On our first full day in the Blue Mountains, we headed to Scenic World to begin exploring the national park.
For us Scenic World offers 2 unique things. The first is accessibility and the second a unique perspective on the natural scenery. So while the rides are fun, for us it was more about:
- getting to parts of the forest that we might not otherwise be able to in the available time, and
- seeing some of the scenery and formations from an angle that we couldn’t any other way. Looking down from directly above, dangling over the valley at 270 metres is something pretty special.
That doesn’t mean we didn’t do many other walks in the area including the clifftop walk over the following days but I do have issues with my knees and hip that make a lot of stairs or extended steep slopes, particularly going downhill, feel unstable and after a while painful. The scenic railway and cableway meant I could skip a lot of that and enjoy the forest floor that would otherwise be daunting to reach via the Giant Stairway, a walkway of 998 stairs carved into the cliff.
The Skyway ride that crosses the valley from Scenic World to the clifftop walk on the other side is all about the views. This is the best place to see Orphan Rock, the full height of the Katoomba Falls that really can’t be appreciated from anywhere else (except perhaps a helicopter), another angle on the Three Sisters rock formation and the Jamieson Valley.
When planning your own day in Katoomba the Scenic World website has a range of itinerary options targeted at a variety of interests and fitness levels. Or you can just freestyle it as we did.
The Scenic Skyway
We were staying just up the road at the Fairmont Resort by Sofitel in Leura so arrived at Scenic World just on opening time. There is free carparking under the building so we grabbed a space in there, exchanged our tickets for a wrist band that acts as a ‘key’ to the ride gates throughout the day and headed directly to the Skyway.
We suspected the Skyway would be the most popular ride with the longest queue and figured it’s first crossing would be the least busy of the day. What we weren’t expecting was to get it entirely to ourselves for a private crossing which was amazing. We fully appreciated what a bonus that was on our way back across after walking part of the clifftop walk. By then it was packed with buses dropping off tours on that side too.
There’s a variety of views available depending on where you stand, a full 360° to choose from. Either look through the glass or through the bars towards the Three Sisters and down the Jamieson Valley, from the other side you are looking directly at Katoomba Falls which flow in all seasons. I’d also recommend trying the raised walkway in the middle. The floor is electro-glass and as you leave the station it looks opaque but shortly after, a switch is flipped and it becomes perfectly clear letting you look down between your feet at the forest below.
The Skyway provides the best views of Katoomba Falls and Orphan Rock and a unique perspective on the Three Sisters. We thoroughly enjoyed hiking the area too during our stay but these views were well worth including. Plus the experience of crossing the valley in Australia’s highest cable car was a new and fun experience.
Like the Skyrail rainforest cableway in Kuranda the Skyway has been created sympathetically with the environment to ensure the minimum impact on the National Park.
While on the other side you can take a short walk to the left to see the top section of Katoomba Falls or right along the Price Henry cliff top walk toward the Three Sisters and the top of the Giant Stairway. We did both walks during our stay in the Blue Mountains but from the Skyway station, we walked along to the falls. It was still early in the day so we also got those pretty much to ourselves. While individual sections of the Katoomba Falls don’t give a complete picture of the full drop seen from the Skyway they are definitely worth checking out.
If you continue along this track you can go down the Furber Steps to the valley below and use the rides back up or go straight and you will come to Scenic World on this section via the Clifftop walk. Alternatively, head back to the Skyway for another look at that incredible scenery.
The Scenic Railway
Next up was a quick cuppa on the Terrace Cafe enjoying the views from the outdoor deck then onto the Scenic Railway. Although the railway carriage today looks very different from what it once did, it is where the Scenic World story began.
From 1878 until late in the 1930s the cliffs in Katoomba were mined for coal and there are still over 100 kms of tunnels running through the rock. The railway originally hauled coal up the mountain, today it’s a quick and easy way for passengers to get down to the forest floor.
The modern carriage has you fully enclosed as you head off to the lower station. I’d definitely recommend riding the train on the downward trip at least once. I wasn’t expecting such an abrupt drop off from the top station, or that a significant part of it goes through the rock of the mountain.
How intense the ride is can be adjusted to some degree by the passengers in your row. You select from laidback at a 44-degree angle, original at 52-degrees of the full impact with the cliffhanger setting at 64-degrees. On our first trip down we went with original but on the second trip, we got distracted by one of the friendly team offering to take our photo before the doors closed and forgot to check the settings so we got to try out the cliffhanger by default. Fortunately, we didn’t end up in the lap of the people in the row in front but it is an intense angle.
In case you do feel that the scenic railway might be too much of a wild ride spare a thought for those that did it in the past. This old train is on display just past the current lower station. I feel that this one could have genuinely classed as a thrill ride.
The Scenic World Boardwalk
From the lower Scenic Railway Station (or Cableway station) you can access the boardwalk and other tracks. Following the dirt track to the right will take you to a lower section of the Katoomba Falls, nearby is the base of the Furber Steps walking track, a 2.4 km return steep walking trail that you can follow to the upper section of the falls. Continue on past here, about a 15-minute walk all up and you will come to the Katoomba Falls crossing. This is the Great Round Walk track and will take you to the Giant Stairway.
The boardwalk was built by Scenic World to protect the forest floor and allow access to more of the area and relics of its mining history. It is still part of the Blue Mountains National Park and access to the boardwalk is not restricted. The cableway and railway just make it far more accessible to a wider group of visitors.
If you turn left from the station you will find some relics of the areas mining history and a 2.4 km looping boardwalk. The area is easy walking with a non-slip surface for wet weather. The boardwalk is partially wheelchair accessible but you will need to take the cableway in both directions rather than the train.
This was our first ever sighting of the Superb Lyrebird and there were quite a few of them here including some males in beautiful plumage and a female with a chick. The chick was as big as a fully grown bird but fluffy and every few bugs the mother bird found scratching in the undergrowth she would bring over and feed to him. (see video below). The young birds stay with the mother for only 6-7 weeks after hatching so he had to be quite young. If you are a birder then being down here in May – July would be perfect to see the male building his platform and performing his mating dance shaking those impressive tail feathers for the females in the area.
The Scenic Cableway
By this point, we were feeling it was time for lunch and headed back up to the main building via the Scenic Cableway. It can carry up to 84 passengers on the 545-metre trip up from the Jamieson Valley to the top of the escarpment. This is a very smooth ride and can accommodate wheelchairs.
You are free to come and go as much as you want during the day as long as you keep your ticket bracelet in place so you could head out for a picnic or back into town to eat but we decided on the Terrace Cafe with its views of the valley. We ordered the fish and chips and a coffee from the other side and sat outside on the deck. While the meal options were fairly typical of tourist destinations that deal with large groups it was well prepared, meals were cooked to order, not greasy and fairly priced for the location.
Although lunch was late there was still time in the afternoon so we made our way back down into the valley using a second trip on the train and back on the cableway. This time we took the branch to the right and followed the National Parks track along the Great Round Walk and past the Katoomba Falls crossing.
Scenic World Tickets
Like most visitors to Scenic World, we choose the Discovery Pass which gives unlimited use of all three rides for the calendar day. When you arrive you receive a non-removable wrist band that you scan each time you board. We felt the price point for unlimited rides is good value. It meant we could go up and down to the valley a couple of times during the day when it suited us and then take another return crossing on the Skyway later in the afternoon with different light.
Where it might feel more pricey is if you want to take a single ride, for example, if you hike down into the valley via the Giant Staircase and then decide you don’t want to climb back up at the end of the day. However, it’s all about convenience, accessibility and personal choice. For me, I felt my knee wouldn’t handle the climb up and down into the valley to the forest floor given we had multiple days of walking planned. Many of the other walks did have plenty of stairs too but they were clifftop which is a different experience and ecosystem so it was something we didn’t want to miss out on.
It’s useful to know that weekday tickets are at a slight discount to weekend tickets so if you have the flexibility in your schedule you will have fewer crowds on a weekday and you can save a bit of cash.
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Have a bit more time in the Blue Mountains? These articles might be useful.
- Our comprehensive guide to the Blue Mountains and the many things to do here
- The Jenolan Caves were so much more than we had expected and are now one of our highly recommended experiences in Australia.
- Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens are a great drive out and offer some stunning views of their own. A great spot for nature enthusiasts and bird watchers.
- Headed to the city too? Our Sydney travel guide is also crammed full of fun ideas and tips for first-time visitors