The first image that pops into your head when you picture the Blue Mountains is probably that sweeping vista from Echo Point of the Three Sisters and Jameson Valley. It’s a magnificent view. This weekend however, sans kids, we decided to find a different view and try a few tracks more, well, off the beaten track.
Staying at the Fairmont Resort in Leura, it seemed sensible to explore the walks accessible from the hotel, so our first little sojourn is into the nearby Valley of Waters.
It’s a 4-hour walk with Tread Lightly Eco tours and it’s more than a pleasant stroll through gum trees, marvelling at the odd waterfall along the way. It’s a path of enlightenment as our knowledgeable guide, Tim Tranter, explains the geology and biodiversity of the area.
A lesson in geology: Technically, the Blue Mountains aren’t even mountains. The nearest real mountain range is in fact the Great Dividing Range over there to the west. The Blue Mountains could more accurately be called an uplifted fissured plateau (but it hasn’t got quite the same ring to it).
Around 80 million years ago layers of sand and mudstone laid down between 450 and 200 million years ago were pushed up from sea level to the Blue Mountains’ current altitude of around 1000m. Over the last 10 million years, rain has been the main agent of creation here, carving the magnificent landscape we now know.
No lakes or rivers feed the many streams found in the Blue Mountains, the streams and waterfalls you see are simply old rain. Water runs back and forth through the layers of rock and eventually emerges to join a million other droplets that form a rivulet, a creek and finally one of the 700 waterfalls that actually have names (there are over a 1000 more un-named).
On to ecology: Sandstone forms a dry, nutrient-deficient sandy soil and the environment on the plateau is quite harsh for plant and animal life. It’s exposed to frequent lightning strikes, seasonally hot and cold winds, frosts, poor drainage in areas and rapid drainage in other areas.
All these factors have produced local habitats requiring specialised plant adaptations – several of them in fact. From a viewpoint only a short stroll from the hotel, we can see six biospheres within a 100m radius:
Dendrology: the study of trees and shrubs: A feature of most Australian environments is fire and it is particularly prevalent here. The iron deposits long ago dissolved in the rock here form a perfect magnet for lightning.
Here’s how the clever trees and shrubs here have evolved to live through fire. Once fire rips through a forest of eucalypts, the denuded tree needs to photosynthesise, so it quickly grows epicormic shoots for this until the leaves grow back.
It then drops these spindly twigs, which (along with its oily leaves) create perfect kindling for the next fire. So the key to its survival is to produce kindling to help the fire burn quickly and move on, and a smooth cool bark, resistant to heat and flame.
Eucalypts can turn leaves sideways to conserve energy, down-size by dropping entire and can reproduce from their bulbous roots in the event of being, literally, struck down by lightening.
All that walking and newfound knowledge deserves dinner. And what a magnificent dinner it is at Darley’s Restaurant, Lilianfels.
Sashimi of South Australian Yellow Fin Tuna, tataki dressing, avocado cream, smoked eel, nori and coriander cress, followed by Mandagery Creek Venison on parsnip served with green lentils, pink turnips and chestnut mushrooms.
Followed by the best (and probably the most expensive) vintage cognac I’ve ever had. Yes ever, and it’s served with flare. Our sommelier gives us a detailed description before warming our glasses with steaming hot water and swirling the cognac over a flame.
Our next day’s activities are equally scenic and enlightening, a journey through the Megalong Valley on horseback, along the beautiful Megalong Creek to Dry Ridge Estate vineyard.
The horses are hitched while we sample a few fine locally-grown wines – which are apparently so high in demand here in the Blue Mountains they rarely make it past the restaurants and bottle shops of Katoomba.
We move swiftly from a fairly ancient mode of transport to rather newer back at the Fairmont Resort: Segways. These things are FUN – especially off road. We learn a few tricks in the grounds of the Fairmont before heading into the bush and more challenging terrain.
Our Segway jaunt is followed by a leisurely stroll along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk before the weekend ends with a well-earned massage at the Fairmont’s Spa Sublime.