Royal fever sweeps Mountains

A vigil of nearly seven hours paid off for a young Wentworth Falls girl and her two cousins when they were plucked from the crowd to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit last week.

Ainslie Zakis, 12, and sisters Alexandra, 12, and Sophia Witting, 9, from Georges Hall, had arrived at Echo Point at Katoomba at 6.30am last Thursday, armed with deck chairs, food and flowers.  

Shortly after 1pm, Royal minders walked past, asking if anyone had anything to give the couple. When Alexandra called out that she had written them a poem, the three girls were told to jump the barrier and prepare to be introduced to William and Kate. 

“It was really such an honour,” said Alexandra. “It was really exciting and something I didn’t expect at all.”

The sisters’ mum, Keiren, grew up in the Mountains and went to Katoomba High. The girls are regular visitors to their granny, Jan Zakis, who lives just a block away from the famous lookout. They had stayed there the previous night, allowing for the early start. 

Keiren Witting said the girls were so hyped up afterwards they had barely been able to sleep.

“We would just have been happy to see them really but to be asked to go and meet them —  it was just the icing on the cake.”

Mrs Witting said both her daughters had written poems for the Royals. 

“William actually read Sophia’s — how good is that?”

The Royal couple impressed many as down-to-earth, warm and genuinely interested during their one-day visit.

They started at Buena Vista Road in Winmalee, where 43 homes were lost in last October’s fires. They met Miranda Hansen and Eartha Odell, and then walked across the road to chat to other residents and accept flowers or gifts for young Prince George.

They then went to Springwood-Winmalee Girl Guide Hall at Yellow Rock, receiving a briefing on the fires from Rural Fire Service district manager David Jones and meeting many of the volunteers and other emergency services personnel who had been in the front line of the fire-fighting effort.

Then the motorcade drove up to Katoomba, where a large crowd waited at Echo Point. 

Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon Tourism CEO Randall Walker and joint managing director of Scenic World, Anthea Hammon, showed the couple the breathtaking views.

Mr Walker’s 10-year-old son Xavier charmed Kate by telling her she had “beautiful earrings”.

The final stop was at Narrow Neck where 10 young men and women from Blaxland High School showed off the skills they have learned at the Outdoor Explore Program run by the Mountains Youth Services Team.

Daryl Wilson, project co-ordinator, said it had been a “fantastic” experience for the year 9 and 10 students.

“The kids had a wonderful time. They were on such a high.”

He said the Royal couple were “very relaxed, very calm and natural”.

The students demonstrated a range of adventure activities, including abseiling, problem solving activities and games.

As well as comforting fire victims and giving a thrill to children and adults alike, the visitors — trailed by media from around the world — provided a fillip to tourism.

Mayor Mark Greenhill said the visit focused attention on the beautiful tourist areas of the Mountains.

“With 500 jobs lost and a $100 million decline in our economy since the fires, this is a boost we really need.”

Mr Walker agreed.

“To be able to raise awareness of the destination in such a high profile and positive way is a fabulous outcome for tourism industry operators and the Blue Mountains community,” he said.

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