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Published January 19th 2016
Discover the Blue Mountains
For your first of many visits to the Blue Mountains, begin with an hour-long, 1.5km walk to Govetts Leap Lookout, watching the thundering waterfall crash into Grose Valley, hundreds of metres below. The lookout, named after the local surveyor in 1835, is linked to a more imaginative legend. Supposedly, a bushranger by the same name, fleeing police on horseback, paused at the cliff's edge to weigh his options before forcing his horse into a gallop and charging over the edge to fall to the valley floor. Thelma and Louise repeated his stunt in the modern equivalent – a '66 Ford Thunderbird. Just like the legend, the car survived, recently selling for over $70k.
Govetts Leap Lookout (by Ian Sutton at Flickr)
Take the Blue Mountains Line train west from Central to Blackheath, grabbing a window seat for views of the Blue Mountains National Park on the 2-hour trip. After leaving the station, turn right onto Great Western Hwy. For breakfast or coffee, stop at Wattle Cafe then left onto Govetts Leap Rd. Fill your bag with a picnic lunch from Five Star Supermarket. The road continues east before pushing north-east at Cleopatra St. As you reach the last homes after McLaren Cres., choke back your envy at the residents enjoying this park as their literal backyard. You'll return along this path for home again or catch the 698 bus.
The crisp blue air above wide Grose Valley, partly due to the evaporating oil of thousands of Eucalypt trees, is just the beginning of your day/weekend at Blackheath. Try to find a quiet spot to watch dramatic torrents of water plunging almost 200 metres onto the rocks below. If you have binoculars, scan for flying wildlife, especially the showy king parrot. If you overhear visitors quoting the bushranger story as fact, you can dazzle them with even more accurate trivia – leap is Scottish for waterfall.
Govetts Leap plaque (by MartinRe at Wikipedia)
Don't turn back yet. The wilderness is worthy of at least a few hours of exploration. You have plenty of walking choices and these are 4 ideal examples, in order of difficulty, that will satisfy a morning, day or weekend of Blue Mountains discovery.
Fairfax Heritage walking track Very comfortable for families and visitors in wheelchairs, this 1.5-kilometre, 1 hour trip is an easy stroll at an even grade, overlooking hanging swamps. These are curious phenomenon unique to the mountains as water continuously seeps between layers of sandstone and claystone. Vegetation steadily collects against rock edges, actually purifying the water as it continues flowing to the valley floor. Pause for the water views at the Jungle and Horseshoe Falls and the red and orange shades of clay and sandstone at George Phillips Cliff. Peppermint scents from the rainforest can be satisfied with a choc-mint ice-cream later. Turning right from the lookout, follow the track north before slowly arcing left and sharply turning right before a long, easy walk south. You've now tackled the bulk of the track, with 5 zig-zag turns until finishing at the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre. The guide books and maps are excellent companions for return visits.
Cliff Top walking track Three kilometres on your pedometer and 2 hours on a stopwatch, this walk doesn't fall into the Grose valley, rewarding you with panoramic views along the cliff's edge. Drawing you through the park's heathland, you'll note the change in flora, from colourful wildflowers to mallee scrub, dwarfed by ancient she-oaks. Lyrebirds dance and tweet to impress mates and bright, satin bowerbirds peek at you with blue eyes as you pass their nests.
Satin bowerbird (by Benjamint444 at Wikipedia)
Leaving the lookout at Pulpit Rock Walk, head south along the valley's edge, veering south-east until crossing over Govetts Leap Brook. The path to your right is Breaside Walk, another valley walk heading south along the brook. Continue south-east to sit in the tray of Barrow Lookout. Climb out to cross Hayward Gully twice. The last crossing marks the final part of your walk to Evans Lookout. Stand proud as you trace your path from Govetts Leap, now arriving at the southern edge of the valley.
From here, you can begin the 6-kilometre loop of the Grand Canyon Track, a round-trip of 3-4 hours. Alternatively, you can turn for home by retracing your steps or walking west down Evans Lookout Rd, turning right onto Valley View Rd for a gentle re-entry into suburbia again, turning left at the Commonwealth Bank branch onto Lovetts Leap Rd after 1.5km then right onto Great Western Hwy to reach Blackheath Station again.
Govetts Leap descent
At just over a kilometre and finished in 2 hours, it's a hard trek, rewarding stair masters. Begin the descent with a short walk north from the lookout before turning right onto Rodriguez Pass, continuing as the trail winds north again briefly before driving downward to the bottom. At the final third, you'll take another sharp u-turn before dropping south-east until the finish straight when the track eases to the north-west.
Descending the steep steps isn't too challenging, and lunch with the gentle spray of the falls is relaxing, preparing you for the steep climb back to the top again. Pause often to admire the views across the valley – don't feel guilty about catching your breath. There's no hurry.
Grose Valley (by Blue Mountains Local Studies at Flickr)
Pulpit Walking Track 3 kilometres and 3 hours (or double this for the return back to Lovetts Leap Lookout) of Blue Mountain views surround you on a journey circling the northern perimeter of Grose Valley. Your goal is a jutting stone point, standing like a giant fang or stalagmite along the cliff side. Turn left from the lookout, entering the first steps down into the track. You'll immediately begin skirting the valley, crossed by a bridge. Walking the rim provides captivating panoramic views of the colours of the valley, changing shades by the hour as sun catches each spot of life. You'll walk north until reaching Popes Glen Walk. Turn right to remain on target for the Pulpit. For the majority of your trip, you'll venture north-east. Don't worry about losing your way – to the north is suburbia. As you near the finish, you'll turn south and slowly edge to the lookout on steps protected with fenced railing, easing any acrophobic butterflies in your stomach. At the lookout, the sharp drop of the cliff face makes the pulpit stone seem brave or foolhardy. Sit on the bench and enjoy a snack or lunch here. You've earnt it.
Pulpit Rock Platform (at FreeAussieStock)
After a day's hiking, treat yourself to dinner at Vesta on Govetts Leap Rd, next to the CBA. The beetroot ravioli is a healthy mix of ricotta, fresh pasta and salsa. In winter, the roast lamb with local veges replaces burnt calories.