West of Sydney are one of the most beautiful and most visited parts of Australia: The Blue Mountains. This week must have been close to my 100th since I first visited The Mountains a baby! (half a century ago). As always, my review attempts to go beyond the superficial glimpse that many visitors have of this amazing place from their bus window!
The Greater Blue Mountains are not just beautiful. They are stunning. Grand sandstone cliffs, twisting forest tracks, gorgeous waterfalls, peaceful glens, cute creeks all fill the 11,400 km² area of “The Mountains”. If the Blue Mountains were a country, it would be the 159th largest in the world. It has almost the same area as the middle eastern country of Qatar and larger than Gambia in Africa. About a quarter of the area is made up of eight National parks. 80,000 people call this area home along with 400 animal species including Spotted-tailed quolls and Koalas call the Mountains their home. See below for my top ten picks.
It was for these reasons, the Blue Mountains became Australia’s 14th World Heritage Area in November 2000.
Where the Mountains disappoints visually is in human development. Even causal visitors will note that there have been many thoughtless and unfortunately developments. In the middle of pristine wilderness, ugly buildings, fencing and towers intrude. The introduction of imported animals and plants over the European residency has impacted the local environment dramatically. At least 47 species of plants are threatened (over one tenth) as are 38 threatened animal species. As one eresidnet describe d the situation in an election period in 2015: “The environment is our product, our industry. So if we don’t look after that, we lose our product.” For an area that attracts 3.5 million visitors a year, with a chunk of them visiting for the parks and hiking, then a massive priority should be to protect the environment. There are some very positive developments including the limiting of neo signs, billboards but as someone who loves the Mountains, more needs to be done.
To help, as a visitor, keep to the trails, take all rubbish with you, bring no dogs or cats and walk quietly. I am amazed at how many people tramp down paths noisily scaring off animals and birds. I even encountered one guy last week, loudly playing hip hop as he walked down the mountain trail. As we crouched over gazing at a timid lyrebird scratching for food less than a metre (3 feet) away, a woman came crashing down. I turned as she approached and gestured that she walk quietly . She shrugged her shoulders and loudly shouted “come on” to her husband. The lyrebird vanished into the undergrowth. Many visitors must think the environment is devoid of life.
This is one of the places I would move to on a heartbeat. The clean air, comfortable climate, community feel, beautiful landscape, good local food and comfortable climate are all very attractive. There are nine months of the year that the temperature is a very comfortable 15 to 27 degrees. During the winter months (June, July August), the average temperature in the Upper Mountains is around 5°C and snow has been known to fall. In Summer (December, January February), the average temperature is around 18°C.
The unemployment rate is slightly lower than the Sydney average and one of the lowest in the state of New South Wales. Higher education opporuntities are limited with most student commuting the two hours to Sydney or moving away.
Accomodation ranges from the old and tired to the revitalised to the modern. Check reviews carefully.
As a tourist, you should feel welcome and comfortable.
When I was a kid, food in the Mountains was pretty monocultural, and very fried. Today, there is a great array of Korean, Chinese, Thai, Italian and modern Australian. Quality and pricing are generally excellent. Some places have amazing views like the Hyrdro Majestic at Medlow Bath:
The most common complaint locals will make about their home is what they perceive to be a lack of a vibrant nightlife. And it is true that the mountains can feel very quiet at night. There are, however, a massive range of live musicians playing most weekends with styles from Classical to avant garde. Local theatre groups provide shows up and down the mountains. There are a couple of excellent cinema venues including the modern Edge cinema at Katoomba, one at Glenbrook and the quirky Vic Flicks at Mount Victoria.
Check out local calendars for whats on. I have been to rallies, open days, food tastings and sky gazing through serendipity
There is a Winter Magic Festival in Katoomba in mid June, Christmas in July events across the mountains, a walking festival, Australia’s biggest Christian convention, several garden festivals and a fantastic film festival.
I rank the Blue Mountains as the 35th best place on the planet to visit!
Top Ten Blue Mountains- see map for location details
- Govetts Leap Walk- don’t just stand at the Lookout-spend two to three hours here. Make sure you take one of the walks
- The Three Sisters -everyone comes here and for good reason. Come early in the morning to beat the crowds
- Wentworth Falls – the tallest waterfall in the mountains
- Scenic Skyway and Railway– It is a tourist trap but an essential stop. Do not let this be your only stop. Many tourists believe this is all there is to the Blue Mountains. Make sure you take a hike to or from the lower railway station. Ride everything multiple times to get your moneys worth from the daily pass!
- Katoomba (the Main Street). Katoomba, quirky art and antique shops, good restaurants and interesting people watching make the trek up and down the street a great experience. Check out the Paragon (see below). My Grandmother went there in the 1940s.
- Leura Village is a lovely place for a meal or coffee followed by a stroll through the Leura Cascades is a peaceful gentle walk spot
- Jenolan Caves provides access to a vast aray of stunning underground caves. Not cheap but I believe worth the investment
- Everglades Historic House and Gardens has stunning architecture and gardens which will absorb your attention for a couple of hours
- ZigZag Railway (currently closed because of fire but due to re open in 2017)
- A less visited but stunning free spot are the The Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens- avoid their cafe though. Its not recommended!