With one million hectares of pristine, protected bushland, this blue-tinged World Heritage wilderness is a playground for nature lovers. Bring hiking shoes, a sense of adventure and a good camera to the Blue Mountains- one of Australia’s 16 Ultimate Escapes
Vast and spectacular, the Greater Blue Mountains is a region that likes to do things in widescreen. Waterfalls cascade from steep, vertical cliffs, and vistas across a seemingly endless bushland panorama stir the adventurer within.
The region – named after the signature blue-tinged haze arising from the abundance of eucalyptus trees – is famous for its raw, wild beauty. Witness soaring escarpments from Katoomba’s Echo Point lookout, hike the historic Six Foot Track, or explore the mysterious calcite formations of the Jenolan Caves. Walk or bike through the Glow Worm Tunnel in Wollemi National Park, stroll alongside the tall trees of the Jamison Valley, scale the grand heights of Mount Yengo, or get acquainted with the region’s cultural history on a walk with a local indigenous guide.
This is a land with rich indigenous history, home to six Aboriginal language groups. Their thousand-year-old stories are painted on the walls of surrounding caves, while Aboriginal legends surround landmarks like the Three Sisters.
Along with immersing yourself in the wilderness, don’t miss the area’s villages. Dotted with homewares, art galleries, antiques, boutiques and cafes, the tree-lined streets of Leura mix bohemian chic with country charm, while Katoomba’s many heritage hotels and cosy, sandstone pubs have welcomed guests since the early 1800s. Food and wine lovers can also follow the Greater Blue Mountains Drive to the Hunter Valley, Mudgee, the Southern Highlands and the Hawkesbury.
Eco stays: what’s old is moo
Sleep with a clear conscience at the Straw Bale House at the Old Leura Dairy eco retreat. An impressive 80 per cent of this quirky house has been constructed with recycled material once destined for the tip – from old fence palings and rusty cast-iron tubs to cream urns and milk pails. Peer inside the “Truth Wall” to take a squizz at the natural insulation – straw, to keep cool in summer and toasty in winter. The house – along with the other five unique cottages on site – is perfectly placed to explore the region. Management will happily arrange all manner of tours from canyoning and trout fishing to classic bushwalks. When you return, a steaming-hot bath under the stars awaits – an old milk vat has been cleverly converted to a jacuzzi. Phone: (02) 4782 0700.
Walks: off the beaten track
Bushwalkers, lace up your hiking boots. This World Heritage-listed region features 140 kilometres of trails that meander through gorges and fern gullies, past thunderous waterfalls and vertigo-inducing bluffs. The Ruined Castle walk and Valley of The Waterfalls are among the best, taking in rainforests, panoramic views and stunning rock formations. Whether you choose a two-hour jaunt or a full-day expedition, your guide will know every step of the way, pointing out local flora and fauna and sharing stories about the history of the bush. Craving more legwork? You can spend three days hiking the Six Foot Track, a 44-kilometre trail through state forests and national parks between Katoomba and Jenolan Caves. See Life’s An Adventure; (02) 9913 8939.
Family: get back to nature
Trade in the kids’ iPads for a real bush adventure with an Aussie farmstay. Along with a sleepover at a country farm, you and your family will be shown the bush ropes on a guided tour. Trot through the valleys on horseback and visit historic goldmining towns – the kids can try their hand at bush crafts. At night, sit around a crackling campfire while poems, songs and yarns about the Aussie bush flow freely. New friends, a fire and a billy brewing tea… what more could you want? See: Aussie Bush Adventures; (02) 9660 3245.
Adventure: hike by bike
Bushwalking is one idea – how about bush biking? Whizzing along trails exploring the grandeur of the Mountains aboard a mountain bike, your professional guide will teach you all you need to know about handling your bike and, better still, you’ll get to see areas of bushland most walkers never reach, such as Hanging Rock – a massive, 100 metre-tall sandstone block that protrudes over the Grose Valley. For experienced two-wheelers, a tour to Narrow Neck, riding through the plateau dividing the Jamison and Megalong Valley ranges has plenty of gullies and undulating tracks with heart-stopping views. Life’s An Adventure; (02) 9913 8939.
Explore: horseback haven
The wide, open plains of the Megalong Valley are a horse-rider’s paradise, and an escorted trail ride takes you past soaring cliffs and deep ravines to breath-snatching canyon views. There are tours to suit every riding ability. Novices can sample a one-hour ride that finishes with a feast in the valley, known as one of the top picnic spots in the region. Seasoned riders can enjoy a five-hour drover’s experience, galloping through the valley and crossing the Cox’s River. For riding packages, including optional overnight stays, visit Megalong CC; (02) 4787 8188.
Indigenous: go walkabout
A walkabout has long been a rite of passage for male aborigines – a spiritual journey on foot that traces the paths formed by their ancestors. gain a deeper understanding of this inspiring ancient quest by going on a walkabout led by a member of the local darug tribe. trek along 3.5 kilometres of secluded, sacred bushland, visit ceremonial sites, hear dreamtime stories, and sample bush tucker and body painting. See: Blue Mountains Walkabout; 0408 443 822.
Luxury: eco extravagance
If you’d prefer to marvel at the bush landscape amid the comforts of five-star luxury, Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa sits snugly between the towering canyons of the Wollemi and Gardens of Stone National Parks. This old-style colonial homestead-turned-lavish retreat has maintained its 1830s-style architecture, painstakingly preserving the property’s historical aspects. Get cosy next to a double-sided fireplace and experience the tranquility of a midnight swim from your own private pool while overlooking the dramatic sandstone mountain ranges. Explore the property’s nature reserve on foot, via a guided 4WD tour – including a nocturnal wildlife and stargazing tour – or by mountain bike as mobs of kangaroos and wallabies bound past. The resort can also arrange transfers via helicopter from Sydney, for a grander view. wolganvalley.com; (02) 6350 1800.
Getting there: The region’s main town of Katoomba is a two-hour drive west from central Sydney. Trains run regularly from Sydney’s Central Station and numerous coach companies offer day trips.
Eating there: Gourmands are in luck – feasting opportunities abound from quirky village cafes to slick, fine-dining restaurants serving produce-driven cuisine. Enjoy coffee and a flaky pastry in the villages of Leura or Katoomba, stop for apple pie and cider at Bilpin’s orchards or drink mulled wine in front of a log fire at one of the many heritage pubs.
Staying there: Whether you want to pitch up at a campsite or rest your head on quality linen, the region has a vast array of accommodation styles to suit all budgets and tastes, from quaint B&Bs, motels and historic hotels to eco cabins and world-class luxury spa and wellness retreats. Go to visitbluemountains.com.au.