Saturday, 21 March 2015

Blue Mountains Tree-top Birthday

6:23 am. The eastern sky was barely suffused with soft pink streaks of pre-sunrise when the Sooty Owl made its final bomb-drop call. Even the kookaburras had chortled their first refrain by then, and the Eastern Yellow Robins contributed their double-clicks and single chimes. Not long after, the lyrebirds kicked in with their varied repertoires, probably half a dozen of them up and down the valley. Standing on the tiny balcony in the slightly chill air, I could just make out the silhouettes of a pair of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos float over the treetops below me, their haunting calls echoing back and forth across the gully, accompanied by the faint double-trill of a Fan-tailed Cuckoo somewhere in the distance. 

Such was the dawn chorus on my birthday morning.

Dawn from the balcony of the tree-house
We were very comfortably ensconced in the most amazing tree-house you could ever wish to stay in. Secluded, and tucked into the steep hillside above the Bowen's Creek valley, a little north of Berambing in the Blue Mountains, about 100 km west of Sydney, the owner/builder has constructed his quirky, whimsical 'folly' around a living tree, about 12 metres above the ground. The slope is such that from the windows on one side of the tree-house you look straight into the tree trunks and rock scars of the Sydney Sandstone bushland, but from the other side you are treated to panoramic views over the immediate tree-tops and down the densely vegetated valley to the peaks of Mount Irvine and Mount Tootie in the distance. It is nothing short of spectacular.

The tree-house
The view from the back of the tree-house - classic Sydney sandstone bushland.
And the spectacular view down the Bowen valley from the balcony.

The tree-house itself is full of the most eccentric touches, all designed to fit with the unspoiled natural setting, but at the same time to titillate the adult-child in us. From the extensive use of natural branches for everything from supporting beams to cupboard handles, to the openly exhibitionist aspect of the 'shower with a view' and the longest 'drop dunny' you're ever likely to come across.

There is actually a tree growing right through the middle of the tree-house.
Pared branches provide roof support.
The bedroom window is very quirkily shaped.
The shower / spa is definitely not for the prudish.
The long-drop dunny is unique (wait for it ...)
And the front door says it all
(except you definitely have to be a grown-up to be able to afford to stay here.)

Despite the attraction of spending the majority of our time in this tree-top haven, we did get out to see some of the other local attractions and the magic that is the Blue Mountains. My rather ambitious plans to visit a range of sites around Blackheath on the Saturday were somewhat curtailed by both time and fitness levels, but we did do the Govett's Leap to Pulpit Rock walk.

On our way to Blackheath - the sandstone post office in the quaint and beautiful village of Mount Victoria.

The track from Govett's Leap to Pulpit Rock winds up and down and around the edge of the escarpment, crossing several small creeks that suddenly emerge from the sheer cliff edge as spectacular waterfalls, only to disappear again into the dense forest leading down to the Grose River. The views from the track are absolutely stunning, with one towering outcrop of rock after another receding into the distance and the blue eucalyptus oil haze that gives these mountains their name.

The Grose Valley, with our destination, Pulpit Rock, in the middle distance.
The Grose Valley is hemmed in on all sides by spectacular sandstone cliffs.
Waterfalls cascade down the escarpment at regular intervals.
Pulpit Rock gradually loomed closer as we made our way along the escarpment.
One of the creek crossings along the track to Pulpit Rock.
Horseshoe Falls.

There was plenty of wildlife along this track as well, making it necessary to divide my time almost equally between admiring the view; whipping the camera around for a scuttling skink, a darting dragonfly, or a furtive firetail; and actually watching where I was placing my feet so as not to end up somewhere I definitely was not supposed to be. (On Friday 13 March, just 6 days after we did the walk, a 25 year old American tourist slipped from this very track and fell 35 metres, breaking her ankle and several ribs, before finally being rescued by helicopter the following morning!)

Eastern Water Skinks (Eulamprus quoyii) were everywhere - and not necessarily close to water.
A Copper-tailed Skink (Ctenotus taeniolatus) reminded of my school days at Elanora Heights Primary School.
I still haven't worked out if this damselfly is a Common or Sydney Flatwing.
This Forest Darner (Austroaeschna pulchra) was a new species for me.
As was this Sydney Mountain Darner (Austroaeschna obscura).
Another Sydney Mountain Darner looking almost fossil-like against the sandstone.
Varied Sword-grass Browns (Tisiphone abeona abeona) were frequently seen fluttering in the shade along the track - and indeed at many of the places we visited.
And I was very pleasantly surprised by a shy but inquisitive Beautiful Firetail (Stagonopleura bella).
Lambertia formosa, or Mountain Devil, were common and were one of Karen's favourites. The common name comes from the shape of the fruit / seed capsule, which to me looks more like a fox's head. 

Saturday night, the eve of my birthday, I was treated to a fabulous dinner at an unassuming place in Bilpin called the Apple Bar. Bilpin is renowned for its apples so we started with an incredibly crisp, cold and flavourful Hillbilly apple cider which they had on tap. We shared a huge bowl of Eden black mussels in a perfectly balanced spicy tomato, white wine, basil and garlic broth, with a side of woodfired bread; and finished with woodfired pizza (double-smoked leg ham, wood roasted eggplant, tomato, garlic, Italian Mozzarella and Grana Padano) - yes, I did keepsake a copy of the menu!

The mussels alone would have been sufficient, so we took half the pizza and a couple of desserts away for later (the food and service had been so good we couldn't not try the desserts). Although accurate, I think they under-sell themselves with the monicker "woodfired grill and pizza".

Sunday morning itself was a luxurious, un-rushed affair in our tree-top lair.

We had come up to the Blue Mountains the back way from Canberra. That is, turning north from Goulburn and taking the back roads through Taralga, the Abercrombie River (where we stopped briefly for lunch), Black Springs and Oberon. It was a really nice, relaxed, quiet drive. The last time I had traveled that road, something like 25 years previously, most of it was rough dirt road which made it a rather long trip. Now it is sealed for its entire length.

The old wooden bridge at the Abercrombie River crossing where we'd stopped for lunch on our way up.

But we’d be returning to Canberra by the more easterly route, and before we endured the slow tedium of getting through western Sydney, and the constant boredom of the Hume Freeway, we needed some more green time in preparation. The Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens provided this beautifully.

I’d heard of the Gardens previously but had never been there. They are a perfect blend of collected diversity and recreational parkland with incredible views over the northern Blue Mountains/Wollemi/Yengo wilderness. I particularly liked the conifer section (including the plantings of the local and recently discovered relict Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis) and the rainforest section, which is a natural remnant along the creek, historically known as ‘the jungle’. The gardens added another six species to my bird list for the trip, including Crested Shrike-tit, Large-billed Scrubwren, Rufous Fantail, and an unexpected Red-whiskered Bulbul (an introduced bird, native to Asia, which somehow felt and sounded very natural in this environment). 

A Wollemi Pine at the Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens.
One of the many Proteas at the Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens.

An everlasting
The plaque commemorating the opening of the Fairfax Walk at "the Jungle" in 1929.

The gardens clearly were also a rallying point for what I assume was the Sydney Ferrari club. The famous Bell’s Line of Road, with its almost continuous unraveling of sharp twists and sweeping bends, is a favoured weekend destination for motorcyclists, and apparently sports car owners. And so it was along this magical road with its majestic scenery that, after finishing yesterday's pizza which was just as good cold, we headed home after a perfect weekend. Thank you Karen.

Natural sculpture - intricately weathered sandstone along the Pulpit Rock track.


  1. Amazing! I would love to go there one day.

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