By Cathy Anderson
With jaw-dropping escarpments, world-class bushwalks and hair-raising adventure activities, the Blue Mountains region is a true blue Aussie destination.
Just 90 kilometres from Sydney, it’s alluring for city slickers and visitors from further afield alike. But, just because you’ve dropped into Katoomba and snapped the iconic Three Sisters rock formation, you can’t justifiably tick it off your bucket list yet.
“I think a lot of people think that they’ve been and done the mountains, but really they’re just skimming the surface,” says Amanda Byrne, chief experience officer with Scenic World, which operates the Scenic Railway, Skyway, Cableway and Walkway.
“We’ve got the incredible landscapes, beautiful escarpments and a stunning rainforest. We’re the envy of the world, really. You can easily spend a week up here exploring the many walks and attractions and drives and eateries and shops.”
And, given the devastating effects of summer bushfires and now the pandemic, there’s never been a better time to explore the region and support the community.
“Like a lot of regional communities around Australia, resilience is one of our greatest strengths and we’re thrilled to be welcoming visitors back to the region now,” says Byrne. “I think people love escaping the city and reconnecting with nature, particularly during this challenging time.”
MAKE TIME TO EXPLORE
There are more than a million hectares of wilderness in the Greater Blue Mountains Area, which encompasses the Blue Mountains National Park and its waterfalls, trails and lookouts.
Explore the bush on foot via marked trails (check the National Parks and Wildlife Service for up to date information), marvel at rocky cliff tops from the air with the Scenic Skyway or Cableway, or plunge into the Jamieson Valley on board the Scenic Railway, the steepest passenger railway in the world.
The valley floor at luxury resort Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley was mercifully protected from the recent fires along with populations of wallabies and eastern grey kangaroos. And, while parts of the area will take years to recover, others are now regenerating.
“The range of wildflowers – I haven’t seen anything like it, and I’ve been here 10 years,” says activities and conservation manager Simone Brooks.
Guests can explore via 4WD tours, horseback rides and bushwalks, and can directly contribute by adding what Brooks calls “complexity” to areas without vegetation or habitats for lizards and birds.
“[Guests] help us relocate fallen branches and little logs, and any kind of coarse, woody debris into the barren areas,” she says. “It kickstarts that whole cycle of decomposition and putting life back in the soil.”
She says visitors are craving time in nature after a tumultuous year.
“You’ll hear the sounds of the creek and this amazing diversity of bird life that we’ve got, and then just the sound of the breeze, rustling through the casuarina trees – it’s really quite magical.”
STOP ALONG THE WAY
If you’re travelling from Sydney, make a stop at Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park to visit more than 2,000 Australian animals, or stretch your legs and admire the views on the Wentworth Falls trail.
Up in the mountains, the region’s smaller towns also have much to offer.
Bilpin, an hour’s drive north of Katoomba, is known for its apple orchards, fruit picking, organic produce, and ciders. The town felt the brunt of the fires along the central Bells Line of Road, and residents are using the #BacktoBilpin campaign to beckon visitors.
Search the hashtag on social media to discover some of the best local secrets.
The Blue Mountains is also a great foodie escape.
Sample local produce in a former mechanic’s workshop at Leura Garage restaurant, or have a Mediterranean feast at Mesa Barrio in Lawson.
A cocktail at the historic Carrington Hotel, known as Katoomba’s ‘grand old dame’, is hard to beat, or pull up a stool at the cellar door of Dryridge Estate in the Megalong Valley.
It’s all up there, waiting to be discovered or even rediscovered.