Neeti Mehra traces the naturalist’s footsteps through the Blue Mountains.
It’s a story that has washed over me on my scenic drive from coastal Sydney to the cool climes of the Blue Mountains. In 1836, a young English naturalist reached the shores of Australia, sailing on a ship named the Beagle. The tug laid anchor at the Sydney Harbour, a pit stop on his five-year journey across the globe. Charles Darwin, on his seminal voyage across the world, wandered off and wended his way to the Blue Mountains. Over a century later, I trace his footsteps here. Standing on top of the lookout point, gazing at the Three Sisters — craggy rock fingers yearning towards the sky — I realise the immensity of nature standing in a landscape that plays a cameo in the tome, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, which changed the way we perceive nature, the world and ourselves.
Eccentricity is not only the Englishman’s purview, and is definitely not enjoyed without a cup of tea. I stop at a tiny town named Leura, rife with quaint antique stores and historic bakeries, for a steaming cuppa at the Bygone Beautys’ Tearoom. It is owned by a local collector, Maurice Cooper, who is also fondly known as Mr. Teapot. While the Teapot Man with his signature bow-tie was nowhere to be seen, I creep into the Wunderkammer, the wonder room that was a store-cum-tea salon. In this staggering emporium of collectibles I walked past dressed mannequins, tea napkins, tea pot magnets, and other assorted oddities. The most inspiring was, however, the treasured Teapot Museum, suspended mid-air. Shelves lined the upper edges of the wall, next to the ceiling, with teapots of all shapes, sizes and spouts. Started by Ron Hooper, Maurice’s now-retired business partner, the kettle collection has been growing steadily for nearly half a century. I enjoy a Mad Hatter-esque tea party with piping hot brew and scones, surrounded by Humpty Dumpty-shaped kettles, assorted gifts, and dainty tea napkins, before I set off on my arduous trek through the Australian Bush.
The Blue Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Area. One can scrabble through these stunning mountains, covering over one million hectares — a potent combination of lush rainforests, deep valleys, yawning canyons, scraggly sandstone crags and windswept grasslands. Standing atop a cliff, I saw a haze of blue around me. The tag of mountains is deceptive. Despite its name, the mountains are actually a sandstone plateau. Its basalt outcrop teems with flora and fauna, and of course, countless eucalyptus trees, and, even a living fossil, the Wollemi Pine, thought to be extinct, but spotted on the belly of the Blue Mountains.
I head to Scenic World, where one can glimpse the mountains and its diversity from up close. In a glass-bottomed cable car we gently glide over a lush rain forest, lilting waterfalls and ravines, getting off at the walkway, to walk through the region’s famous bush. I can see the rock fingers pointing towards the sky — the Three Sisters shrouded with aboriginal legends, each different and as magical as the next. From afar I see the Katoomba Falls and the forlorn-looking Orphan Rock, before hopping on to the steepest railway in the world, a post-box red ancient carriage, that’s now made way for a slick, glass covered one. Perched at a nerve-wracking 64 degrees, I clutch on to the handles as it whizzes into a Jurassic-age forest. Deposited at the Jamison Valley floor, I nose through an open air museum. On display are vignettes of the area’s mining history, under green canopies belonging to a different time. If you’re lucky you can spot a lazy koala, a yellow-bellied glider or the strange sounding long-nosed potoroo, but all I see then are few butterflies and insects buzzing away in the dense foliage. In the damp misty morning one can scarcely believe just a few minutes ago I trotted through dry underbrush, scattered with stumps of burnt eucalyptus, only to emerge in a dense ancient forest, a testament to the region’s diversity.
From Scenic World I head to the Koomurri Aboriginal Centre where under the thrum of a didgeridoo I watch a hypnotic aboriginal dance and hear legends of the mountains. As the sun begins to set, I gear up for my journey on a neatly labelled pathway Darwin once followed, towards the Wentworth falls. In Darwin’s very own words, “It’s a view immensely worth visiting.” I set off through the scenery of the misty mountains wrapped by the table lands. I huff and puff past the Jamison Creek to the Weeping Rock, true to its name, spluttering water akin to copious tears being shed from the stone face. A magical spray mists over the horizon, and below me, a view of the sandstone crannies stretches wide. In a land where evolution sits comfortably besides relics from the past, I’m just a tiny speck standing on the rock, with Darwin’s world spread beneath my feet.
For more information on the Blue Mountains visit www.visitnsw.com
For an idea about Scenic World and Koomurri Aboriginal Centre visit www.scenicworld.com.au and www.koomurri.com.au respectively.
The Blue Mountains are a 90 minutes’ drive from Sydney.
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