The Changing Face of Tourism in the Blue Mountains
The changing face of tourism in the Blue Mountains
For Sydney residents and tourists alike, the Blue Mountains region is the ultimate day trip destination. With breath taking scenery, wonderful bush walking and a host of other outdoor activities to experience and enjoy, all just 90 minutes from Sydney, this World Heritage-listed wonder is quite simply made for leisure.
It’s no surprise then that more than four million people visit the area each year. Some come on guided Blue Mountains tours, while others simply jump in the car and enjoy the freedom of exploring at their own pace.
But getting to the Blue Mountains wasn’t always so easy.
From impassable barrier to tourist hot spot
Before Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson navigated their way across the Blue Mountains in 1813, this formidable wilderness was thought to be an impassable barrier.
But the famous crossing by these immortal explorers changed the history of the mountains forever. As an increasing number of settlers started heading inland in search of fertile land, employment opportunities and even gold, they were amazed by the imposing natural beauty they encountered along the way.
For most people, however, the Blue Mountains remained a long way away. It wasn’t until the arrival of the railway in the late 1860s that the area really started to take off.
The new train line turned what had previously been an arduous and challenging journey into some hing a whole lot quicker and easier. With the Blue Mountains now much more accessible to the people of Sydney, settlers started arriving in their droves and 26 new villages soon popped up along the railway route.
But the railway didn’t just cause huge population growth in the area — it also led to a tourism boom.
The perfect holiday destination
Once a fast and reliable method of transport to the Blue Mountains had been established, wealthy Sydneysiders could enjoy much easier access to the area’s unspoilt natural beauty. Some of Sydney’s most affluent residents chose to buy land in the mountains and build magnificent country estates, but many more soon came to realise that the Blue Mountains would be the perfect spot for a day trip or a longer getaway.
From the 1880s onwards, the Blue Mountains quickly developed a reputation as the ultimate leisure destination. If you lived in Sydney and could boast the twin attributes of leisure time and a large enough bank balance, the Blue Mountains was your playground.
In the early part of the decade, Katoomba was a tiny village with a coal mine, a handful of buildings and not much else. All that was set to change in 1883, when The Great Western Hotel was built. It was renamed to The Carrington a few years later, and this elegant and charming old hotel still welcomes guests to this day (despite closing for several years in the 1980s and ‘90s).
A series of other magnificent hotels and guesthouses were built in the area in the following decades, offering travellers comfort and luxury set amid beautiful mountain surrounds.
The other standout facility built during this period was the Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath. Opened in 1904, the Hydro Majestic sits atop a stunning escarpment and boasts a compelling mix of architectural styles. In 2019, it still welcomes guests keen to experience the beauty of the Blue Mountains and even offers hotel tours for history buffs.
As more and more accommodation options opened up, visitor numbers continued to rise. Katoomba and the wider Blue Mountains region came to be seen as a stylish and fashionable holiday area, and it would never be the same again.
World Heritage listing
By 1917, there were 60 boarding houses operating in Katoomba, and the 1920s heralded a golden age for Blue Mountains tourism. It was a time of decadence and extravagance, but it was never going to last forever.
After World War II and with the passing of several decades, the world was becoming a different place. As more people came to appreciate the beauty and the stunning natural diversity of the Blue Mountains, priorities shifted from tourism to conservation.
The Blue Mountains National Park was gazetted in 1959, a hugely important milestone in the future development of the area. Since that time, the focus of tourism in the Blue Mountains has shifted — it’s not just about opening this wilderness refuge up to the world, but also balancing this with the need to preserve and protect this unique landscape.
As the 20th century gave way to the 21st, the Blue Mountains region was granted UNESCO World Heritage status. This globally recognised title provided a shot in the arm for the local tourism industry, as day trippers and travellers from further afield gradually came to realise just how special these mountains truly are.
They’re not just important on a local or even a national scale, nor are they popular only because they’re so close to Sydney. The Blue Mountains Area are internationally significant, and they’re sure to continue attracting wide-eyed nature lovers well into the future.
Planning your visit
Today, the Blue Mountains offer a truly diverse range of experiences for travellers. First-time visitors make the obligatory pilgrimage to Echo Point to take in the rugged beauty of the Three Sisters, with an estimated two million-plus people admiring this iconic landmark each year. Many of them also head to Scenic World to take a ride on the beautiful (but somewhat hair-raising) Scenic Railway, or marvel at the view from the Skyway and Cableway.
For those who want to immerse themselves in nature, there are plenty of opportunities to venture off the beaten track. Bushwalkers can choose from short walks and challenging treks, underground explorers can venture into the darkness of the Jenolan Caves, and sports like abseiling, rock climbing and mountain biking let visitors get up close and personal with their spectacular surrounds.
More than 150 years after the arrival of the railway, tourism is still the lifeblood of the Blue Mountains. Ecotourism is on the rise, but in places like the Carrington Hotel, hints of old-world grandeur and elegance still remain.
Best of all, Katoomba, Leura and several other Blue Mountains villages retain their historic charm, offering the same warm welcome to tourists as they have for generations — and they’ll surely continue to do so for many years to come.