Up and Away: a Sydney to Blue Mountains Driving Holiday

Water flowing down Empress Falls on the Wentworth Path in the Blue Mountains National Park

It’s hard to believe you’re only a 90-minute drive from Sydney. The Blue Mountains are wild in the truest sense of the word, and Sarah and Chris are ready to immerse themselves in nature with a side of small-town life.

We made a New Year’s resolution and now it’s time to stick to it. As fun as it is to explore right across Australia, Chris and I have neglected places close to home. So, for this adventure, we’re collecting a car from Apex Car Rentals at Sydney Airport and heading west.

To the Top: Sydney to Katoomba

Scenic view across the Blue Mountains National Park and the Three Sisters in Katoomba

Because we live just south of Sydney’s CBD, Chris and I don’t often think to explore Sydney’s more far-flung suburbs. But have car will travel, and it’s barely a detour to Cabramatta. Lots of people with Vietnamese heritage live here, which makes for great eating. Chris wants soup, so we stop at Pho Tau Bay, just one of many great spots in the neighbourhood. The pho, topped with thinly sliced beef, is delicious and sets us up for the rest of the drive.

To my eternal embarrassment, it’s been years since I’ve been to the Blue Mountains, so we decide to start with the basics – and that’s Scenic World. We take the Scenic Railway to the rainforest, follow the boardwalk to the Cableway and head back up. Then it’s on to the Skyway, a cable car suspended 270 metres above the valley below. The views as it glides slowly through mid-air towards the Three Sisters are magnificent.

It’s a hot day, so we decide to visit Minnehaha Falls (and not just because it has a great name). It’s a quick walk to the falls, which drop 20 metres into a deep pool where you can take a refreshing dip. And to think we were in an apartment this morning.

Grand Vision: Katoomba to Blackheath

Couple enjoying views of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park along the Grand Canyon track, Blackheath

Before we set off from Katoomba in the morning, we grab coffees and stroll to Beverly Place, where a local community group and Street Art Murals Australia have established the Katoomba Street Art Walk. It’s a colourful backdrop for a morning brew.

Wherever we go, Chris researches the best hikes and he’s discovered there are hundreds crisscrossing the Blue Mountains National Park. In the end, we go with the Grand Canyon track. Partly because we’re hoping most people looking for a longer outing might be attracted by the selection of walks closer to Katoomba.

We set off and are soon completely submerged in thick rainforest. It’s peaceful and lush, like the sort of place you’d imagine forest fairies would live if they existed. The stone steps are worn down from the thousands of feet that have trodden over them, and the fronds of enormous tree ferns hang over the path and the trickling creeks that run alongside it. It’s shaded for the most part, but then we make it to a clearing. “Guess that’s why they call it the Grand Canyon,” Chris says, as we take a moment to stare out over the epic valley. It takes us just over three hours to get around the circuit, and I’m almost disappointed when we get back to the car.

There are plenty of hours left in the day, so we do a quick car park change into clothes that are less outdoorsy. Lilianfels is one of the Blue Mountains’ most luxurious hotels, and it serves high tea in its lounge overlooking the gardens. It’s an incredible treat – and not something we’d normally do – but refuelling with fancy finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and a selection of tiny pastries served up on a tiered silver platter seems like the right way to top off an already excellent day.

The Downhill Run: Blackheath to Sydney

Winding path through autumnal trees at Mount Tomah’s Blue Mountains Botanic Garden with views of Blue Mountains National Park

Rather than go straight back down the mountain to get home, we’ve decided to head down the western side of the range to Lithgow. From there, we turn back towards the coast, taking the Bells Line of Road. It’s named after Archibald Bell, who was shown the route along a traditional Aboriginal pathway by two Darug men in 1823.

We pull over at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mount Tomah, stroll through some of the leafy collections and grab lunch in the kiosk. Now there’s just one more stop to make before we get home and that’s in Bilpin. This is a spot famous for its apples – just about everyone who goes to the Blue Mountains comes back with a huge bag full they bought at a roadside stall – so, of course, some smart souls have decided to put them to another good use. Shane McLaughlin made his first batch of Hillbilly Cider in 2007 and now uses a unique apple he called the Julie – the seedling was discovered in the McLaughlin’s orchard – to make Sweet Julie Cider. There’s also just a tasty cider made from heritage apples, a scrumpy and a pear cider. All are made from pure fruit, and you can drop in to taste them (and, mostly importantly, get some to take home) from their rustic shed. Cheers to weekends well spent.