Wow, I thought to myself, that shiny, black pipe looks so much like a snake. Good thing it can’t be, because we’re making enough noise to clear the whole of Katoomba of snakes. Right?
After a long hiatus from our regular Saturday morning bushwalks, my Canadian friend and I (because who else would you take hiking) decided to head somewhere we’d been dreaming of for about a year now: The Blue Mountains.
Not that we hadn’t been there before. When you live in Sydney, where I am now, or the Central Coast, where I grew up, The Blue Mountains offer the perfect backdrop for a family holiday, a romantic getaway (I presume), or just some casual backpacking.
The two main towns, are much alike in their quaint, old-worldly feels with an ever blossoming food scene and some seriously nice shopping for those with an eye for quality (get yourself to Teddy Sinclair in Leura, ladies and lads). Personally, I prefer Leura, purely because it’s a little less crowded come tourist season. But not today. Today we were following the hoards of Japanese tourists on double decker buses right to Echo Point and the iconic Three Sisters.
Why so iconic? This is a rock formation in the shape of three people…well actually more like three lumps of rock sitting next to each other…so old that the Aboriginals even have a Dreamtime story to explain it. So the legend goes, three beautiful sisters from the Katoomba tribe, fell in love with three brothers from a neighboring tribe but tribal law forbade them to marry. As you do, the three brothers decided to steal the sisters anyway, causing an understandably huge uproar, during which the Katoomba tribe witchdoctor took it upon himself to turn the girls to stone for ‘their own protection’. Then he got himself killed before he could reverse the spell. So here they still stand today, as rock. But luckily they’ve had one hell of a view to look at over the years, one that suddenly makes the tourist hoardes understandable.
That was where we headed, but not before we stopped for food in Katoomba…to fuel for the journey ahead, you understand. The hipsters have certainly moved into this part of the world, so you’ll find plenty of options for top-notch coffee along the main street, but we opted for the French aesthetic of Hominy Bakery. Fully intending to have the almond croissant, I was swayed at the last minute by the pizza slices and was glad I did. About five seconds later we’d inhaled our food and felt ready to tackle any walking tracks The Three Ladies could throw at us.
Arriving at Echo Point, your first view of The Three Sisters is from a large, multi-leveled lookout. The view from here cannot be beat, provided you can push to the front through the selfie-taking crowds (weekends in summer are obviously the busiest). If you walk back from this viewpoint, you’ll find an inconspicuous path behind the information centre.
If you follow it, you’ll come to some hella-steep looking stairs, aptly named The Giant Stairs. These are not for the faint-of heart, or more accurately, the likely to faint. Sure some people were tackling this climb in their Sunday best and others in their thongs, but then one poor soul passes us on her way back up and we are honestly concerned that she won’t make it.
This top part of the stairway is busy. It leads to a chiseled out cove in the side of the closest sister, with a park bench to rest your weary legs before heading back up. That’s probably about 200 steps. We were leaving the crowds behind and heading down the other 700 of them to reach the valley floor. To be honest, it wasn’t until about halfway down it finally clicked we probably had to come back up the same way.
“That’s a problem for future us to deal with,” counters my friend.
Fair point. We walk on. The only real concern on the way down is the fact my foot is longer than the stairs, but there are rails the whole way to make this a non-problem. Forty-five minutes later we hit the valley floor, a part of The Blue Mountains I’d always wondered about and gazed at from far above. It looked a lot like bush. I mean this in the nicest way, it’s beautiful, perfect for a picnic, and one of my favourite sites in the world is Aussie bushland. But you know, it looks just like you picture when I say ‘it looks like the bush’.
So we’re wandering along the path. Soaking in the dappled sun. Listening to the bell birds, the occasional crack of a whipbird, and the complete break in serenity that is the cockatoo screech. Swapping stories. And, in my case, noticing black shiny pipes that look a lot like red belly black snakes.
Then my companion, a step ahead of me and oblivious to my observations, stands right next to it. And the pipe raises its head. Whoops!
“Valer…” I start, then quickly cut myself off as I realise calling her name will only make her stop still, just like she’s doing now. This is the one thing she shouldn’t do, seeing as the snake is clearly trying to decide whether it needs to protect itself or run away. It’s ok, I can cover this.
Realising something was up and following my gaze, she froze at the site of Mr. Snake. While she was still standing about a foot away from his head. Like I said, the only thing she shouldn’t be doing.
Until she started sprinting. Realising the danger was gone, the snake slithered away, leaving me to crack up at my friend now far in front of me. To be fair, this was outside her realm of experience.
“We only have tiny, non poisonous snakes in Canada, like, you pick them up and play with them as a kid,” she explains, “I wanted to see one here…but not like that. Incidentally…what do we do if we did get bitten?”
Excitement behind us, we continue on our loop back to those Giant Stairs. If we thought the snake had our hearts racing, it was only until we’d made the first flight of these 900 cold, unfeeling stairs. On the way down, we scoffed at the number of benches, surely it was overkill? On the way back up, we cursed them for not having more. Conversation stopped. Puffers were pulled out (that was me). Water bottles were not full enough.
These was estimated to be a 3 hour walk, and graded ‘hard’. Usually you can presume these things to be a slight exaggeration, but not this time. A good 2 hours of that time is getting down and up those stairs. But finally, finally, we make it.
Faces red and out of breath, we pass the other tourists only going so far as the closest sister, and collapse on the observation deck. We get stares, we possibly scare some poor souls from trying even the first part of the walk. But who cares. We made it, snakes and all!