Even though I’d been given a driven tour of the route I should take out of Sydney the night before, I still – as expected – somewhere near the CBD didn’t find my way onto Broadway, starting 15 minutes of stopping, reading the map, heading off for a few minutes and repeating until I found myself on the road out to Paramatta. It probably didn’t help that I hadn’t slept a huge amount the night before, combined with a late night packing and getting up at 5.30 so I could slip out of the CBD before it got busy. As with most of my excursions, prior planning was minimal. The idea was to head in the direction of Penrith and on to Katoomba but once I got as far as Penrith – and finally had a rough idea where in the world I was again after taking a fairly obscure route to avoid the freeway tolls – I started getting distracted by signs for tourist attractions to the South that I hadn’t heard of and so I ended up at the Lake Burragorong Dam.
The dam at Warragamba was, well, a dam, with not a huge amount of water in it – although the info on how it was built was quite interesting – so I headed on fairly quickly and ended up at a lookout a little to the south at Nattai. Now this was more like it: a deep torquoise lake stretching out for miles in 3 directions, mirrored by a clear blue sky and flanked by rocky plateau on all sides. At the Yerranderie end of the lake there were unbelievably intense green patches of either marsh or some sort of algae that looked like a lush paradise at the end of an already beautiful lake hiding under the fairly barren landscape above. By this point I’d run out of distractions to the south of Penrith but had caught my eye on a road which appeared to wind round the southern edge of the Blue Mountains and I felt compelled to check it out even though it was over an hour’s drive in completely the opposite direction to my original ‘plan’ and might not even be that suitable for a normal car (especially one I’d just bought and hadn’t driven enough to trust taking on a fairly remote road).
Soon I was in Mittagong trying to work out where to get on to the Wombeyan Caves Road as – in what is fairly usual for my driving experience in Australia – the sign I required seemed to be non-existent. From the map, it looked like I had about 60km of driving along the road till I got to some possible camping areas. It looked a bit winding so I figured 2 hours would be fine, and after the first 20km of sealed and not overly interesting road that was looking like an OK target. Then the road turned to dust and started cutting round the side of steep hills, with nothing but a sheer face on one side and a precarious looking drop on the other. Hardly a kilometre in and I spotted two cars through the trees, lying at various angles, wrecked and abandoned and once again wondered about how smart it was to be on this road. But on I went, way slower as I couldn’t see what was round any of the tight corners and didn’t want to test my brakes on the rough and loose road. Apart from the slight fear of throwing the car off any one of the hundreds of treacherous and un-fenced corners, the drive along the Wombeyan Caves road turned into one of my favourites in Australia so far. As the road climbed up the sides of the hills, each corner opened up an even more spectacular and unique view of the edge of the Blue Mountains and, as the drive was now taking considerably longer than first expected, the sinking sun added yet more beauty to the landscape. Countless stops on countless corners, peaks, lookouts and a tunnel later and I’d arrived at the Wombeyan Caves campground, with just enough time to make some supper and get settled down for my first night sleep in a car. Arriving late did mean there was nobody around to charge me for using the campsite, or the hot shower, and so my week of avoiding paying for the priviledge of sleeping started.