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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 7 (October 2, 1939)

The Cliff Drive at Katoomba — On the Blue Mountains of New South Wales

page 34

The Cliff Drive at Katoomba
On the Blue Mountains of New South Wales

Without ever having made any attempt to improve on Nature, much has been done to assist this great teacher by making the various scenic gems of this wonderland more easily accessible. Some years since it was considered that the walker should be given more than a fleeting glimpse of the silent valleys and the Prince Henry Cliff Walk was constructed. This walk, as the name infers, is essentially for the pedestrian, but with a view to catering for the many thousands of motorists who visit the area from January to December, the idea of a “big brother” to the Cliff Walk was conceived, something to give the motorist equal advantage and opportunity. Plans and specifications were prepared, and the work of construction was commenced. To-day, the Cliff Drive is an accomplished fact, and in the short time since it has been opened it has given pleasure to countless thousands, and is regarded as one of the most unique roads in the Commonwealth.

Commencing at what is known as Shell Corner, on the Main Western Road, about a mile west of Katoomba, the drive runs in a southerly direction, revealing glimpses of the beautiful and fertile Megalong Valley. It is when, after passing the picturesque golf course, the drive suddenly emerges over the Narrow Neck Plateau, the motorist realises the grandeur and immensity of the panorama unfolded. The plateau is particularly narrow in places—a matter of a few yards—but the walls are sheer and impregnable; on the one side they drop into Megalong Valley, the whole of which is revealed; on the other side of the plateau is the head of the great Jamison Valley. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that this valley is the haunt of the lyre bird, Australia's greatest mimic, who, in addition to his own silver note, can imitate any bird in the bush, as well as the crack of a whip, the noise caused by a cross-cut saw, the chopping of an axe, and almost any sound that is heard in the bush.

There is ample parking space at the Narrow Neck, across which tracks lead to the silent places away and beyond; they are for the more adventurous, but not for the motorist. After leaving the shelter shed, and still following the contour of the cliffs as closely as possible, the drive gradually rises and reaches its apex at Cyclorama Point, the highest in the area. A short flight of steps has been cut into the bank, leading to the direction dial on top, from which the views can only be described as majestic and superb. Mount Solitary, the grim old sentinel, is always well in the picture; over his back, the Gib at Bowral and Mount Jellore stand clearly against the skyline, while away to the east, when visibility is good, the white sands of Botany Bay glisten in the sunshine. When it is remembered that all these points are distant over 60 miles as the crow flies, it gives one an idea of the clarity of the pure mountain air.

Immediately opposite these steps, a track will be noticed, leading to the cliff edge. Right on the very edge is a strongly fenced lookout.

Still winding round the cliff edge, the next place of interest is Malaita Point, where one may stand and watch the valley change colour—from mauve to pink, to blue—in a manner which has inspired artists and poets. A little further on is Eagle Hawk Rock, with a stoutly fenced lookout; one looks from here into the same valley, but the colours will have changed since leaving Malaita; looking down on the forest giants they appear as garden shrubs, so sheer is the drop. Away to the left is the head of Burragorang Valley, which rolls majestically away to the south for miles illimitable.

(M. S. Chisholm, photo.). The wide, sweeping Cliff Drive at Katoomba, showing Mt. Solitary in the background.

(M. S. Chisholm, photo.).
The wide, sweeping Cliff Drive at Katoomba, showing Mt. Solitary in the background.

At this point, the contour changes and the drive must necessarily follow the gorge, which runs in to the Katoomba Falls and Orphan Rock. It links up with the Katoomba Falls Road, adjacent to the motorist's camping area, crosses a silver stream, creeps up the gully side in the direction of the cliffs again and on to Echo Point, of world renown, where it terminates for the time being. The work of extending the driye round the cliffs to Gordon Falls has commenced; from there it will wander through the Lone Pine Avenue and rejoin the Main Western Road, thus encircling the whole of the Municipality.

From the motorist's point of view, the great fascination of the drive is that it reveals some of the world's finest scenery from a seat in the car; it is equally enjoyable for the pedestrian, who has the advantage of being able to deviate at will, and revel in close-up views of rugged cliff and silent gorge; the cliff edge is frequently a front seat for a lyre bird's recital, which once heard, will linger for ever in memory.