Handing in a breakfast voucher and being given the dissembled ingredients for coffee, toast, and cereal is a slightly surreal experience, but that’s the YHA way!
The sun has driven the clouds away and the day has promise. We make a picnic lunch in the shared kitchen and set off to Echo Point and beyond.
We only need to walk a few streets before the whole town comes to an abrupt end. The earth falls dramatically away into a wide valley. As green as Devil’s Punchbowl in Surrey but more on the scale of the Grand Canyon, a massive cliff face overgrown with trees and shrubs, curves around the vast area. Katoomba has dwellings perched comfortably high on the cliff’s platform.
A well maintained footpath has been engineered to give access along the edge of the cliff top and we start walking along it. At times, it feels like we’re the only humans around, yet, quite suddenly, the sound of a motorbike makes us look up and, 30 foot above us, are bus stops and school signs. Then we plunge back to the wilderness feel and head towards the information point at Echo Falls.
If you have got to build an information station to host coaches, this is not a bad model! Small shop, clean toilets, huge viewing platform, and the aborigine playing the digareedo.
There has been a recent bush fire and John wishes he had seen the helicopters carrying tons of water to put it out, but the actually knock on affect is that there are partial closures to footpaths. We are told the lower path is open. First we pay our respects to the 3 Sisters rocks. Aboriginal legend says during a war, these three beautiful sisters were in danger of their virtue, or at least being kidnapped. The magician turned them into three huge rocks so they could come to no harm. Sadly the magician was killed during the fighting and no-one else knew how to complete the spell and turn them back to women. They are still waiting!
Starting at the grand staircase, we should walk an hour or so across the valley floor to the cable car, which will bring us back up. First there are 900 steps! Some cantilevered out from the sheer rock face, some uneven stone, which has you gripping onto the ever present handrail. There are sporadic viewpoints and benches.
650 steps down we meet the first people going back up! Then another couple! All report that they have made it to the bottom only to find a tape saying the path was closed due to fire. But the information centre had said it was open we exclaim. Yes, they were told that but there is a tape!
What to do?
Don’t chance it! Climbing back up 650 steps is bad enough, climbing down a further 250 and then back 900 immediately after? I think not! We turn round and begin the haul up. Oh my aching legs! But we make it. One girl confidently tells us she has reported the tape to the information centre who made phone calls and, it’s a mistake the path IS open. So she is going back down!
Not me! I prefer the slow walk home, reading, perhaps a snooze for John!
I have never walked down 650 steps simply to turn round and go back without ‘getting anywhere’ before!