The Three Sisters – Echo Point, The Blue Mountains, Australia
The Three Sisters
Back in the Dreaming, there were seven sisters who lived in the Jamison Valley in Australia …
Sitting high above the Jamison Valley, in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains of Eastern Australia, three unusual rock formations stand out. Collectively known as the Three Sisters, Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo were formed by the ongoing erosion of wind and rain against the soft Narrabeen sandstone of these mountains.
According to locally-told tales, these three sisters – who were members of the Gundungurra people living in the Jamison Valley – were turned to stone by their father, an Elder named Tyawan. In one version of the story (q.v.: Myths and Legends), he is protecting his daughters from an evil bunyip – a locally feared creature with a terrible voice and a penchant for eating young girls and women. The bunyip, angry at being woken and deprived of his meal, chased and cornered Tyawan, who used his magic bone to change himself into a lyre bird and escape. Unfortunately, in the process, he dropped the bone! To this day, lyre birds scrabble in the undergrowth looking for the bone, and the stone sisters wait to be changed back into the beautiful young women they once were.
Another version of the story is more like the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet: the three sisters fell in love with three brothers from the neighbouring Nepean tribe, but marriage between these groups was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers decided to capture the young women by force; Tyawan turned the girls to stone to protect them, but was killed in the ensuing battle and could never change them back. It has been suggested that this popular narrative is likely to be the recent invention of a non-Aboriginal Katoomba local, Mel Ward, rather than a genuine Indigenous Australian Dreamtime legend.
The Aboriginal traditional owners, the Gundungurra, point out that there were once seven pillars of stone jutting out into the Jamison Valley at Echo Point, and say that they were part of the Gundungurra’s Muggadah or “Seven Sisters Dreaming” that is linked to the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades star cluster. “The Star Dreaming story of the Seven Sisters is one of the most widely distributed ancient stories amongst Aboriginal Australia.”
Part of the area is also sacred to the local Darug people: in times past, women would give birth in a cave near Echo Point and the men would watch the third sister for a sign that the birth had occurred.
Whatever their stories, these outcrops are amazing in their own rights, especially as their moods and colours change in the shifting light. They are also extremely accessible: just 110 km (68 mi) west of Sydney, they are visited by busloads of tourists – mostly foreign – daily.
Rather than wrestle with parking at the popular Echo Point Lookout, my husband and I chose to walk the 2.3 km down the hill from our charming 1930s guesthouse in Katoomba, the chief town in the Blue Mountains.
Come join us!
Rhododendrons on the Street
Katoomba, with its elevation of 1040 metres above sea level, has a subtropical highland climate. On our visit in October, the spring flowers were in full bloom.
Petals on the Ground
Spring Blooms in the Trees
Flowers on a Wall
The town of Katoomba came into its own in the late 1800s with the start of ‘Crushers’, a commercial metal crushing plant, the opening of the Katoomba Coal Mine, and the development of health and recreation facilities. Some of the buildings and infrastructure date back to this time.
Built between 1915-1916, this lovely federation bungalow is typical of houses in the Katoomba area.
The Jamison Valley
As we cross from Lurline Street to Echo Point Road, we start to get views through the trees …
The Jamison Valley
… and over the valley.
Echo Point Lookout Services
Just before we reach the Echo Point lookout itself, we stop to have a peek into the very modern shopping and food centre, …
Coffee Shop with a View
… where customers sit with panoramic views over the valley.
The viewing area at Echo Point lookout is perched overlooking the Jamison Valley and the iconic Three Sisters. I always enjoy visiting the Echo Point Visitor Centre – which has added a roof of solar panels since my last visit. What was more surprising was the lack of crowds! In spite of the beautiful spring weather, there were not the usual hordes of tourists.
Walkway to the Three Sisters
Echo Point is the gateway to a number of walks: along the clifftops or into the valley below. We settled for the easy 500 metre pathway to the Three Sisters themselves.
Flowers and Roots
In contrast with the non-native flora of Katoomba, the Australian bush features delicate flowers and subtle colours.
Blue Tongue Lizard
Australian fauna can be skittish and hard to spot. These delightful life-size sculptures along the pathway represent those animals hiding in the bush.
Track to the Three Sisters
The concrete pathway winds along the cliff edge …
Taking in the Views
… with overlooks giving access to panoramic views.
Moss in the Crannies
The porous sandstone in the cliff-side walls along the walkway are home to mosses and small plants.
A life-size sculpture of one of Australia’s unique monotremes.
We catch our first glimpse of one of the sisters from the walkway. Until 2000, the Sisters were popular with hang-gliders and rock climbers; these activities were stopped on on environmental grounds and out of respect for the Gundungarra and Darug people.
Archway to the Sisters
The Giant Stairway down to the valley floor and the Honeymoon Bridge across to the first Sister were officially opened to the public in 1932.
Stairs down to the Honeymoon Bridge
People take photos on the steps to Meehni, the first of the Sisters – and the only one that visitors are now allowed on.
Grass on the Sister
A closer view of the rock formation shows off the strong vertical jointing properties of the Narrabeen sandstone, interspersed with erosion-resistant ironstone.
A Quiet Moment
A man checks the photos on his phone at a Jamison Valley overlook.
The Three Sisters
Ironically, the best view of the Three Sisters is from the Echo Point lookout – back where we started from! The coloured striations show the effects of erosion: with the lighter orange and yellow sections being the freshly exposed rock.
The Three Sisters are a unique Australian icon and a symbol of the Blue Mountains. I was very impressed with how much Echo Point and the pathway to the Three Sisters had been improved since my last visit; the whole area was enjoyable and easy to explore.
Of course, we still had a long walk back up the hill to town centre, to a well-earned lunch, and to our hotel.
Until next time,