We were excited to explore the rugged Australian wilderness and its spectacular natural beauty. One of those places is the Blue Mountain National Park, a designated World Heritage site, located about 95 km from Sydney. The mountain got its name from the distinctive blue haze in the surrounding atmosphere as a result of the densely packed forest of eucalyptus trees. Aside from the breathtaking view, the Blue Mountains also have many walking tracks perfect for hiking.
After some research, we decided to hike the National Pass, long considered to be one of the best walking trails in Australia. It is a scenic 6 km path that passes between two waterfalls, the Wentworth and the Empress. The moss covered trail zigzags down the side of a cliff into the rain forest below. Along the way there are many photo opportunities; from the unrivalled views at the look out points, to cascading waterfalls. The path is well maintained and clearly marked making it easy to follow.
There are two ways to hike the National Pass, you can either start at the Conservation Hut, loop around and end at the Wentworth Falls picnic area, or you can start at Wentworth Falls and do the reverse route. Most guide books suggests starting at the Conservation Hut, but after reading through the online reviews, we decided to go with the latter. This direction has us descend the treacherous Grand Stairway, which makes the hike slightly easier. The whole loop took us about 2.5 to 3 hours to complete including a lunch break in between. The hike was not too strenuous except for the steep stairs that we had to climb. The following are highlights and photos from our bushwalk:
Getting There – Wentworth Falls is about a 90 minute drive from Sydney if you have access to a car. There is a car park and picnic area conveniently located at the trailhead. Public transportation is another option to get to Blue Mountain. The train leaves Sydney every hour and goes right to Wentworth Falls station, which is a short walk from the starting point.
1. Wentworth Falls Lookout – A few steps away from the parking lot is the lookout point. We stood from this vantage point and admired the vast wilderness. The blue tinted view is hypnotic. It almost feels like I cheated, normally when we go hiking we would start at the bottom and make our way to the top before being able to enjoy a view like this. Taking in a deep breath of fresh air, we started to head down into the forest.
2. Queens Cascade – After walking 15 minutes from the lookout, we came upon a creek filled with crystal clear water. We followed the tumbling brook to a small waterfall called the Queens Cascade. This is the source of the Wentworth Falls. A series of concrete steps were laid to allow travelers to cross the stream without getting wet. People who are feeling adventurous can venture to the water’s edge and look down into the abyss. Drawn by the sound of rushing water, we continued on our journey.
3. Rocky Ledge – The tranquil scene quickly shifted to a more dramatic landscape as we started down the wooden stairs to the rocky ledge below. The rugged pathway was carved from the sandstone cliff by the original builders using only their picks and shovels. We stopped at the precipice and admired the valley thickly covered with eucalyptus trees that stretched out for many miles. We passed a shelter carved into the cliff face that was nothing more than a little hole that fits a small person snuggly. Except for safety fence, this place is untouched and resplendent in its natural glory.
4. Grand Staircase – Soon after the rocky ledge, we began our steep vertical descent along the mighty rock face on uneven steps. The Grand Staircase is made up of hand carved stone steps, built over a hundred years ago. The zigzagging stairwells lead straight down the multi-hued sandstone escarpment directly to the cool rainforest below. We stopped along the way and looked out to the unobstructed view of the horizon and admired the Jamieson Valley below.
5. Wentworth Falls – As you climb further down the staircase into the rainforest, you start to hear the roaring sound of water crashing into the massive boulders. We are at the first drop of Wentworth Falls. There are large stone blocks conveniently placed to help people get across the fall. Looking up, you can see the cascading water spilling over the the edge like a veil over the surrounding cliffs. The mist lingered in the air cooling us down on that hot day. This is where we stopped for lunch, under the cool shade of the sandstone crag. After lunch, we walked over and stood under the falls to feel the refreshing spray on our faces.
6. Wet Amphitheater – As we left the misty waterfall behind, we were once again immersed in dense rainforest. From here the path came upon a cool shaded area thick with green ferns and multi-colored lichens. Overhead, a canopy from the giant eucalyptus provided cover for our walk. An eerie silence hung in the air as all outside noise was suppressed. We treaded softly across the moss covered floor. Once in awhile the stillness is broken by the screeching sound of the cockatoos, who make their home in these forests. The footpath is relatively level making the walk enjoyable. As we turned the corner and the trees parted, we saw dark clouds gathering on the horizon. Our steps quickened as we rushed forward, trying to beat the downpour that was sure to happen.
7. Dry Stretch – After wandering through the wet rainforest, it was hard to believe our eyes as we passed under a low sandstone overhang that’s been sculpted by wind for centuries. This dry area was distinctively different from the wet environment we had passed through just a few minutes earlier.
8. Valley of the Waters – Again the landscape changed as we crossed the sandstone steps and approached the Valley of the Waters. The trickling streams had cut a deep narrow canyon through the sandstone over millennia. At the bottom, the cascading waterfalls and pools all connected to each other, surrounded by lush vegetation. The crystal clear water of Empress Falls plunged down 30 meters into a deep pool below where locals swam. As we walked by Empress Canyon, we were met by a group of abseilers in wet suits, attempting to rappel down the waterfall.
9. Final Ascent – The Empress canyon marked the end of our trip into the shadowy rainforest. From here we started our ascent back to the top, winding our way through the many ledges and staircases. Food and water was running low, like our energy. We took our time, stopping frequently along the climb up to rest and admire the view of the waterfalls one last time.
10. Conservation Hut – Up at the top, we stopped for a few minutes to catch our breath and celebrate. We managed to climb all the way back up. But the journey didn’t quite end yet. We continued to walk towards the Conservation Hut. The Conservation Hut Cafe has been a rest stop for tired hikers for many decades. The restaurant has a wide balcony with a great view of the valley below. People stop here to rest their weary legs and get some food and drinks.
Since the storm was still gathering, we decided to forgo this pit stop and head straight back to the car. At the crossroad at the top of the trail, there is a path that leads you to the hut and another to lead you back to the Wentworth Falls parking lot. This last stretch runs along the top of the cliff and is easy to navigate. Since there were no more stairs, it only took us another 20 minutes to get back to the starting point.
Tired and dirty, but with a great sense of accomplishment, we made it back without getting too wet. It’s hard to describe the overwhelming natural beauty we saw on our hike, from the sheer cliff face to the expansive landscape to the romantic waterfalls. Scenes like these remind me why I love nature. It’s also the perfect way to work off some of the food we consumed while on vacation.