• Fletchers Lookout. RBrand/DCEEW
    Fletchers Lookout. RBrand/DCEEW
  • Exploring the Undercliff Track. RBrand/DCEEW
    Exploring the Undercliff Track. RBrand/DCEEW
  • Ripple rocks on Tarpeian Rock betray the Mountains’ watery past.  Caro Ryan
    Ripple rocks on Tarpeian Rock betray the Mountains’ watery past. Caro Ryan
  • The walk draws your eyes up to 80km to the south across Sydney's water catchment exclusion zone. Caro Ryan
    The walk draws your eyes up to 80km to the south across Sydney's water catchment exclusion zone. Caro Ryan
  • Walk totem, the black cockatoo, designed by local Aboriginal artist, Kelsie King, guides the way. Caro Ryan
    Walk totem, the black cockatoo, designed by local Aboriginal artist, Kelsie King, guides the way. Caro Ryan
  • Buttenshaw Bridge. RBrand/DCEEW
    Buttenshaw Bridge. RBrand/DCEEW
  • Tofu-like slabs of local sandstone pave the way protecting Country and our boots. Caro Ryan
    Tofu-like slabs of local sandstone pave the way protecting Country and our boots. Caro Ryan
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In part one of our two-part story, Great Walks explores the new two-day village-to-village Grand Cliff Top Walk in the NSW Blue Mountains.

Exploring the Undercliff Track. RBrand/DCEEW
Exploring the Undercliff Track. RBrand/DCEEW

Day 1: Wentworth Falls to Leura – 11km
As the 8.12 am train from Central lumbers into Wentworth Falls Station, school students shoulder heavy backpacks for their day ahead. Swinging mine into place, relieved to feel the floatiness that comes from a light day pack, there’s a jaunt in my step as I make my way beside the beautifully dressed shop windows of this tidy Blue Mountains village. With a bag like this and 19km of grade 3 track ahead of me, it’s hard to believe I’m in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area with everything I need for the next two days.

Sure, I’ve got the usual suspects like a first aid kit, sunscreen, water and a raincoat on board, but not even my favourite homemade scroggin made the cut. The only slightly unusual addition is a spare pair of undies, PJs and my toothbrush. This is inn-to-inn walking at its best. The concept is simple: Hike during the day carrying just the essentials, then eat, drink, sleep and relax in the villages along the way. No tent, no sleeping bag and no heavy pack.

Fletchers Lookout. RBrand/DCEEW
Fletchers Lookout. RBrand/DCEEW

This classic European style of multi-day hiking, like a Camino (or pub-to-pub in the UK for a different type of religious experience), is what makes the new (but very old) Grand Cliff Top Walk (GCTW) unique in the Blue Mountains. Traditionally a region that calls for self-sufficiency with full packs for overnight walks, the GCTW welcomes hikers who enjoy exploring local communities along with the natural environment and the comforts of tourist accommodation.

Meeting my friend outside one of Wentworth Falls’ cafes, we grab an excellent coffee and healthy takeaway lunch for the day. I’m impressed by the hiker-friendly snacks on offer such as rolled oat and white chocolate cookies or fig and nut slice – these might be better than my scroggin!

Buttenshaw Bridge. RBrand/DCEEW
Buttenshaw Bridge. RBrand/DCEEW

My local knowledge tells me this walk traverses the undulating cliff lines along the northern escarpment of the Jamison Valley; crossing waterfalls, cascades and lookouts steeped in endless, sweeping views. Who knows where hunger will interrupt our steps? I better buy two.

Crossing the Great Western Highway and turning down Falls Road, we arrive at the official start of our journey – Wilson Park Picnic Area. As work is continuing on this first section (including Darwins Walk), and is not yet open to walkers, we push on and jump on the track at Wentworth Falls Picnic Area.

Walk totem, the black cockatoo, designed by local Aboriginal artist, Kelsie King, guides the way. Caro Ryan
Your camera is going to get a workout on this walk! Caro Ryan

It’s here that we spy the first black cockatoo. Unlike most meetings with this well-known Blue Mountains local, this one isn’t preceded by the tell-tale squeaky door screech or yellow-feathered tail flash as they take to the skies.

And although science has debunked the myth that they are the soothsayers of bad weather, the ponderous sky above foresees otherwise. This cockatoo – the stylish emblem of the track, designed by local Gundungurra artist, Kelsie King – predicts easy navigation with way markers and arrows at key junctions.

The walk draws your eyes up to 80km to the south across Sydney's water catchment exclusion zone. Caro Ryan
NPWS have done a fantastic job on the walking trails. Caro Ryan

People have been walking tracks in this area for nearly 150 years. It’s part of a vast labyrinthine network of trails, some that date back to the late 1800’s work of master trackmaker and Irish immigrant, Peter Mulheran, the first ranger for what was then called the Wentworth Falls Reserve.

Only a few kays in and his influence is seen along the route in low stone walls, reminiscent of traditional Irish farm fences and stone water wells resembling a pizza oven. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture women in long frocks and ample petticoats, along with gentlemen in stiff woollen suits, pausing on their amble to scoop water with a steel cup left behind for the public’s convenience.

Tofu-like slabs of local sandstone pave the way protecting Country and our boots. Caro Ryan
Fencing offers safety without obstructing the great views. Caro Ryan

It is with the ghosts of Peter, the subsequent millions of tourists who came to ‘take the mountain air’ and the thousands of years of Gundungurra people’s history, that my friend and I step out on this diverse and wonder-filled country.

Much has changed since Peter spent years toiling on these tracks, weathered by the seasons and conditions. Today’s track-building techniques draw from a greater understanding of erosion and the flow of water, the emergence of introduced English-style gardens in the towns above that carry seeds and invasive species into the precious National Park and the impacts of Sydney’s population, pushing six million people, just an hour and a half away.

This is my backyard, my home. I have the luxury of knowing how to link tracks, shortcuts and lookouts into one elegant journey, making it as long or short as I want. And herein lies the real nub of this joint NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Blue Mountains City Council initiative: linking together the previous maze of historic tracks into one streamlined, cohesive journey – made easy to follow by an iconic black cockatoo emblem and signage.

Ripple rocks on Tarpeian Rock betray the Mountains’ watery past. Caro Ryan
Ripple rocks on Tarpeian Rock betray the Mountains’ watery past. Caro Ryan

So if you’ve ever wandered along sections of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, Three Sisters Track, Katoomba Falls Reserve Night Lit Walk or Katoomba Cascades (Katoomba); the Darwins Walk, Overcliff-Undercliff Track, Princes Rock Track, Wentworth Falls Track, Valley of the Waters Track (Wentworth Falls), Pool of Siloam Track (Leura), … you’ve already ventured onto the Grand Cliff Top Walk!

I like to think of it like the ingredients of a great recipe; each one bringing different flavours, textures, colours and moods, yet creating a harmonious, single dish. A hearty, tasty minestrone of walking tracks with a smorgasbord of lookouts, packaged up in a well-balanced trail.

Read part two here.

Words_Caro Ryan of LotsaFreshAir. Photos_ Caro Ryan and DCCEEW

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