Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired), MS, PMP, LSSMBB
Blue Mountains National Park
The 662,130-acre Blue Mountains National Park, one of the most well-known parks in Australia, is located in the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales, approximately 50 miles west of Sydney, and help form part of the Great Dividing Range, Australia's most substantial mountain range and the third longest land-based range in the world.
Though named ‘Mountains,’ the park area is essentially an uplifted plateau, the highest point being Mount Werong at 1,215 metres (3,986 ft) above sea level, dissected by a number of larger rivers. In 2000, the park was designated a World Heritage Site.
The Blue Mountains are part of the greater Sydney Basin and that consists of layers of sedimentary rocks laid down over the past 300 million years. 50 million years, the Blue Mountains and Great Dividing Range were formed with a great upheaval. More recently, volcanic flows covered large areas of the mountains in basalt which have largely worn away, leaving only occasional outcrops on the high peaks.
There are four major rivers that have most of their catchment inside the park: the Wollangambe River in the north, the Grose River in the centre, and the Coxs and Wollondilly rivers in the south. The latter two flow into Lake Burragorang, which is located just outside the park and is the site of Warragamba Dam, the major source of drinking water for Sydney.
One of the most popular spots in the park is Echo Point at Katoomba from which one has a full view of the renowned and iconic Three Sisters rock formation set among the northern escarpment of the Jamison Valley, as well as Mount Solitary and Ruined Castle in the distance. One can also traverse the Giant Stairway down into the valley, if one is so adventurous.
Katoomba is also home to the Katoomba Scenic Railway, the Katoomba Falls, the Scenic Walkway and the Scenic Cableway and Skyway.
At 52 degrees, the Scenic Railway is the steepest cable-driven funicular…inclined plane or cliff…passenger railway in the world…and, with adjustable seats, one can even make it a 64 degree inclined ‘Cliffhanger’ experience.
The rail was originally constructed in the 1880s to haul the coal and oil shale in support of mining operations from the Jamison Valley floor up to the escarpment above. From 1928 to 1945, the rail carried coal during the week and passengers on weekends. With the mine’s closure in 1945, the rail remained as a tourist attraction.
Redesigned and upgraded in 2013, the rail’s 84 passenger glass roofed red carriages provide expansive views of the ancient rainforest in the Jamison Valley as it descends 310 meters through a cliff-side tunnel.
At the bottom station, one can disembark with access to the Scenic Walkway.
The environmentally friendly elevated boardwalk walkway offers an immersed 2.4 kilometer (nearly 1 ½ mile) stroll under the tranquil canopy of the ancient Jurassic rainforest of the Jamison Valley.
Along the trail are displays commemorating the area’s coal mining history which includes the mine entrance, a miner’s hut replica and a bronze statue of a miner and his pit pony.
Throughout the walk, there are many rainforest plants and flora to include the southern sassafras, the black olive berry and majestic eucalypt trees.
Conveniently, once the stroll is completed, one can take either the Cableway or Railway back to the top.
With a capacity for 84 passengers and rising 545 meters from the Jamison Valley floor to the escarpment above, the Cableway is the steepest and largest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. From the Cableway’s enclosed cabin,, one can view the Three Sisters, Orphan Rock, the Katoomba Falls and Mt Solitary in the far distance.
Suspended 270 meters over a gorge above the rainforest canopy, the Skyway crosses 720 meters between cliff tops. First built in 1958 and, then, replaced with a new system in 2004, the cable driven Skyway features a 72 person cabin with a raised floor section of liquid crystal glass that turns from translucent to transparent as the ride progresses. Not only does the Skyway offer dramatic views of the Three Sisters, Orphan Rock and Jamison Valley stretching to the horizon, it also provides a novel perspective of the Katoomba Falls below.
The Three Sisters
The soft sandstone of the Blue Mountains is easily eroded over time by wind, rain and rivers, resulting in the cliffs surrounding the Jamison Valley to be slowly worn away. One such erosion formed thousands of years ago has resulted in three towering rock formations named Meehni, 922 meters, Wimlah, 918 meters, and Gunnedoo, 906 meters, dubbed the Three Sisters, who, according to Aboriginal legend, were turned to stone.
While there are multiple versions of Aboriginal legend about the sisters…and the belief by at least some researchers that the "aboriginal" legend is a fabrication created by a non-Aboriginal Katoomba local in the late 1920s/early 1930s to presumably add interest to a local landmark, the most commonly referenced legend…true or not…tells a story of the three sisters living in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe. The beautiful young sisters had fallen in love with three brothers from a nearby tribe, but tribal law forbade them to marry. The brothers were not willing to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters, resulting in a major tribal battle. With the lives of the three sisters seriously in danger, a Katoomba witchdoctor took it upon himself to turn the three sisters into stone to protect them from any harm. While he had intended to reverse the spell when the fighting was over, the witchdoctor, himself, was killed during the battle. Given that only the witchdoctor could reverse the spell to return the ladies to their former beauty, the sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation as a reminder of this battle for generations to come.
A prominent rock formation jutting up out of the valley near the main cliff-line.