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Katoomba, NSW

Largest and most important town in the Blue Mountains.

Every morning, at around 7.30am, a number of bus operators head out from the hotels in Sydney’s CBD on a day trip to the Blue Mountains. In less than twelve hours they drive the 250 km return journey and include the icons of the area – Wentworth Falls, Scenic World, the Three Sisters at Echo Point, dramatic views over the Megalong Valley. It is, according to the brochures, a comprehensive viewing of “the highlights”. In reality it is a trip to Katoomba because, for most people, Katoomba is the Blue Mountains. When they think of the Blue Mountains they conjure up panoramic views across the Jamieson Valley, Echo Point and the Three Sisters, elegant nineteenth century hotels like the Carrington, and dramatic, death-defying tourist attractions like the Skyway and the Scenic Railway - all of which can be experienced at  Katoomba. Not surprisingly Katoomba is the largest settlement in the mountains, the administrative centre for the City of the Blue Mountains and it is home to the Visitors Information Centre for the Upper Blue Mountains.

Location

Katoomba is located 102 kilometres from Sydney via the Great Western Highway and 1017 metres above sea level.

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Origin of Name

It is widely accepted that the town's name comes from a Gundungurra Aboriginal word, variously written as 'godoomba' or 'kedumba', meaning 'water tumbling over a hill' or 'falling water'.

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Things to See and Do

Echo Point
Scenically Echo Point is the highlight of any trip to Katoomba. Located on Echo Point Road where it meets Cliff Drive it offers exceptional views of the Three Sisters, Mount Solitary, the Ruined Castle and a vast panorama across the Jamison Valley. There is a short and easy 1 km wheelchair-friendly walk to the Three Sisters and the viewing platform (which can get very crowded when the buses from Sydney arrive) also has  the Blue Mountains Visitor Information Centre.

The Three Sisters
Perhaps the most famous geological formation in the Blue Mountains, the Three Sisters are part of an eroded plateau formed of sandstone during the Triassic period. It is a sad comment that few of the thousands of people who visit the site each year don't know the Gundungurra Dreamtime story of the origin of the formation. There were three sisters - Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunedoo - who ran away from their tribe to meet up with three men. They were chased by a tribal elder but their father, who was in the Jamieson Valley, put a spell on them and they turned into stone. Unfortunately he dropped the stick he had used to turn them into stone. So furious was their pursuer that he turned the father into a lyrebird. So, to this day, the three sisters remain locked forever in stone and the father, in the shape of a lyrebird, goes scratching around the valley floor endlessly looking for his dropped stick.

The Road Builders Memorial
A collection of five sculptures - two road builders, an overseer and two Aborigines - located off Panorama Drive just west of Echo Point Road it was erected by the Rotary Club of Katoomba in 2005 to "celebrate the lives of convicts and pioneer families upon whose labour the Australian nation was founded. Equally to acknowledge the presence of Darug and Gundungurra people who belong to this land". It also notes that "gangs of convicts in leg irons toiled for over 30 years to create 'The Great Western Highway' from the early settlement in Emu Plains to the new development at Bathurst. With primitive tools they endured bitterly cold winters and hot summers - they broke rock and carted soil, forging a road through these rugged 'blue mountains'."

The Carrington Hotel
In the late nineteenth century, when Katoomba was at its elegant height, Lord Carrington, the Governor of New South Wales from 1885-1890, regularly visited the mountains and stayed at the Great Western Hotel which had been opened in 1883. It was during one of these visits that the proprietor, F.C. Goyder, asked permission to change the hotel's name to the Carrington. Lord Carrington agreed and the name change was celebrated with a banquet.
It was during the 1920s and 1930s that The Carrington acquired its reputation. The hotel's visitors included the Prince of Wales who stayed in 1920 and the Duke and Duchess of York who spent a night in 1927. It was during this time that it became known as the 'Honeymoon Capital of Australia'.
The ambience of the hotel is beautifully captured in an 1890s advertisement for the hotel which proclaims:

'THE CARRINGTON' KATOOMBA
THE PROPRIETOR of the above Hotel has pleasure in bringing directly under the notice of visitors to the Blue Mountains the numerous advantages specially possessed by Katoomba:— The Town is situate 66 miles from Sydney at an elevation of 3,333 feet, thus ensuring a healthy climate, and giving the beneficial change of New Zealand or Tasmania, without the discomforts and dangers of a sea voyage. It is ABSOLUTELY IN THE CENTRE OF ALL THE FAMED SCENERY of the District being nine miles from Govett's Leap; five miles from Wentworth Falls; 1 1/4 miles from Leura Falls (the most favoured of all Mountain sights); 1 1/2 miles from Katoomba Falls; three miles from Nelly's Glen. From Katoomba also the big Zig Zag can be seen during the morning, and the Jenolan Caves can be visited the trip taking three days."

Today it has been returned to its Victorian glory with such antiquated, but charming, wonders as the Grand Dining Room, the Old City Bank Brasserie, the Sports Bar and Champagne Charlies (the nickname of Lord Carrington). It was closed between 1985 and 1998 during which time it was restored to its former glories.

Lilianfels
If you want to experience what it must have been like to visit the mountains at the end of the nineteenth century and to wallow in Victorian and Edwardian luxury then Sunday High Tea (or High Tea any day) at Lilianfels is a must. Lilianfels is located within the grounds of the 19th century homestead and summer residence of Sir Frederick Darley, the sixth Chief Justice of NSW. Where the hotel's excellent restaurant is named after the Chief Justice, Lilianfels is named after his daughter, Lilian, with 'fels', very appropriately, being a German word meaning 'cliff' which is what the hotel actually sits on.

The Paragon Cafe
There was a time when the Paragon Cafe at 65 Katoomba Street, now listed by the National Trust because of its superb 1930s Art Deco interior, was a true time warp Australian milk bar experience. It was established in 1916 by the Simos family. Today, while the interior has been preserved, it has become famous for its handmade chocolates, Devonshire tea, waffles, Belgian hot chocolate and coffee. Sadly it closed on 1 June, 2018. There was a need for major maintenance.

Scenic World
Scenic World is the district's premier tourist attraction. It comprises a Skyway, Railway, Cableway and Walkway each of which can be experienced individually or a ticket can be purchased for all four activities.

(1) Scenic Skyway
The Scenic Skyway is not for the faint-hearted. The aerial cable car floats across the valley some 270 metres above the valley floor and offers views of the Katoomba Falls and Orphan Rock through a glass-bottomed cabin. The Skyway was completed in 1958 and has since been updated and modernised. It is still a fearful experience for those who do not like heights.

(2) Scenic Railway
Originally built by the local mining company which used coal skips to ferry miners down the 52° cliff face to work in the valley. By 1930 small numbers of tourists were being included in what is said to be the steepest incline railway in the world. By 1945 it was fully operational as a tourist attraction. Today visitors descend 415 metres into the Jamison Valley via enclosed, glass-roofed carriages which carry 84 people and operate every ten minutes. The latest advance has seen the seats in the carriage become adjustable so that rather than the historic 52° visitors can now descend at 64°. The 64° descent is known as the "Cliffhanger".

(3) Walkway
At the bottom of the Scenic Railway is a 2.4 km elevated boardwalk (reputedly the longest boardwalk in the southern hemisphere) which traverses the rainforest at the bottom of the railway. It offers wonderful rainforest experiences as well as providing an insight into the history of the coal mines.

(4) Scenic Cableway
After walking through the rainforest it is possible to return to the top of the escarpment either by the Scenic Railway or by a 545 metre Cableway. The cable car, reputedly the largest aerial cable car in the southern hemisphere, has a capacity of 84 passengers and offers dramatic views over the Jamieson Valley.

For information on ticket prices and planning a visit check out http://www.scenicworld.com.au/

Bushwalking Around Katoomba
There are literally dozens of walks in the Katoomba area and most are well covered in Bushwalking in the Katoomba Leura Area which is produced by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and provides a detailed map of the Katoomba area and descriptions of the walks.

Three walks are considered highlights of the area:

* The Prince Henry Cliff Walk which connects the Scenic Railway with the Leura Area. It has numerous lookouts with sensational views and for much of its length it runs parallel to Cliff Drive. It was originally constructed by the Katoomba Shire Council in 1934 and with its stopping points at Cliff View Lookout and Lady Darley's Lookout it is a perfect introduction to the edge of the Jamieson Valley.

* Federal Pass Walking Track is for those hardy walkers who want to trek along the floor of the Jamieson Valley. It can start at the Scenic Railway and proceed around the valley floor under the Three Sisters or start at the Giant Stairway at the Three Sisters and continue around past the Scenic Railway and beyond..

* Dardanelles Pass Track runs parallel to the Federal Pass Walking Track but closer to the cliffs. It was built by Council Ranger Jim McKay in 1915 to commemorate  Australian involvement in World War I and the Dardanelles campaign.

There are longer walks from the bottom of the Scenic Railway where it is possible to take a 12 km return, medium difficulty walk to the Ruined Castle which follows a route once used by shale and coal miners and the Furber Steps/Ruined Castle/Golden Stairs Walk is another walk which is 12 km return.

The walks in the area are covered in detail at the excellent http://www.wildwalks.com/bushwalking-and-hiking-in-nsw/blue-mountains-katoomba/ and http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkWalking.aspx?id=N0004

Cliff Drive
Cliff Drive winds around the edges of the cliffs from Peckmans Plateau Lookout to Katoomba and beyond to Leura. It is the essential drive in the area and, if you have the time, it invites the visitor to pause over and over again and take in the panoramic and ever-changing vistas across the Jamieson valley. There are different angles on the Three Sisters, the Ruined Castle and Mount Solitary and a number of excellent picnic spots.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Cahill's Lookout
The lookout which lies furthest to the west of Katoomba on Cliff Drive is Cahill's Lookout which offers radically different views of the Megalong Valley and Jamieson Valley.  The lookout is an easy 500 m return walk from the car park sign posted from Cliff Drive.

Narrow Neck
Drive west along Cliff Drive beyond Cahill's Lookout and there is a sign posted turnoff which leads to Narrow Neck Lookout. National Parks and Wildlife have a good description of the experience for cyclist (it can equally apply to walkers) at http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/blue-mountains-national-park/narrow-neck-trail/cycling "A challenging ride suitable for novice and experienced cyclists, the track traces the elevated platform of Narrow Neck Peninsula near Katoomba.  With breathtaking scenic views, wildflowers and photo opportunities at every turn; keen bushwalkers won’t want to miss out either. From the gate, you’ll cycle through open forest, heath and swamplands with superb scenic views all the way. At one point, the cliffs fall away on either side and you’ll feel on top of the world. The trail opens up to heathland with spectacular views over Lake Burragorang." A challenging 8 km return bushwalk includes the Golden Stairs and the Ruined Castle for those who want to go down into the valleys.

Explorers Tree and Convict Graves
Head west towards Blackheath along the Great Western Highway and you will see the Explorer's Tree on the left-hand side of the road, by the turnoff into Explorers Road, about 2.5 km west of Katoomba. Today it is a rather sad dead tree which has been rather preciously preserved and surrounded by a fence.
There is an interesting sign from the Blue Mountains City Council titled  Explorers Tree: A Brief History which points out that it is "the remains of a tall eucalypt known as Explorers Tree. It is reputed to have been the tree into which Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson carved their initials during their 1813 crossing of the Blue Mountains; a supposition that has been greatly debated over the years." It recounts, in great detail, the very chequered history of the tree. It concludes "The stump has been damaged on numerous occasions. In 1996 a large chunk of the tree was ripped off by vandals and the gate around the tree removed, then in 2005 there was an arson attack on the tree whcih had a few years earlier been damaged by a bushfire. Luckily minimal damage was done. The latest attack on the tree came from a careless driver. In February 2012 a four wheel drive car crashed into Explorers Tree hitting the sandstone podium on which the tree stands." There is another sign which is amusingly titled "Explorers Tree - What happened to the tree?" and which recounts the 2012 damage. The remnant of the tree is still worth visiting. The signs alone are worth reading and no more than 100 metres away, and signposted with a rather anonymous 'Convicts Graves', are six unmarked graves (no names, just headstones cut out of rock) of convicts who died while working on the construction of the original Cox’s Road across the mountains. It is a good opportunity to think of the hardship of the convicts who built the road and to contemplate how history is always written by the victors. Surely the graves are far more interesting than a featureless dead tree?

The Six Foot Track
If you want a real experience of the Australian bush you can walk to Jenolan Caves from Katoomba on this historic track. The distance is a total of 42 km. The Six Foot Track was created in the 19th century as a horse track from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves. In 1884 a survey party travelled from Sydney, stayed in Katoomba, and the next day descended at Narrow Neck by a rough zig-zag path into the Megalong Valley where they established a base camp on the Megalong Creek. They were unhappy with the route and subsequently blazed a fresh route from the Megalong Creek up Nellie's Glen to the Explorers' Tree on Pulpit Hill. They eventually reached the Jenolan Caves on 3rd April, 1884, having marked the route with blazed trees. It took eleven days to mark the 26 miles (42 km) of track. The result was that travellers could now ride from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves in less than eight hours. The new track became popular and was described in the 1894 issue of the Blue Mountains Railway Tourist Guide as 'steep in places, but the romantic beauty of the surroundings amply compensates for the roughness of the ground'. The Six Foot Track, as it became known, was maintained for many years by two men using a wheelbarrow, picks and shovels. In recent years it has been revitalised and has become an important and fascinating walking trail through the mountains. For more information check out http://www.sixfoottrack.com.au/?gclid=CN7roJPll7kCFYUzpAodRw0AfQ which offers an excellent three day, guided walk of the entire trail.

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History

* the area had been occupied by the Dharug and Gundungurra Aboriginal people for an estimated 40,000 years before Europeans arrived.

* On 25 May, 1813 the explorers Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson became the first Europeans to pass through the Katoomba area.

* In 1815 William Cox constructed the first road over the mountains and his team passed through the area.

* In 1841 George Clarke discovered coal in the area which led to a coal mine being opened in 1879. The mine closed in the 1920s.

* In 1867 the railway reached Katoomba opening up the whole area to holidaymakers.

* By 1870 kerosene shale had been discovered in Kanimbla Valley and kerosene shale was being mined by 1885.

* A wooden railway platform was established in 1874. It was known as  'The Crushers' but was changed to Katoomba in 1877.

* In 1882 the first public school - it was a tent and 40 students attended - was opened and in 1887 a post office was also opened.

* By 1889 the town was prosperous. In an article in the Illustrated Sydney News Katoomba was described as "covered with a cluster of houses, amongst which are many handsome residences with The Carrington conspicuous in the centre. Substantial shops line the main street, and everywhere are evidence of progress and prosperity."

* In 1916 work was started on the Giant Stairway linking Echo Point to the Federal Pass. It wasn't completed until 1932.

* By the 1920s and 1930s Katoomba had gained a reputation as the 'Honeymoon Capital of Australia'.

* In 1957 the railway line was electrified. Fast trains, known as the Fish and Chips, started taking commuters to Sydney and Katoomba became an important part of the  commuter zone for Greater Sydney.

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Visitor Information

Blue Mountains Visitor Information Centre, Echo Point Road, Katoomba, tel: 1300 653 408 is located right at Echo Point.

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Useful Websites

There are interesting reviews of many of the providores, restaurants and cafes in Katoomba at http://www.notquitenigella.com/travel/ and the history of the town is well covered at http://www.katoomba-nsw.com/History.html

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