Monday, 6 July 2015

Grand Canyon Walk (Blue Mountains National Park)

One of Australia's finest day walks, the Grand Canyon Walk takes bushwalkers to the lush secret world of the canyons below the Blue Mountains and the ever flowing water that makes this such a thriving ecosystem. Featuring ferns, mossy rocks and streams both gentle and fast flowing, this is a walk of seemingly endless highlights including a cave, several waterfalls and views into the deepest reaches of the canyon. A must-do bushwalking highlight for those visiting the Blue Mountains. 

Distance: 6 km (loop) 
Gradient: Steep steps into and out of the canyon, as well as a more gentle gradient steps along the entire route
Quality of Path: Excellent, clear and well maintained with bridges and stepping stones in areas.
Quality of Signage: Well signed. There are frequent wooden markers along the way with directional information at junctions with other trails. 
Experience Required: Bushwalking experience recommended but no specialist navigational knowledge is required. The walk in and out of the canyon are the two most difficult parts of the walk given the huge amount of steps. The walk within the canyon itself is relatively easy and straightforward, however be aware of very cold temperatures in the valley during the cooler months. 
Time: 2.5-4 Hours
Steps: There are a plenty of steps at both the start and end, as well as some other sections along the track, and the trail may not be suitable for people with knee problems
Best Time to Visit: This walk is apparently lush and cool all year round. Avoid accessing the canyon during periods of heavy rain and extreme weather as flooding can occur. 
Entry Fee: No 
Getting There: The trailhead is located at the Neates Glen car park, just off to the right side of Evans Lookout Road and just after the interection with Somerset Ave. 

While over for a week-long eating tour of Sydney, Alissa and I decided to make a day trip out to the Blue Mountains. Hiring a car in Penrith and driving up the Great Western Hwy to Blackheath, our main aim for the day was not to check out the more obvious tourist attractions. What was calling us was the Grand Canyon Walking Track - a famous, 100-year old bushwalk consistently ranked amongst Australia's best day walks. The trailhead is an easy drive down Evans Lookout Rd, with the option of starting at Neates Glen Car park or the Evans Lookout Car park at the end of the road. We chose to walk the trail from Neates Glen in an anti-clockwise direction, however either starting point is easy enough to find and well marked. The consistency and quality of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service signage must be applauded, especially compared to the varying styles and levels of information shown on the signs in our home state of Western Australia.

The path down to the canyon is a constantly curving switchback that gets progressively steep and stepped. Near the top of the walk, the vegetation is fairly typical woodland forest that is not vastly dissimilar to Perth's jarrah woodlands.

Getting deeper in the canyon however reveals a much wetter and lusher world. The dryer woodland foliage gives way to rainforest of startling, green beauty. This area, Neates Glen, is a taster of what one can expect along the track (although at a smaller scale to the the deeper sections of the canyon to come), and looks like the kind of enchanted place one would expect to find in a fairytale.

As the trail heads away from the Neates Glen area, the canyon widens significantly, allowing more sunlight to reach the forest floor. This section transitions back to dryer Eucalypt woodlands - an amazingly rapid change of scenery from just a few minutes earlier.

Although this drier section is less magical than the area around Neates Glen, it does allow the geological grandeur of the canyon to really shine, with the sheer cliffs featuring many impressive overhangs along the way. These overhangs suggest the force of water during times of flooding, and it is advised not to walk in the canyon during periods of extreme weather.

As we continued along the Canyon, the lushness we experienced in Neates Glen returned as we approached the famous cave tunnel. While lacking in the stalactites of much larger and grander caves, the fact that this walk actually passes through a cave along its route only adds to it cache of highlights and features.

Minutes after walking through the cave tunnel, walkers are presented with one of the most beautiful features of the Grand Canyon - an impressive waterfall that allows walks to literally walk behind and underneath its curtain of cascading water. During our visit, this area of the track seemed to have become a bottleneck, with walkers standing around the area staring up in awe. The photos do not do justice to the experience of being in this place and experiencing the wonder of nature in action.

There is a constant sound of water babbling along brooks and cascading to lower pools along the way, with the waters encouraging the thriving rainforest vegetation around it.

The waters run deep into the canyon, having carved passageways down into the rock - far deeper than the path would go, even when descending.

Staring over the edge reveals just how far down the canyon goes, with ferns growing deep in chasms that can only be reached by abseiling to the lower depths.

After following the water's course running deep below us, the track eventually widens and flattens. Although lacking some of the grander features encountered earlier, this is my favourite part of the walk. A wide but only ankle deep stream covers the entire canyon floor, with rock stepping stones providing a path for walkers. Alissa and I slowed down considerably in this section as we just could not stop taking photos - in all, I must have taken close to 500!

But of course all good things must come to an end, and the climb out of the canyon is a seemingly never ending staircase in a myriad of styles and materials. 

The walk surfaces out from the canyon and provides views of the Blue Mountains beyond. This is however not the the end, and there are still more stairs to come!

After losing track of how many steps we'd climbed, we finally reached Evans Lookout, providing spectacular views of the Blue Mountains. From there it was a short and relatively easy walk back to our car at the Neates Glen car park. 

Having a bit of time left in the afternoon, Alissa and I drove off to check out some of more common tourist sites, including stopping for lunch at Katoomba and checking out Scenic World's cable cars and funicular railway. And of course, we joined the massive crowds at the viewing deck overlooking the Three Sisters. As awe-inspiring as the Three Sister were, I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for all the tourists around who would never see the lush world of the Grand Canyon, as it trumped everything else Alissa and I had seen that day. The Grand Canyon is the finest day walk Alissa and I have had the pleasure of walking, and I would urge any bushwalker heading over the Sydney to make it a top priority. 


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