If you are in Sydney, on an Australia vacation, and want to experience nearby exceptionally dramatic scenery, visit the extraordinary Blue Mountains. They are a mere 50 kilometres/31 miles away to the west of the city. The name is derived from the blue haze you encounter when looking at them from a distance. The haze is believed to be caused by the vast forests of eucalyptus (commonly called gum trees) which, in the hot sun, discharge a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from their leaves, making the haze look blue.
Although it is very easy to visit here on a day trip from Sydney, do consider staying at least one night so that you can explore a few of the towns. You can perhaps do at least one bushwalk, plus you’ll have more of an opportunity to eat at some of the excellent restaurants to be found here.
A Few Facts about the Blue Mountains
On your initial arrival, you will find yourself at the Mountains’ foothills. The Blue Mountains Range is actually a range of mountains, plateaus, and escarpments which extends a further 100 kilometres/62 miles. The highest point is Mount Bindo, with an elevation of 1360 metres/ 4470 feet.
The Greater Blue Mountains, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site, combine breathtaking views, rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep, inaccessible valleys, and swamps teeming with wildlife. The area is widely renowned and extensively used for natural sightseeing, but also for bushwalking, rock climbing, canyoning, and other outdoor recreational pursuits.
There are eight connected conservation areas in the region, consisting of seven national park areas and a conservation reserve. This includes the Blue Mountains National Park, which has some truly fantastic scenery and excellent hiking trails. Some of the gorges are as deep as 760 metres/2,490 feet.
What You Can See and Do Here
Probably the most impressive sight is the Three Sisters rock formation on the north escarpment of the Jamison Valley. They are close to the town of Katoomba and are one of the Blue Mountains’ best known attractions. With actual given names – Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo – the Sisters were formed by land erosion. The soft sandstone of the Blue Mountains was eroded over time by wind, rain, and rivers – causing the cliffs to be slowly broken up. The commonly told Aboriginal legend of the Three Sisters is that they were members of the Katoomba tribe who fell in love with three men from the neighbouring Nepean tribe, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters. A major tribal battle ensued and the sisters were turned to stone by an elder to protect them. The character of the Three Sisters changes throughout the day and throughout the seasons, as the sunlight brings out its magnificent colours. They are also floodlit at night, looking even more stunning, set against the black background of the night sky.
A bushwalking trail leads from the Three Sisters down to the valley floor via more than 800 well-maintained steel and stone steps called The Giant Stairway. Once at the bottom, you will have amazing views of the Three Sisters and feel you can almost reach out and touch them. The route follows the Dardanelles Pass to the Leura Forest along to the Federal Pass and then back up to Echo Point. It is a 3-hour circular walk altogether. The stairway is fairly strenuous as the steps are quite steep. Then there is another 90 minute walk on The Federal Pass trail which leads to the base of Katoomba Falls and the Katoomba Scenic Railway. Walkers who don’t wish to climb back to the top can take the Scenic Railway back.
The Jenolan Caves are limestone caves located within the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve in the Central Tablelands region to the west of the Blue Mountains. The caves are the most visited of several similar types of limestone caves in Australia, and are the largest ancient open caves in the world. The cave network is very large, following the course of a subterranean section of the Jenolan River. There are over 40 kilometres/25 miles of multi-level passages and more than 300 entrances with eleven well-it show caves accessible to visitors. What’s more, the complex is still undergoing active exploration.
The Town of Katoomba
Katoomba is the most visited town in the Blue Mountains. Once a coal mining centre, it is now well served by hotels and guest houses, the oldest and most prominent of which is the Carrington Hotel, established in 1882 and occupying the highest point in town. It also has a number of excellent restaurants. The Edge Cinema near here has one of the largest cinema screens in the southern hemisphere. You can enjoy a 40-minute documentary entitled, The Edge. This film was exclusively produced for the cinema and offers an outstanding Blue Mountains wilderness experience. This movie takes you to places in the Blue Mountains which you might never be able to discover for yourself.
Katoomba Scenic World is a privately owned tourist attraction and home to four specific attractions, of which the most famous is the Katoomba Scenic Railway, the steepest cable-driven funicular railway in the world, originally constructed for a coal and oil shale mining operation. The Scenic Skyway is another cable-driven conveyance at Scenic World and travels across a gorge above the Katoomba Falls. It has a glass bottom which provides breathtaking views.
The Blue Mountains Music Festival of Folk, Blues and Roots is a three day festival featuring selected artists from around the world and across Australia. In a variety of venues in Katoomba, you can hear world class musicians. All weekend the site is alive with the sounds of acoustic guitars, dobros, mandolins, fiddles, accordions, concertinas, bouzoukis, banjos, pianos, drums, percussion, flutes, pipes, whistles, and voices.
Other Blue Mountain Towns
Leura has been given the nickname of “The Jewel in the Mountains Crown” and is also known as “The Garden Village”. It is another popular town which boasts many privately-owned gardens which are open at selected times of the year to the public. The Leura Garden Festival and Leura Village Fair are popular events held in October each year. Leura is also known for its galleries and restaurants. The Everglades Historic House & Gardens is open to the public all year round and features sandstone terraces, cool climate trees and shrubs, views of the Jamison Valley, as well as great picnic areas. From Leura, you can walk to Sublime Point Road where the views of the Blue Mountains are simply awe-inspiring. It is here that you will find one of the world’s most spectacular golf courses.
A visit to the Leuralla Toy and Railway Museum shows you Australia’s largest collection of toys, dolls, teddy bears, and model railways.
A walk along Cliff Drive takes you to the spectacular Katoomba Falls, plus many other natural scenic attractions.
If visiting the town of Falconbridge, you can take in the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum. The property is a stone cottage on an extensive block of land known as Springwood, which was originally owned by the Australian artist and writer, Norman Lindsay. It was converted into a gallery to accompany all his paintings, drawings, etchings, woodcuts, and ship models he produced throughout his life. It is not only popular for all the artwork on display, but also for its beautiful gardens.
What Else is There in the Blue Mountains
More than 400 different kinds of animals live within the rugged gorges and tablelands and include threatened or rare species such as the spotted-tailed quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider, the long-nosed potoroo, the green and golden bell frog, and the Blue Mountains water skink.
Popular climbing destinations include the Centennial Glen Cliffs near Blackheath, Mount Victoria, Mount Piddington, and Mount Boyce. Climbing is currently banned on The Three Sisters.
Canyoning in the Blue Mountains is a popular sport and caters to various skill levels. It carries inherent dangers, but for those with the appropriate skills looking to take a guided trip, there are many great opportunities to experience a different view of the Blue Mountains.
There is no lack of attractions in the Blue Mountains and with its proximity to Sydney, why wouldn’t you head there and take in all that superb scenery on your next Australia vacation?