March 7, 2020, Katoomba, Australia.
Our family likes playing a game called “Empire Builder, Australian Edition” where we get to build track to different Australian cities, collect loads, deliver tourists and have our tracks wiped out by sandstorms, bush fires and floods. It’s played on a big map of Australia and it’s how I learned about Australian geography and the different products from different regions of the country.
In the game I’ve often built rail from Sydney to Katoomba. This time I got to ride it. Katoomba is in the Blue Mountains. If you arrive in Katoomba by train you have several options, a hop-on-hop-off bus is one but we chose public transit, which has the added advantage of being able to pay with the Opal Card, the same card you use to ride the train from Sydney. That’s the choice we took. It takes you to trails if you want to spend some time hiking, overlooks, attractions and downtown. But we came for “the mountains.”
The highest point in the Blue mountains is about 3,900 feet but rather than mountains the region is a plateau running about 60 miles NW to SE that is bisected by rivers cutting steep walled canyons and gorges through sandstone. Nan, from the ship, became our traveling companion. She said it looked “like the Grand Canyon” but to Suzi it looked more like the Dakota Badlands.
The area has several microclimates in the gorges, some of them are temperate rainforests. Several national parks are in the region, which is a World Heritage Site. About 80% of the World Heritage site was burned in the 2019-2020 bush fires but the area we visited, around Katoomba, was mostly spared.
We visited areas in the Blue Mountain and Kanangra Boyd National Parks. The area between them is the wilderness amusement park alluded to in the title, Scenic World. Scenic World is at the site of a coal mine that operated until the 1930s. It had a railway that hauled coal up the canyon wall from the seams of coal. In 1946 that railway started carrying tourists and that started Scenic World. The railroad drops about 1,000 feet from the rim of the canyon down into the Jamison Valley. It claims to be the steepest railway in the world that carries people, dropping at a 52o angle. At the end of the railway a series of boardwalk paths lead through the rainforest. They all end up at the cableway that takes you up the canyon again. You can join other trails that take you through the two adjacent national parks. After riding up the cable car you can cross the canyon to Echo Point on the skyway, another cable car. It goes over Katoomba falls and has a glass bottom if you care to look down.