From Here To Antipodes

On the other side of the world are other worldly sights-Tasmanian Devils, spirit houses, and the greatest reef of them all.

Aug 10, 2001
Outside Magazine

High summer kicks off in Australia in December. But when the Christmas picnic hampers are being rolled out under pearly skies on Sydney's Bondi Beach, the Outback is shimmering in a blistering heat and the tropical north of the country is soaking in monsoonal rains. Try to climb Ayers Rock and you'll collapse from heat exhaustion; sign up for a day trip on the northern reef and you may never see clear sky. The solution? Stick to the temperate southern portion of the continent, which is at its most welcoming during the dark American winter.
The Blue Mountains
Once you've gotten over your trans-Pacific jetlag at one of Sydney's 40 urban beaches, cast an eye inland: Just 90 minutes west of the city lies one of Australia's most famous landscapes. Strings of golden sandstone cliffs loom over some 540,930 acres of Blue Mountains National Park—the centerpiece of 2.5 million acres of classic Aussie bushland, all swathed in the eerie eucalyptus haze that gave the mountains their name. (Most Americans first saw this park as the backdrop for Elle Macpherson in the art-house flick Sirens.)

In the park are a string of sedate, 1920s-era hamlets geared toward romantic weekend getaways for Sydneysiders. Katoomba is the most popular, and Lilianfels its most genteel hotel (doubles, $200; 011-61-47-801-200). But for a more dramatic taste of "the Blueys," pack a tent and hike into the campground at Acacia Flats. To get there, drive via the village of Blackheath to the trailhead at Victoria Falls Lookout, then follow the six-hour zigzag track past the maze of thin, ghostly eucalypts known as the Blue Gum Forest (no permit or reservations are required for camping). The next day, follow the 12-mile loop to Govetts Leap through more bird-filled, creek-riddled ravines. On the third day, hike back on the steep trail via Evans Lookout and catch a taxi back to your car. (For park information, call 47-87-8877.)
For the most intense burst of local color, take a guided day trip to Claustral Canyon near Mount Tomah, about ten miles farther north: You can rappel down the chasm's three underground waterfalls, a cascade of icy water pounding you in the face all the while; later, you'll have to swim through various pitch-dark tunnels to emerge at the canyon's other end. For rock climbers there's the sheer 600-foot middle finger of the famous local landmark, the Three Sisters; if you make it to the top, you can wave at the hundreds of tourists snapping your photo over at Echo Point. Blue Mountains Adventure Company (47-821-271) arranges these and other trips: One-day trips cost $67-$80; a five-day sampler of canyoning, rappelling, mountain biking, spelunking, and climbing will run you about $415.

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