The Blue Mountains I

The Blue Mountains I

We picked up our Ford Falcon Station wagon and headed west to the Blue Mountains. Since it had been almost 10 years since I drove on the left side of the road, I took it slowly and carefully until I could build my confidence finding my way out of the city. The only problem I had was I kept turning on windshield wipers every time I wanted to make a turn because the turn signal switch was on the other side of the steering column!

The Blue Mountains are about a 2 hour drive out of Sydney via the “Great Western Highway.” With a name like that, I was expecting a large expressway leading west, but it turned out to be a four lane road that turned into a two lane road an hour outside of Sydney. The Blue Mountains belong to a chain of mountains called the “Great Dividing Range” which was considered a barrier to the residents of Sydney until the 1800s when a westward route was discovered. During the early convict settlement of Australia, many escapees headed into the rough terrain thinking they would find China and freedom just west of the mountains. It’s amazing to think these mountains were such a formidable barrier to Sydney when I found out the highest peak is about 3000 feet, but I guess it’s different when climbing this on foot!

We arrived in a town called Leura, just outside of the main town of Katoomba, to visit my friend Paul and his two kids Leah, and Nathaniel. I met Paul’s wife Jane 8 years ago in Nagano, Japan when I worked the Olympics for Late Show. Jane was our translator and spoke such good Japanese that if you spoke on the phone with her, you’d never know she was Australian. We survived the intensity of the Olympics together and stayed good friends ever since. Unfortunately, about three years ago, Jane was diagnosed with cancer, and battled it for almost two years. Her fighting spirit and positive attitude helped her win some of the battles, but in the end she passed away about a year ago. I had always wanted to come to Australia, and promised Jane I would look her up if I did. My only regret was I missed being here to see Jane. Her battle with cancer and passing had a profound affect on some of the things I wanted to  do in my life while I still had my health and ability, for that, I have Jane to blame. Thanks Jane.
three sisters

Paul is the Vice President of the Leura Golf Course, and seems to have some great contacts in this area. He found us a great apartment to rent for the week on the main street in Leura, and was a short drive from his house, which fittingly was on the golf course. The town had a quaint main street called Leura Mall, and had the usual collection of shops selling crafts, souvenirs, and food. It was not as large as the one in Katoomba, but had quieter feel to it. To the south of town was the view that everyone comes to see, and in the next town of Katoomba was the Three Sister’s rock formation. It was foggy and cloudy the first day we had in the mountains, but cleared enough for me to get this picture on our second day.
blue mountain view

These mountains are very old, and have withstood an eon of erosion. The got their name from the blue mist that often forms from the eucalyptus trees that dominate the forests.
senic view

When we walked out onto the scenic lookout to see the “Three Sisters,” we were immediately swarmed by flies. There were at least 20 flies for every visitor to the lookout, and if you stood still for too long, dozens more would land on your face! The swarming flies might have been due to the recent rains, but it made staying at the lookout an exercise in fly swatting. I wished I had my video camera to tape the hundreds of tourists all flailing at these pesky flies. It was actually pretty comical except for the fact I was also swatting myself out of my own nightmare!

We got back in the car and went exploring the back roads of the Blue Mountains. Much of it is farmland, with scenic little roads like these.
zig zag

Another attraction was the Zig Zag railway. In it’s day it was a engineering wonder, allowing a train on such steep terrain delivering freight for the area on a track that resembled the letter “Z.” The locomotive had to change sides for each leg of the track, making for a very slow trip, but accomplished something once thought impossible. Eventually this section of track became obsolete when new track was laid through a tunnel that bypassed the steep hills in the early 20th Century. Luckily, a group of enthusiasts restored the track, and now run this section of rail for sightseeing.
zig zag

The two hour trip allowed my daughter to enjoy a scenic train ride through an area of the Blue Mountains. She seems to love trains, and getting a ride from an old steam locomotive, made it that much better.

As we waited the two times for the locomotive to switch sides, I was reminded how dirty it must have been to travel before the days of diesel-electric trains. The passenger car right behind the locomotive had its roof covered in soot, and whenever the the breeze blew the wrong way, soot would land inside all the cars if the windows were open. How did women keep those frilly Victorian era dresses clean when they rode these trains back then?

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