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Royals marvel at Blue Mountains


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Sydney Opera House

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Sydney Opera House

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Sydney Opera House

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have marvelled at the views from one of Australia's most spectacular beauty spots after hearing the moving stories of bush fire survivors.

In the stunning location of New South Wales' Blue Mountains, William and Kate saw the rock formation known as the Three Sisters, and the majestic range beyond, that attracts three million visitors a year.

Parts of the state were ravaged by bush fires last October which left many families homeless after fleeing for their lives.

The royal couple spent the day touring the Blue Mountains area, around 35 miles from Sydney city centre, meeting those who escaped from the flames and members of the emergency services who battled the blazes - the worst to hit the state in a decade.

The Duchess spoke about her long-held desire to travel to the Commonwealth country when she chatted to firemen: ''I've wanted to come to Australia for such a long time, so it's amazing finally to be here and to see some of the countryside.''

William later praised the "stoicism" of the community of Winmalee, where more than a 100 homes were destroyed by fires i n a few hours, during a meeting with prime minister Tony Abbott at Admiralty House in Sydney.

He highlighted how one elderly man had stayed to fight the flames: "There was an incredible story today where a gentleman had fought off the fires with a stick and a hosepipe."

During the royal couple's visit to Winmalee two men, allegedly harassing people who had gathered to see the royal couple, were stopped, spoken to and moved on by police before their motorcade went past.

William and Kate listened to the experiences of widow Miranda Hansen, 67, who though t she was going to be burnt alive when she tried to escape the bush fires in her car after her home was engulfed in minutes.

She said: ''There were cars everywhere. You couldn't move. I thought, 'Hello, I'm going to be barbecue here today.' But luckily we didn't.''

After hearing the traumatic stories of those who survived the flames the mood lightened when the royal couple arrived at Echo Point, Katoomba, to see the Three Sisters rock formation and were greeted by around 3,000 well-wishers lining crash barriers.

William and Kate, who wore a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress and wedges, were welcomed by cheers from the crowds and walked down to a platform to see the majestic views of the Blue Mountain range.

They are so called because of a blue haze that hangs over them, caused by light refracting off eucalyptus oil in the air.

According to Aboriginal legend, three sisters called Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo fell in love with three brothers from a rival tribe. Unable to marry because of tribal law, the brothers decided to go into battle against the sisters' tribe to capture them by force.

A witch doctor is said to have turned the sisters to stone to save them from being harmed in the battle, but he was killed in the fighting and so could not reverse the spell.

With the mountains in the background the Duke and Duchess were greeted by Aboriginal elders representing the indigenous landowners of Echo Point.

They presented the Cambridges with a possum skin cloak for their baby son Prince George and the couple received a kangaroo coat for themselves.

William said: "That's fantastic thank you very much, he'll love that - very warm."

Elder Aunty Sharon Brown, chairwoman of the Gundungurra Tribal Council, explained later that traditionally a baby would be given a possum cloak and for every significant milestone during its life, another pelt would be added to the garment.

William and Kate spent around five minutes looking at the views from a platform, with Anthea Hammon, joint managing director of Scenic World which runs the visitor centre at the beauty spot, acting as the Duchess's guide while the Duke spoke to Randall Walker, chief executive of Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism.

Ms Hammon said after speaking the Duchess: "She loved it, it's a pretty stunning day. She was amazed about how far you could see.

"I was talking to her a little bit about bush walking, she likes walking and there's lots of places to walk here in the Blue Mountains. She said she was keen to come back."

Mr Walker said about the Duke: "He was very impressed with the spectacular views and he was interested in the Aboriginal legend about it. He was surprised to learn it's the most visited regional site in Australia."

Before leaving the area there was a heart stopping moment for all - except the Duke - when he walked extremely close to the edge of a 100 metre drop when he watched youngsters on an adventure training course abseil down a cliff.

The Duchess stayed well back from the edge during the visit to Narrow Neck Lookout, a stunning viewpoint in the Blue Mountains.

Damien Cooper, manager of the Blue Mountains Youth Service, said: "He took a bit of a lunge and a few people held their breath, gasped and readied their hands to grab him.

"He was fine of course, he knew what he was doing. I think his military background prepared him well for it.''