The Blue Mountains rise up in a delightful show of velvet forests and lush, dipping valleys. They makeup one of the best-loved parts of Australia and bring visitors a range of unique attractions to enjoy in the vicinity.
A common belief is that the Blue Mountains gains its name from the many Eucalyptus trees in the area which when combined with dust particles and water molecules, gives off a blue colour. However, another theory suggests that it is not the mountains which are blue but rather that the reflectiveness of oxygen molecules is scattered between sunlight in the sky, making our eyes think that the mountains are blue as that colour is the easiest to see when there are dark areas throughout the valley.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the area is the Three Sisters, a spectacular natural monument that can be found at Echo Point Katoomba. In 2000, it was listed as a world heritage site along with the entire Blue Mountain area due to its ancient fossils and plant life. Every year, millions of tourists venture to see this unique structure and learn more about its fascinating cultural heritage. Venture just 2 hours outside of the city of Sydney and you’ll be transported to a world of charming towns, picturesque waterfalls and ancient artefacts.
How the Three Sisters Were Formed
Land erosion over millions of years has formed the Three Sisters. Made out of soft sandstone, they have been slowly eroded over time by the elements, including harsh winds, rains, and plunging rivers. It’s said that over time, the rock formations will be completely eroded away from exposure to the elements.
Each of the structures stands at almost 1,000 metres tall, making them an impressive part of the Blue Mountains’ horizon. The rock formations are made of sandstone and they have stood tall for thousands of years due to the iron found in the rocks that keeps it stable. Most of the rocks are made of quartzite, which is resistant to poor weather, however, the softer parts of the rock are not, and so over time, erosion will continue to break down the formation. The Three Sisters each vary in height, with the tallest being 922 metres tall, and the others being respectively 906 and 918 metres.
The Legend of the Three Sisters
According to Aboriginal Dreamtime legend, the Three Sisters were formed by a unique and fascinating story. The rock formations were once three sisters known as Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo, and they all resided in the Jamison Valley as part of the Gundungurra people.
The story has it that the three sisters soon fell in love with three brothers from a neighbouring tribe, the Nepeans, but tribal law meant they couldn’t marry those they had fallen in love with.
The brothers did not want to accept this fate, and so hatched a plan to capture the three sisters. A battle of the tribes ensued, which saw the three sisters’ lives put in great peril. Their own tribe called in a witchdoctor or a Kuradjuri to turn the sisters into stone in order to protect them from any potential harm.
The plan was to turn them back from stone once the battle was over, but the witchdoctor was killed during the battle, leaving the sisters to remain in their stone states for generations to come.
Some say that this legend was made up by a member of the tourism industry in the early 20th century to further increase the number of visitors, however, this claim is also disputed.
There is another legend however, that is attached to this story. The alternative is that there was once a bunyip who lived in a deep, dark hole and was feared by all. When the witch doctor Tyawan needed to pass by this hole in search of food, he would leave his three daughters near a rock on the other side of the hole. One day, Meehni became frightened by a centipede that was in front of her and threw a rock at it. The rock then fell into the Bunyip’s hole which angered him, and thus he went to face the three girls. To protect them, their father temporarily turned them into a rock and himself into a lyrebird, but in the process dropped the magic bone that had the power to change him back. Thus, the three sisters stayed as the rocks, and forever Tyawan, who was now a lyrebird is in search of that magic bone.
The Giant Stairway at the Three Sisters
Exploring the landscape surrounding the Three Sisters is an incredible experience. From the nearby landmark of Echo Point, you can take a walk along a bush trail that leads straight to the Three Sisters via the lush valley floor. To get there, you have to descend 800 steel and stone steps that have been dubbed The Giant Stairway. From there, you can take a 2-3 hour walk along a trail to the bottom of the mesmerising Katoomba Falls and onto the Scenic Railway – another top attraction in the area. The walk is about 9.4 kilometres return and is a Grade 4 hike. Some bushwalking experience would be helpful in completing the walk as there is a steep gradient, along with many steps.
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