24 November, 2010

Katoomba in The Blue Mountains

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Katoomba, a small town in the Blue Mountains renowned for its hiking, rock-climbing and caving is a short train ride, 120 west of Sydney. I had expected, given the name ‘Blue Mountains’ to be greeted by spectacular alpine scenery on arrival. I was some what disappointed when there wasn’t so much as a rolling hill on the horizon. I turns out that Katoomba is on top of the mountain, and geologically speaking the region isn’t mountainous but a high plato and network of steep canyons and valleys. A short walk from the hostel in the centre of town reveals the spectacular scenery, which doesn’t tower above you but drops away vertically beneath your feet.

The Three Sisters sandstone rock formations and the Jamison valley.

The vast canyons have eroded more than 500m down through layers of sandstone, shale and clay. The cliff edges drop vertically more than 100m down to the forests blanketing the valley floor. Looking down there are distinct changes in vegetation from rain forest at the bottom of the valleys, supported by plentiful ground water rather that abundant rain fall, which is dark green and has a notable absence of Eucaliptus, of which there are over 100specied in the Blue Mountains alone. Rising up the slopes are the wet sclerophyll forests dominated by tall open stands of Eucalyptus with open canopies more that 60m in height, with an under story of soft leaved trees, climbers and grasses. Following layers of clay within the sandstone cliffs are hanging swamps where the ground water peculates out above the clay forming bands of  mosses and ferns that eventually drop from the cliff faces under their own weight. Finally the top of the plato consists of dry sclerophyll forests of open shorter, stands of Eucalyptus with a shrubby under story of flowering shrubs with small, tough spiny leaves.

One of the smaller tree species forming the under story of the forest in the botom of the canyon. I’ll let you know what it is when I find out.

The blue colouration of the mountains is down to the glaucus colour of the Eucalyptus leaves through the haze. Dropping down into the canyons down steep flights of steps carved into the rocks the atmosphere becomes noticeably cooler as you enter the humidity of the forest. Two trees dominate this part of the reserve, the Blue Mountain Gum Eucalyptus deanei with id towering smooth white bark and the Turpentine tree Syncarpia glomulifera with depictured bark, many of the trees burnt out completely in the core of the trunk by past fire storms and still supporting lush canopies. Tall tree ferns Cyathea australis lined the paths along with shorter squatter Dicksonia antarctica.

Blue Mountain Gum Eucalyptus deanei

Turpentine tree Suncarpia glomulifera

It was my first impulse to head straight down into the rainforests, however it turned out to be the high open forests on the tops of the canyons that support the most diverse range of flowers.  Here the soil is much drier and nutrient poor as they are leached to the valley floor. The scrub consists of many different varieties of  Acacia, Boronia, Grevellia, Hakea and pea plants (family FABACEAE) according to my book on wild flowers. There were many Banksias with remnants of past flowers and tough woody seed capsules that guard against fire, that unfortunately had finished flowering. There were other members of PROTEACEAE in flower along with many other wild flowers.

Isopogon anemonifolius PROTEACEAE

Banksia Eric folia PROTEACEAE

Telopia speciosa PROTEACEA

Lambertia Formosa PROTEACEAE

As is always the way I took pictures until the battery in my camera could carry on no more. Literally minuets after I rounded a corner and discovered not one but two different orchids in full bloom. My camera mustered up enough strength to take a quick snap or each. Fortunately they were not too far out so I hiked back up to the early the next morning, when the light was much more amenable of photography to take some more. The pale pink, butterfly shaped orchid has a mechanical anther which when the flower is genteelly touched, flicks suddenly like the arm of a catapult delivering a sticky package of pollen onto the back of an unsuspecting insect.

Haven’t been able to name these yet either, sorry!


  1. What an amazing place! Its so fascinating to see the plants in their natural habitat, especially the orchid! I just read about a genus of "trigger orchids" from the new world tropics, but I don't know what that one is. What is the climate like there? Since there are dicksonia antartica ferns I would imagine it gets kind of cool in the southern hemisphere's winter, right?

  2. Dear Jamie, What a dramatic landscape you show here. I have very little knowledge of Australia and so have found your posting most interesting. As 2hours in an aeroplane is as much as I can bear without completely going insane, I am relying on your travelogue to inform me about this wonderfully varied and interesting country.

  3. Stunning photos Jamie, Im looking forward to seeing more from your travels.

  4. Hi Jamie,
    Loved looking at your blog posts - fascinating. I'm surprised you're blogging so soon. I thought you would be sunning yourself on the beach but should have known better. I know how much you must be missing the UK. It's very cold and gloomy - I don't think even you would be wearing shorts today here. I shall be avidly following your blog. Hope you're having a wonderful time.

  5. The moral of this story? A spare battery is never too A. expensive B. C. ellusive

  6. Great pictures, it looks like an amazing place.
    It's snowing here and extremely cold down at the nursery so you bailed out just at the right time.
    Looking forward to lots more pictures blogs. Keep safe.

  7. Hello Jamie, saw this as featured blog in Blotanical which i am a new member too. Your photos are awesome and i envy your travels and explorations. How wonderful it is to be just like you! I've seen the Blue Mountains decades ago but it wasn't as clear as in your photos. Australia is really a very fascinating and beautiful place for plants, animals, landscape, etc. What is more exciting there is that it is one of the oldest continents, so many species there relates with the dinosaur, hehe. I really love your style of travelling, i wish i have the same.

  8. Thankyou for all the comments!

    The climate in the bluemountains is not so extreme by Australian measures. It can get an ocasional frost up on the plato tho down in the canyons under the forest canopy it is probably quite shelteres. Ihe area is susseptable to drought too, tho all of E Australia is experiencing very prolonged wet weather right now up to the point that fruit and grain harvests looked to be the best for years and have now been distroyed by the rain.

  9. Great photos! What a beautiful place.