After the disappointment that was Canberra, we drove a few 100kms back towards Sydney. The aim was to buy and install an awning with fly nets and get the van checked over.
We checked out a few quirky towns on route (check out the giant merino sheep) before deciding to stay at Poplar Tourist Park in Camden. Despite being maybe an hour or so drive from Sydney’s CBD, this was still classed as within the Sydney district.
It was a relatively cheap site, at $25 a night with no power, and Camden was a pretty little town with some good pubs and a McDonalds.
After our first night, we drove to Silverwater, a Sydney suburb, in search of an awning. The drive took about an hour and a half thanks to terrible traffic and constant red lights. It was also boiling hot. We arrived to find that the Silverwater site was the company’s head office (thanks Google) and not the showroom where we could buy the awning. We had to drive half an hour back to Smithfield where Emma had sworn the showroom was all along.
Disappointingly, we could purchase the awning but it couldn’t be fitted until some point in February once they’d opened up a new shop. It would have been fine if we owned a drill and had some form of electricity. Not a very productive three hour return trip and we ended up booking the van in at the mechanics in Camden anyway.
The next morning we dropped the van off at 8am so that the mechanics could have a quick look over. Of course, they’d ring us to let us know of any problems and when it was ready to pick up.
12:30pm came and went so we returned to find not only the van waiting for us but also a $240 invoice. The van had new spark plugs (no longer a cylinder down!), new ignition leads and the ignition timing had been adjusted. It started first time but given the delay we had to stay another night in Camden. The Blue Mountains would have to wait until the morning.
Our introduction to the Blue Mountains was a gentle incline which the van handled beautifully. I was pretty happy and felt as though a weight had been lifted. Glenbrook is the gateway to the Blue Mountains and the only section of the National Park where entry fees apply.
We thought it would be a good idea to check out the Red Hands Caves although we didn’t know what the road would entail. 13km of steep steep hills and unsealed madness. Straight into the deep and unforgiving Australian bush. It wasn’t the ideal day out for a newly fixed van; avoiding huge potholes and rocks flying everywhere. Our top speed was about 20km/h
It was quite scary and, after a further fifteen minute walk, the cave was a bit of an anti-climax but intriguing nevertheless.
As like most days, our home for the night was decided on the day and we booked into Blackheath Caravan Park for $38 a night with no power. Pretty expensive but we wanted to be within reach of the main tourist areas so we could spend a few days exploring. It was much cheaper than a bus tour anyway.
The Blue Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s easy to see why. This place is incredibly beautiful with huge gorges and canyons, rainforests and waterfalls. The highlights, obviously, were the Three Sisters, Scenic World and Wentforth Falls.
The Three Sisters is a distinct rock formation which, according to Aboriginal legend, represents three sisters who were turned to stone. The lookout at Echo Point towards the Three Sisters was just perfect. We made sure to visit later in the day, at golden hour, when all the tourist buses had left. We shared the place with maybe ten other people. Watching the sunset over the Blue Mountains was something dreams are made of. My pictures do not do it justice.
We also walked a few kilometres down to Wentworth Falls although the best view was from opposite. You can’t see much of the water flying off the edge of the gorge when you are on top of it. Some people tried though. We watched from afar as people jumped the barrier and came within a few feet of the steep drop into the valley below. No thank you.
On the way back to the car park, we thought it would be a good idea to walk the ‘Undercliff’ track. I don’t know why I keep doing these things to myself. An overhanging cliff above us and an insanely steep drop to the left did not leave me feeling well at all.
Scenic World is a tourist attraction comprised of the steepest railway in the world (a 55% gradient), a glass bottomed cable car and another cable car up from the valley floor. We paid for a day pass even though we arrived in the afternoon as it meant we got unlimited rides on each of the three attractions. The glass floor cable car was great and I wasn’t that scared. The best part was the railway which is more of a rollercoaster. We went down twice and back up sitting right at the front. On one of our descents we moved the seat forward into the ‘cliffhanger’ position which increased the gradient to about 60%. Our bags went flying and Emma’s waterbottle ended up somewhere down the front. It was absolutely mental.
Interestingly, only a day after the van was ‘fixed’, we could not start the van at all outside Scenic World which ended with another call to the RAC. We were told the wait was three hours but luckily a friendly mechanic turned up in fifteen minutes. It was easily fixed; the new lead had come clean off and simply needed re-attaching. If only I knew something about cars.
We’d missed our chance to go to the Paragon Café in Katoomba, Australia’s oldest running cafe, but we still had time to walk down part of the Giant Staircase to Honeymoon Bridge. It sounds lovely but these steps are carved into the side of the vertical gorge and the bridge connects to one of the Three Sisters. I’m scared of heights and many bad words came out of my mouth. Supposedly I was walking down the stairs like I’d had an ‘accident’ but I’m pretty sure Emma’s making that up.
Our final morning in the Blue Mountains was spent at the Paragon Café with cake and tea.
Time to Move Inland
As you know, we don’t really have a plan at the moment. We have to be back in Sydney at the beginning of March and we will then be able to start the lap of Australia. We decided to head further inland to check our rural New South Wales; farming country.
To try and balance out our spends at the start of the week, we returned to free camping at Lake Wallace for two nights and Carcoar Dam for another. The skies at Lake Wallace were the clearest I’ve ever seen.
We liked the sound of Cowra so that’s where we decided to head to. On the way, we stopped off at Bathurst, Australia’s first inland settlement. We’ll be back for sure as you can drive around the Mount Panorama racetrack for free. I’m reckoning Max will get the lap record. Cowra’s claim to fame is that, during WWII, 1,000 Japanese POW’s attempted to break out of the camp. The Japanese would rather die fighting than suffer the humiliation of capture.