The Blue Mountains drive…

While Sydney is a beautiful city and offers amazing destinations, after a couple of days we were yearning for a break from the throngs and there’s no better place than the world heritage wilderness of the Blue Mountains, just 60-kilometres west of the city, to escape the skyscrapers and the crowds!

The Blue Mountains are home to some of Australia’s most amazing natural attractions, quaint mountain villages, sensational alluring views, waterfalls, sheer cliffs, beautiful valleys, intriguing caves, kilometres of hiking trails and lush rainforests! This is an area we have travelled a number of times with family – enroute for Blackheath, and it’s the perfect place for an adventure.

Leaving Narrabeen we headed out along Mona Vale Road to the Great Western Highway, which then led straight through the Penrith Valley to the Blue Mountains.

Penrith Valley…

The Penrith Valley is part of Greater Sydney and home to two of its most scenic features.

The first is the World Heritage Blue Mountains – the other is the Nepean River, one of the greatest river systems of eastern Australia… and both meet at Nepean Gorge, the geographical heart of Penrith Valley where you’ll see them in their glory from ‘Rock Lookout’ just a few kilometres from Penrith city!

A day of action-packed White-water rafting at Penrith…

Known as the adventure capital of NSW, Penrith is also home of Sydney’s International Regatta Centre and Whitewater Stadium – both of which played host to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

This stadium is the only man-made whitewater river of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere where a channel has been designed to recreate the characteristics of a wild river… and being the competition venue for the canoe/kayak slalom events during the Olympics – it certainly is wild!

It was here on one of our trips to the Blue Mountains we were introduced to an action-packed whitewater rafting experience that certainly tested our water survival skills… and we thoroughly enjoyed it!  

14,000 litres per second of raging, bubbling water flowing over a challenging, rocky course and 8 bodies, under the guidance of a highly trained river guide, paddling frantically to stay afloat along a high-spirited 320-metre path of wild rapis … then once we reach the bottom, all we needed to do was paddle over to the conveyor belt and catch a ride back to the top – and then the fun started all over again!

Let’s just say you need to be fit, a strong swimmer and very confident in the water… because you’re going to get a dunking!

Climbing the mountain trail…

As we began our ascent along the historic mountain trail towards the Upper Mountains, so the air becames fresher, the views more spectacular and the villages more charming.

The Great Western Highway from Sydney across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst is Australia’s most historic road.

The first three white people to cross the Blue Mountains in 1813 were Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth and the governor of the time, Governor Macquarie was so impressed with the reports of the western plains that he sent George Evans to survey the route later that year. The first official road over the mountains was constructed by William Cox and opened in April 1815 -mostly following the route established by the first three men to cross it.

From then on a stream of settlers flowed to the vast plains in the western inland – soldiers, convicts and gold diggers all trudged by foot or in wagons along this harsh mountain barrier that seperated Sydney Town from the west.

Today as you follow in the footsteps of those who walked these ridges all those years ago you will pass through a string of postcard-worthy villages… and a region woven with a tapestry of Aboriginal heritage and colonial history.

The Wentworth Falls…

On the way up, be sure to stop at Wentworth Falls, a charming village with many lookouts all providing astounding views of the dramatic escarpments and breathtaking valleys. It is also home to one of the most photogenic waterfalls.

This village marks the gateway to the Wentworth Falls, Wentworth Falls Lake, Lincoln Rock and the many walking trails that originate here.

Wentworth Falls Lake is the perfect place to relax after exploring the many trails but the biggest drawcard to this area is the stunning falls themselves.

Following the iconic 5-kilometre National Pass circuit track into the falls the first part of this trek wanders along the Charles Darwin Walk which follows Jamison Creek through a variety of natural landscapes and ever-changing foliage.

This track follows in the footsteps of the famous naturalist, Charles Darwin, who visited this area in1836 while on his return voyage around the world in the HMS Beagle.

At the end of this walk, you’ll find yourself at the top of the cascading Wentworth Falls. These mark the point where the popular Jamison Creek drops down over the escarpment and cascades almost 300-metres into a large pool before weaving its way down the creek into the ‘Valley of the Waters’.

From here, we connect with the iconic ‘Valley of the Waters’ track, one of the most enjoyable routes to make your ascent back to the top of the canyon with some sections of the track built into the side of the cliff and highlighted by the Grand Stairway of 200 steps! 

Lincoln’s Rock is also worth checking out while you’re in the area.

This incredible lookout has been known by a few different names over the years – Flat Rock as it really is a big flat rock, Wedding Rock as couples love to have wedding photos taken there -and even Honeymoon Rock (I’m not sure why)!

It officially claimed the title of ‘Lincoln’s Rock’ in 2013 after a guy called Lincoln Hall who famously survived a night out in the elements near the summit of Mount Everest at 8700-metres.  Originally pronounced dead… when rescuers found him the next day, he was found to be alive and went on to write the book ‘Dead Lucky’ about his ordeal.

The drawcard to this lookout is the constantly changing colours of the surrounding Jamison Valley and the momentous once in a lifetime photo opportunity to sit way out on the ledge of a cliff – however, my fear of heights prevented me from venturing too far out!

After exploring the falls and Lincoln’s Rock the next stop is Leura – a picturesque garden village of lovely shops and cafes and stunning lookouts.

Leura…

Leura boasts beautiful gardens including ‘The Everglades Gardens’ where you will be rewarded with a famous 1930s heritage European style garden set on 12.5 acres and breathtaking views over the Jamison Valley.…

… and the stunning Leura Cascades are not to be missed.

Access to these falls is via the Leura Cascades Picnic Area where a short circuit walk follows Leura Creek along a lovely path to a beautiful but small waterfall. Here you can sit under the overhang and enjoy the falls cascading around you before climbing back up onto the cliff ridge-line. It is only a short walk of less than a kilometre and there are quite a few steps… but it certainly should be on your to do list while visiting this area!

Gordon Falls Lookout is also worth experiencing offering more views of the Jamison Valley along with Olympian Rock – and Sublime Point Lookout on the outskirts of town is where rock climbers can often be seen tackling climbs such as ‘Hells Bells’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’.

From Leura if you want to steer away from the Great Western Highway it is only a 5-minute drive to Katoomba via the scenic route following Cliff Drive.

Katoomba…

Katoomba is the charming ‘capital’ of the Blue Mountains and home to the Three Sisters and the Scenic Railways.

Here Echo Falls Lookout is one of the most popular spots in this National Park affording incredible views over the forests and mountain ranges of the Jamison Valley… and the famous distinctive outcrop of 3 rocky peaks.

The Three Sisters are a significant site to the the Gundungurra and Darug Aboriginal people living in the area and over our visits we have read of two differing legends of how they came about.

One legend tells the story of 3 Aboriginal sisters who fell in love with 3 men from a neighbouring tribe, but their marriage was forbidden by tribal law. Rebelling against this, the men decided to capture the three sisters with force and declared battle. During the fighting an elder turned the sisters to stone for their protection, but he was then killed in the conflict, and no one else was able to return them to their human forms.

The other tells of the 3 sisters named Meenhi, Wimlah, Gunnedoo, their Witch Doctor father Tyawan… and the creature they all feared – a Bunyip who lived in a deep hole.

When Tyawan had to pass this hole he would leave his daughters on the cliff behind a rocky wall. One day a big centipede suddenly appeared and frightened Meenhi who threw a stone at it, the stone crashed into the valley below causing the birds, animals, and fairies to stop still and the rocks behind the three sisters to split open leaving them on a thin ledge. It also woke the Bunyip and on seeing the terrified sisters from the valley Tyawan pointed his magic bone at the girls and turned them to stone so they would be safe from the Bunyip. However, the Bunyip then turned its attention on Tyawan, and finding himself trapped, turned himself into a lyrebird. Everyone may have been safe but in doing so Tyawan lost his bone. 

The Three Sisters now stand silently watching him from their ledge and as you look at them it is said you can hear the Lyre Bird calling his daughters as his search for the lost bone continues.

Because these rocks are sacred to the Aboriginal people it is not possible to climb them… but it is possible to get a closer look via the Giant Stairway trail, descending 800 steps to the floor of the valley.

This is one of many trails in this park and if you don’t fancy the 800 steps back the way you came… you can head to Echo Point via Federal Pass, Furber Steps, and Prince Henry Cliff Walk, which offers a chance for more photo shoots…

… or opt for a ride on the famous Scenic Railway, which is great fun and just the way to enjoy the world of stunning eucalypt forests and age-old rock formations from a different angle.

This is the world’s steepest passenger rail that descends 310-metres through a cliff-side tunnel and glides between rugged cliff tops before emerging into the ancient rainforest at the Jamison Valley floor where a series of boardwalks will walk you through the native rainforest.

There is also the 545-metre Scenic Cableway journey that gently descends into the Jamison Valley and returns to the top of the escarpment, which I was happy to leave to others and admire from afar!

This fully enclosed glass cabin passes closely by sheer sandstone cliffs offering amazing views of the mountains from above and below including the iconic rock formations, Orphan Rock and Mt Solitary.

Katoomba Falls is another beautiful waterfall located between Echo Point and Scenic World and although easily accessible and an enjoyable short circuit walk through lush rainforest to a beautiful waterfall, this track is often overlooked by visitors.

Interestingly these falls never dry out so you can visit them any time of the year… but unfortunately, they don’t get the attention they deserve… so pop them on your must-do-list also!

While you’re here discovering this unique panorama, don’t forget to take the time to explore what the villages have to offer – from boutique shopping, a vibrant café culture, interesting country lanes, fine dining with warm country hospitality to rustic cellar doors with magnificent views… you really must check out the rich tapestry of these communities!

Part way between Katoomba and Blackheath the Hydro Majestic Hotel stands proud at Medlow Bath.

Medlow Bath is often a drive-by town on this highway; however, the Hydro Majestic Hotel is impossible to miss.

Sitting upon the clifftop, this historic building stretches a bit over 1-kilometre along the very edge of the escarpment overlooking heritage-listed Megalong Valley… and in its hay-day attracted guests from across the globe including Australian Opera singer Dame Nellie Melba who sang at the hotel a number of times as did English Opera singer Dame Clara Butt and Nellie Stewart; author of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, actor Russell Crowe, Julius Blau of 4711 perfume fame, the Rajah of Pudukkutai with his Australian-born wife, the former Molly Fink… and Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton also paid a retirement visit here, which turned fatal when he suffered a heart attack and died.

The Hydro is iconic in its structure and interior. The five buildings all feature different architectural styles which make this landmark unique and unusual in it’s own way…

… and its prominent Casino dome is a real eye-catcher!

The dome was bought in Chicago and shipped to Australia, before being shipped to the Blue Mountains by bullock train and reassembled at the site.

Blackheath…

Further on Blackheath was our destination and the comfort of the family’s lovely holiday home was a welcome respite. Compete with open fire and all the comforts of home we always enjoy the opportunity to kick back and chill out here!

Blackheath is a beautiful little village with a relaxed lay back feel, which also offers some excellent walks and stunning lookouts.

There’s great cafes, galleries, boutique shops, a golf course and local markets… and it’s surrounded by some of the most spectacular wilderness and jaw-dropping lookouts in the Blue Mountains National Park, including the far less crowded Govetts Leap Lookout.

With its far-reaching views over the densely carpeted Grose Valley… this lookout is yet another place you should not miss – or Pulpit Rock, a multi-tiered lookout that juts out on a dramatic blade of rock perched high above the magnificent Grose Valley. From here you can see the deep eucalyptus-forested valley lined with high walls of sandstone cliffs and Bridal Veil Falls.

There are a number of walking trails in this area and just down the road from where we stay the Cliff Top Track follows the cliff edge from Govetts Leap to Evans Lookout and into the rainforest-clad Grand Canyon Track.

From Evans Lookout keep going past the lookout, down past the treetop canopy, and into the breezy, cool air.

This 6.3-kilometre loop track covers a variety of terrain as it winds around the fern-filled forests on the canyon floor. You feel as if you are in another world here as the track winds through lush greenery and past small waterfalls where massive rock overhangs and huge cliffs tower high above.

This is a great way to spend a few hours if you’re after an energetic hike… but alternatively, Govetts Leap trail is one hike that will certainly get your heart pumping.

This challenging walk descend steeply and follows a harder walking trail past scenic waterfalls and across the Grose Valley. Its only a short walk of just under 2-kilometres… but then what goes down must come up – and it’s a steep climb back out!

The Greater Blue Mountains area is a sandstone plateau that is home to rugged mountains, sheer cliffs, and inaccessible valleys making for a seemingly inhospitable environment. The natural environment of the these mountains is protected by the Wollemi, Blue Mountains, Yengo, Nattai,Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone and Thirimere Lakes National Parks as well as the Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve.

Wherever you gaze over these mountains, especially when the sun is setting or on a clear day, a hazy blue tinge surrounds the range and gives these mountains their famous name.

It is commonly believed that this blue haze is created by an atmosphere thick in dispersed droplets of eucalypt oil that come from the dense foliage blanketing the range. This combines with water vapour to scatter refracted rays of sun light, which then appears blue in colour.

Megalong Valley…

Nestled below the mountain escarpment between the Narrow Neck plateau and the Shipley plateau and not far from Blackheath the Megalong Valley is a stunning area.

The name of this valley is understood to have come from the Gundungurra people and is believed to translate to ‘Valley under the Rock’ – and was first settled in 1838 for grazing cattle and growing cops.

Shale mines were also started, as they were in many other parts of the Blue Mountains, and the township was located along the path of the popular riding and walking ‘Six Foot Track’  with signs of the old township and the old Megalong Valley cemetery still visible along the track today.

The drive into the valley is via a picturesque winding road through stunning rainforest and soon you begin to appreciate how special the area really is – and how tall the towering cliff escarpments really are!

Having passed the majestic ‘Hydro Majestic Blue Mountains Hotel’ on the road from Katoomba to Blackheath this historic and iconic hotel now sat high on the escarpment edge overlooking the Megalong Valley.

As the rugged ranges end and the valley begins to reveal itself the Megalong valley stretches into wide far-reaching fields and as you drive along you will see remnants of old sheds from its past.

Many of these sheds were once used to store the produce from the valley, which was then transferred via flying-fox up to the Hydro Majestic Hotel.

The first owner of this hotel owned much of the Megalong Valley and used it as his garden to feed the guests stopping there on their way to the Six-Foot Track back in the late 1800s.

If you’re looking to make a trip into the Blue Mountains, make sure the Megalong Valley is on your list – there’s horse riding, bushwalking, mountain biking… or you can just sit around the cosy wood fire at Megalong Valley Tearooms and sample their beautiful Devonshire Tea!

This fully licensed cafe/bistro sitting below the escarpments and surrounded by farmland is one of the original tea houses that still serves original 1956 apple pie, homemade scones and a great selection of home style country food. And it has a great second-hand library!

When travelling from Blackheath back to Sydney take the Darling Causeway to Bell for a change of scenery then head east to Mt Tomah and the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens situated 1000-metres above sea level.

This garden features thousands of plants from the southern hemisphere and around the world and boasts stunning panoramic views from the cafe… and the short walk around a small section of this 28-hectare estate is a botanic journey on its own!

Alternatively if you’re continuing west the Great Western Highway continues on towards Mount Victoria and crosses into the Western Plains and beyond… and the Jenolan Caves are not to be missed!

Jenolan Caves…

These caves, are a wonderland above and below the ground where the outstanding crystal formations and underground rivers are believed to be one of the world’s oldest cave systems at more than 340-million years old.

It is here nestled on the western side of Blue Mountains you’ll find an impressive and extensive network of limestone caves and above ground arches known as the Jenolan Caves.

The road into the caves might be rough in places but the view looking over rolling hills back to the escarpment is picturesque… then the last section of the road winds down Five Mile Hill to the famous Grand Arch.

Once there, there are 13 caves in the surrounding hills that will keep you busy for a full day or two – however, 11 are open for public inspection and can only be entered with a guide.

The other two – Devil’s Coach House and Nettle Cave, you can do at your own pace and are free to access.

Devils Coach House is the largest chamber at Jenolan and when the river runs full here the flood waters pass right through the cave. 

Nettle Cave is the upper level of Devil’s Coach House.  Unlike the others this is a dry cave making the formations appear quite different from others – and although a little less spectacular to the other 11 they are still interesting… their names alone adding a bit of mystery and eeriness to the location!

This isn’t just any old place. The Jonavan Caves area is said to be the site of legends and spirits… so beware of the ghosts, vampires, bunyips & water nymphs that live here!

The Orient Cave and the Temple of Baal two of the easier guided tours to tackle of all the caves in the area with most of the others all giant caverns requiring lots of step ladder climbing.

The Orient Cave is entered through the 120-metre long corridor of the Binoomea Cut tunnel, which in the local Aboriginal dialect means ‘dark place in the mountain’.

These caves are so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face… so I wouldn’t wonder that when these caves were first discovered and explored by candlelight and lantern the fragile wonders of the inside of these caves was never fully appreciated as they are today!

The Orient Cave has 358 steps and classed as an easy walk and although in some parts the spaces are a bit more restricted it is comfortable walking the whole way… and there is no climbing or squeezing through gaps. 

The Temple of Baal is also entered through the Binoomea Cut.This cave has only 288 stairs to climb down and back up but is classified as moderate.

Once inside, and with the lights turned on, you can really appreciate the size of the first chamber in this cave, and the beauty of the crystal structures before heading down the spiral staircase known as the dragon’s throat. 

In the second chamber a natural structure represents Baal who the cave is named for.  Baal was an ancient deity responsible for fertility, both the ability of the earth to produce crops and of the growth of its population. 

Most of these caves are ‘wet caves’, which means they still has a natural water flow seeping through and therefore still developing, evolving and growing… and you can see both flowstone and tiny crystal structures starting to form.

The most recognised feature of this cave is the angel’s wing shawl formation and at 9-metres tall this is one of the largest cave shawls in the world – and truly stunning! 

One of the beautiful and popular walks from the Jenolan Caves is the Jenolan River Walk so make sure you save a little time to explore Blue Lake and the waterfalls. 

Head through the Grand Arch and veer to the right around the lake. This is an easy 2.1-kilometre circuit walk through the bush, past lakes and waterfalls and over a swinging bridge. 

The Blue Lake platypus habitat is a dam built in 1908, as part of Jenolan’s hydro-electricity system, which provided lighting to the caves and Caves House Hotel… but I bet its builders had no idea that this tiny lake would one day become an attraction of great wonder!

Water flows through the caves into this lake picking up dissolved limestone along the way and then in the sunlight the dissolved minerals turn the water of the lake a heavenly shade of blue – and it really is quite impressive. It’s very clean and clear making it the perfect spot to watch for platypus.. and there’s lots of wildlife and birdlife including kangaroos, lyrbirds and lizards!

Just past the swinging bridge you’ll find small but a small fall that flows into a crystal clear pond.  While you can’t swim in the upper lake to protect it as a habitat for wildlife you are able to cool off in this pool and picnic nearby.

If you’re travelling Australia and have a spare couple days, visiting the Blue Mountains is an absolute must. It’s one of our favourite places and whilst we’d advise spending a couple of days exploring if you can… it is very easy to visit on a day trip from Sydney, which would be just a taster to have you coming back time and time again!

With our Blue Mountains adventure over our journey now heads south.

Sydney to Eden might be just a straight through road trip for many travellers… but for us, after spending previous trips along this route, we were again reminded why we loved this coastline so much…

so don’t go away… come with us and discover the quaint little towns, pristine coastline, magnificent National Parks, and hidden gems in this stunning part of NSW!

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