Camping in the Blue Mountains was something of a shock to the system after sleeping in a swag in balmy 25°C under the stars. In this rather different climate we battled hypothermia and cyclonic winds, while nearly having to sleep on gravel with a bunch of stoners. Where to begin…
We had hoped to blag our way onto the direct flight to Sydney from Alice Springs, having booked to go via Melbourne because it was half the price. Inevitably this didn’t happen, and just to rub it in we had to re-board the same plane for the second leg, which was then delayed due to some mechanical problem! We made it to Sydney for a rainy evening, dinner in a Chinese food court (yes, there was char siew bao) and well-deserved sleep in an actual bed in a youth hostel. The following morning was hot and sunny, and as we picked up our new tent we were mildly optimistic about our solo camping experience.
The small town of Katoomba is really only there to support tourists coming to the Blue Mountains National Park; functional but with no real charm. We had booked a pitch in a campsite and hostel that had many outstanding reviews on all the usual websites, so were a little surprised to find that the campsite was something less than a spacious meadow with plenty of space for us to erect our new home. Indeed it seems generous to call it a campsite at all; it was basically the garden of the owner’s house, immediately next to an unofficial rubbish tip. We had a choice between the gravel of the driveway next to a couple of old-school camper vans, a couple of square metres on some wooden decking and a square of a hard dry mud covered in the detritus of a tent that apparently didn’t survive the night. Perhaps here we highlight the glampacking nature of our travels, but without too much shame we ran away in search of better lodgings.
A couple of kilometers down the hill, slightly out of town but right next to the national park entrance we found a real campsite. We pitched the tent (latterly dubbed Harry, on account of the ginger) on a nice bit of grass between two cricket ovals (we’re in Australia, remember) and relaxed into the night with the help of pizza and wine. So far so good.
The Blue Mountains are so named because they look blue. Along the valleys between them you can see a really long way, and the moutains at different distances stack up towards the horizon, with a blue haze increasing into the distance. It really looks like someone’s just photoshopped in some blue hue over a pretty picture (naturally it’s quite hard to photograph properly). That’s the idea, but when we arrived at the first lookout, where we were supposed to see a vast forest in a bowl of mountains and valleys off into the distance, we saw only white. The fog was total. We had maybe 20m visibility, enough to see the ground and person in front (and the cliff edge!) but certainly not anything resembling the advertised views.
We did get moments to peek through the clouds at the valley views all around us, before the clouds closed back in again. The second of our three days of walks was a compromise of being overcast but without the low-level cloud, so we could still see some of the view. With lazy legs we didn’t cover much ground this day, but did tick off our first Aussie barbecue that evening at the campsite. Australian barbecues are not the charcoal tradition that one has come to expect. In parks and campsites you find public barbecues, which are basically big gas-powered hotplates on which you can cook your burgers and then scrape off the charred remains. Press a green button and it heats up – the essence of a barbecue distilled to be so easy as to be frankly boring! Fine in theory; in practice it’s not hot enough, and you miss out on the grilling effect of the coal. But it seems they’re trying to reduce use of firewood on environmental grounds, so maybe that’s ok.
Our patience was rewarded with a final day of sunshine and views for miles. We went on a long hike out to the Ruined Castle, a natural formation of rocks in the middle of the mountain range that looks a bit like it might have been a castle. A spot of less-than-elegant rock climbing took us to the summit, and it’s nice to be able to remember this trip with some sun and pretty views, how it’s supposed to be.
The downside of spending the sunny day hiking was that when the weather quickly returned to torrential rain and cyclonic winds, the experience of packing up the tent was more like sailing through choppy seas. Harry the tent served us well for a few days that steadily worsened in wind, rain and cold, but it was a delight to arrive back into Sydney to return to the same hostel that had welcomed us only a few days previously with such luxuries as a mattress and a roof. Sydney is currently experiencing a storm measured with some of the worst wind and rain in a decade, and we’re pleased not to have to push Harry any further…