Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Katoomba: Australia's iconic Three Sisters

Katoomba only be 2 hours west of Sydney by car or train, but is home to one of Australia's most recognizable natural landmarks. The Three Sisters. A world away from the hustle and bustle of Australia's largest city, Katoomba has long been a popular holiday or day-tripping destination for international visitors. And with some of Australia's best natural scenery, it's easy to see why.

The 1883 Carrington Hotel in Katoomba is still a landmark in Katoomba Street. Photo 2015.

By the early 1900's, Katoomba was considered to be one of the premier tourist destinations in the British Empire and is home to the grand 1883 Carrington Hotel. Today The Carrington is enjoying a new lease of life after a lengthy restoration project returned it to its early grandeur, but then again, so is the town of Katoomba itself. On any given day it is impossible not to see a convoy of tour buses pulled up alongside Echo Point or nearby Scenic World. And before rushing off to see the famous Three Sisters, there is plenty of old world charm waiting to be explored on hilly Katoomba Street.

The former Carrington Hotel boiler room in Parke Street is now home to a deli and wine cellar. Photo 2015.

Katoomba's past is still being recycled by artists and restaurateurs, and makes for a much more lively blend of interesting stores and cafes than your typical older towns that tend to be inundated with antique shops. It seems everything old is new again in Katoomba, and it is this funky fringe feel that has attracted a wave of musicians and artists to the largest town in the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains Explorer bus takes visitors to all of Katoomba's attractions. Photo 2010.

For those wanting to take in more than the main street of town, the Blue Mountains Explorer bus offers visitors an all day hop-on, hop-off pass that gives you time to explore what you like, for as long as you like and leaves opposite Katoomba Railway Station. However, when I first took my family on a holiday to Katoomba in 2010, we stayed four nights at the 3 Sisters Motel which was only a few minutes walk from Echo Point, the Three Sisters and the Skyway which takes you across the valley to Scenic World. Not only did the motel provide excellent value for money while exploring all the Blue Mountains had to offer, but the food at their Black Canvas Bar & Grill was fantastic.

Voted Australia's best value motel, the 3 Sisters Motel did not disappoint when we visited back in 2010.

From the 3 Sisters Motel, we were able to walk one of Australia's best short bush walks, the Prince Henry Cliff Walk that follows the cliff top from where the Skyway departs, to Echo Point and down the Giant Stairway to the base of the Three Sisters themselves.

Cliff View lookout on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk at Katoomba, 2010.

Armed with a camera and a backpack containing bottled water and our morning tea, I set off with my wife Denise and our (then) two teenagers Rochelle and Brandon to enjoy some of Australia's best views, without rushing and away from the busloads of tourists who only have time to walk off the bus to the nearest lookout. For the next hour, we soaked in views that will stay with us for a lifetime, all while passing only two retired couples who were also enjoying having the track to themselves.

Lady Darley lookout on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, Katoomba 2010.

The view across to Mount Solitary across the Jamison Valley is exceptional in that once you round the first bend on the cliff face and the view of Scenic World disappears, there is not a scrap of civilisation to be seen. It's hard to believe that this place exists only 2 hours from Sydney. To sit and look out across the valley below makes you feel small, and thoughts of work, bills and everyday routines simply drown in its vastness.

That's me standing at Echo Point and looking down over the Three Sisters below, photo taken 2015.

Finally the Prince Henry Cliff Walk emerges from the bushland at Echo Point and the flock of tourists are there to greet us once more. While I've yet to make the trek into the outback of Australia to see Uluru or the legendary Ayers Rock, I can say I've visited the Three Sisters. As for the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, wow! What an experience that was to enjoy a view like this and stand on the edge of the Jamison Valley with only my family there to enjoy it with me. Five years later my wife Denise and I would return once more, this time without the kids, to take in the view again. It was just as spectacular, although we didn't have time on this visit to trek along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. Perhaps it was just as well. Now that our kids have grown up, it can stay nestled away as one of those memories that should never be replaced.

What I liked: The scenery is some of the best you'll see in Australia, but taking the time to explore the streets of Katoomba proved surprising.

What I didn't like: There's no escaping it, but the crowds at Scenic World and Echo Point are a reminder of why this place is so popular. But you can escape them by doing the Prince Henry Cliff Walk.

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