What to do?
Virtuous visitors hike along bush paths to breath-catching vantage points or tour the majestic valleys on horseback, while others focus their attention on the stellar food and wine scene. Though tourists flock to the Blue Mountains National Park and the hub towns of Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls, there are plenty of peaceful pockets away from the postcard sights.
When to go
The Blue Mountains’ cool climate makes for a refreshing summer retreat, but chillier winter days can still be sunny with blue skies – plus you’ll find trails and lookouts less crowded. Weekends are busy with city daytrippers, but even during winter when the temperature really drops, it’s still worth visiting to experience Yulefest (aka Christmas in July).
Visit Echo Point in Katoomba, which looks out over lofty rock formation the Three Sisters. Alternatively, drive to Hassans Wall Lookout on the west side of the mountains, 10 kilometres south of Lithgow, the highest scenic eyrie in the area. From here you can see Mounts Wilson, York, Tarana and Blaxland, as well as the Megalong Valley, Kanimbla and Mount Bindo to the south.
Something for nothing
It’s a six-kilometre walk from the Glenbrook Visitor Centre, but it’s worth it as the Red Hands Cave, discovered in 1913 by a search party looking for a lost child, is an important Aboriginal art site. The red-ochre stencils of hands were created some 500–1,600 years ago.
Take a trip to Jenolan Caves (www.jenolancaves.org.au). This enormous network of underground limestone rooms was formed about 400 million years ago, which should give you some perspective. The caves are about 30 kilometres off the Great Western Highway on the edge of Kanangra-Boyd National Park. Alternatively, a two-hour drive north-west of the mountains will bring you to the Central New South Wales town of Orange, renowned for its world-class wines and regional food scene.
On Mount Irvine Road, just outside Mount Wilson village, is the Cathedral of Ferns. This amazing garden has massive tree ferns, sassafras and coachwood trees, as well as a very large eucalyptus, dubbed the ‘Giant Tree’. Opposite the Cathedral is a large and peaceful picnic ground, so bring a blanket and a well-stocked picnic basket (Katoomba is a good bet for delicious deli snacks).
Follow in the footsteps of famous naturalist Charles Darwin, who visited Wentworth Falls in 1836, and walked from the town of the same name to the falls. The well-signposted Charles Darwin Walk begins at Wilson Park and follows Jamison Creek, undulating through the bush until it reaches the cascading waters at Wentworth Falls. This leg of the journey will take around an hour. From here you can look out over the Jamison Valley before returning on the easier Undercliff Track (90 minutes).
Don’t go home without…
enjoying a post-trek refuel at the Candy Store (www.candystore.com.au), Shop 6, 178 The Mall, in upmarket Leura village. The walls are lined with jars of old-fashioned treats such as rock candy, saltwater taffy and eucalyptus drops.
Descend from lofty heights in Katoomba with an abseiling lesson from River Deep Mountain High (www.rdmh.com.au). The half-day session is suitable for beginners, with drops ranging from five to 30 metres. If you’d prefer to stay on solid ground, the same group also offers super-charged cycling tours and more sedate bushwalks. Equestrians can saddle up with Blue Mountains Horse Riding (www.megalong.cc/horseriding) for escorted tours of the Megalong Valley.
With rugged terrain dotted by fertile ridges, small food producers have flourished in the Blue Mountains. The area has also been influenced by the Slow Food Movement and was granted Cittaslow status in 2007. Fresh-picked chestnuts, walnuts and apples are a must-try from farm-gate stalls, Black Angus cattle happily graze in the Megalong Valley, and homespun delights include jam and honey.
Where to sleep
Bed down in the Blue Mountains at nature-loving Spicers Sangoma Retreat and the equally wild-at-heart Emirates Wolgan Valley, which you’ll share with the resident thoroughbreds. Alternatively, pick from one of Sydney’s boutique stays: Smith has six to choose from.
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