Sydney-sider Stephanie Williams shares her Blue Mountains weekend secrets.
In the early 1800’s the crisp air of the Blue Mountains was promoted as an essential health tonic, purported to be ‘ozone rich’ and filled with the vapour of eucalypt. Today, it’s still the cure of many ills - and for my little Sydney family it’s our weekend go-to as a quick escape to slow down. From exploring village life and parks, lunching in the quaint cafes and filling our lungs on the many walking tracks, the Blue Mountains is still just the right medicine.
The Blue Mountains region is made up of a series of small villages that sit atop the mountain ridge, overlooking the Megalong and Grose Valleys on either side. Katoomba is the largest town in the upper mountains, an outdoor adventure hub and home to the popular Three Sisters rock formation. Leura has a village atmosphere with quality shopping and beautiful gardens, and our favourite, Blackheath, feels like ‘real’ mountains living with a handful of cafes, shops, gardens and galleries. Cliffs drop away at every turn and fascinating walking tracks criss-cross through the surrounding forests.
For our most recent weekender, we picked up the latest Tiguan, which my 2.5 year old son thoughtfully named, “Mummy’s New Blue Car”. Depending on what time of day you leave Sydney, the trip can be a quick hour and a half, or longer if you hit peak traffic. It’s an easy drive, and I enjoyed how the Tiguan felt on the gentle, winding road once we hit the mountains.
We check in to Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges in Blackheath, with just enough sun left for us to stretch our legs on a walk around the beautiful gardens, chasing the ducks and cockatoos along the way. Our room, a one-bedroom garden suite, overlooks the pretty gardens (and is just far enough away from other suites so we’re not worried about our son being too ‘spirited’).
Blackheath is a little foodie hotspot and if we weren’t eating at junior hour (aka 5:30pm) we would try the highly regarded Vesta, but we head to the pub instead. The Gardners Inn, has been trading here since 1831 and works well with kids - his meal arrives first (critical!!) while shortly after we enjoy a great steak by the fire.
Up early, we decide to tackle the Wentworth Falls track. It’s a well-worn, short but steep walk that takes about an hour to complete. Space in the carpark is limited, but you can park in the nearby streets. Once you arrive at the Falls, which spill over the soaring sandstone cliffs to the valley floor 100 metres below, you can continue on the track, which hugs the cliff wall to Fletchers Lookout. The early explorers partook in a bit of “one-upmanship” carving out increasingly hairy tracks around cliff edges to attract tourists to their particular region. And it’s easy to see why this track attracts thousands of people each year - the views of both the surrounding cliffs and the Megalong Valley are simply beautiful. But taking a toddler down there does keep you on your toes and it’s tricky to navigate under the low-hanging areas with a hiking carrier - prepared to do a bit of helicopter parenting on the cliff edge!
With the promise of scones, the Everglades Historic House and Gardens is our stop for morning tea. Originally built in 1923 by Georgina Stonier, Everglades was bought by the Van de Velde family in the 1930’s. They convinced Danish-born landscape gardener-god, Paul Sorensen to work his magic and the result is Australia’s most spectacular inter-war period garden, set over 5.2 hectares. We wander through the European-style terraces and taste the herbs of the kitchen garden, walk to the Grotto Pool (which unbelievably is completely man-made), then just spend time lying on the grass overlooking the beautiful bushland. It’s peaceful, grounding and a gorgeous place to bring a picnic.
We watch the sunset from our favourite secret lookout (google Golf Links Lookout, that’s all I’m sharing!) and enjoy an early dinner at Leura Garage, then dream sweet mountain dreams before another big day tomorrow.
Early mornings in the mountains are heavenly - crisp, clear air, quiet villages before the crowds descend and your choice of breakfast spots! Blackheath is spoilt for choice with the popular Anonymous Cafe (now with sister cafe, Synonymous in nearby Medlow Bath), or Wattle Cafe for family friendly fare. Fuelled and ready to go, we take the heavily forested Megalong Road down to the valley floor in search of horse riding. Our toddler is currently obsessed with all things animals and farming, so a stop at Megalong Valley Farm is a must. He spots Hughie, a quiet pony who knows the well-worn path around the dam, and is keen for a ride. It’s a self-guided ride, with Daddy leading him along, and Mummy taking pictures. Afterward, we meet the massive pet pig, said Hi to the ducks and swing on the gates - all epic fun for a two year old!
On the way back to Blackheath we stop at the Megalong Valley Tea Rooms for coffees and a milkshake. The view back to the cliffs is worth the stop alone, but the coffee is good and their natural play equipment gets a tick from the kids crawling all over it. If you’re happy to battle the crowds, kids will also love a pit stop at Scenic World - home to the steepest incline railway in the world and the epic Skyway, a cabled, glass-bottomed cabin that glides between the cliffs, looking down 270 metres to the valley floor.
As our son grows, the walks we can take become more exciting. The Grand Canyon Track is a classic walk and takes about three hours to complete, but be aware there’s a steep section at the end so make sure there’s some juice left in the kid’s’ tanks! With younger kids, head to the Leura Cascades. The walk follows Leura Falls Creek alongside the quiet rapids that run into Bridal Veil Falls and onto a sheltered cliff lookout.
With seemingly endless cliffs, the Blue Mountains is dotted with incredible lookouts. The Three Sisters at Echo Point is the tourist thing to do, but if you drive to nearby Sublime Point Road to the Sublime Point Lookout you’ll be rewarded with the backside view of the Three Sisters (thanks ladies!) but without the crowds. There are some pretty epic lookouts on the on the other side too. Near Blackheath, visit Govett’s Leap Lookout where the Grose Valley opens up in front of you, with a 180 metre waterfall off to the right. Hit up Pulpit Rock for an instagrammable view, or for a lookout almost guaranteed to be empty, head to Point Pilcher for a quiet spot to reflect on how beautiful this part of the world really is, and all so close to Sydney.
Stephanie Williams is an accomplished writer, editor and interior designer. She's the editor of Design Travel, contributes to travel publications globally and regularly appears on Sky Business. The writer stayed at Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges courtesy of Escarpment Group.