An easy day trip from Sydney, the Blue Mountains offer an escape into rugged wilderness.

  The Blue Mountains  

Sweeping cliffs and rainbow-shrouded waterfalls, with activities as varied as hiking, caving, and horseback riding, wait in Australia's Blue Mountains.

Hiking trails built right into the cliffs offer sweeping views of the eucalyptus trees below.

An hour west of Sydney, the Blue Mountains are part of Australia's Great Dividing Range. Boasting grand cliffs, twisting canyons, and fragrant forests of tall eucalyptus trees, the range is rugged with lush vegetation and numerous streams and rivers.

The Mountains are not really mountains, however. Instead, they are a sandstone plateau which has been cut by rivers to form majestic canyons. Their name comes from the bluish haze created by the large forests of eucalyptus trees.

A hikers' paradise

Visitors usually walk or drive along the scenic Cliff Drive, which weaves its way along the edge of a 984-foot drop. From Echo Point, located just south of Katoomba and one of the most popular sites in the mountains, one can view cliffs, the Jamison Valley, eucalyptus forests and the three sandstone pillars known as the Three Sisters. Frequently, rock climbers can be spotted as they work their way up this monument.

Hiking trails wind along both the top and bottom of the cliffs, and those with no fear of heights can follow a trail that runs midway up the cliff, as well.

Other attractions in the area include the magnificent Jenolan Caves with their surreal underground limestone formations, and the Zig Zag Railway, which first allowed trains to cross the Blue Mountains in the 1860's. Built right up the face of the cliff, it was designed in the formation of a letter Z, with spots for the train to reverse in two places. The steam locomotives still labor to haul the cars filled with passengers up the steep slope.

Travel in Australia with a friendly gay and lesbian group. Hike in the mountains, swim on the beaches, explore the rain forest, celebrate at the world's most festive gay party, and snorkel or dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
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