Short stories, Travel and Health Information
A few months ago I had the privilege of taking part in the 2017 AusCamino Festival in the town of Blackheath in Australia’s Blue Mountains.
It was to be Australia’s first ever national gathering of those who had walked – or had an interest in – the ancient Spanish pilgrim trail called The Camino of Santiago.
I was enthusiastic to attend this conference partly because I had been invited to give a presentation based on the book I had written about this 800 kilometre trail which I had walked with my son a few years ago. I was even more enthusiastic to go because I had never been to this beautiful part of Australia previously!
Located west of the big city of Sydney, the picturesque Blue Mountains may be described as a “hill country” for vacationing Sydneysiders. It is close enough to reach from Sydney (one hour by car and 90 minutes by train) yet far enough away to constitute a mountainous rural landscape ideal for hiking, bushwalking, rock-climbing- and just relaxing in a cool and salubrious climate.
The Blue Mountains are so called because of the bluish tinge taken on by the mountain range when viewed from afar – thought to be due to gases termed Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that are emitted by the hordes of eucalyptus trees covering the mountains. The gas particles in the air scatter the shorter (violet to blue) wavelengths of light, resulting in a blueish haze over the mountains when they are seen from a distance.
The Blue Mountain region received UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2000, being recognised for its outstanding diversity of habitats and plant communities. The large area of natural wilderness includes seven national parks blessed with towering cliffs, grand canyons, amazing rock formations (including the famous one called ‘The Three Sisters’) and spectacular waterfalls. The temperate rainforests here host various different species of eucalyptus trees and several species of endemic animals including Australia’s famous koala bears.
While in Blackheath we drove to Govett’s View Lookout and from there did a fifteen minute climb to visit the magnificent Govett’s Leap waterfallwhich drops an amazing 180 metres from the top of the cliff. If you would like a virtual three dimensional view of Govett’s View Lookout, go to http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/lookouts/govetts-leap-lookout and click on Google Street View Trekker.
Though it is a small country town – a big village really – Blackheath is a popular place for visitors, boasting some great walking tracks and beautiful scenery. We were able, during our time there to hike to a couple of the famous lookouts, including Baltzer Lookout from which one has a good view of the famous Hanging Rock. We also visited the Dhamma Bhumi Vipassana Meditation Centre in Blackheath which offers residential courses in Vipassana Meditation.
The highest town in the Blue Mountains is Katoomba which has a host of activities for the visitor – the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre which is a well-known regional art gallery, the black granite Peace Memorial sculpture in the Civic Place gardens, the Waradah Aboriginal Centre where we were able to watch performances of traditional Aboriginal dances and learn about the culture of Australia’s indigenous people from members of the local tribes themselves.
A 15 minute drive south of Katoomba took us to Scenic World which offered rides on what they claim to be is the steepest passenger railway in the world, going down some 300 metres through a cliff-side tunnel to emerge on the floor of the Jamieson Valley into luxuriant temperate rainforest. From here we were able to explore the rainforest along the scenic walkway, a mile long boardwalk built just above the floor of this ancient valley and protected by the canopy of trees towering above us.
I have always enjoyed travel, and I have come to believe that a conference is a good excuse to make a visit to experience places that I have not seen before.
After all, as the Japanese poet Matsue Basho observed, “I will see with my own eyes remote places of which I have only heard”!
For more information, check http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/blue-mountains
Blue Mountains view from Govett’s Lookout