There’s something about spectacular scenes in nature that can leave you lost for words.
That’s particularly the case in an age where adjectives are thrown around in everyday life with an abandon that renders them impotent when you really need them. Words like awesome, amazing, incredible, wonderful.
The Blue Mountains near Sydney is a place with that power, I discovered, when I took my first trip there over the weekend.
I shot dozens of photos trying to do justice to what I was experiencing.
The sheer scale of this ancient landscape strikes you immediately, along with the rich spectrum of earthy colours in the rock formations and the blue shimmer from the trees stretched out to the horizon that gives the area its name.
The colours change as the sun moves so that just when you think you’ve captured something in a photo that’s close to what you’re seeing, it’s offering you something new.
It does feel like a new discovery, despite the fact that millions of tourists must have walked over every inch of this place over the past hundred years.
There are cable cars and trains, but you can’t beat heading out on foot to hike down into the valley at Wentworth Falls.
As you zig-zag your way down, on a couple of occasions your path cuts across the river and beneath one of a series of waterfalls.
Every now and then through the trees, you get a glimpse across the chasm to the trail on the other side.
The tiny coloured dot people are a reminder of the scale of the cliff that you’re traversing.
It makes you feel incredibly small against the grand dominance of nature.
Yet as people no doubt have enjoyed since time began, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with tackling the wilds and succeeding.
That thought was clearly not lost even on the little girl we passed heading down as we made our way back up. She was all of about four or five years old.
“These are the widest and the deepest steps I’ve ever done,” she declared quite precisely.
Those big dirt steps through the bush give way eventually to a series of sandstone steps that cling precariously to the side of the cliff.
Apparently the people who carved this trail out of the rock early last century did so by dangling themselves over the cliff on canvas slings.
Even now the established path, with a guard rail that separates you from the sheer drop, is not for the faint hearted.
But if you can stick it out, there’s a delightful reward further down.
First you descend into the cooling cover of bush, then you emerge around a bend to a magical moment. There’s a gap in the trees that lets you spy for the first time, towering above you, the Upper Wentworth Falls.
As the wind caught the falling water the day we were there, it created a fine veil that swept across the face of the rock.
Above the fall, the sun created a glowing halo around the edge of the misted boulders.
As my friend and I agreed later, it would be entertaining to find a spot to sit near where people come around that bend and observe how they respond to that view.
The guy in front of us was taking a ‘selfie’ on his iPhone. We heard the people immediately after us say they couldn’t possibly capture it in a photo.
It’s the emotions that these things evoke that make them hard to capture. The combination of all the senses working overtime so that it’s about what you’re feeling rather than just what you’re seeing.
The cooling feel of the water misting across your face. The distinctive scents that waft over you as the sun heats the Australian bush. The sounds of the cicadas – at times deafening – as they seem to chirp as one, right across the ranges.
Perhaps that’s why so many artists – writers, poets, song writers, painters – are moved to express through art what they experience in nature.
The Blue Mountains have been immortalized in verse and paint by some of the greats.
But there were a couple of simple little words that seemed to pop out involuntarily, for me and for other people within earshot, as our senses took in the wonders before us:
‘Oh’ and ‘Wow.’