Blue Mountains and beyond

The Blue Mountains have always been special to us. Steep cliffs, countless waterfalls, hidden valleys and the charming mountain villages are a world of their own, a mere 90km from Sydney CBD. Especially in winter, the villages have a resort like atmosphere to them and walking through the windswept streets, ten years after our last visit, made us feel at home. The weather was very cold – at some stage, nearby Lithgow got a bit of snow – with frosty nights and cold, windy days with lots of sunshine; the perfect weather to go hiking.

There is an abundance of well marked tracks available to suit everyone. Many of the tracks lead into the surrounding valleys with some hair-raising descents down the cliff faces. One of the longest and steepest of the many staircases is the aptly named Giant Stairway with its more than 900 steps.

The bird life in the Blue Mountains National Park is prolific and we saw many different species. Lorikeets, Rosellas, Cockatoos and other parrots are the clowns of the eucalypt forests and what they lack in singing ability, they make up for with their colorful feathers. One of the very skillful singers though is the Lyrebird and we listened to its melodies for hours. Lyrebirds are masters in imitating any other bird, in fact any sound, even a car alarm or a screeching door.

The clean mountain streams are home to the bright orange freshwater crayfish and we were looking forward to seeing them again. But despite our efforts we couldn’t manage to find one this time. Whether the water was too cold or whether we looked in all the wrong places, we don’t know.

What a pleasure to come home after a long day out, light a fire and have a hearty cheese fondue. To our great surprise we found cheese fondue mixture in one of the shops in town. One morning we had to stock up our groceries and left early. The car started beautifully with the first turn of the starter motor despite the frosty temperature. We found everything we needed up in Leura and – having it safely stowed – wanted to drive off. The starter motor turned as it is supposed to, but the engine wouldn’t run. After many attempts we called the NRMA and just 10 minutes later a technician arrived. Not having a car of our own back home at all, we were pretty nervous and wondering what might happen next and having to get the Troopy out of an inclined parking space on a busy car park without the engine running didn’t help either. It took our friendly helper half an hour to find out that the injection pump did not get power and therefore the engine didn’t get any fuel. He organized a tow truck and another half an hour later our Troopy was sitting in the back off the truck and we were on our way to the local car electrician. It was close to 5pm now and getting dark. We had to leave the car at the workshop and organize a ride back for the 20 kilometers to our cottage. The guys at the workshop did their best and eventually found a broken wire causing all the trouble. They did a very good job fixing the problem and we picked up our car two days later. Troopy was running again and purring like a big cat. Time went by all too quick and we had to move on to Lake Windamere and Dunn’s Swamp, an easy two hours drive to the north.

Breakaway Farm, east of Rylstone and adjacent to Wollemi National Park, was our next base and Jenny Franks’ rock cottage a very charming and comfortable place indeed. Our intention was to get serious with the boat, to give it a proper workout and to catch the first yellowbelly of the trip. But sometimes things don’t go according to plan. The weather was not only cold and windy day after day, but also very wet. We made the most out of it and did a lot of reading. One of the great books we read was Reg Franks’ – Jenny’s late husband – book “Out of my tucker box”. Reg and Jenny lived in the area for most of their lives and being given an insight into local history and local stories was great. We found many places described in the book and the knowledge we had from reading Reg’s stories made us feel like locals. On our walks along the Cudgegong River and up to Kandos Weir/Dunn’s Swamp we saw Platypus’ and turtles and the songs of Lyrebirds were always surrounding us. The area is very scenic with many rocky outcrops and caves. The going is tough and many years ago the rugged land around Nullo Mountain provided the perfect hideout for Elizabeth Hickman, known as the Lady bushranger, and Captain Thunderbolt, a well known bushranger lived here as well. The book about Elizabeth’s life made fantastic reading during our stay and being right in the middle of where it all happened made the book become very much alive indeed.

One of the highlights of our stay one Jenny’s farm was the guided tour she gave us up the mountain right at our back door; her knowledge and her love for the land made it a wonderful experience.

Mudgee, a good half an hour by car from Rylstone, has become the center of a grape growing region with many family owned wineries producing great wines and we enjoyed the hospitality of this country side town several times.

After weeks of cold and often wet weather, it was time to head further north and back to the coast in search of sunshine and warmth.

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