Our van is parked in a lovely rainforest campsite at Blackheath Glen Reserve, in the heart of the Blue Mountains. It is a very pretty spot, with ferns, bell birds, tall gum trees and stream trickling over the ochre rocks. We have lit a camp fire for the first time and the smell of smoke mixed with incense next to our little van makes me feel very happy. I could easily sit and watch the flames all night. We set up the bush shower earlier, as good as always. You really don’t need much money to travel like this – there are plenty of free campsites, the van was reasonably cheap and we have everything we could possibly need for this adventure.
Meals every night are as good as at home. We use the small camp stove to make pastas, curries, couscous salads and omelettes. Plus, it all tastes better eating it outside. For entertainment, we have been playing the guitar and ukulele, writing, reading on our kindles, taking polaroid photos and keeping a scrapbook of the adventures so far. We have also set up a book for all our expenses and kilometres, so at the end of the trip we will know exactly how far we have gone and how much it costs. It’s a fun challenge keeping within budget and finding cheap alternatives.
There is so much to do around this area that we stayed for three days, though we could have stayed longer. On the first day, it was very wet and misty, so we had coffee and cake on the main street of Katoomba, booked tours and relaxed at the free campsite.
The next day was perfect for sight seeing. We went to Scenic World and, in the car park, coincidentally bumped into some friends from Melbourne. Such a small world! We payed $35 for a ticket and had unlimited access all day to the steepest passenger railway in the world, two sky rails (one with a glass bottom) and a wonderful boardwalk in the lush rainforest. Down here, we learnt a bit about the history of coal-mining in this area, as well as getting lots of information about the local flora and fauna.
We saw the stunning Blue Mountains, with their different shades of blue. We also admired the Three Sisters (a famous rock formation) and Katoomba Falls. What beautiful places! You can see why they are such large tourist attractions.
We later visited the neighbouring town of Leura, where we payed $2 each to enter a pretty garden area and amphitheatre (just opposite the Toy and Railway Museum), with a back drop of the Blue Mountains. What a spectacular place for a play!
Canyoning at Empress Falls
The next day, it was time to switch on our adventurous spirits for a canyoning tour ($180 ‘High n Wild’ booked through the local YHA). I must admit, even though I’ve done a bit of canyoning before in Vietnam, I was a little nervous. However, they eased us in gently with a morning of abseiling.
We started on a 5 metre cliff, then a 15 metre cliff, during which my ponytail got caught in the rope – it was put into a bun and tucked under my helmet from that point on! The last abseil was a 30 metre overhang, where we had to free fall on our ropes all the way down the cliff. This one was particularly terrifying, as when you finished the abseil, there was another sheer cliff face directly below it, so it felt like I was hanging hundreds of metres above the forest, with the gloriously never-ending Blue Mountains lying before me. It was breathtaking! When I arrived at the bottom the second time round, I landed in a tree, but managed to make my way out to the base eventually and do the steep hike back up the cliff to join the rest of the group!
After a well-deserved lunch of salad rolls and cordial, we set off in the mini van to the starting point of the walk to Empress Falls. The walk down to the start of the canyon was steep, but we were too excited for the next part of the adventure to even worry about this hike on the way back up!
At the bottom, we put on our wet-suits, filled our dry-bags with our clothes and plenty of air, so that we had flotation devices to help us swim through parts of the canyon, and put on our helmets and backpacks. We started off this part of the tour with a backwards two metre leap into a deep pool of icy cold water! We then scrambled down the river, over slippery rocks, through deeper patches of water and some more shallow areas. At one point, we arrived at a little beach, where the two sides of the canyon loomed above us and there were ferns and rainforest all around. It felt as though we had stepped back into some kind of historic time. There were crayfish in the river, but you could imagine dinosaurs creeping round every bend.
Next scary moment was when we had to scramble sideways through the rocks, push ourselves off with our hands and jump into the next pool. Afterwards, some more scrambling through ice-cold water (my toes were beginning to feel numb), before doing a 6 metre cliff jump – I was going to chicken out, but the whole group was doing it, so of course I felt I had to! After this jump, was the final (and most scary) part of the tour. We had to abseil down a 30 metre waterfall, with a steady flow of water crashing over our heads.
The rocks were slippery and I was extremely nervous, being one of the last to go down. At the very top of the fall, before I had even started, I slipped and was dangling by my rope backwards, the waterfall plummeting below me! Luckily, the very kind and patient tour guide from ‘High n Wild’ gently helped me to my feet. Of course, I still had to get down to the bottom, so I started again. A few metres down, just when I thought I had the hang of it, my shoes slipped on the mossy, wet rocks and I went smashing into the rocks. The next few metres were spent scrambling to my knees and slowly abseiling down in a highly disjointed fashion, before I could get to my feet again! By the time I got to the final part of the cliff, I was more than happy to let go of the rope and drop down the final two metres into the pool below. It was a slightly terrifying end to a fantastic tour!
Actually, the end wasn’t quite there yet. After changing out of our sticky, heavy wetsuits and into dry clothes, we did our final hike up to the van. It took about half an hour of steady uphill walking and, by the end, I was thoroughly worn out. Back at the tour office, we were offered a complimentary beer, which was the perfect end to an adventurous day! I would definitely recommend this tour to any adventure-seekers who have a reasonable level of fitness.
That night, back at our regular campsite by the stream in the rainforest, we lit the campfire and we sat around drinking beer and watching the flames. No sooner had my head touched the pillow, I was fast asleep!