A road trip through the Greater Blue Mountains offers up charming towns, stunning scenery, great local produce and glow worms!
The combination of ease of access and natural wonders has seen the Blue Mountains occupy a special place in the heart of Sydneysiders for more than a century. Like a giant backyard, it’s the place they go to immerse themselves in nature, to suck in lungfuls of fresh mountain air and to get some cost-per-wear for their winter wardrobes that the Harbour City just doesn’t afford.
While trains have been cutting a swathe through the mountains since the late 1860s, making its towns easily accessible to day trippers to this day, the best way to experience its compelling attractions is on a road trip. Plan to spend a minimum of three days exploring, although it is easy to fill up a week or more and still have plenty left for next time. Try this four-day itinerary for a good start.
Heading out of the city, your ascent into the heart of the Blue Mountains along the Great Western Highway passes by or through a string of quaint villages and towns. Turn off the highway at Faulconbridge to visit the gracious home and gardens of the celebrated artist Norman Lindsay, best known to multiple generations of Aussie kids as the author and illustrator of The Magic Pudding. The house features many of his artworks, while the gardens are filled with statues of cheeky nymphs and grumpy puddings.
Stop for morning tea in the town of Leura, with its main street lined with cafes (try the ever-popular Red Door Cafe) and shops, including the deliciously perfumed Moontree, filled with scented candles and works by local artists, the brilliantly curated interiors shop The Cat’s Meow and Josophan’s Fine Chocolate, where the homemade truffles, freckle slabs and rocky road are the perfect road trip treats.
From Leura, it’s a five-minute drive to the village of Katoomba, the bustling heart of the Blue Mountains. A white-knuckle ride on the vertiginous Scenic Railway as it plummets through the lush vegetation to the Jamison Valley below is almost mandatory in these parts. Katoomba is also the starting point for some great bush walks: try the easy Echo Point/Prince Henry Cliff Walk/Katoomba Falls or medium Minnehaha Falls walks for the triple-treat of great views, rainforest and waterfalls.
Bed down for the night at the heritage-listed Carrington Hotel, with its glory-days decor and generous family rooms.
It’s a 15-minute drive to the pretty town of Blackheath to grab your morning heart-starter crafted from single-origin beans – or hot chocolate for caffeine virgins – at Anonymous Cafe. Get it to go and browse the shops – the mountains outpost of Gleebooks has a great selection of books while the estate jewellery in the historic Victory Theatre Antiques Centre is stunning – or time your visit to coincide with the annual rhododendron festival in November when the trees that line the streets here burst into colour.
Continue along through Mt Victoria before the road weaves its way down the escarpment at Victoria Pass. Stop in to Hartley Historic Site, one of the best collections of historic buildings in the country, to stroll the boardwalk next to the River Lett for the chance of spotting the quizzical platypus in its natural habitat.
Equally quizzical creatures can be found 45 minutes down the road; Newnes Plateau is the home of the magical glow worm tunnel, a former railway tunnel now filled with nature’s own version of fairy lights. The two-kilometre return walk along the Glow Worm Tunnel walking track delivers you to the entrance.
Parkside at Blackheath is a gracious 1930s mountain cottage that has been meticulously transformed into a chic weekender.
Head out of Blackheath for the 20-minute drive down the lush rainforested escarpment to the picturesque Megalong Valley. Book a trail ride with Blue Mountain Horse Riding to traverse misty valleys looking out to jutting mountain ranges, and finish your morning with a plate of fluffy scones at Megalong Valley Tea Rooms.
From Blackheath, it’s a one-hour drive to the lovely rural community of Oberon along the Jenolan Caves Road. Head to the Mayfield Garden, the largest cool-climate garden in the world. Spend the rest of the day wandering through meticulously manicured gardens, grottoes, woodland plantings, and past fountains, ponds and even a Chinese pagoda. The menu in the on-site cafe uses produce grown in the gardens themselves or supplied by local partners.
Mayfield Garden’s glampsite operates during autumn, with the bonus of early-morning and night access to the gardens.
The Long Arm Farm Cafe and Produce in town is a good choice for breakfast, with its local-produce-heavy menu. Once filled up, load up the car and head back towards Lithgow (stop at Jenolan Caves to relive school excursions of old) and the Bells Line of Road. It takes 30 minutes to reach the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mt Tomah, with its 28 hectares of curated cool-climate gardens, and adjoining 244 hectares of wilderness within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains.
Explore the gardens, have lunch at The Potager and grab some plants to take home before you leave (insider’s secret: you can stay the night within the gardens at Camellia Cottage or the Jungle Lodge, both available on Airbnb). The last stop of the day – payback for the kids after all those gardens – should be Trees Adventure at Grose River Park in Yarramundi, with its tree-top obstacle courses that variously require you to dangle, climb and swing your way through the forest.
The rustic yet super-cosy Hidden Valley Retreat Cottages include the delightfully named Jacaranda, Willow and Cabbage Tree cottages, all situated within a blissful valley setting.