The Blue Mountains – only a 90-minute drive or train ride away from Sydney – are spectacular, cool (1000m altitude) and have great places to hike, eat and photograph.
The Blue Mountains are suitable for a day-trip excursion although a stay there of at least two days is ideal.
Despite their name, the Blue Mountains are not ‘mountains’ as we normally think of them. They are instead dissected sandstone plateau with an extraordinary diversity of plant and animal life filling the deep gorges and canyons.
The Gundungurra people -who inhabited the area for millennia- say that Dreamtime creatures Mirigan and Garangatch (half fish, half reptile) fought an epic battle over the area leaving the land scarred with canyons and gorges.
When Charles Darwin crossed the Blue Mountains in January 12 1836, he stopped at the head of the Jamison Valley and observed: “Below is the grand bay or gulf, for I know not what other name to give it, thickly covered with forest.
The point of view is situated as it were at the head of the Bay, for the line of cliff diverges away on each side, showing headland, behind headland, as on a bold Sea coast.”
Many convicts in the colony believed China lay beyond the impassable mountains, a convenient myth for the local authorities of the 18th and 19th-centuries.
The first crossing of the Mountains by European settlers is an event that altered the destiny of the Sydney colony by opening up new pastures for its survival.
Millions of dollars have been spent recently upgrading old attractions and creating new ones.
Although the mountains are primarily a place for hiking and have many trails from many starting points, but for an introductory day excursion, Leura and Katoomba are a good start.
Katoomba sits at the end of the railway line and is the ‘capital’ of the Mountains where the first hotel, The Carrington was established. Leura is only 10 minutes away from Katoomba.
Once in the area, moving from point to point is made a hassle-free experience by the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus and Blue Mountains Trolley Tours, which offer a hop-on/hop off service linking all of the areas and points of interest for a minimal fee (A$38 for an adult Explorer Bus full day pass; discounts for families).
This is a great way to visit the area without wasting any time trying to find specific locations. The double-decker Explorer buses begin their rounds at Katoomba station leaving every 30 minutes.
There is a new generation of entrepreneurs in the Blue Mountains who work hard to make visitors welcome and make sure they have the best experience possible.
An example is Scenic World’s David Hammon who, aware of the importance of social media, says he wakes up every morning to check visitors’ comments on TripAdvisor.
He wants every single person to be happy with his or her experience. Together with his sister Anthea Hammon they are proud to be the third generation in which hands the enterprise is.
Anthea Hammon (a Mechanical Engineer) who, like her brother David grew up working at Scenic World in various roles, has supervised the maintenance department and capital projects which include a state-of-the-arts gondola that takes visitors across spectacular gorges and the revamping of the steepest railroad in the world still in its original place: a coal mining rail-track established there to move coal from the bottom of the valley to the top. Today it is a joy ride for adults and children alike.
A day-trip to the Mountains can only be an overview of the wondrous natural paradise for bush walking, canyoning, abseiling and rock climbing–among many other activities. For information on these activities see: Blue Mountains Adventure Company
Here are a few highlights of a day trip from Sydney:
Cafe Madeleine, 187a Leura Mall, Leura, serves top breakfasts, lunches, house-blended hot chocolate and house-baked desserts, 9am-5pm, seven days.
Josophan’s Fine Chocolates, (132 Leura Mall, Leura, 02 4784 2031) where our very own Master Chocolatiere Jodie Van Der Velden (winner of many international prizes) has a magical store filled with handmade chocolates infused with fragrant herbs and spices.
Van Der Velden exclusively uses fair trade chocolate. Workshops in chocolate appreciation and hands-on chocolate making are held behind the shop.
Josophan’s is also in the Sydney CBD at 66 King Street (corner of King and York Streets)
The Everglades Gardens (37 Everglades Ave 02 4784 1938) is a must for those who love classical landscaping Rhododendrons, azaleas and a myriad of European and native plants grow around pools and ornamental fountains, under arches and surround the Everglades, a 1930 National Trust House. Lunches and afternoon teas are available.
Bygone Beautys (20 Grose Street, 02 4784 3117) is a quaint and kitschy place for traditional high teas, home to the biggest collection of teapots in the world.
The Leura Garage, (984 Railway Parade, 02 4784 3391) offers delicious modern Australian fare served with flare in a stunning locale of industrial chic design.
Scenic World offers an overview of this stunning landscape from a new gondola and a ride in the steepest railway to the bottom of the gorge.
Echo Point has one of the most dramatic scenery in the area. Don’t just stop at the Three Sisters, venture past them on perfectly maintained tracks and you’ll be immersed in true Australian bush.
Paragon Café (65 Katoomba Sreet, 02 4782-2928) is a gem of Art Deco. A must see.
Lilianfels (Lilianfels Ave. Katoomba, 02 4780 1200) and its sister property Echoes have lounges, bars and restaurants with breathtaking mountains’ views.
Segway Tours operate on the grounds of the Fairmont Resort (1 Sublime Pt Rd Leura, 0418 229 539) offering guided bush tours described as ‘the closest thing to flying without leaving the ground’