The Blue Mountains is one of those places that I keep returning to again and again. I just love it up there.
Our weekend there in the middle of April was my fourth time visiting in a year and the second time I have been there in autumn – my favourite season in the Blue Mountains.
With Sydney seriously lacking in autumn colours, the Blue Mountains are one of the closest areas for me to experience them. Throw in some incredible hiking trails, welcoming communities, delicious food and you got yourself a pretty awesome weekend away.
This time around I wanted to explore further afield than my usual haunts of Katoomba, Wentworth Falls and Leura, so we decided to drive into the mountains via an alternative route that would take us through the mountain apple kingdom of Bilpin, the celebrated botanical gardens of Mount Tomah and the tucked away village of Mount Wilson, famous for its magnificent private gardens and autumnal colours.
We left Sydney early on a Saturday morning, mountain-bound.
Bilpin is famous for its apples. You can’t really miss that fact when driving through as there are signs lining the roadside for just about everything apples: apple picking, apple juice, apple pie, apple cider.
It was the apple pie that interested me.
Fruit pies aren’t a big thing in this part of the world and as eating a tasty fruit-filled pie is one of my favourite earthly delights, I don’t pass up an opportunity when one is presented to me. It doesn’t happen often enough over here.
We stopped at The Fruit Bowl along the main road for a slice of pie. On my last visit to the Blue Mountains a couple of months ago the guy at the Tourist Information Centre told us that the Bilpin Fruit Bowl had the best apple pie. Alas it was closed when we drove through Bilpin on the way back to Sydney so we had to go across the road to The Pines Orchard for our pie fix instead. It wasn’t very good. The pastry was reminiscent of cardboard and the apples weren’t cooked properly and had a crunch.
Luckily the apple pie at the Fruit Bowl was a lot better. The pastry was flaky and buttery – how it should be – and the apples were beautifully soft and delicious. It was probably the best apple pie I have had in Australia.
You should go there.
The day had turned a cloudy grey since ascending into the mountains from Sydney. I don’t mind a chill in the air, but grey skies tend to bum me out. You can blame years of living in perennially grey London for that.
Walking into the Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens and through the visitor centre we were presented with a magnificent view over the gardens and surrounding mountains. I was excited to see lots of deciduous trees of various shades of fire gracing the gardens. The grey skies were forgotten and I was eager to get out and explore the expansive grounds.
We found a copse of Japanese maples soon after leaving the visitor centre. They are my favourite autumn tree with their delicate crimson leaves. The ground was covered in them and the sight of the perfect little leaves lit up the happiness in my heart. Like leaf-peepers porn.
I must have been from New England in my past life.
Wandering the grounds we found many more trees that were ablaze with colour as well as beautiful native trees in their year-round green coats.
The gardens were well-tended with neatly mown lawns and beds of flowers and small shrubs lining the concrete pathways. For a less manicured experience, we headed to the corner of the gardens where the Lady Fairfax walk began through darkened rainforest. Giant sassafras and coachwood trees towering into the sky around us as we walked along a path through the fern covered undergrowth. Slippery leaves coated the trail and tree roots grew haphazardly out of the ground. The walk was short and only took us 15 minutes, leading us back to the entrance. It felt a world apart from the rest of the gardens.
I enjoyed everywhere we discovered in the gardens but I think my favourite part was the Plant Explorers walk. It is a quiet pathway lined with interpretive signs telling about the early explorers who travelled to far-flung parts of Asia to collect specimens of plants that are now common place in western gardens of today. It was interesting to read about these intrepid explorer’s lives and travels in a time when travel in Asia really was such an epic adventure into the unknown. The path was lit up gold from the shedding leaves of Japanese spicebush trees creating a magical, fairy-tale feel.
A feeling that I associate with autumn.
After a couple of glorious hours spent at the gardens it was time to venture to the remote village of Mount Wilson for more autumn-y goodness.
I hadn’t heard of Mount Wilson until I happened upon a blog post about it a few weeks ago. It sounded like a lovely spot to admire the autumn colours and now that we have a car, it would be easy to visit. It is not on any bus routes.
Driving into Mount Wilson I was surprised to see so many people around. I may not have heard of the place before but countless others obviously had. Mount Wilson is so tiny that it doesn’t really have a town centre just a small church, a community notice board and a Village Hall. Kind of like where I grew up in Te Hihi, although we had a petrol station too. Winning.
Everyone appeared to be in the village to visit the private gardens which come alive with colour in autumn. As we had just been to the botanical gardens we didn’t visit any in Mount Wilson, preferring to walk along the roadside path to enjoy the prevalent autumn colours and clusters of fairy-tale toadstools throughout the village for free. The churchyard had some striking maple trees with discarded leaves of bright colours coating the ground.
The weekly market was in full swing at the Village Hall when we arrived. A man at a stall near the entrance had bought along a basketful of puppies to keep him company. Seriously, many puppies tucked up together in a blanket lined basket. Just about the cutest thing I have ever seen. I tried to get a photo but there were numerous small children fawning over them and I couldn’t get close.
Most of the stall holders were well into their golden years so the stalls inside the Hall held hand knitted items, preserves and chutneys, and bric-a-brac. It reminded me of my Grandma.
Further along the main village road there was a farm that had opened its ground for chestnut collecting, something that I haven’t done before but seems oh so autumn. We just had to do it.
We paid our $5 each and were given thick gardening gloves and a wicker basket to collect the chestnuts in. Heading down the grassy slope to the field of chestnut trees, we saw a lot of empty husks and lots of people searching among the brown leaves for whole ones. I wondered if we would find any at all.
After only managing to find a few and realising that de-husking was a lot easier if you stamped on and rolled the chestnuts first – we moved onto another tree.
And we hit the jackpot.
Loads of brown de-husked chestnuts were littering the ground, shaken from their prickly outer shells from the birds in the trees above. We collected a good amount in our basket and called it a day.
I have only ever had chestnuts cooked into dishes before, never by themselves. I wasn’t sure if I would like them so we didn’t want to collect too many. Baking them at home in the oven later, I wasn’t convinced on the first taste but after trying them again the next day – they grew on me.
We capped off our visit to Mount Wilson with a short hike to a waterfall. The forest was damp and shaded. Mushrooms grew from the tangled undergrowth and up moss-covered trees. The clear pools below the falls would have been inviting on a hot summers day.
After checking into our cosy hostel in Katoomba, we walked into town to the grand old Carrington Hotel for a craft beer by the fire.
Thus we completed a perfect autumn’s day in the Blue Mountains. All that was missing was the Pumpkin Spice Lattes.