The Blue Mountains are not what you would picture when you think of Australia.
Deep green forested mountains, beautiful waterfalls and small mountain villages where it is known to snow in winter. Only two hours by train from Sydney, the Blue Mountains are far removed from Coastal life in Australia’s biggest city.
Mostly famous for the rock formations, the Three Sisters, a lot of travellers catch the train up from Sydney for a day trip to see these iconic rocky outcrops, wander around a bit on some of the short hiking trails and have lunch and a look at the shops in Katoomba. This would be a great day trip if you are short on time but the charms of the Blue Mountain region are best appreciated by lingering.
I first visited the Blue Mountains for a weekend back in 2005 during my first round living in Sydney. In those days I was in my early twenties and had very different priorities in life than I do now. Fun for me then was smoking, drinking and partying. I thought the mountains were pretty but I sure as hell wasn’t going to do anything crazy like hiking in them.
Fast forward nine years and that is exactly why I wanted to re-visit the Blue Mountains.
I found a cheap hostel in Katoomba, called the Flying Fox Backpackers. Our private double room was cosy and we met some cool people during our stay. The lounge had comfy couches, lots of books, a friendly Hostel cat and fireplace. There was a free pancake breakfast each morning and the hostel was only five minutes walk from town.
Katoomba is the main tourist hub in the Blue Mountains because of its proximity to the Three Sisters. It has a tidy main street with lots of eateries, small specialty shops, historic buildings and hotels. Katoomba started out as a small mining town before it’s metamorphosis into a fashionable retreat after the building of the historic Carrington Hotel in 1882. It is the administrative headquarters of Blue Mountains City Council.
Our first day in Katoomba was ANZAC day, a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand recognising and honouring the servicemen who have fought in conflicts around the world. The date itself, 25th April, is the anniversary of one of the most significant campaigns involving Australians and New Zealanders in World War I, when the allied forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey to go up against the Ottoman Turks. Both sides suffered a massive loss of life. Gallipoli is now a popular pilgrimage for young Australians and New Zealanders.
There was a small parade along the main street which we went along to watch. The procession only lasted about five minutes as Katoomba is such a small community but it was great seeing all the elderly returned servicemen in their uniforms, with medals proudly on display, that came down to march in the parade. It was a cold and drizzly day so we looked around the shops after the parade then when the sun came out later we decided to walk the half hour to the Three Sisters.
Walking through suburban Katoomba, I was amazed by the bright colours of the trees. The crisp mountain air and the brightly coloured autumn trees made me feel as if I was back in Canada. Amongst the shedding trees, daffodils were sprouting.
Mother Nature is a bit confused around here.
At Echo Point, a low mist hung over the Blue Mountain’s most famous rock formations but within fifteen minutes it slowly lifted to reveal stunning views over the densely forested Jamison Valley.
We did the short hike down to the platform near the base of the Three Sisters where the mist swirled around us. The sun was sinking lower in the sky and lit up the mist a brilliant orange. It was truly beautiful. Walking along the valley’s edge back to town we stopped to watch the sun set over the mountains. They really did look blue in the low evening light.
It is commonly believed that the blue haze that gives the Blue Mountain’s their name is, according to the Blue Mountains Heritage website, ‘created by the atmosphere whereby dispersed droplets of Eucalypt oil combine with dust particles and water vapour to scatter refracted rays of light which are largely blue in colour’. Whatever the cause, it is a beautiful sight, especially at sunset.
Katoomba also offers some fantastic places to eat.
We ate lunch on our first day at Sanwiye, a small Korean Restaurant with an amazing chicken bulgogi (like a stir fry, a VERY delicious one). Washed down with a natural grape juice it was an incredible introduction to Katoomba’s food scene.
Down the road, entering The Yellow Deli feels like you have stepped into Hobbiton with its beautiful polished wooden interior, a split level with a spiral staircase leading up to it, a roaring fireplace and small handmade wooden tables and chairs. It is run by a religious ‘tribe’ that live together and share resources in the tight knit community that they have created. I didn’t end up eating here but I did have an incredible hot apple cider which made me feel even more like I was in New England in Autumn.
The Old City Bank Bar is part of the Carrington Hotel. It is a British style pub with high ceilings and historic photos of the area adorning the walls. We sampled a few of their expansive range of beers and had delicious pulled pork sandwiches.
We packed lunches for the days we spent hiking from the Hominy Bakery in town which had yummy quiches, focaccia, sausage rolls, apple pies, cookies and other sweets. We bought lots of passionfruit from the Fruit and Veggie Market near our Hostel. It was only $2 for ten passionfruit which is what you would pay for only two in Sydney!
Everything we ate was amazing. Katoomba turned out to be a foodie heaven.
Luckily after the abysmal weather for much of our first day, it cleared for the rest of our long weekend. Hiking was the main reason for my wanting to return to the Blue Mountains so hiking was what we did for a large proportion of Saturday and Sunday.
I had heard that Wentworth Falls is a beautiful spot so we took the train the short distance to the small township of the same name, a lot quieter than the touristed Katoomba. There is a hike that leads from the township to the falls themselves called the Charles Darwin Walk. It is named as such because the man himself travelled through Wentworth Falls back in 1836, toward the end of his long voyage as a naturalist on HMS Beagle. His trip on horseback into the Blue Mountains was the only inland trip he did in Australia.
After walking along a quiet bush path for about twenty minutes we came across the small waterfall, Weeping Rock, and a small plaque stating that Darwin had passed through in 1836.
Shortly after, we arrived at the mighty Wentworth Falls, with amazing valley views. A cliffside path took us down steep rock hewn stairs with dramatic views of the Jamison Valley below. Stopping at a viewpoint at the bottom of the first set of stairs, there were gorgeous views of the falls in all of their splendour.
We carried on down, further into the valley. Steep steel ladders led the last section of the hike down to the valley floor. The path was levelled out. Surrounded by thick foliage and tangled tree roots, there was an absence of light filtering through to the forest floor. It wasn’t a popular path and we didn’t see many other people until we started heading upwards and out of the valley again.
Labouring up endless stairs we re-joined the tourist throngs that had taken the shorter paths skirting the Valley’s edge. More incredible views from the top. We stopped at The Conservation Hut Café for a drink, before walking through the quiet residential streets of Wentworth Falls and back to the train station.
Our last day we did the Federation Trail hike from the Three Sisters to the valley floor and up to Leura Cascades. Similar to the day before at Wentworth Falls, it involved many, many stairs down, then hiking along a deserted path through the thick bush on the valley floor, before heading back up, to the Leura Cascades where we stopped for lunch.
We saw a Lyrebird, which is like a native bush chicken. It has beautiful long black tail feathers and scratches around in the undergrowth with its powerful claws. It is well known for its uncanny ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds, but the one we saw wasn’t very chatty.
From Leura Cascades we got a bit lost trying to make it to the township of Leura but eventually managed to find our way after wandering along back roads for a while.
Leura is another quaint mountain town and in my opinion is the most beautiful of the Blue Mountain towns we visited. There was a small market on when we went there, held in the tiny Town Hall, with stalls selling second-hand books, local produce, handmade jewellery, homemade food and other knick knacks.
There were lots of interesting shops selling candles, art, fashion and tasteful souvenirs lining the quaint main street. A grassy strip with flowering bushes and park benches ran down the middle of the road. It is a town I would like to explore more of on my next visit.
In the Blue Mountains I have found my Australian hiking paradise. And so close to my new home in Sydney. With cheap rail tickets and a great hostel to stay at, I will definitely be returning for my mountain fix on a regular basis.
This captivating area is definitely worth the time to explore and I am already looking forward to my next visit for Yulefest next month.