Kanangra-Boyd National Park & The Jenolan Caves

Monday Morning Sleeping in a car wasn’t so bad after all, so I managed to escape the campsite before anyone could so much as try to extract money from me for the previous night’s stay. The road out north from the caves was steep and winding, and as my car crawled up the hill and through the dreary misty morning I was quite happy that I wasn’t part of the group of cyclists I’d met last night, who had also covered the same road as me yesterday, but were heading to Canberra today. It wasn’t long before I was out of the mist and on the main road to Oberon, but feeling as though I were back in Aberdeenshire – so striking was the resemblance of the countryside round that side of the mountains to my homeland.

Condemned in Edith After engrossing myself in the detailed map of the west side of the blue mountains for quite a while, a very helpful girl at the Oberon visitor information centre confirmed that a trip to Kanangra-Boyd National Park and the Jenolan Caves would be well worth it and so I got the car and myself fueled up for the road. It’s annoying how quickly I felt scummy when driving the car on hot days: I’d had a shower the night before, but sitting round the side of the road-house, eating my (surprisingly tasty) mega-chicken burger, feeling a bit sweaty from the morning drive that had got pretty hot pretty quickly, with my tatty, holey shorts, I couldn’t help but feel like I looked like a bit of a scab. Oh well, I was in a for a week of that then.

A quick stop in Edith to take a few shots of the oldest house in the hamlet, which is tragically derelict and condemned, I was back on more dirt road in the Kanangra-Boyd National Park. It was a really annoying road, as every time I thought I was on a smoother stretch and eased the speed up, a pothole would appear out of nowhere, leaving me cringing at the bang, wondering when one of the wheels would fall off.

Taking it all in A tad annoyingly, I was back in thick mist by the time I reached the end of the road and lookout over the valley. It was quite strange getting to the lookout, peering out into into thick mist that rose level with the ledge, having no real idea whether the drop below was 50m or 500m. The scene was quite compelling though, so I set up my tripod for a self portrait but when I turned round towards the ledge again, a few holes in the mist had cleared, revealing – in quite a dizzy-ing fashion – parts of an epic valley that was, in fact, pretty much 500m deep. Peering over the edge of the cliff, watching the mist rolling up the cliff face and rising straight up in front of me gave a bizarre and almost vertigo-inducing sensation of falling and I wondered how great it would be to have a paraglider right now. I hung around for a while at the lookout, taking a detour to the falls, in the hope of the mist clearing up so I could see the full grandeur of the valley. That didn’t happen so I headed back a few kms to the camp ground and spent the evening with an anglo-australian couple who had some nice Scottish whiskey, which warmed us up nicely on the cold and damp night.

The Temple of Baal Next morning I headed on to the Jenolan Caves, down a steep – but at least sealed – road strewn with switchbacks, which would probably be really fun to drive up in a much a better car than mine. The price of the tours was a bit off-putting, but with so many on offer I figured I had to be missing something, and after I had splashed out on the Temple of Baal I was thinking about doing another, as a testament to the quality of the tour. The cave was awe-inspiring, and the presentation of it almost as impressive as the formations within. We entered each cavern in near-total darkness and then usually spent the next few minutes gaping, ooh-ing and aah-ing as spotlights slowly composed a scene of spectacular formations. The final cavern – The Temple of Baal – was presented in complete darkness except for a projection of running water over a 20 square-meter far wall, accompanied by an orchestral rendition of Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever, all combining to produce a highly goosebump-inducing experience. When the lights did come on, we found ourselves at the bottom of a 42m high cave, with thousands of formations – many so striking that they’d been given names such as the angel wing (a 9m high pure white crystalline shawl) and the church organ – and the whole thing was described in detail by the very knowledgeable Barry, our guide.

Keeping up with expectations I explored a bit of the free walks after the tour, checking out the cave above the cave that the road goes through and almost puckering up the lunacy required to climb over the peak of it – if it weren’t so windy I would have probably done it too. The day was looking so nice that I decided to double back to Kanangra Walls for one final attempt at seeing the valley devoid of any clouds and it paid off with a spectacular late afternoon view of the valley. This time I went along the plateau walk and met a Swiss guy who had a Canon 7d; once I got over the camera-jealousy I gave him my camera and he took some cool photos of me posing and jumping on the perilous looking overhang that is part of the Plateau. In the hope of getting a view of the valley at dawn, I slept at the lookout carpark instead of going back along the road to the campsite, but the view in the morning was pretty cloudy, although the early sun did create a nice atmosphere which was great to wake up to even though it didn’t yield much in the way of decent photos.

Blue Mountains Roadtrip

Lake Burragorong 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.

Wombeyan Caves Road Tunnel 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).

Hills & Valleys 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.