Wentworth Falls, NSW
THERE’S A MOMENT along the National Pass that demands you draw your eyes away from those classic rolling Blue Mountains vistas and have a good look at where you’re standing. You are as high as birds in f light, halfway up a sheer sandstone escarpment that stretches almost as far above you as it does down to the valley below and you’re hiking along a path that’s etched into the cliff face, hugging every furrow along its golden edif ice.
This is a track that def ies logic – a triumph of ingenuity and courage, hewn from the rock by pick and shovel and an occasional stick of dynamite. It’s an enduring monument to a band of bloodyminded, tweed-clad, f lat-capped bushwalkers of old, determined to cleave out a walking track no matter how improbable the terrain.
Today the pass draws crowds and, for me, is the most breathtaking of the region’s short walks, thrilling at every twist and turn along its 5.4km length. It takes four and a half hours to complete and can be tackled on a day trip from Sydney, particularly as there’s a regular train link from Sydney to nearby Wentworth Falls.
From the Conservation Hut end you can take in Empress Lookout on the way down to the evocatively named Valley of the Waters, from where you join the National Pass. The descent takes you through dry eucalypt woodland into a cool, temperate rainforest fed by a succession of beautiful waterfalls tumbling off the plateau. The sights and sounds of falling water mixed with the songs of numerous unseen bird species provide a spellbinding start. After stepping across Lodore Falls, you emerge from the forest where the track f lattens out and wraps around the cliff face. For about 3km it follows the claystone layer sandwiched between massive sandstone blocks. In places, the safety rail is all that’s between you and a vertiginous drop – you might want to reconsider walking this section if you suffer from vertigo.
There’s a heart-stopping view from the Slack Stairs intersection towards Middle Wentworth Falls where Jamison Creek gushes over the cliff high above, then disappears over a lower precipice into the infinitely vast Jamison Valley vista. From here to the end, the track gets busier and the climb up the Grand Stairway can be hard yakka.
Whittled and blasted out of the rock, this steep set of stairs zigzags back to the clifftop. It’s a bit of a slog up, but take your time and don’t get so absorbed by the effort that you forget to turn around occasionally and enjoy the truly glorious view.
Walkers tackle the Grand Stairway on the National Pass at Wentworth Falls.