The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is an accessible wilderness, covering more than one million hectares of rainforest, canyons, eucalypt forest and heath lands in New South Wales.
This landscape extends north to the Hunter Valley and includes the protected areas of the Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Yengo, Nattai, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone, and Thirlmere Lakes national parks, as well as the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve.
Six Aboriginal language groups treasure connections with this land. These connections include cultural practices such as songs, stories and art, as well as knowledge about places, landforms, plants, animals and natural resources passed down through generations.
The Blue Mountains are not, as the name suggests, a range of mountains, but a sandstone plateau which shelters a rich diversity of plant and animal life. The name comes from the bluish tinge the landscape assumes when eucalyptus forests release warmed oils into the atmosphere. The colour is best seen when viewed from a distance.
Although known to Indigenous Australians for thousands of years, the Blue Mountains were thought to be impenetrable by the early settlers until a group of three explorers, known as Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, found a way through this wilderness in 1813. Many of the towns and natural features of the region are named in their honour.
The Blue Mountains National Park protects an unusually diverse range of animal and plant life. There are rare and ancient plants and isolated animal populations tucked away in its deep gorges, and more than one hundred species of eucalypts grow here.
The region is considered a natural laboratory for studying the evolution of eucalypts because the region has such a wide range of species. There are tall forest eucalypts and rainforest species, open forests and woodland species.
The Greater Blue Mountains includes a number of ancient plant species, the most famous of which is the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis). This living fossil dates back to the age of the dinosaurs. It was thought to have been extinct for millions of years, but small populations were found recently in remote gorges within the Wollemi National Park.
More than 400 different kinds of animals live within the gorges and tablelands of the Greater Blue Mountains landscape, including rare species such as the spotted-tail quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider, and the long-nosed potoroo.
The area is also home to the distinctive geological phenomena of the Jenolan Caves, an ancient network of eroded limestone.
Another geological phenomenon sits on the edge of the Blue Mountains plateau. The Three Sisters are an amazing sight: three closely-spaced, steep-sided sandstone pillars that according to Aboriginal legend are the embodiment of three sisters – Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo – who lived in the Jamison Valley.
This National Landscape received World Heritage listing in 2000. The unique plants, animals, and land formations in this outstanding environment tell a powerful story of Australia’s natural and cultural history. Although this National Landscape is on Sydney’s doorstep, it feels a world away.
Things to see and do
- Learn about the songlines, bush tucker and the Greater Blue Mountains’ rock art on an Aboriginal walkabout tour.
- Drop into the quaintly crooked Ettamogah Pub at the start of the Greater Blue Mountains Drive for a taste of true Australian nostalgia.
- Visit the Adams Shed winery in Hartley and sample 20 different wines from the region. Walk the Six Foot Track from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves for a true feeling of New South Wales’s rich history.
- Enjoy the Greater Blue Mountains Drive, a 1,200-kilometre journey that links the mountains, valleys, national parks and regional attractions of this vast and spectacular World Heritage landscape.
- Experience the view from Echo Point, with the famous Three Sisters in the foreground and the Jamison Valley and Mount Solitary behind.
- Climb the Giant Staircase which rises from the Jamison Valley.
- Take a ride through sandstone cliffs and rock tunnels on the historic Katoomba Scenic Railway. Ride the Zig Zag Railway at Lithgow.
- Marvel at the aerial view from a glass-bottomed cable car on the Scenic Skyway.
- Experience the thrill of canyoning at the Grand Canyon Track.
- Go bushwalking on some of the 140 kilometres of trails in the area.
- Explore the underground wonders of the Jenolan Caves.
- Take a trip to Jenolan Caves and explore the limestone caves carved by underground rivers.
- Stock up on fresh apricots, peaches, apples and avocadoes in season from roadside stalls at Kurrajong.
- View the remnants of the Great North Road built by convict labour linking Sydney to the Hunter Valley.
- See the eerie lights of Glow Worm Tunnel in the Wollemi National Park.
- Visit the Wollemi Pine, a living fossil, at Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens.
- Ride a horse through the Megalong Valley.
- From Sydney, head west on the M4 Motorway and onto the Great Western Highway. Travel through picturesque towns such as Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba, Medlow Bath and Blackheath. The distance from Sydney to Blackheath is 133 kms and takes approximately two and a half hours.
- An alternative route is via the Bell’s Line of Road which starts at Richmond and travels through to Mount Tomah and across to Mount Victoria. This drive travels through the Blue Mountains National Park, and is a pleasant contrast to the main highway.
- The Blue Mountains can also be reached by rail from Central Railway Station in Sydney. Trains generally run every hour and take approximately two hours to reach Katoomba. Many coach companies offer day trips from Sydney to the Blue Mountains.
- The Greater Blue Mountains Drive is a network of touring routes linking the national parks and conservation areas that stretch through to the Upper Hunter, Mudgee, Goulburn, the Southern Highlands and the Hawkesbury.