72 hours in the Blue Mountains
Pack your bushwalking boots and your abseiling gear and buckle up for a host of blood-pumping pursuits in the Blue Mountains.
For the active traveller, few regions in NSW offer the rewards of the Blue Mountains. The whole region is virtually one oversized, World Heritage-listed national park where the landscapes vary from rugged escarpments and sheer sandstone cliffs to picturesque waterfalls and well-worn walking tracks dotted with ancient flora.
In the Blue Mountains National Park, it’s possible to abseil, canyon, mountain-bike and bushwalk until the cows come home, while the charming townships that dot the region offer plenty of diversions in terms of food, coffee and shopping. This itinerary is designed for folk who want to spend their Blue Mountains long weekend on the move rather than in a hammock. It’s presuming you have a reasonable degree of fitness and a good touch of derring-do.
Let’s get going.
- Test your endurance with abseiling and mountain biking
- Bushwalk in World Heritage-listed national parks
- See spectacular scenery on horseback
- Taste delicious fare at laidback cafes and elegant restaurants
- Explore a private garden that never seems to end
The Blue Mountains region is a 90min drive west of the city.
Your action-filled weekend starts at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, en route to the Blue Mountains, and about an hour’s drive from Sydney. The stadium was the venue for the canoeing and kayaking slalom events at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and offers high-octane guided whitewater rafting tours. The 90min adventure is recommended for people who are generally fit and strong swimmers.
When you’ve dried off, jump back in the car and head 20min to Glenbrook, the mountains first official township, and home to Kickaboom, a very cool little cafe with great coffee and house-made liquorice bread. Tuck into a decent brunch to fuel you for this afternoon’s walking.
Accommodation is the next thing to tick off your list. We’ve got two suggestions, dependent on your budget. If you don’t want to spend a fortune, try the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba (about 45min from Glenbrook), a grand old lady that first opened in 1883. If you want to splurge, drive 10min along the Great Western Highway to Medlow Bath and The Hydro Majestic, an impeccably restored landmark that oozes luxury.
Wherever you are in the Blue Mountains, you’ll be surrounded by national park. The World-Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park consists of six separate areas – Katoomba, Blackheath, Glenbrook, Lower Grose Valley, Mount Wilson and the Southern Blue Mountains – and covers some 2,680sq km, about the size of Luxembourg.
Naturally, the bushwalking here is sublime – and the choices endless. This afternoon, choose between two options. The first is the two-hour Govetts Leap descent in Blackheath, about 20min from Katoomba and 12min from Medlow Bath. Start at the Govetts Leap Lookout, which has stunning views over escarpments, cliffs and the Grose Valley.
This is a challenging walk (graded a “4” by NSW National Parks), steep in parts, with lots of steps – but the rewards are pretty spectacular, in the form of waterfalls, hanging swamps and the rare and endangered plant known as Fletcher’s drumsticks.
Alternatively, try the slightly easier (but longer) Grand Canyon Track, also in Blackheath, and starting from Evans lookout. Folk have been walking this famous track for more than a century, taking in the sandstone walls, lush vegetation and waterfalls. The 6.3km loop should take you about four hours.
If you’re new to bushwalking, consider hiring a personal locator beacon (PLB) for safety. You can pick one up from the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre in Blackheath.
Whitewater rafting? An afternoon of bushwalking? All that mountain air? You must be starving. And thirsty. Let’s start with a drink at Katoomba’s Bootlegger Bar (whisky is the house specialty), then walk 5min down Katoomba Street to 8Things Eatery, which specialises in global street food – at affordable prices.
Still have a little energy to expend? Ogle the moon and its craters, the Orion nebula and the rings of Saturn on a Dry Sky Stargazing Tour with Blue Mountains Stargazing at Wentworth Falls. Tours depart from between 7pm and 9pm, depending on the time of year.
Slept well? Great, because you’re about to put your body through its paces this morning. It’s time for an abseiling experience. But first, food. Katoomba’s Pomegranate Cafe does a mean big brekkie – ideal scrambling-down-a-mountain kind of food.
The Blue Mountains Adventure Company in Katoomba – opposite the train station – is the starting point for your four-hour Introductory Abseiling adventure. Don’t worry if abseiling is new territory: the experience begins with a series of small abseils to help you find your feet. You gradually tackle higher and higher drops, until, by the end of the four hours, you’ll be taking a 30-metre drop in your stride.
This afternoon, we’re going a little easier on you. First off, indulge in three tiers of deliciousness – think sublime scones, perfect pastries, finger sandwiches – and a glass of bubbles as part of the legendary high tea served at Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa.
That’s followed by a leisurely horse ride at Megalong Valley Farm, a 30min drive away. On the one-hour escorted Wilderness Riding Tour, you’ll explore the property’s 800-plus hectares, take in views of the valley and maybe spot a resident kangaroo.
Views are also on the menu tonight when you dine at Echoes Restaurant & Bar at Echoes Boutique Hotel in Katoomba, with vistas across to the Jamieson Valley. The food is modern Australian with an Asian flourish (like a truffled mushroom wonton broth), and it’s just as good as the panorama.
After dinner, drive to the Katoomba Falls Reserve (two minutes away down Cliff Drive) and take the Night-lit Walk. The 1.3km stroll is well lit and gives you a very different perspective of features such as Orphan Rock and the falls themselves.
A longish drive this morning but totally worth it – and the scenery en route is also fabulously good.
Mayfield Garden is a privately-owned garden in Oberon, to the west of the Blue Mountains. Made up of two main garden areas covering more than 100 hectares, this is an ideal place to just meander for an hour or two. Don’t miss the Water Garden, lined with oaks and copper beech, and its ponds, which bring Monet’s Giverny firmly to mind; the Bluestone Bridge; Copper Tree Fountain; and the giant chess set.
Before all of that, though, head to the cafe for breakfast (bookings are advisable, call 02 6336 3131), where you’re very likely to nosh on produce pulled straight from Mayfield’s rich soil.
Enough easy ambling for one day. This afternoon you’re going to try your hand (or legs) at e-biking with Blue Mountains Bikes. The beginner-friendly, three-to-four-hour-long Hanging Rock Trail begins in Blackheath, and traverses the Burramoko Ridge fire trail en route to spectacular Hanging Rock and its incredible views over the Grose Valley.
Blue Mountains Bikes provides everything you’ll need, from bikes and helmets to snacks and water bottles, along with plenty of tuition and handy tips along the way.
Phew! You’ve been busy. Time to head home for a well-earned rest.