The Mermaids Cave and Orphan Rock – 20 July 2017

I was heading up the mountains with Bob for a walk. As usual, we had not decided where to go – leaving it up till when we saw what the weather was like – and often over a coffee at the cakeshop at Lawson.

Orphan Rock

The day was quite cold. Just above 0°C and with a considerable wind chill. So a long exposed walk higher up the mountains was out. On my list for a while had been a visit to the Mermaids Cave at Blackheath. This was one place I had never been to and it seemed interesting. I know there was a track to it from the Megalong Road, but that was only a ten minute walk. But I also knew there was supposed to be two tracks to the cave from the escarpment above. These sounded worth looking for. So this was what we decided to do.

Getting out of Bob’s car near Paul Harris Memorial Lookout at Blackheath brought the reality of the cold conditions to us very quickly.

After enjoying the views from the lookout all the way to Kanangra Walls and Mt Cloudmaker, we set off along what was signposted as the “Grand Clifftop Walk”, but also could be called “Station Street” or more simply the railway access road that connects Blackheath and Medlow Bath. It is now also a cycleway. A short way along, we turned off down the first track that goes to the Mermaids Cave. It was easy to follow and also seems to be used by mountain bikers. It took us to one of the bends in the Megalong Road where the signposted tourist track to the Mermaids Cave leaves the road. Just before hitting the road, we saw another track to the east. We assumed it is the second track from the top to the cave. Both these tracks are well marked on Open Street Maps but are not signposted.

From the bend, it was a short walk to the Mermaids Cave. Short but interesting. the track goes through a deep natural cleft and then enters the amphitheatre of the Mermaids Cave. Here there is a waterfall (Mermaids Cave Falls) and another track that goes across the main creek and back to the Megalong Road – about 50 m away. Higher up on the eastern side is the cave itself – not very large.

Further down the valley, apparently about 300 m down, on the same side is another waterfall – Dunbar Falls. We didn’t bother looking for it as there was virtually no flow over the closer Mermaids Cave Falls. Another time perhaps?

Mermaids Cave Falls

Just past the cave, it did look possible to climb up the cliffs. We tried this, and it turned out to be very easy to scramble up just east of the cave. Above was untracked bush – mostly thick low heath, but it was not too bad, and we soon arrived at the top of the plateau. Here we found a few tape markers – and what looked like a property boundary. Then we found a campsite with a firewood pile and an old pitched tent. Not far that was a track going from the valley (the second track to Mermaids Cave) and then a locked gate and the Railway access road. From there, it was a short walk back to Bob’s car.

It was far to early to head back to the city. It was still before 11 am. So we thought a visit to Orphan Rock would be good. I had visited it before, but Bob hadn’t. But I also suggested we visit the NPWS Heritage Centre near Govetts Leap and try out the new Claustral Canyon VR Experience.

We followed this suggestion. The Virtual Reality Experience of Claustral Canyon was very well done and certainly well worth trying out. It costs $10 for about 15 minutes with the VR googles. For those who know the canyon – the experience is at the junction with Ranon Canyon. You can travel a short away upstream – almost, but not quite into the Black Hole of Calcutta and about 200 m downstream from the junction. It is strange to float across the deep pool just below the junction without having to swim. You can look around in any direction as you move through the canyon. Look down and you see flowing water. Look up and you see falling droplets and sunbeams. You also hear the water flowing in stereo. Its a very immersive experience and it is easy to become disoriented – you sit on a swivel seat and rotate the seat around as you look in different directions.

This amazing experience was created by Luke Farrer. I wonder if it will sometime be possible to visit more of the canyon, including Calcutta Falls?

We then headed to Katoomba and parked at the Katoomba Falls Kiosk. We first visited the lookout at Reids Plateau at the top of the Furber Stairs. This lookout provides a good view of Orphan Rock. It is an impressive pinnacle. Apparently, when tourism was starting in Katoomba, it was more of a tourist destination than the Three Sisters. A tourist Track was constructed up to its summit. This track is still there, but now unmarked and fallen into disrepair.

Orphan Rock

Orphan Rock now lies within Blue Mountains National Park. It is very close to but just outside of Scenic World.

We found the old track to it, and were soon on top. To get up you need to climb two old and rickety ladders. One of these has a few rungs missing and great care and caution is needed.

After our visit, we went to Juliets Balcony (lookout) and found a nice sunny spot out of the wind for lunch.

More photos from the day are online here on my website.

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2 Responses to The Mermaids Cave and Orphan Rock – 20 July 2017

  1. Bernie Sullivan says:

    Good info for locals and people who want to get off the beaten tracks

  2. chriskoz says:

    Hi Dave,
    There are 3 different ways you can access the base of Orphan Rock that I found yesterday by visiting the area. I didn’t explore one of them because it was going along the railway track of Scenic World and I feared I would be prosecuted if someone spotted me during busy weekend times. That way is as steep as the railway running up-down the gully, and is marked by numerous ribbons, ropes (unnecessary for me) on steepest sections, as well as “No access” signs. presumably used by railway maintenance workers. So, this interesting natural bushwalking pass was destroyed by Scenic World. The other two ways, easy and short are also well trodden. I even fond an old can left behind by inevitable silly thrashers you always find among the visitors. Moreover,I found a dog footprints, which is as illegal as disgusting. Why do those idiots bring their dogs to Orphan Rock?
    The tracks, although unmarked can easily be found by an experienced walker like me. But the screaming public should be kept away. BTW, I later found a video of John from that shows the walk & I’m displeased. John, if you read that, I think ou should remove thsi video from public domain, or at least cut the fragment that reveals the location where an old OR track starts.
    It’s unbelievable that the track railings on top of the rock still stay in good shape untouched for 60-70 years – solid with not much rust. The steel materials they used in those years was better. I’m not sure if you did but if you look down from the N tip of the summit (where the track ends) you’ll see 3-4 old big (at least 0.5m diameter) spotlight reflectors mounted to beam light on you (!). So the attraction of the rock was so big back then, that it needed to be flooded with light! Down, on the saddle, I found remnants of further 2 old reflectors like that hidden under the rock.
    So it was a pleasant short trip that my schedule allowed me to have this weekend (even though crowds at the start were hard to avoid) as well as un interesting journey into the past. Thanks for inspiring post Dave.
    PS: Philip Hammon, the owner of Scenic World, revealed that the whole area from the ledge down, including OR, was sold to Katoomba Park in 1880, and has always been in BMCC hands since then. In 1998, Philip lobbied BMCC mayor to re-open the track but did not succeed. Thank goodness!

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