Tuesday, January 22, 2008

DAY 109: Day 3 off Emu Plains (Penrith)

Day trip to Katoomba
Tues 22nd January 2008
Distance to date 6655 km (4159 miles)
Cloudy, coolish

Not a great night’s sleep again; don’t know why I’m not sleeping well here. It is pretty noisy mind with trains, Whipbirds, and 1000’s of bats that flew down the Nepean River at dusk and later on last evening - but that's OK. Also, I’m quite near the toilets and washing up area and quite a few people are milling around here and there.
After breakfast I got the 0818 train to Katoomba (day return $13.20). The line climbs up the Blue Mountains (although you don’t see much of the mountains) and continually winds around and around through cuttings and tunnels - it must have been a major construction project over 100 years ago. I was keeping an eye on the main road for cyclability (it runs parallel to the railway for most of the way), just in case I decided yet to cycle up here. I do enjoy travelling by rail, and will certainly look out for more such opportunities during the rest of this tour.
It takes just about an hour for the 50km or so journey, and the train was quite full. Quite a few folk were getting on with bikes - the train system in the Sydney area is very bike-friendly and you can just walk the bike into one end of any of the 6 coaches - no restrictions on numbers as far as I can see, and bikes are carried for free.
I liked Katoomba straight away - it’s what i would call a backpacker town with camping shops, several internet cafes, scores of conventional cafes, many second-hand book shops and antique shops, and several outlets selling coach tours, abseiling, horse riding, mountain bike hire and lots more of that ilk. First job was to buy a $15 day ticket for the tourist tram which once an hour does a circular tour of a ll the many delights of the Katoomba area.
I did the whole circuit (almost) just to get a feel for the places, and the driver gave a good commentary explaining everything - this tour is good value. I hopped off (you can hop on again wherever you like) at Scenic World. Here there are various option to visit the rainforest down in the valley, and there are several km of boardwalk down there. I elected to descend on the cable railway, which is the steepest railway in the world at 52 degrees or so. It only takes a couple of minutes to get down and I video’d this (I will try to upload this to the blog). It really is steep, and you feel as if you are going to fall forward! I spent an hour or more wandering around the forest reading most of the display signs. These are very well done and lots of information about the trees, birds (Lyrebirds are said to be common but I didn’t spot any), and animals such as the Quokka. Every so often you get a glimpse of the towering sandstone cliffs up to 300m above. It would be deliciously cool down here on a hot sunny day, although today was coolish to start with, although I didn’t need a coat. I ‘did’ all the boardwalk and then got the cable car back up to the centre again - this is also said to be the steepest cablecar run in the world. The whole thing cost $18 which isn’t bad.
I got out just as a tour tram was arriving, and dropped off at the bottom of Katoomba main street to look for lunch - always a pleasing task. There’s a lot of choice and it all looked delicious, but I plumped for beef goulash with jasmine rice at the Sugar and Spice Cafe down little alleyway, and it proved a good choice. I’m sat in there now typing this up to upload later this afternoon. I’m wondering whether to come back up here tomorrow for a couple of days, either cycling up or better, taking the loaded bike onto the train. There’s a YHA Hostel here and I may check if they’ve got room for me. As far as I could see from the train, although the road is pretty busy there is a decent shoulder, and plenty of hills of course! I could then cycle back down the hill and pick up my route again so it’s not as though I’ve skipped any of the circuit of Oz lol.
After lunch I got back on the bus and dropped off at Echo Point - the 270 degree view from the platform is stunning - you can see mile after mile of eucalyptus forest draped over dramatic mountains. The vertical sandstone sides of the mountains are a contrasting pink to the dark green of the trees, and the whole scene is covered in a bluish haze which gives the mountain range it's name. It's a sight I'll never forget.

DAY 108: Day 2 off Emu Plains (Penrith)

Mon 21st January 2008
Distance to date 6655 km (4159 miles)
Cloudy, cool, light showers

Ate the last of my food for breakfast but today I’m going to go into Penrith and get stocked up, but just as important, give the bike a good servicing.
As it was raining first thing the bike was attended to first; I have good cover and lots of space to do this. I removed the chain and washed in petrol; adjusted both brakes at the cable; checked the tightness of all nuts and bolts and also loosened each one a bit to make sure they weren’t seizing; pumped tyres up; oiled cables where required, and gave it a thorough cleaning. It looks too new now - hope it doesn’t look too attractive to a potential thief.... Pleased to see that the Rohloff gearbox is still not leaking oil as it was when it came off the plane at Perth - it’s only been OK since I changed the oil in Melbourne - why is that??
Around noon headed into Penrith on very busy roads - and no shoulder so went on the paths; problem then is you have to wait to cross each junction (and there are plenty) like a pedestrian. I must have spent more time stood waiting for the lights to change than actually riding. Anyway I somehow forgot to put my helmet on - they’re compulsory here, even off the highway) which was weird - forgetful me. Reminds me of the T-shirt a middle-aged man was wearing in Sydney yesterday with the motif “Adventure Before Dementia” - I want one! Anyway I was not wanting an $80 fine so I slunk around trying to look invisible.
Internet first - and tried the library first, but they wanted $10/hr from non-residents grrrr! The nice lady did brief me on where I could surf for $3.30 though, and I duly found the place, which unfortunately was like a hothouse and there was a lady surfing away ignoring two screaming kids who were real pests. The broadband speed was super-fast though and the pics uploaded in seconds. I’ve discovered that with my new phone that Gareth kindly sent to me, I can take pictures at 25k which should just be about right for uploading to the blog instead of having to upload the 1Meg images from the camera - and I am able to send the camera images to the Dell Axim PDA via bluetooth, so I can store them on an SD card to easily upload. This means i ca n set the camera to take maximum definition images of 7 Mega pixels instead of 3 at the moment.
There’s a bit of a food court at the main shopping centre in Penrith, and I decided on carbonara which turned out to be a bit wet and soggy. Representative of my whole experience of the city which feels overcowded, pedestrian unfriendly, and done out entirely in bland concrete structures from what I could see. I’d very soon had enough and returned to base. I wasn’t inspired to take any photos today, although to be fair it wasn’t supposed to be that kind of day anyway. I also had an e-mail that upset me a bit, so I cheered myself up with a fresh muffin with a new purchase - Red Gum Honey - spread on it, which was delicious.
It was a bit breezy to cook dinner under the covered area so I shared the well-equipped camp kitchen with a few others, which was a more sociable thing to do anyway.
I’ve decided to stay here a 4th night and get the train to Katoomba tomorrow, the notional ‘centre’ of the Blue Mountains. I’m going to pretend to be a tourist again and do the tour bus bit of what appear to be the many beautiful things to see in and around the town. Then on Wednesday I will depart for the north - possibly onto the remote highway 69 which passes through the Wollemi and Yengo NP’s where there’s bound to be some wild camping to be had.