Gertrude’s Diary #10

Gertrude's Diary

Some months ago I endured the tedium of an afternoon of intensive sales pitching aimed at sucking people into an overpriced vacation club. They employed all the tricks; pretty pictures, personable sales people, mock-up hotel rooms, instant finance; and for the pi”ce-de-r”sistance, an audio-visual presentation of a tackiness I”ve rarely seen, complete with cheesy image spins, screen splits and other home-made effects.

Even more unendurable was the sound track, which consisted of the 70″s song, “Do You Know Where You”re Going To”. This reduced me to fits of laughter and had my partner inquiring loudly whether I wanted a handkerchief. Every time they faded the music for a bit more mindless adverjabble I”d get a handle on it only to come undone again when the music came back up. Afterwards, when I was still weak from the hysteria, our personal sales guy accused me in injured tones of not being very enthusiastic, to which I replied that I thought he had enough enthusiasm for the both of us. Well, really.

The reward for completing this ordeal was one night in the famous Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. One night, not on a Friday or Saturday, or any day in the school holidays or for a two-week shoulder period either side, and not on long weekends or when there was a full moon in Taurus. (I made that last one up). Deciding to make a weekend of it, I looked for some other accommodation nearby, but learned ” last weekend when I got around to making the calls ” that the Winter Magic Festival was on in Katoomba and that accommodation in the upper mountains was very scarce.

Browsing the web I saw an advertisement for Jenolan Caves House, and after some initial enquiries, when I established that the Grand Classic Room for $435 was not really suitable, we settled on a room with a shared bathroom and dinner, bed and breakfast (DBB in the trade), for a bargain $295. I was positively bubbling with excitement when I made the booking, because I had been there several times as a child and had loved it above all the other places I”d been ” a catalogue of destinations which included a fair bit of Australia and the South Pacific by the time I was 13 years old. Twenty years on, I was curious to see if it was as magical as I remembered.

So it was a bit of a splurge, especially as I”d bought a digital camera the previous week. Here”s a photo of Jenolan Caves House:

See what I mean? A Victorian guest house plonked into an incredibly steep valley, right next to an extraordinary network of limestone caves. True, there”s not much to do there except walk around, go on cave tours, sit by the fire in the guests” lounge, eat in the restaurant of the guest house, drink in the bar of the guest house, take pictures of the guest house, sleep in the guest house, etc. Not the most exciting place to visit, but very special none the less.

The road to the Caves House goes through a big cave called the Grand Arch, quite an impressive entry. Next to it is another ancient and long-opened cave called the Devil”s Coach House. Those Victorian”s had a way with names, didn”t they? History suggests that many Europeans found the Australian flora and fauna unnerving to start with, so early visitors must have really been thrill-seekers.

Through the Grand Arch and”

…out the other side.

It is a busy little place. The road that descends to the caves from the East is so narrow and winding that it”s closed to other traffic between 11.30am and 1.15pm every day to let the tourist coaches have the road to themselves. There”s another road through Oberon that”s open all the time, but for maximum effect the road from Hartley is the way to go. The caves are a very popular destination with day-trippers from Sydney, which is only a few hours away, as well as tourists from further afield.

We took an 11.00am tour of the Imperial Cave (the one with the least steps). The guide made sure to get a laugh at the expense of the only two Canberrans present by saying he would speak slowly for us. He sure was surprised when I was the only one who knew the answer to his question about the formation of the weird limestone shapes. And I hadn”t just read it in a guidebook or something; I had to think of it myself. My travelling companion told me that everyone else was muttering that I was a smartass, but I think that he was just jealous.

After we”d been there for 22 hours we”d pretty much exhausted the entertainment options mentioned above, and headed back up the hill to Katoomba. You can actually walk a path, rather confusingly called the Six-Foot Track (because of it”s width) from Jenolan Caves to Katoomba, but we didn”t. It takes about a week, and I”m just not that keen on blisters.

Katoomba had lots of pretty lights, a few Christmas trees and artistic shit shoved all over the place in celebration of Winter Magic. It reminded me of a great little story I read years ago about a middle-aged, career public-servant from Canberra who becomes unhinged by a Christmas in July dinner ” keeps complaining about the unseasonable cold and trying to get the family to holiday at Bateman”s Bay with him.

Keeping my misgivings about the twee-ness of Leura and parts of Katoomba to myself, we drove to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters. If you haven”t seen them, then you are probably blind or have been living on a desert island, as they must be one of the most photographed landmarks in Australia. That”s why I”m not going to include a photo of them; we”re all victims of a cynical, post-modern world that challenges the colonising imperatives of the rendered image. And besides, the light wasn”t very good.

There”s a glitzy tourist centre at Echo Point now, with no sign of the crazy man who used to run a little museum there; a place filled with unconvincing pictures of the Australian equivalent of the abominable snowman ” the Yowie. “The Yowie Man”, as we called him, would corner you for hours if you made the slightest eye contact and painstakingly inform you of the various crackpot theories he held about Australian wild men and, if I recall correctly, Incan civilizations at Gympie. But there was nothing there to interest me now, and so we proceeded to the Hydro Majestic for our “free” (apart from the $29.00 booking fee) accommodation.

The architecture of the Hydro Majestic is all Art Deco this and
that. It”s recently been refurbished and was quite posh..

Our room, was on the very end of the north west wing, with a view of the Great Western Highway and railway line beyond. The south has views of the Megalong Valley, but obviously those were for the paying customers. We were also conveniently located next to the service room, so as not to miss out on any early-morning bangs and crashes from the house-keeping staff. Not that I”m complaining.

There was an odd little roadhouse at the western end of the Hydro Majestic”s grounds. It was stacked full of spare furniture, and was generally neglected, but it had something a little sinister about it, as though it had once been the scene of unimagined debauchery by upper-class Edwardians. Perhaps that impression had something to do with this sign.

I remarked to my companion that I felt like I was in a setting for an Agatha Christie novel, which incited many humorous pretend murders, including stabbings, cliff falls, and a memorable pretence at poisoned choking. This last one may have rather disturbed some neighbouring diners, and for that I apologise unreservedly.

We left the Hydro Majestic late-ish Monday morning, declining the offer of breakfast at $50.00 per person, and instead drove to Blackheath, where we purchased bacon and egg rolls, hot chips and tea, and drove to Govett”s Leap, for one of the most superb views in the mountains. Take-away bacon & egg roll with tea or coffee; an absolute bargain at $3.00. Views to the Grose Valley; priceless.

We continued west and south, stopping at Rockley for beer and directions.

This is the pub at Rockley, a pretty, 1800″s, pastoral town that sits on a river about 25km from Bathurst. We took back roads whenever we could, seeing a few villages like this along the way. Cattle on the road, ramshackle farm houses, lonely little churches; the whole country road-trip experience. We completed our journey through Crookwell and Gundaroo, returning to a bitterly cold Canberra, and the comforts of home.


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