So, enough of the marvellous Jenolan Caves. I took numerous photographs but can't show them all here. If you have never visited these caves and get the opportunity, please do. They are phenomenal!
We drove home through torrential rain and thunder. The late afternoon temperature had dropped to 13° C. and the wipers were going flat out. It was good to get back to the snug caravan with the red wine flowing.
Talking of Katoomba's weather, it rained at some time on almost every one of the fourteen days that we stayed and on about ten of those we had a thunderstorm. We weren't used to that! One morning, after days of mist and rain, it dawned clear and sunny so we set off eagerly to see some local beauty spots. By the time we arrived at Wentworth Falls it had all changed - the dark clouds had rolled in and we could hear thunder approaching.
The dramatic countryside around Katoomba was just so beautiful that it's impossible to do justice to it in words, and a photo only captures a small part of the panorama so most of the impact is lost. The only way to appreciate it is to see it.
One day we walked down a track that led us from the Echo Point Lookout to a footbridge which spanned the gap between the cliff face and the closest of the Three Sisters. If you look closely at the picture of the Three Sisters on Page 39 you may just be able to make it out, but an enlargement is shown below. Don't be fooled by the picture, the drop below that bridge was terrifying.
To reach the bridge you had to descend the first part of what is aptly named the Giant's Staircase, though some sections more closely resembled a ladder. Beyond the bridge the Staircase continued down to the valley floor far below - very far below!
Having crossed the bridge there was nowhere to go, only on to a small ledge recessed beneath overhanging rock - see the picture below.
Having stayed two weeks in Katoomba and seen thunderstorms aplenty, we packed up and departed for Kiama, 3,500 feet lower on the New South Wales coast. (Kiama is pronounced Kye-a-muh with the emphasis on the middle syllable.)
We found the Easts Beach Van Park without trouble - thanks, Alice - situated 36 km south of Wollongong in glorious sunshine. That first night, however, we were frequently awoken by rain and thunder. And the next day was miserable. What's all this about a drought?
On the coast at Kiama there are two blow-holes. The larger one is well
advertised and we called to see it on the day we arrived. It was working
beautifully with huge columns of water jetting high into the air accompanied
by a deafening WHOOOOMPH!!! and loud
from the watching crowd. Where, you may ask, was my camera? Why, in the
caravan along with Pam's, of course.
The next time we we went to the large blow-hole we remembered the cameras but the blow-hole just wasn't in the mood as can be seen in the picture on the left. Occasionally it made a half-hearted effort but in stormy weather the water spout may be a hundred feet high. To see what we saw, move the mouse pointer over the picture. Hint: Don't click the mouse button, it just takes you back to the top of the page. Fortunately the smaller blow-hole came to the rescue as the picture on the right shows.
Being so close, we decided to visit Wollongong for a day and to go by train.
There were only 2-hour parking slots at Kiama railway station. Now isn't
that good planning? So we thought
Stuff 'em and left
the car there anyway. The train was an electric 'double-decker' so we
rode upstairs for the novelty and the better view. Apart from one delay
while we waited for the track ahead to clear, we had an uneventful journey.
And just in case you never saw a double
decker train, here's a pic of one.
Let me tell you that being old is not all bad. Sure, your hair turns grey and falls out and all those joints that used to be so supple start to stiffen and creak like rusty hinges, but there is an up side. Yes there is! Governments stop taking your money and start giving some back. You don't have to get up and go to work. You get a concession card which, when waved at many cash desks, results in a discount. For example, our rail tickets cost $2.50 and for that we got unlimited travel on trains, buses and ferries all day. We could even have travelled to Sydney and back with them. So don't be too despondent as the years roll on, being a 'wrinkly' is pretty okay.
Thinking of staying on the train and going to Sydney, I asked a railway employee if the scenery between Wollongong and Sydney was worth seeing. He said he couldn't tell me, he hadn't been that way for five years. He did, however, say that it was better on the return journey. Yes, we're still trying to work that one out, too.
On arrival we wandered around Wollongong and found - you guessed - a Gloria Jeans coffee shop. (Concession cards work in there, too.) We also came across an information centre where a really helpful and very attractive assistant gave us maps to guide us around some places of interest. The first was a small hill on which stood a lighthouse and the inevitable canons. They are pictured lower down the page. From the hill we could see the steel town of Port Kembla just down the coast, the sky above it dark and forbidding.
We also visited a museum where we were greeted by a lady of about eighty five. As we were her only customers she was able to give us her undivided attention . . . and she did. After about ten minutes of pushing a variety of buttons she managed to start the introductory video and set the volume to 'deafening'. We watched an Irish actor with enormously bushy false sideburns that didn't match his hair colour pretend to be the 19th century postmaster. It was hard to take him seriously. When the video finished, the old lady came back and told us all about the exhibits in that room. She interspersed her dissertation with several assurances that she would leave us to browse - but she never did. Then the video restarted and she had to compete with it, apparently not knowing how to stop it. After an eternity she led Pam into the next room. I pretended to be interested in something in a glass case and stayed put. As the old girl and poor Pam moved on, her voice grew fainter until I couldn't hear her any more. Pam was trapped and I feared severe retribution when she finally extricated herself. Luckily it was close to closing time so we escaped the museum to find the sky looking ominously black and thunder coming closer.
We walked quickly back towards the railway station but just before we arrived the heavens opened. Dashing from tree to bus shelter to shop doorway, we eventually made the station, wet but not too wet. The sky was having a real tantrum with thunder and lightning putting on an impressive display. We waited on the platform with hundreds of others, for a train that didn't come. The rain was pelting the outer edge of the platform and there were multiple leaks in the overhead canopy. The waiting passengers, without communicating, took it in turns to walk forward and peer up the track, but to no avail. The opposite platform was occupied by a stationary north-bound train. We watched the rain bounce off its roof and stream from its gutters. It had been there, complete with its cargo of passengers, since we'd arrived.
The lighthouse at Wollongong with missile launchers in the foreground.
When our train finally did appear we were very relieved and boarded gratefully. But instead of setting off, we all sat there, our apparel steaming gently. People seemed so resigned to this situation that we gathered it was commonplace. Eventually an announcement was made that our train's doors would be closed and the interior lights extinguished for one minute while they attempted to reset the train's power system. It appears that the way to fix an electric train is the same as fixing a computer - pull out the plug and start over. The emergency lights, which were the lights by which we had boarded, came on again, but the doors remained closed. It began to get hot and stuffy. After more delay the main lights flickered on to a loud cheer from those confined. The doors opened to admit more passengers and some fresh air. They then closed again and we set off south through the torrential rain. The north-bound train had still not moved.
Just ahead of our seat stood a man in yellow oilskins. He had a very loud voice and the ability to talk continuously without taking a breath. Our train, it seems, had taken a lightning strike. After a while we managed to tune out his voice and concentrate on the couple in the seat in front of us. Trapped next to the window was Lizzii, a pretty teenage schoolgirl. Lizzii was trying to read a trashy magazine full of scandal and photos of film stars. Fletcher, seated beside her, wanted to talk. Fletcher was a heavily built Aborigine aged about forty five. There was nothing offensive about him, he seemed a nice enough bloke, and Lizzii was coping comfortably with him. He wanted to know all about her, and each time she opened her magazine he'd ask another question. Soon we could have qualified for the Einstein Factor, our subject being the life and times of Lizzii. (The spelling is right, it was written in bold letters on the back of her shirt.)
Eventually 'yellow oilskins' and Lizzii left the train so, bored, we sat and listened to the noises the carriage was making. It was like being in a pet shop full of caged birds. Soon the birds were interrupted by an announcement that the line between Wollongong and Waterfall was closed due to the extreme weather, and buses would be used to transport passengers. Our hearts sank; where the hell was Waterfall? Eventually we discovered that Waterfall was midway between Wollongong and Sydney. That is, to the north of Wollongong - we were travelling south - so why did they tell us at all? We wondered if those unfortunate passengers were still waiting in the north-bound train in Wollongong station. Since the line was closed, they probably were. Thank God we hadn't gone on to Sydney. We entertained ourselves for the remainder of the journey by listening to various mobile phone conversations.
The rail between Kiama and Wollongong is single track all the way except
where there is a station. At each station the line splits into two providing
a north-bound platform and a south-bound platform. Therefore the services
running in opposite directions must be timed to pass each other at a station.
However, let's say the north-bound train is late. The south-bound train
has to wait in the station until it arrives - or meet it head on. So now
both trains are late. They, in turn will cause the next trains
to wait in a station until they arrive. Soon every train will
be late and there's no way of catching up without every train going like
the clappers. The only solution would be rename each train.
ladies and gentlemen, the train at platform two is no longer the four
o'clock running thirty minutes late, it has become the four thirty and
will depart on time. Easy.
We arrived at Kiama to find the place dry. And, hey, our car, over-parked by four hours, had not been booked. A win! We arrived back at the caravan just in time to miss another torrential downpour. Two wins.
That'll do for Page 41, Folks. You know what to do . . .
Footnote: This re-working of Page 41 was completed on 30 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.