“Are we there yet?” I ask my co-driver, Sheng Ching, for the umpteenth time. Meanwhile, she’s busy trying to figure out the directions to Katoomba, the chief town of the City of Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia, while I’m growing impatient behind the wheel.
The town is located 1,017.1 metres above sea level and about an hour and a half drive west of Sydney city. Any sane person would probably opt for a nice resort overlooking the mountain range to spend the night, but no, not us. We decided to take the less cushy option by setting up tent at the Katoomba Falls Tourist Park, one of the many camping grounds that surround the picturesque town.
So here’s the story: Two girls, a million miles away from home, and with no prior experience of roughing it in the big outdoors. Sounds like an adventure that might just kill us or give us the experience of a lifetime. We’re hoping it’ll be the latter!
“Turn here, turn here!” my friend excitedly points to a narrow road to the right where a large welcome sign signals our arrival at Wentworth Falls, a smaller town in the Blue Mountains region. It’s one of the very few towns you’ll arrive at before reaching Katoomba. “Why are we stopping here?” I ask, puzzled. “Aren’t you hungry?” my friend swiftly retorts and as if on cue, my tummy gives out a low rumble in response.
It’s almost four o’clock and we’re seated in a quiet little nook overlooking the wilderness of Wentworth Falls with our packed sandwiches. A quick consult of my phone’s weather app tells me that I should be wearing more than just the jumper and jeggings I have on at that moment. Thank goodness for the hot cup of cappuccino.
A faint scent wafts in the air as a slight breeze rustles the leaves around us. I can’t really put a finger to it but it smells vaguely like eucalyptus, a fast-growing evergreen tree that’s known to populate the region. The Blue Mountains, densely populated by oil-bearing eucalyptus trees, are said to have derived their name from the blue haze that hovers above them believed to be from the eucalyptus oil arising from the gum trees (a colloquial term for eucalyptus).
It’s a quiet Monday and the only sounds we hear are the squawks coming from the large birds perched on a tree nearby. It’s true that animals in Australia are larger and none more so than the palm-sized spider that’s worryingly making its way towards my cup of coffee. Stifling a scream, I nudge Sheng Ching to head back to the safety of our vehicle.
Slowly, we trek the trail up to the entrance of the national park, admiring the view of the infinite horizon of arresting blue skies and lush green mountains. Far down the valley, we spot Wentworth Falls, a three-tiered waterfall fed by Jamison Creek. It appears not much further than where we are at the lookout point, but in actual fact, the falls is an impressive 187 metres in height.
So transfixed by the scene in front of us that we fail to notice a yellow glow has suddenly crept up and is bathing our path. That’s our signal to hasten our journey to the campsite or we’ll just end up pitching our tent in the dark.
The Katoomba Falls Tourist Park is situated on Cliff Drive, a slight turn off the main road that connects Katoomba town and Echo Point — the site of the famous Three Sisters, an unusual rock formation in the Blue Mountains. It’s hard to miss the vast expanse of green that’s dotted with white cabins and a myriad of caravans.
The surrounding is idyllic and after a quick check in at reception, my friend and I make our way to our designated unpowered campsite. The borders are marked by white lines, just enough to fit small tents and a camper van. The cost of this rudimentary stay during low season for two people is AUD33 (RM107).
Shared amenities such as showers, bathrooms, cooking facilities and laundry services are available within walking distance from the campsite. There are also free WiFi hotspot services but usage is capped to a minimum. If you can’t live without streaming YouTube, you can always purchase premium access from the reception desk.
We find ourselves ‘parked’ next to the McKay family who warmly greets us and offers to help as we make heavy work of unfolding our bright blue tent. “The weather’s still quite chilly, better you put on warmer clothes,” the patriarch of the family advises helpfully. As season campers, the family shares that where we are happens to be the best area to set up tents.
“The fields and flat lands make it easy, while the grass provides some semblance of padding and warmth,” he adds. “And if you’re not used to the ground, there’s always the cabins available for you to rent.”
It takes less than half an hour for us to have the tent set up. The final thing to do now is to nail the tent to the ground. But before we could do so, there’s a sudden gust of wind and our tent goes up in a ‘whoosh’! Scrambling frantically to pin it down again, we couldn’t help laughing at the hilarity of the situation. It’s certainly not hard to see that we’re truly outdoor novices.
Having learnt our lesson from that brief moment of drama, we made sure to fasten all the necessary hooks and checked that all sides were securely tied. We definitely don’t want the tent flying away as we lose ourselves in dreamland!
Convinced that our home for the night is finally ‘safe’, we settle down to a delicious dinner of grilled meats before proceeding to call it a night after a long day. The temperature dips as low as 5°C, but thankfully, our sleeping bags and tent keep us warm through the uneventful night.
A distinctive loud cackle from the Laughing Kookaburra startles us and we awake with a start. A quick look at the watch and I notice that it’s already 6am. Despite being rudely awakened, I’m relieved that we’ve made it through the night alive. Unzipping the tent, a small sigh escapes my lips as I catch a delicious smell of coffee wafting from one of the caravans nearby.
I can’t believe that I’ve survived the night out in the wild with only a flimsy tent as shelter. Fortunately for us, it’s spring and there’s no sign of rain or storm. I wouldn’t dare to imagine what it would be like otherwise.
As we prepare to make our onward journey, I couldn’t help giving myself a silent pat on the back — what a great achievement it is for a homebody whose only outdoor activity is a quick jog in the park. Would I do it again? Perhaps...
For details go to www.bmtp.com.au/