Step out for Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Festival of Walking
By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
HOW do you make a global icon?
Take a swamp rich with flora and fauna and wait until it all dies. Squish down all the rotting bodies in layers and leave them to bake in the sun for endless millennia until they have morphed into coal and rock.
Then slice the “lasagne’’, push up wedges, let the elements mould them and allow plants and animals to reclaim the new-look landscape.
That’s the surprisingly effective explanation Wild At Heart Safaris eco-guide Keiron Sames gives visitors on his guided walks through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area at Katoomba.
The tale will be told to those who take part in an eco-tour during the annual Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism Festival of Walking (October 6-14), during which visitors and locals will be encouraged to put their best foot forward and explore the wild beauty and unique streetscapes of some of the most popular locations in the world.
Promoting fresh air and the grand backyard of the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region, the festival will feature treks and challenging bushwalks, history tours combined with local wine and cheese sampling, ambles through the day and walks at night, garden tours, singles walks, indigenous experiences, family events and child’s eye view walks.
It will be held at locations throughout the region including Jenolan Caves, the Glow Worm Tunnel near Lithgow and Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, as well as Blue Mountains towns.
Blue Mountains, Lithgow & Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker said the festival was “a fantastic opportunity to explore the unique beauty of this magnificent World Heritage Area’’.
“It’s also a chance to rediscover well known paths through themed walks that highlight the region’s history and gastronomical experiences.’’
He tells it at Honeymoon Point about halfway along his two-hour long easy grade walk while the tourists point their camera phones at the endless vista of trees and cliffs and try to grasp the magnitude of one million square hectares of genuine wilderness.
Every few paces along the track, Sames stops to share a titbit of geological or agricultural trivia (“the process of the claystone being undercut and the land falling off is called `sapping’,’’ did you know), point out an interesting plant species or magnificent view or “shush’’ the group to listen to a bird call.
Tall, slim and super fit, Sames has been an eco-guide for about a decade, a role which satisfies his urge to share the environment with others and encourage them to be more considerate of it.
He peppers his tours with questions encouraging people to think and learn from the experience.
“Why do you think this is called the Blue Mountains?’’ he asks. “Does anyone know why the Blue Mountains are blue?’’
The tourists shuffle their feet and look at each other expectantly, each hoping someone else will have the answer.
Sames lets them squirm for a moment before relieving the tension with an explanation of the Rayleigh scattering affect.
Caused by the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light, it can happen when light travels through transparent solids and liquids but is most prominently seen in gases.
In the case of the Blue Mountains trees, especially eucalypts, “sweat’’ and release oil into the air, which magnifies the Rayleigh scattering giving the mountains their blue hue.
He pounces on some yellow flowers (a type of pea from the Fabaecea family, apparently). Shrubby in appearance, “often they are the first to regenerate after an upheaval like bushfire’’.
Next thing, everyone’s huddled around a shrub, bent over double to see the tiny pores on the leaves, through which the plant breathes like skin.
“Anywhere you go in the bush have a look, touch may be nice if it’s appropriate, but never take anything,’’ Sames says, striding off towards a towering fern.
We soon learn that: a) only the top of the plant is living; b) what appears to be the trunk is actually the roots; c) it looks the same on the inside as the outside; d) its pithy inner material was an important source food supply for the indigenous Gundungurra people; and e) the plant grows higher than others so can reach the light source from the sun and its canopy catches falling leaves from other plants which decompose and feed it.
We move onto a scene unique to the Blue Mountains – a hanging swamp on the side of a hillside, and Sames explains how it is created before seamlessly moving onto another topic, then the next.
During the next five minutes we learn that the mountain ash eucalypt is the tallest flowering tree in the world, the sight of eucalypts shedding great strips of bark like a snake skin is a spring giveaway; gum leaves hang down (“They’re like: `Don’t let me get hot and lose water’ ’’); and of the 111 species of eucalypts, 25 per cent are found in Australia and 25 per cent of them are found in the Blue Mountains.
We move down to a temperate rainforest, which used to be the dominant plant community when Gondwanaland was all one land and the environment was moister.
“This area is a living example of that, and that evolutionary process is the specific reason why we were given World Heritage status,’’ Sames says.
We amble up a few shallow steps and are surprised to find ourselves back at the roadside, much the wiser and already missing Sames’ easy company.
- Visit www.festivalofwalking.com.au for more information about Wild At Heart Safaris guided eco-tours and numerous other activities during the Festival of Walking.