier.
After having a bite to eat and snapping a few sunset photographs it was time to bid the mountains farewell and head into Leura for the train back to the city. Until next time...