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We've just spent three days exploring some of the history and scenic wonders of the mid Blue Mountains. The plan was to head straight to Jenolan Caves, spend a day and half there and then spend another day and half slowly travelling back, seeing any sights that caught our interest. With only a few minor hiccups, we both had a really great time.

Up bright and early. Well for me up early, I'm rarely bright early in the morning, even if Cynthia manages to pull off that miraculous feat. But then, she's a morning person. I'm definitely not. A bit of last minute packing, loading of the car and shutting the place up and we were on the road by 6:30am - pretty good since we were aiming at a 6am start. Well the day before we were. Cynthia drove the first leg and it was onto the Western Highway and up into the mountains. First stop was Blackheath, maybe 1/2 hour west of Katoomba, where we dropped in at the inn we'd be staying the next night - when I booked they said they had a deal with Jenolan Caves where they could offer discounts on the tours. Unfortunately, it was still only 8am and the ticket office at the caves didn't open until 9am - so no cheap tickets. Then it was onto Mount Victoria where I took over the driving and topped up the petrol - the last chance to fill up on petrol until on the way back from the caves.

Jenolan Caves Entrance
Jenolan Caves Entrance
Image © David Powell 2005
Back onto the road and onto the Caves. Got there just after 9:30am, making the trip about three hours, which was incredibly good going. Normally it takes at least 4 hours, but for some reason there was almost no traffic the whole way, even those places where it's almost always heavy traffic. It was a public holiday, so one would've expected a lot of people travelling. Then again, it was the last day of a long weekend, so they'd be travelling the other way - but no sign of that either.

Managed to get a spot in the guests' car park (one-dayer's have to pay $4.50 to park). The only downside of the guest car park is that it was a fair hike (and steep!) to get anywhere else - which was fine leaving the car, but getting back there was a real exercise. Check-in was after 2pm, so we left everything in the car, apart from cameras and stuff, and went to the ticket office to book some tours. After all, one goes to Jenolan Caves for the cave tours. Well most people do - Cynthia spoke to one of the people working at Caves House and she confessed to have only gone on 3 or 4 tours in the year or more she'd been working there and that she couldn't see why people would actually want to go on a cave tour. The poor lass obviously had some severe psychological disorder! Anyways, back to the caves. After looking at what tours were available, what I'd remembered of the various tours from the past and advice from the staff, we picked three tours for the day. Four would've left things a bit too tight, time wise.

Cerberus Cave Formations
Formations - Pool of Cerberus Tour
Image © David Powell 2005
Wandered around a bit, had a quick look in the gift shop and then off to the embarkation point for the first tour - the "Pool of Cerberus", named after the mythological dog with the three heads that guarded the gateway to hell. Pretty obviously, this tour contained a fair few lakes and streams, and yes, there was a formation called Cerberus, which was located above a lake with a deep, deep hole in it. Not quite bottomless, but certainly a long dive to the bottom, and that only with tanks. The guide for this tour was a fairly young chap (Russell), but he was both very knowledgeable and also very enthusiastic about caving. He even knew Julia James, one of the top speleologists in Australia - someone I got to know during my time at Sydney Uni. Cerberus is one of the best tours - lots of wonderful formations and lots of variety. It's also a small tour (only 8 people at a time, the smallest of the cave tours) and usually only done once a week. Small tours are always better since the guide doesn't have to waste as much time shepherding all the tourists. Not an easy tour - lots of steps, over 700 of them (that's steps as in stairs, mind you), and the length of the tour is over a kilometre. 'Tis one of the hardest of the non-adventure tours.
Pool of Cerberus
Pool of Cerberus
Image © Jenolan Caves Trust

Cerberus is one of the newer show caves, having been discovered in 1903, hence there's little damage from tourists souveniring formations (which was common prior to 1900). Some of the more striking features included a formation that looked like a giant mushroom (probably not hallucinogenic tho'), a beautifully formed minaret and some stalagmites and 'tites covered with what looked like a dense thicket of fungus (actually helictites) called "The Arabesque". There's the Bath of Venus (a stalagmite imaginatively seen as Venus perched upon a flowstone which, in turn, was perched over a small lake; as well as the Oberon Grotto and several sections of the underground river, The River Styx. In case ya wondering, the early cave explorers were also nuts on classical and biblical mythology. The Pool of Cerberus itself offers some pretty spectacular reflections, as do most of the pools. In a quirk of cave geology, even if the water is moving fairly rapidly, the surface is almost always dead still. Depth perspective is also really screwed up - water that looks like it's only a few centimetres deep can actually be dozens of metres deep and vice versa. One of the lakes on the tour looks like it's a metre deep, at most, but in fact it's over 96 metres deep! The guide related an amusing horror story about that lake - once upon a time an explorer was diving down the lake when he encountered a flipper attached to what looked like a leg. It was actually part of a wetsuit that'd been lost by an earlier diver. A very rapid ascent was avoided only by the risk of getting the bends.

Almost two hours later (running overtime, not that I'd complain) the tour ended. We had a quick lunch at the bistro and then it was back for the next tour. This time the Temple of Baal. Baal is a tour I've been on twice before. A fairly short tour - apart from connecting passages there's only two caverns, tho' one is a real doozy. The Baal tour is fairly easy - it's less than 1/3rd km and almost all the steps are getting from the entrance to the first cavern. Baal is a mid-sized tour, with up to 25 people. Quite a few kids were on this tour and since the guide targeted his spiel towards them, there wasn't all that much of interest in it for the adults. In contrast, the Cerberus tour had two geologists and myself in the party of 8, so we were spared the usual "dumbed down kiddie" spiel.
Temple of Baal Formations
Formations - Temple of Baal
Image © David Powell 2005

The tour starts with a long walk thru' the Binoomea Cut, blasted out in the 1950's to allow easier access to Baal and some of the other caves and named after the aboriginal name for the caves, which means "Dark Places". Without that access they'd have remained adventure caves. Then down a flight of stairs to the first chamber. The big feature of this chamber is its large collection of helictites - one of the most extensive at Jenolan. There's also some cave pearls - round, snow-white balls of calcite that look just like pearls and form in shallow bowls in the limestone. An unusual feature of the first cavern is the "bottle-ite". In the 1950's when the present entrance was being made, the workers had a practice of leaving a glass bottle under a steady drip - it would be refilled each morning when they came to do another day's work. Upon the completion of the entrance, the bottle was left. Like anything else left in a cave, drip after drip after drip has left the bottle covered with calcite - apparently foreign materials such as glass and electrical wire accelerate the rate of crystal growth. After 50 years the bottle is still recognisable - just. In another 50 years it'll be just another stalagmite.

Bottle-ite Temple of Baal
"Bottle-ite" - Temple of Baal
Image © David Powell 2005
There's then a passageway leading to the larger cavern. A much larger cavern. This larger cavern is known as the Temple and is full of formations that have biblical names. There's the Angel's Wing, the largest free hanging shawl at Jenolan at 9 metres in length. There're two altar's - Baal's and Elisha's, the former red, the latter white. Gabriel with his sword overlooks the white altar. Perched right at the top of the cavern is Baal - naturally enough. A short flight of stairs brings you to a viewing platform, partway up, with a view upwards, of a chamber called Paradise, full of helictites, soda straws and snow-white formations. Looking downwards is another chamber, full of red-brown formations, aptly named Hell. One of the mysteries surrounding Baal is the presence of a high volume water drip in the larger cavern. The volume points to a sizable lake of water somewhere in the mountain above the Baal system, but despite extensive searching, no such lake has yet been found. One of the cave explorers did claim to have found a lake big enough to float a battleship somewhere above the Baal cavern, but he left soon afterwards under dubious circumstances without saying just where his lake was and attempts to rediscover it have all failed.
Caves House
Jenolan Caves House
Image © Jenolan Caves Resort

After the Baal tour it was time for the strenuous hike back to the guest's car park where we picked up the luggage and carried it back down to Caves House - fortunately all downhill! At check-in we got a pleasant surprise - our room had been upgraded. Most rooms at Caves House have shared bathroom facilities down the corridor and that's what we'd booked. Instead we got a room with it's own ensuite. At no extra cost, naturally. Checked the room out and then vegged for an hour or two before having a walk around the area - the accommodation, car parks, ticket office etc are all snuggled into a small valley, totally surrounded on all four sides by mountains. The only entrance is through a natural arch called The Grand Arch. The arch is so large that even in its natural state, a horse and carriage could easily be driven through. The passage has been cut deeper to make the floor level with the ground outside. The arch itself is actually a cave in it's own right with lots of formations and, in the centre at least, cool and dark. Most of the show cave tours begin with entrances inside the Grand Arch. Had a walk around the Blue Lake - so named cuz the water looks blue from all the dissolved limestone. It's actually a dam and the water supply for the resort. There's a small hydroelectric plant downstream, which supplies most of the electricity for the caves and the resort. One of the caves was the second place in the world to have electric lighting.
Blue Lake
Blue Lake
Image © David Powell 2005

While the caves themselves were spectacular (but that's thanks to nature, not human hands), everything else displayed a strong air of faded elegance. By that I mean that at one time a lot of effort had been put into the whole valley. Carefully sculptured terrace gardens, walking paths and Caves House itself. However over the past few years (or even decades) little effort seems to have been put into maintenance. The gardens have all gone to weed, with some plants having gone wild, others barely holding on and many reduced to dead husks. A few plants, most notably ivy, have gone wild, extensively covering the slopes of the valley, especially lower down where all that can be found on the slopes are trees and ivy. Ironic then that there're signs all over saying that the place is a nature reserve and that the removal of any stones, plants or animals is an offence. Caves house showed the same lack of maintenance with peeling paint, cobwebs (the lamp on the reception desk in the restaurant had a rather healthy cobweb in it and this was by far not the only one), uncompleted paint jobs (and unfinished since my last visit!), and so forth. Whether it's politics, financial trouble, both or something else, I dunno. The caves are state-owned while Caves House is maintained and operated by a leaseholder.

Since we had an evening tour, we'd booked in at the restaurant for the earliest time possible. The restaurant itself was quite grand (apart from the cobweb and long uncompleted paint job on the ceiling) and the food was quite exceptional - no complaints at all there. Service was quick too - maybe 5 minutes from ordering to the arrival of the meal.
Orient Cave
Indian Canopy - Orient Cave
Image © David Powell 2005

After the meal it was back to the room for a change into something more casual and then off for the evening tour. The biggie. For some reason they keep their best and longest show tours for the evenings. Maybe because almost everyone on them is staying at the 'caves' for the night. Whichever, the evening tour, when it's on, is certainly the best value. I say "show tours" since the adventure tours are during the day and can go for 5 or 6 hours, sometimes more. But they're for those who prefer crawling thru' narrow, dark and muddy holes and the like. Me, I prefer a bit of comfort.

The evening tour we went on was the Extended Orient. It's one of several extended & theme tours offered. There's also a historical tour and the very popular Ghost Tour. The Extended Orient tour starts with the normal Orient tour, then drops down for part of the River Cave tour and then back up to finish off with part of the Lucas Cave tour. The tour ended up going for almost 3 hours, which is twice as long as the usual Orient tour, so there's certainly a lot more packed in there. We actually did the tour in reverse, starting at the Lucas cave end. Lucas is one of the oldest known caves, being discovered in the 1860's. The extended tour includes the first chamber, the Cathedral, the highest known chamber in the Jenolan system, with views deep down of the River Styx. The cathedral is regularly used for concerts and is popular for weddings. The tour then descends down thru' the Pool of Cerberus level and down again to the River Cave with views of the River Styx and several pools including the Pool of Reflections, which offers a near perfect reflection of the roof above, so much so it's almost impossible to tell any difference between the reality and which the reflection. There're also some pretty neat formations such as the Queen's Canopy and the Giant Shawl. We then left the River Cave and climbed up for the Orient Cave.
Extended Orient Tour
Extended Orient Tour
Image © David Powell 2005

The Orient has the largest and most colourful collection of formations in the Jenolan system and is considered one of the most spectacular in the world. It consists of two large chambers, the Persian and Indian Chambers, connected by a passageway called the Egyptian Chamber. Both chambers are packed solid, but some of the more noteworthy features include the The Pillar of Hercules, Jenolan's tallest known stalagmite at 10 metres, and the petrified forest, both in the Persian Chamber, Cleopatra's Grotto in the Egyptian chamber and the spectacular Indian Canopy and the Golden Fleece in the Indian chamber, along with several pools. The Indian Canopy is so spectacular that it was chosen as the emblem for Caves Trust, which runs the tours and manages the whole cave system. The connecting chamber also has lots of columns (no doubt which was why it was called the Egyptian Chamber). We entered the Orient via it's back end, into the Indian Chamber and exited via the Binoomea Cut, which ends at two airlocks - one for the Baal tour, the other for the Orient. Wherever they're cut new entrances to the caves, they've installed airlocks so as to minimise interference to the natural air flow in the caves - when the airlocks open you can feel a strong wind blowing thru'.

By then it was around 11pm, so it was time to head off to our room, shower and crash for the night. A rather hard bed, which alas didn't go down well with my back, which is far from the best at the moment.
Devil's Coachhouse Entrance
Devil's Coachhouse
Image © David Powell 2005

Checked out and loaded the car and then booked another tour. Had a bit of a wait for that one, so did the short walk to the Devil's Coach House - another large arch. Jenolan Caves has three big arches, the Grand Arch, Devil's Coach House and the Carlotta Arch, as well as several smaller ones. The Coach House is smaller than the Grand Arch and doesn't have any formations, but there are quite a few cave entrances leading off it - none are show caves, but I assume they've all been explored. The floor is covered with large boulders and it looks like part of the ceiling has collapsed in the geologically recent past, hence the absence of formations even tho' there're quite a few drips in the cavern.

Then it was back to the Grand Arch for our last tour, the Imperial Diamond. This is actually an extended Imperial tour. The Imperial tour is one of the easiest tours and is easily done even by the elderly and infirm (tho' cave tours tend not to be wheelchair friendly, naturally enuf). The Imperial Diamond contains the Imperial tour along with a lot of side trips to smaller caverns and a trip down a level to an underground river.

Lot's Wife
Lot's Wife - Diamond Cave
Image © David Powell 2005
Imperial is basically a comparatively straight (in cave terms) passageway, which widens at several points. There is a middlish-sized cavern near the end, but nothing on the scale of many of the other tours. One of the unusual things about the Imperial is that it's one of the breather caverns for the entire cave system. That is, it's one of the natural exits. Because there's a lot of airflow thru' the passage, the first few 100 metres have very dry and chalky formations, tho' as you get further in the humidity rises (most of the Jenolan system is a wet) and in the rear third there're quite a few formations. Just past the entrance the temperature drops drastically - quite a bit below the 15'C that the rest of the cave system enjoys. About 1/2 way in there's a small cavern with a display case containing semi-fossilised bones of a Tasmanian Devil, long extinct on the mainland, but preserved in the cave. Lots of bones are found in the cave - some from animals that find their way in and die in the dark, other's are  washed in during a flood. There're even bones from a possible sub-species of the extinct Tasmanian Tiger found in the cave, tho' that's somewhat controversial. While some caves were just slowly eaten out of the rock, Imperial was carved out by an underground river and you can trace the path of the river as it dug it's way deeper and deeper. The river (Jenolan River) is still there, tho' it's now found on the level beneath. A side trip on the Imperial took us down a narrow a very narrow and winding staircase (66 steps) to the river. The water looks quite still, but just beneath the surface it's actually flowing with quite a pace.
The Mystery (or a giant nose)
Gem of the West - Diamond
(or is it a giant nose?)
Image © David Powell 2005

Some of the features in the Imperial include Ridley's Short Cut - so named after one of the tourists back in the 1800's who was on a party going thru' the Elder Cave which is located above the Imperial. Looking thru' a hole down to the Imperial level, he got closer and closer to get a better look - and fell. He landed on a pile of chicken wire which saved his life, tho' he broke dozen of bones. He recovered and eventually gained some fame as a politician in latter years. There's the Crystal Cities, looking very much like a mediaeval city, complete with walls, Nellies Grotto which looks like the teeth of some giant, but fortunately dead, beastie, Lot's Wife, which looks very much like a tall snow white column of salt. Further on is a chamber called the Fairy Bower, which is full of formations. Leading off the chamber is the Diamond Passage, packed with formations all along the passage and ending in a small chamber containing the very photogenic "Gem of the West". The Diamond continues further on, but the tour stops there. The show section of the Imperial passage ends facing a wall of compacted mud with a narrow walkway thru' it - part of one of the adventure tours. But for us, the tour then heads back to the entrance where we came in.

We finished our time a Jenolan attempting the Carlotta Arch walk. All the signs indicated an easy 15 minute walk, return. After about 15 minutes one-way and no sign of the end, we gave up and headed back - we wanted to head out at 1:15pm when the Jenolan Caves road becomes two-way again (from 11:15am to 1:15pm it's one-way .. in). For our efforts we were rewarded great views of the Jenolan Valley and Caves House. Checking the brochures after getting home revealed the walk was actually 45mins! We had lunch at the Caves House bistro and it was then time to hit the road and head back to Sydney.

Monday's weather was fairly warm, maybe 30'c with low humidity. Early Tuesday morning there was a cool change and the day dawned with very light showers, tho' they didn't last long, the cloud remained and it stayed a fairly cool day, in the mid 20's.

Hartley Ghost Town
Old Hartley Court House
Image © David Powell 2005
First stop on the way back was Old Hartley. Now a ghost town, it was one of the earliest settlements west of the Blue Mountains and for many decades played an important role in the region and it's development. When the western rail line bypassed the village, it quickly faded into oblivion. Today, only a few homes, the old sandstone courthouse and two churches remain, the latter two still serving the Hartley valley community. Most of the surviving buildings date back to the 1830's. It was pretty quiet when we got there - we were the only visitors, so there were no tours being run. We had a quick look around and then headed off again (I've been there two other times in the past 10 years, so it's pretty familiar territory for me).

Still in the Hartley Valley, also known as the Vale of Clywdd, we visited some art galleries along the Western highway. The first was the Talisman Gallery, which specialises in metal artwork, most with a fantasy bent. Very much new-agish. Some of the work was quite exquisite and beautiful, tho' a lot of it could best be described as for an acquired taste. The second we wanted to visit was the Aldgate Gallery, with glasswork, pottery, woodwork, jewellery and the like. Alas it was closed - despite the opening hours on the sign, it's only open on weekends. Instead we popped in next door to the Artists Shed, housing the work of Jenny Dawes and Bill Offord. Given the prices, I assume they're well known in art circles. Some of it looked nice, but I guess I'm too much of the impressionist school. I think that's wot it's called - paintings that look like real life scenes. Each to their own.
Cox's Rd, Mt York
Cox's Road, Mt York, 1815
Image © David Powell 2005

There's lots of other stuff to see and do in the Hartley Valley - heaps of art galleries, historic buildings dating to the early 1800's. In fact it seems the Blue Mountains, along the Western Highway, is one big artists retreat, with galleries in every town, no matter how small. Some towns seem to consist of art galleries and little else, tho' I'm sure that's an exaggeration.

Heading east we travel up the western side of the Blue Mountains to reach Mount Victoria. There we do a bit of lookout hunting. First was Mount York. The Mt York Road is actually the site of the original western road, the one built by Cox in 1815. That particular road has personal significance for me since one of the convicts who worked on it was an ancestor of mine, John Brown (and yes, that was his real name). He was given an early pardon after the road was completed because the hard labour had so badly affected his health - he was on a life sentence because of his involvement in the Irish independence movement. Today he'd be called a terrorist. He was one of the lucky ones - countless numbers of convicts died during the road's construction. The drive from Mt Victoria to Mt York is fairly level and the present day road ends there. Cox's road then plunged down an extremely steep slope to reach the Hartley Valley below. In places the slope of the road was more than 45'. I'd've hated to have driven a carriage down there - or up. No doubt more than a few reached the end a bit quicker than they've desired. Traces of the original road still remain, tho' it's been heavily overgrown and the dirt and gravel used to smooth the roadway has all long since been washed away. Still, with the cuttings thru' the rock you can get a picture of the road as it may have originally appeared. The Mt York road is on a narrow promontory with Cox's road continuing down the end. On either side of the promontory are vertical cliffs with some pretty spectacular rock walls, especially where the rock has been heavily eroded by the wind and rain (the wind always seems to blow strong there), into some rather weird shapes. It's also an abseiler's paradise. A bunch of them had just jumped off the cliff when we arrived. There's a long walking track that follows the path of the original road down into the valley, but time and energy precluded more than just the first part. Further down there're more remains from Cox's road.
Mt York
View from Mt York
Image © David Powell 2005

Just south of Mount Victoria is Mt Piddington, reputed to have good views, but one could only catch glimpses thru' the trees. Not far from Mt Piddington is One Tree Hill, the highest point in the Blue Mountains at 1,111m. It had more than one tree on it, from what I could tell.

It was getting late, so skipped the historic sights of Mt Victoria and headed a little bit further east to Blackheath where we checked in at the Blackheath Motor Inn, where we'd had a reservation for the spa suite. Apart from the spa it didn't seem all that fancy to me and the bed was like sleeping on concrete. Just as we were about to head off to a local watering hole for dinner, it started raining and soon a brief storm erupted. The storm still passed, but the rain remained, as too gusts of wind. We decided to brave the elements and head off by foot since the inn manager assured us it was just a short walk down the road. The umbrella lasted only a few minutes before a gust caught it and did the expected. Got to the pub only slightly damp and had a tasty and filling meal, along with part of a bottle of wine. By the time we'd finished the meal, the rain had stopped, so it was quickly back to the inn before it could return and there endeth the day.

Spent most of the morning shopping in Blackheath. Ended up spending all our time in just two shops, but there're plenty more. Spent ages in "Collier's Crystals & Gifts". A whole shop packed full of minerals and semi-precious gems. Paradise for a semi-retired amateur rock hound like me. After ages of browsing we ended up with two largish masses of quartz crystal, one citrine quartz (yellow), the other clear. Cynthia then headed off to another shop while I browsed the 'serious collector' drawers and bought some more goodies to add to my collection. I also took the opportunity (actually the collector's drawer was the excuse) to buy a lovely pair of amethyst earrings which someone was earlier admiring. Next stop was the Victory Theatre Antiques, the old Blackheath theatre/cinema that had been converted into a huge antique store. Lots of lovely old stuff there .. and some, well, less that lovely. Something for everyone. The promo for it says it's the largest antique shop west of Sydney. Could well be true, for all I know. 'Tis actually a co-op shop, with over 50 dealers selling stuff there. After the shopping we took a break and had morning tea at the Bakehouse with a delicious menu selection. T'was so hard to pick from the large display on offer.

Blackheath is also something of an arty town with a lot of art galleries, with paintings, glasswork, pottery, jewellery and much more. It's also famous for its rhododendron gardens - in season, that is.
Mt Victoria Toll House
Mt Victoria Toll House
Image © David Powell 2005

We'd missed the historical part of Mt Victoria when we passed thru' on Tuesday, so we then headed back west. First stop was the Mt Victoria Toll House. Back in the 1800's the Western Road used to be a tollway and there were toll houses scattered all along the road. Today only a few survive. It has sadly seen much better days, tho' it was very solidly built out of sandstone, so it may just need a new coat of paint and a new tin roof. The roof was originally wooden shingles, but the local council wont allow it to be restored with shingles since it's supposedly a fire hazard. Mind you, the whole area is full of pine trees and the ground thickly carpeted with dead pine needles. Sounds very much like missing the tree for the forest. The Toll House also served as the residence of the toll keeper and his family and was attractively built using different coloured sandstone blocks and nestled amongst trees and shrubbery. Until recently ownership was passed from one government department to another, none seeming all that interested in doing anything with it, tho' for a time it was leased out as an office. In the '90's it passed into private ownership and the new owners, who were walking their dog and gave us a tour of the cottage, plan to restore it, tho' they were a bit vague on what they'd do with it. A B&B maybe, a museum? A rather interesting couple .. well mother and son. Let's just call them eccentric and leave it at that.
Mt Victoria Post Office
Mt Victoria Post Office
Image © David Powell 2005

Then to downtown Mt Victoria where we walked around the historic district, most of the buildings dating to before 1875. The old post office (1897) is particularly spectacular, built on the same lines as the toll house. There's also a very impressive and large railway station (1868), which now houses a historical museum in the old 'refreshment rooms'. The station is still in use, so 'tis a curious mix of old and new. All made from hand-hewn sandstone blocks, of course. The museum is, alas, only open in the afternoons. But without doubt, Mt Victoria's most famous old building is the Hotel Imperial, built in 1878. The Imperial is build along classical Victorian lines and has a strong olde worlde posh feel to it, right from the moment you enter with a row of antique leather chairs (and quite comfy too!). The Imperial was the first of the posh hotels built in the Blue Mountains to cater for the upper-crust tourist market. The Australian Hotels Association rates it the best tourist hotel in country NSW and I guess they're the experts. Had a look around inside and it's certainly very elegant. No doubt we'll be staying there at some time in the future.
Hydro Majestic
Hydro Majestic - Medlow Bath
Image © David Powell 2005

With time starting to run short, we headed back east. First stop was Medlow Bath. Medlow Bath's claim to fame is the Hydro Majestic, but we first had a look at the railway gatekeeper's cottage (1867). A quaint sandstone cottage with a steeped roof, surrounded by colourful and healthy gardens. Like the toll house, we were fortunate in that the owner turned up while we were there and offered to show us around - it's now a holiday rental cottage, 'The Gatehouse'. Quite nice, tho' I daresay the closeness to the railway will be a bit of a bother at night, especially when the freight trains come thru'. Quite high ceilings and very well looked after. Then we had a look at the Hydro. The Hydro is another of the Blue Mountain's posh hotels. It still caters to that market and still maintains an air of elegance and wealth. The Hydro started off as a health spa (now silted up). In the early 1900's, several hotels (1891) were combined and renamed the Hydro. Destroyed by fire in 1922 it was rebuilt. A very large and imposing place with extensive gardens and the view of the Megalong Valley from the cafe-restaurant is simply spectacular.
Gordon Falls Lookout, Leura
Gordon Falls Lookout, Leura
Image © David Powell 2005

Not More steps ...
Not more steps ...
Sublime Point Lookout
Image © David Powell 2005
The final port of call for the day was Leura. After a quick walk up the main street, we had a rather late lunch and then did some more shopping. The main street is packed full of arty stores, antique shops and the like. For many years Leura was described as Katoomba's best kept secret - most of the tourists stayed in Katoomba and sampled its attractions, while only the more discerning (or knowledgeable) went to next-door Leura. That seems to have changed now - the main street was crowded. We spent some more money and then headed off for some lookouts (there's lots to do at Leura, but it was getting late in the day, so we only sampled all the things you can do there). First stop was the Gordon Fall's Lookout. Spectacular views of the Jamison Valley and Mt Solitary. One thing that was clear from that lookout was how flat the Blue Mountains really are. They're not really mountains, rather a large expanse of land that has been uplifted and heavily eroded with many, many canyons. The ridges are all much the same height. Then had a look at Sublime Point lookout. A long promontory, which narrows considerably to the end to a wind, swept rocky lookout with spectacular views and a rather unusual view of the eastern side of the Three Sisters. Great views of vertical cliff faces around the valley, showing patches of bright yellow-orange of relatively freshly exposed sandstone surrounded by the darker grey-brown of the exposed rock.

Then, alas, it was time for the final drive back home and the end of the trip.

Some web sites of relevance
Jenolan Caves Trust (manages the caves):
Caves House:
Talisman Gallery:
Dawes & Offord:
Collier's Crystals & Gifts:
Victory Theatre Antiques:
Blackheath Art Circuit:
The Hotel Imperial:
The Gatehouse:
Hydro Majestic: