Down Under Day 3: Serenity Now!

I left the hustle and bustle and yes craziness of Sydney at 7 in the morning to be in the peacefulness and tranquillity of nature. The train ride took 2.5 hours to get to Katoomba, the base for the Blue Mountains National Park and the Three Sisters rock formation, which is the most treasured wonder in the park. I was still considering the idea of checking out Jenolan Caves so I talked with a bus company about the possibility. With a clutch student discount, I took them up on the offer. It would take up a great deal of the day, which was not my intention so I decided to get a hostel for the night so that I could do some more hiking the following day. I only had my daypack with me which is to say not much. On the 1.5 hour bus ride to the caves I saw a great deal of the Blue Mountains National Park. The area was packed with Australian bush forest as the trees were tightly packed together rising up with the surrounding hills and peaks. Along the road, I saw yellow diamond warning signs with kangaroos and wombats listed. From there on out I kept a keen eye into the bush hoping to witness some authentic Australian wildlife. Around one bend the bus driver slowed down the bus and told us to look outside our windows. At first glance, I thought I was looking at a baby kangaroo but it turns out it was actually a wallaby, which was still really cool nevertheless. After getting out of the bus to move closer to the wallaby, we kept driving towards our destination stunned by the surrounding landscape composed of canyon-like features but more lively with all shades of green dotting the forest. Once at Jenolan Caves, we saw a blue lake just outside the entrance (it was literally a pure blue, kind of like the sky on a clear day; not surprisingly it is called Blue Lake) and was told by our bus driver that platypuses lived in its waters. After getting dropped off, I had about an hour and a half to kill before the Orient Cave tour began. I ran over to the Blue Lake in hopes of witnessing this oddly featured animal in its natural habitat. I saw many bubbles rise to the surface but no platypus rose along with them. After enough time there, I walked through a self-guided tour of the arch cave. It is fairly wide open on both ends and had some stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the cave. Through the far end of the cave, I could see a perfectly rounded window opening up to the same bush we saw on the drive over but its appearance was elevated by the framework of the cave and its stalactites rounding out the portrait. With the start of the tour quickly approaching to my displeasure (I wanted to explore a while longer), I joined the group before entering the cave. The entirety of the cave was a sight to be seen. The cave was packed with stalagmites rising from the base of the cave and stalactites hanging precariously from the upper ceiling and around. Some appeared hardened from the many years while others had a glossy wet exterior that showed they may perhaps still be growing or capable of reformation. I won’t bore you with overly technical details on how it was formed but I will give a slight overview since I found it fascinating. Water slowly enters cracks in the limestone rock and over time with a solution of minerals it begins to eat away at the inside of the rock forming the cave itself. The stalagmites and stalactites are formed by a watery solution composed of calcium carbonate and just like very sugary water left over time, the water evaporates and the sugary crystals remain. Sadly, these caves will not form again until the next Ice Age; an extraordinary amount of water is necessary to form a cave and the dream-like features it contains. These calcium bicarbonate crystals came in the wildest shapes. Some hanged like a thin cone while others formed ribbon-like features among a variety of other shapes that dazzled the eye. On the base of the caves is a surface similar to that of the bottom of an ocean near the shore with subtle ripples and air bubbles accentuating the terrain. Looking around the caves was similar to looking up at the sky and trying to make out what all the clouds looked like. Some of the rock formations looked like animals, little people, a pair of glasses, etc. Still mesmerized by the entirety of the cave, we departed the cool cell of the rock and boarded the bus. The bus took us along the same route and before I dozed off we saw three wallabies at the same corner of the road we saw the first wallaby. I got back to Katoomba and checked into my hostel before exploring the town and at the end of the road some of the walks surrounding the Three Sisters. While at the hostel for a short while, I chatted with an Irish for a bit. The conversation was like any other until he told me how he had never seen continental Europe before even though it is a short hop over the channel to get there. Echo Point is the main lookout platform giving the best view of the Three Sisters and a wide scenic view of the expansive Jamison Valley. This part of the Blue Mountains reminded me of the Grand Canyons. It kept going on for kilometres and kilometres filled with large valleys surrounded by the rising cliffs. It is basically the Grand Canyons but heavily wooded and filled with a multitude of birds guarding the Valley from above. Another image for you is that of Niagara Falls; the trees and the rest of the bush cascaded over the cliff’s edge hugging tightly to the vertical rocky plane before most of it entered the thick sea of the valley below. You may ask how the Blue Mountains and I will say from the people I met that the they are know. for their aptly named blue appearance in the distance. Apparently during certain temperature changes the eucalyptus trees that compose much of the bush give off a blue misty haze that gives the mountains their very unique appearance. I tested my legs trying to hike down into the valley. I got halfway there when I realized those same steep steps are going to suck to climb on the way up. I felt sooo out of shape; that rock staircase whipped me and gave me no mercy. Before going back to the hostel to call it an early night (I am beyond exhausted), I watched the sun set over the farthest peak. It was as picturesque of a sight as I have ever seen. An even more miraculous thing occurred when I got back to the hostel at 11:30 – the room was dark and everyone was asleep; I had easily the best night of sleep thus far in Australia.

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