I hit the trail well before 7 a.m. The wind was brisk and the red sunrise foretold of a day that was not going to be totally benign. A quick glance at the view across Grose Valley from Evans Lookout into the mist tinged floor and I began the descent, initially on the old stone stairs and then on the new, solid, almost shiny, rock stepping stones whose absence had caused the trail to be closed for months.
I moved through the wildflowers, predominantly yellow, purple and white, and the matchstick straight eucalypts and coachwood that were such a contrast to their bent and gaunt counterparts atop the wind ravaged plateau. Water was trickling through the small gully beside the track, gurgling with delight that the remnants of yesterday’s violent storm had given it life. The greater the number of steps the more the chasm narrowed; ferns became a dominant vegetation in this world where light has but a fleeting presence.
After half an hour I came to the intersection where you can go straight ahead to Beauchamp Falls or right to the Grand Canyon and Neates Glen. The former option was closed so it wasn’t really an option at all.
It’s also where two streams meet. Stepping across the stony creek bed I picked up the track again and pushed on into the surreal world of the Blue Mountains canyons.
I push on until I come to the turn off to the left indicating the Grand Canyon walk but ahead of me there’s another. I decide to take it.
Neates Glen is at one end of the Grand Canyon, the southern end. It's where the canyon opens up from being a slot canyon to a more wider chasm, though the river still cuts deep into it.
Here you'll get a better look at the cliffs and a less intense feeling than where the canyon gets tighter. You also get to walk beneath a waterfall (if there's enough water at the time) and see where the canyoners enter to do their thing.
The NPWS centre is the start of the Fairfax Heritage Track (2 km one way) and it's paved which makes it okay for wheelchair users and people with poor vision. It offers excellent views, glimpses of birdlife, views of waterfalls, rainforest environs and facilities.
Veils of droplets descend in delicate crystal showers from fern roots desperately clinging to niches in the sheer sandstone walls. The blipping sound of the water into the pools beneath is interspersed by the gleeful croaks of frogs happy to see the water once again returning more regularly to the ponds they call home. Lichen clings to other sites and fungi occasionally makes an appearance on some long ago fallen tree.
A massive log jam on one side is a reminder of what force nature can unleash when unrestrained yet the soft moss carpeting the rocks seems to belie any such maelstrom. Here and there the brightness of the sky penetrates this eerie world, lighting walls that man has ne’r touched and dancing on the ripples below the numerous cascades.
Amazingly, probably only 1-2 kilometres away, as per the flying crow, Katoomba Airport is located yet down here it might as well be on another planet. The only flying thing you can hear is the occasional bird call bouncing around the sandstone walls.
Too soon my time is up and I turn around and head back, retracing my steps all the way to the motorhome with one or two stops on the way out. It’s not until I’m almost at the carpark again that the first of the weekend bushwalkers put in an appearance. I’m grateful to have had the 2 ½ hours down there to myself and vow to repeat the dose some time in the future.
A spectacular rock in three stages and steep stairs to see all of its faces.
Great views over the valley and well worth the effort.
Best access is from Govetts Leap where you can do the walk around and see some spectacular views and Horseshoe Falls en route.
Also, there is more than one Pulpit Rock in the Blue Mountains but this is the main one.
Horseshoe Falls are situated to the left of Govetts Leap and a large majority of people that visit the lookout never take the ten minutes to go and have a look at them.
If you're a little more mobile and can spare half an hour then the walk to Pulpit Rock takes you over the top of the stream that feeds the falls and to a lookout across the other side of the horseshoe where you get the best view.
Evans Lookout Road extends north eastwards from the Great Western Highway at the eastern edge of Blackheath, out to Evans Lookout which offers views over Blue Mountains National Park. It is a good place to start a number of local walking tracks. One leads north to Govetts Leap Lookout (3 km one way), and another leads down and south for 1.5 km to Beauchamp Falls. A walk of medium difficulty, it is a very pleasant trek. The longer trek which starts from behind the shelter shed at Evans Lookout is the Neates Glen/Grand Canyon Circuit Walk (5 km) which allows occasional glimpses of lyrebirds and crayfish.
If you arrive in season, it may seem that everyone in Blackheath plants rhododendrons in their garden. If you want to get your fill then the best place to head is the the Rhododendron Garden in Bacchante Street (at the northern end of Blackheath)
It is open from 9.00-5.00 daily and has established a careful harmony between native flora and the rhododendron displays. There are more than 1500 rhododendrons in the gardens. The Rhododendron Festival is held each year in the second week in November when the flowers are in bloom.
To see the natives and rhododendrons displayed together is very interesting, considering that rhododendrons are considered a weed in Wales.
They're also known as the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens or Bacchante.
Admission is by Gold Coin donation at the Car Park.
The Society raises all of its own funds and receives no government funding, so it is important that when you do visit the Gardens you make a donation of a $1 or $2 coin (or more!) for each visitor into the Donation Box in the Car Park next to The Lodge inside the Gardens. All work to maintain, improve and expand the Gardens is carried out by volunteers. More power to them I say.
The town’s shopping centre has an extremely relaxed atmosphere, as you'd expect of the Blue Mountains. Of particular interest is the Victory Theatre. While the building is no longer used as a theatre, it has been transformed into a spectacular antique centre which is certainly worth browsing through.
On its outside is one of the town’s proudest displays, a colourful mural designed by artist Jenny Kee and painted in 1985 by members of the local community on behalf of the Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre.
When you're in Blackheath it's almost impossible not to see unless you're visually impaired.
I’d viewed a photograph once, a lovely panorama of the Nepalese foothills, and in the caption it cautioned to always look back when you have a camera because you see things differently, which goes to explain I guess why I always like to walk a scenic trail both ways. That, and the fact that I’d lost my previous set of pictures of the Grand Canyon in a computer glitch, led me to the Neates Glen carpark once again.
Low cloud and fog had delayed my departure and I didn’t set out till 2.30 on the trail. I was only 15 minutes down when I realised I’d left my tripod trackside while taking my first batch of shots and had to spend another quarter of an hour retrieving it.
Off the escarpment and into the slot canyon, suddenly surrounded by ferns and hearing the sound of water instead of the rustle of open woodland. It never ceases to surprise me just how quick the vegetation changes; in the space of 50 metres it’s a whole new world.
Trundling down through Neates Glen, passing waterfalls and gazing down the ever deepening slot canyon my pleasure levels rose. I reached the spot where the canyoners abseil out of sight, suspended only by a rope affixed to three bolts embedded in the rock, and then, just a few minutes later, sixteen of them came walking back from their excursion, understandably a little wet still. I didn’t envy them but would love to get into some of the places just to take some pictures.
On I strode, up and down stairs and beside streamlets, dreaming of a place I call the shower. I’d tried to photograph it every time I’d been here and managed to not get it right; hopefully today would be my day.
So it turned out to be and here are some of the photos I took. I hope you enjoy
This short walk starts from the car park at the end of Walls Cave Road in Blackheath. It takes about one and a quarter hours return. The track descends into a gorge to a rock cutting above a shallow pool. It then continues on to a rock amphitheatre.