Lori and I are enjoying a latté on an outdoor deck perched at the edge of the Jamison Valley, 270 metres up from the lush rainforest on the valley’s floor.
We’ve seen this valley and the incredible Mount Solitary within it from just about every angle over the past few days, but I can’t imagine us ever getting tired of looking at it.
“This is definitely one of the nicer vantage points,” I remark. Lori agrees.
Need to Know
Scenic World (cnr Violet St & Cliff Drv, Katoomba / 02 4780 0200) is open every day of the year from 9am to 5pm. If planning to ascend out of the valley on the Scenic Railway, ensure that you’re back at its base by 4:50pm. The EATS270 cafe / restaurant is open from 10:30am to 3pm daily.
Visitors looking for more walks, Aboriginal Discovery Tours, or information about Blue Mountains National Park, should check out the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service online or contact them on 1300 072 757. Information on booking campsites is also available on the site.
Length (km): 13 km.
Time (hrs/min): 7 hrs 30 min.
Grade: Moderate with one steep ascent.
Maps: I’d recommend bringing a good quality topographic map, like Hema’s Katoomba 1:25,000.
Return / Circuit / One-Way / Partial Circuit: Return.
Closest Town: Katoomba.
Car Access: The walk starts from Scenic World, which is on the corner of Violet Street and Cliff Drive in Katoomba. Follow the Scenic World signs from the main street.
This deck is part of Scenic World’s EATS270 licensed café / restaurant, which features light snacks and full lunches made with seasonal produce from local suppliers where possible. We haven’t got time for eating right now, but we’ve organised a packed lunch.
Scenic World, for those who don’t know, is probably the Blue Mountains’ most visited tourist attraction. Apart from EATS270 and the gift shop, it offers a 2.4 km boardwalk through diverse rainforest vegetation, as well as the world’s steepest incline railway and two cable-cars – the Skyway, which takes visitors from cliff to cliff with glorious views of Katoomba Falls and the Three Sisters, and the Cableway, which offers an alternative ride to the Railway for access to the boardwalk below.
Sitting opposite us is the lovely Anthea Hammon, joint Managing Director of Scenic World and winner of the 2014 NSW Young Achiever in Tourism Award. She and her brother David took the reins of the family business in 2011, from their father Philip. Before him, it was owned by his father, the famous Harry Hammon. 2015 marks 70 years since Harry first established Scenic World (known at the time as Katoomba Scenic Railway).
Unsurprisingly, family is the overriding theme during our half-hour chat with Anthea. She’s delighted to answer our questions about the business, but more interesting are her tales of growing up with the Blue Mountains as her playground.
“Dad worked a lot, and there were five of us kids, so Mum used to take us bushwalking all the time,” she says. “I remember throwing a tantrum when I was really little because the extended family was hiking out to camp on Mount Solitary, and I wanted to come too. Eventually, I got my way. It was a challenge, but I did it. I can still remember struggling to keep up with the grown-ups and my older cousins, as we climbed Furber Steps.”
I can’t think of anything better than getting our little family out for a hike like that together, which is one of the reasons I’m dragging Lori out on all these hikes with me. It’s part of my grand plan to gently ease her and the kids into this hiking bizzo.
Our hike for today is from Scenic World to Ruined Castle, a 13-kilometre return trip. We’re planning to take the Scenic Railway down into the valley and back out on our return. I’m sure we’ll be extremely grateful for it by the end of the day.
Soon one of the EATS270 staff serves up our delicious-looking wraps, packed up nicely to fit in my backpack.
“I wish I could hike out there today,” Anthea says as we say our goodbyes. “Perfect day for it. Enjoy.”
We depart the Scenic Railway at Bottom Station and weave our way through a swarm of tourists, ducking under their crisscrossed selfie sticks. Heading south on the Scenic Walkway, we pass the old ventilation furnace and the entrance to an old coal mine before turning off the boardwalk onto a dirt track signed “Ruined Castle”.
Though Lori is nervous about the length of the hike – the longest she’s ever done – her nerves fade quickly once we’re away from Scenic World, weaving between hanging rainforest vines and stepping over moss-covered fallen trees. One thing we’ve always had in common is our love of a good adventure, and that’s exactly how this hike feels.
We chatter excitedly as we stroll along, and before long the dense vegetation opens up to an expansive view of the valley. Not far ahead, the track disappears into a massive boulder-strewn landslide.
Anthea told us earlier about this spot – known by locals as simply The Landslide – which became a feature in 1931 when after a few days of rumbling, the cliffs above gave way, spreading themselves about a hundred metres out into the valley. Apparently, there’s been much discussion ever since about its potential cause, most theories pointing to the impacts of the area’s mining history.
When we arrive at the landslide, we follow what looks like a rough path but quickly find ourselves at a dead-end, before realising that we should be following the strategically placed yellow posts. With that in mind, finding our way from here is easy. It’s definitely the trickiest part of the hike so far, but we enjoy the technicality of the rocky terrain, scrambling over huge sandstone slabs and carefully selecting our footing on each descent.
Once we’re past The Landslide, rainforest surrounds us again. The day’s temperature is just starting to peak, so we appreciate the shadiness. We continue for another 4 kilometres, winding our way through bracken fern, tree ferns, vines, and coachwood, occasionally stopping to check out the views across the valley to the Three Sisters, through gaps in the vegetation.
Lori is starting to fade now but she’s her usual determined self. Having not done much research on this walk, I’m a little surprised when we come to the bottom of an unexpected set of stairs.
“Ahhh f**k,” I mumble, gritting my teeth. “Didn’t someone tell us there were no major climbs on this hike?”
I’m not sure what to make of the look on Lori’s face until a stream of expletives starts to pour uncontrollably from her mouth.
“Why don’t you chill out here and have a rest, while I quickly go up and get some photos?” I offer. “It’s okay, babe. You’ve done really well. You don’t have to go up.”
“No. F**k it. I’m going.”
I start the ascent and Lori follows closely behind, angrily swearing at the “f**king steps” as she climbs the steep valley side. We have regular rest stops but, although Lori’s swearing has ceased, I can tell she’s feeling on her last legs. I try to offer encouraging words along the way but mostly keep my mouth shut, worried I might make the battle in her head somehow worse.
The track levels out as we reach the ridge-line, and soon we come to a large overhanging boulder where we take the opportunity to stop and rest for a few minutes in the shade. Continuing along the narrow ridge for another hundred metres or so, it seems like we’ve arrived at the base of Ruined Castle summit.
I decide to stop and eat my wrap, but Lori says she doesn’t feel like eating. As we sit on a rock beside the track, looking up at Ruined Castle’s rocky pinnacles, I notice that she’s got tears dripping down her cheeks.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, moving over to give her a hug.
“I can’t do it anymore… and we still have to go all the way back.”
I don’t know what to say, so I just hold her tightly until she stops crying.
“Do you want to wait here while I go up?” I offer again.
“I’ll be okay now,” she says. “I have to make it up there. I came all the way out here.”
As we make the final scramble up onto the massive boulders of Ruined Castle, she tells me it’s just that ‘mind over matter’ thing, and she knows she can do it now.
“It just all felt like too much and I needed to cry,” she explains. Then, looking down back on the path we’ve taken across the valley, a huge beaming smile creeps across her face. “Whoa… This is incredible.”
After a few more minutes checking out the views, Lori decides to get a head start on the descent while I take some photos. She’s back at the bottom of the “f**king stairs” before I catch up with her.
We hadn’t noticed on the way up, but the sign at the base of the stairs has been badly graffitied. The word ‘Castle’ is scratched out, and the word ‘Rock’ has been scratched into the sign above it. Scrawled higher up on the sign are the words ‘Just rock. F**k. Go back.’
“At least I’m not the only one,” Lori manages to spit out between fits of laughter.
We set off back along the path, retracing our steps towards Scenic World. Lori is more cheerful now and I’m amazed by the pace she keeps. We power through the remainder of the walk in no time at all. Though we’re both pretty upbeat by the time we arrive back at the Scenic Railway, I couldn’t have been more spot-on when I thought we’d appreciate the ride out of the valley. Just the thought of taking on the Furber Steps again makes my legs ache.
Back at EATS270, we grab ourselves another snack and a drink while we talk over the walk that was.
“I’m so proud of myself,” Lori says. “I feel amazing.”
On the way back to our hotel, she tells me she’s hungry for more.
There’s still hope for my grand plan.
Looking for the rest of the series? You can find all 5 posts in the series right here.
Housed in a converted auto-repair shop, Leura Garage Café & Restaurant (84 Railway Parade, Leura / Open 7 days, 12-5) is without a doubt my favourite eatery in the Blue Mountains. The staff are friendly and accommodating, and the food, sourced locally as much as possible, is absolutely to die for. We feast on tapas-style dishes like semi-dried tomato and parmesan arancini, a platter of roasted and smoked meats, sticky chicken wings, and Grissini pizza dipped in olive oil and Leura Garage’s own pomegranate balsamic. Much to my excitement, Lori likes a beer these days, and we fall in love with one of their tap beers, the Badlands Pale Ale (brewed in Orange). We love it here so much that we can’t resist our final opportunity to try some different dishes, and return for a second night in a row.
Victory Café (17 Govetts Leap Rd, Blackheath / Open 7 days, 8-4) is our breakfast stop before a few of our days out hiking. They make a delicious coffee, and their yummy breakfast burger is the perfect fuel for a day in the bush. Once again, the staff are lovely and very accommodating, but this seems to be the trend almost everywhere in the Blue Mountains.
Blackheath Continental Deli (32 Govetts Leap Road, Blackheath) seems to be the go-to place for a packed lunch when hiking, so much so that they even have a roll on the menu called the “Bushwalker”. It’s a 10 out of 10 – would eat again.
Our favourite accommodation during our week in the Blueys is Waldorf Leura Gardens B&B Resort (02 4784 4000 / 20-28 Fitzroy Street, Leura). Set on magnificent landscaped gardens, they even offer guided tours with their resident gardener (check with reception for dates and times). I take full advantage of the pool (probably why it’s the favourite), which the balcony of our spacious, modern room overlooks. There’s nothing like a swim after bushwalking on a summer day. We also enjoy a late-night game of table-tennis and pool. The pool table is a little worse for wear, but I play so poorly that it makes no difference anyway. The resort has two restaurants but we only make it to one of them, for their excellent buffet breakfast.
Blackheath Motor Inn (02 4787 8788 / 281 Great Western Highway, Blackheath) has a rustic, mountain cottage feel but still feels new. Lori and I feel very cosy in our room, and love that we’ve got a back-door leading out to the garden and our own table and chairs. It’s also great being a short walk from The Gardners Inn when we’re in need of a post-walk beer. The owners, Senga and Eddy, are a great source of local knowledge, especially for bushwalkers.
The Mountain Heritage Hotel & Spa Retreat (02 4782 2155 / Corner Apex & Lovel Street, Katoomba) sits on a hill overlooking Katoomba and some rooms, fortunately ours included, have views over the Jamison Valley. Despite hosting a wedding on the night of our stay, staff manage to make us feel like we’re their only guests.
Redleaf Resort (02 4787 8108 / Corner Evans Lookout and Valley View Roads, Blackheath) is perfectly located for hikers, just down the road from Evans Lookout, trailhead for the Grand Canyon Walk and the cliff-top track to Govetts Leap, among others. They have a games room, heated undercover pool, and playground.
During our stay in the Blue Mountains, we were guests of Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism, NPWS, Tread Lightly Eco-Tours, High & Wild Adventures, Scenic World, and Blue Mountains Guides. As is always the case, this has no influence over the opinions I present on Bushwalking Blog.
Have you checked out the Blue Mountains? Visited Scenic World or hiked Ruined Castle? Do you have any experience with High n’ Wild Adventures? If you’ve got any tips or tales to tell, please let us know by commenting below.