Touring the Blue Mountains
TOURING THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
Boasting breath-taking lookouts and vast areas of untamed wilderness, the Blue Mountains region offers some of the best scenery anywhere in Australia. This ancient landscape is home to rugged rocky outcrops, deep valleys, towering waterfalls and a seemingly never-ending sea of gum trees. Best of all, this huge expanse of World Heritage-listed natural beauty is just a 90-minute drive from Sydney.
While you could hire a car to get around or even take the train west from the city, the best way to experience the Blue Mountains is on a guided tour. That way you’ll be sure to visit all of the Blue Mountains’ must-see attractions, as well as a few of the area’s best-kept secrets.
But what can you expect to see and do when you spend a day exploring the Blue Mountains? Let’s take a closer look.
A brief history
The origin of the Blue Mountains can be traced back to more than 300 million years ago, when the entire area was under water. Over time, large amounts of sediment were deposited layer upon layer, eventually becoming compressed into sandstone and shale. The sea later subsided and volcanic activity pushed the rocky deposits upwards, and then it was time for the rivers, the wind and the rain to do their thing.
Over tens of millions of years, the harsh Australian climate has helped shape the Blue Mountains as we know them today. The story of their creation is perfectly visible in the Three Sisters, the area’s most iconic attraction. These sandstone sentinels have been carved out of the landscape by erosion, creating a sight that’s imposing in its beauty and easily the most photographed vista in the mountains.
Indigenous Australians have called the Blue Mountains area home for tens of thousands of years, and you can find evidence of this at several sites throughout Blue Mountains National Park. For example, Red Hands Cave boasts hand prints and stencils potentially dating as far back as 1,600 years, while the Lyrebird Dell walking track leads hikers to a huge sandstone cave that was used as a shelter up to 12,000 years ago.
Despite this long and fascinating history, it wasn’t until the 1860s and 1870s that this vast, unforgiving wilderness was well and truly opened up to the rest of the world by the arrival of the railway. This transport link with Sydney brought new settlers, sightseers and leisure-seekers to the region, but certainly wasn’t without its challenges.
With a steep gradient to be overcome on both sides of the mountain range, a unique Zig Zag railway system had to be constructed. This ensured that the trains of the day could tackle the 170-metre climb up the western flank of the mountains, and played a key role in turning the Blue Mountains into the wonderful destination it is today.
How to spend a day in the Blue Mountains
There are numerous tours of the Blue Mountains on offer, with itineraries to suit just about every taste and budget. Whichever option you choose, here are a few of the experiences you can expect to enjoy on your Blue Mountains tour:
No tour of the Blue Mountains would be complete without a trip to Echo Point, home of the Three Sisters, for a photo opportunity. But there are several other lookouts well worth visiting as well, with spots like Govetts Leap and Lincoln’s Rock providing jaw-dropping vistas of the surrounding terrain. The latter site is also home to remarkable grooves that were once used by local Aborigines to sharpen spears, giving visitors a small taste of the region’s fascinating history.
The best way to immerse yourself in the gorgeous natural scenery is to set out on foot and explore some of the 140 kilometres of bushwalking trails in the Blue Mountains. You’ll find everything from short clifftop strolls to multi-day hikes, so there’s something to suit all fitness levels.
The short but spectacular Three Sisters Walk is ideal for families, while the 7km Prince Henry Cliff Walk will have you reaching for your camera time after time. The Mount Solitary Walking Track, a 12km route for those who want to head off the beaten track, is another favourite.
Of course, if you’re heading out on a Blue Mountains tour, don’t forget to pack some warm clothes. Temperatures in the mountains are often well below the daily maximum in Sydney, and conditions can change quickly, so make sure you’ve got some extra layers to protect against the elements.
The arrival of the railway played a crucial part in the development of the Blue Mountains, and trains are still bringing visitors to the area to this day. Scenic World is one of the region’s most popular attractions and is home to the Scenic Railway, the steepest passenger railway in the world. This offers a breath-taking ride down a 52-degree incline into the Jamison Valley, where you can then wander through an ancient rainforest.
If the idea of a hair-raising descent doesn’t appeal, you might prefer the slightly more sedate journey down into the valley on the Scenic Cableway. There’s also a Skyway cablecar that glides along some 270 metres above the valley floor, offering 360-degree views and even a see-through floor.
Blue Mountains tours aren’t just about the natural scenery. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get a chance to explore Katoomba, the largest town in the area. Although it’s only 110km west of Sydney, this charming village feels like it’s a whole world away.
Surrounded by national park, Katoomba boasts a laid-back atmosphere and something of a bohemian vibe. You’ll find a great selection of cafes and restaurants here — perfect for a lazy lunch after a morning of sightseeing — not to mention some acclaimed art galleries and cultural attractions.
The steep streets can sometimes be a challenge for weary legs, but they won’t be enough to stop you setting out to discover all of Katoomba’s hidden gems.
With so much to see and do, it’s pretty easy to see why the Blue Mountains is a must-visit destination. Whether you’re planning a relaxing getaway, an action-packed adventure or anything in between, you’ll find everything you’re looking for in this wild and wonderful corner of Australia. And regardless of whether you stay for a few hours, a whole day or even longer, a Blue Mountains tour is an experience you’ll never forget.