- More than 400 different kinds of animals can be found in this area including rare species such as the spotted-tail quoll, koala, yellow-bellied glider, and the long-nosed potoroo.
- Six Aboriginal language groups treasure connections with this land.
The Blue Mountains are not actually mountains as the name would suggest, but a sandstone plateau where more than one million hectares of ancient rainforest provide a sanctuary for a rich diversity of plant and animal life. Its name comes from the bluish tinge the landscape takes on when the one hundred species of eucalypts that grow here release their warmed oils into the atmosphere.
For more than a century the Blue Mountains have also provided a sanctuary for Sydneysiders, offering a cool respite from the heat of the city with its gorgeous gorges, gum trees and gourmet restaurants.
Extending north from Goulburn to the Upper Hunter Valley, the Greater Blue Mountains region includes the protected areas of several national parks and is considered a natural laboratory for studying the evolution of the prehistoric plants and isolated animal populations that are tucked away in its deep ravines. Six Aboriginal language groups treasure connections with this land. The region illustrates two wild chapters in the same story, facing each other across the low, dry, basin of the Hunter Valley.
These are just some of the reasons the region has been granted World Heritage status and classified as one of Australia’s National Landscapes.
To begin this experience, head west from Sydney on the Great Western Highway through the picturesque hamlets of Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba, and Blackheath.
Katoomba is not only blessed with natural beauty, but here you’ll find a quirky miscellany of brilliant restaurants, buskers, artists, galleries, pubs and historic hotels. Make sure to take the hair-raising ride on the Katoomba Scenic Railway nominated by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s steepest railway. Originally part of the mining tramways constructed in the late 1800s, this cable railway line descends more than 400 metres through a rock tunnel at an alarming gradient of 52 degrees.
A more relaxed view of the valley can be had from a glass-bottomed cable car on the Scenic Skyway which traverses Katoomba Falls Gorge almost 200 metres above the Jamison Valley floor and offers the intrepid thrill seeker an unparalleled view of this marvellous gift from Mother Nature. These are by no means the only adventures on offer here, if you like to live on the edge, local operators can organise rock climbing, abseiling, canyoning and caving.
From Echo Point, the famous geologic formation of the Three Sisters and views over the Jamison Valley are a jaw-dropping sight that go on as far as the eye can see. According to Aboriginal legend, the three closely-spaced, steep-sided sandstone pillars are the embodiment of the sisters Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo who lived in the valley. Take time to climb the giant staircase which rises up from the valley.
Up the road from Katoomba is the town of Blackheath, a great base for visiting the Grose and Megalong Valleys and just east of town there are amazing views to be had at Govett's Leap and Evan's Lookout. It's a great area for walking and a lot of the lookout points and sights are linked by designated walking tracks. These also include Pulpit Rock and Anvil Rock. Perry's Lookdown is the point of departure for the shortest route to the breathtakingly beautiful Blue Gum Valley floor. More than 400 different kinds of animals can be found in this area including rare species such as the spotted-tail quoll, koala, yellow-bellied glider, and the long-nosed potoroo.
A hike along the Six Foot Track from Katoomba to the geological phenomena of the Jenolan Caves will give you a true feeling for the rich history of New South Wales. The limestone caves are very well known in Australia and some sections have been open for visitors since the mid-1800s, yet there are still some sections of the cave system that remain unexplored to this day.
At the Megalong Heritage Centre you’ll discover some aspects of Australia’s rural life and you can meander along rocky ridges and gullies and spot lyrebirds and other wildlife, just as the pioneers did more than 150 years ago. The farm is also famous for Clydesdales, working stock horses and quiet ponies, and is a great place for some free-range riding, or to take Devonshire tea or a barbecue lunch and see the show about Australian stockmen.
The tranquil town of Hartley Vale is a haven of well-preserved, convict-built sandstone buildings. Once the site of mines and industrial facilities, it's now a place where you can indulge in some of Australia's best traditional French country cuisine. Visit the Adams Shed winery and sample the vast variety of wines from the region.
An alternative route and pleasant contrast to the main highway is via the Bell’s Line of Road which starts at Richmond and travels through the Blue Mountains National Park. Drop in to the Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens, named after the mountain on which it stands. The original owners were the Darug Aboriginal people and ‘tomah’ is their word for tree fern. One of the main drawcards here is the extremely rare Wollemi pine, thought to have been extinct for millions of years, until small populations were found recently in remote gorges within the Wollemi National Park. Today there are less than 100 adult trees in the wild and much work is being done to ensure their survival. The park is also famous for its Glow Worm Tunnel, with the insects guiding the way with their eerie lights.
Further along the Bells Line of Road you will see endless gullies and hills and lots of apple orchards. Most people can't resist stocking up on fresh apricots, peaches, apples and avocadoes from the numerous roadside stalls along the way.
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.
Fortunately today, the wilderness is easily accessible via a network of touring routes known as the Greater Blue Mountains Drive, a 1200-kilometre journey that links the national parks and conservation areas that stretch across the Upper Hunter, Mudgee, Goulburn, Southern Highlands and Hawkesbury regions.
Like a great embayment in the wild escarpment that runs up the coast of New South Wales, the Hunter Valley reaches north-west from its mouth at Newcastle. On the southern side, the broken sandstone of Wollemi National Park falls in abrupt scarps to the valley - the northern limit of the Greater Blue Mountains landscape. The north side of the valley is defined by even higher ranges, radiating out like the spokes of a wheel from the rainforest and sub-alpine hub of the Barrington Tops plateau.
Barrington Tops National Park is the southern extremity of the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area that stretches to the Queensland border. On the Gondwana Forest Walk you’ll see plenty of evidence that South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand and even India were joined about 200 million years ago in the ancient super-continent of Gondwana.
Not only is the area one of extreme natural beauty and historic significance, it is home to one of the finest wine growing regions in the country. There are more than 80 wineries to be sampled here, so drop into the Vintage Hunter Wine and Visitors Centre at Pokolbin to plan which ones you want to visit. You’ll also find a gourmet paradise of irresistible delicacies such as wood fired bread, cheeses, stone fruits, grapes, honey, and home made condiments and sauces. Before leaving the wine country visit the Wine Museum at the Golden Grape Estate. From the Hunter Valley it’s approximately three hours by road to Sydney via Newcastle, and the Central Coast.
The close proximity of the Greater Blue Mountains to Sydney makes it an ideal day trip; however to truly experience the region and its many attractions will take at least several days. Although this significant national landscape is right on Sydney’s doorstep, you’ll feel like you’re a world away.
Author: Kris Madden on behalf of Tourism Australia. This article is copyright free and may be reproduced.