A two-hour drive from Sydney, the Blue Mountains has the makings of a dream road trip, thanks to towns that feel plucked from a film set and walking trails that punctuate rainforest and waterfalls with other-worldly views.
Although the World Heritage-listed destination spans 1.03 million hectares of majestic eucalypts and sandstone cliffs and boasts a biodiversity rich enough to inspire Darwin’s theory of evolution, it’s also home to easy-to-navigate highways tailor-made for a weekend on the road. Here’s how to cover the best of the Blue Mountains in two days.
Katoomba, a historic town known for Art Deco architecture, hilly streets and a cliff-side location overlooking the gorges and ravines of Jamison Valley, is often the first port of call on any Blue Mountains agenda – and for good reason. It’s also five minutes from the Three Sisters, a trio of ancient rock formations that tower 3000 feet above sea level and take their name from a famous Aboriginal legend.
Head here first to skip the late-afternoon tourist crowds and make time for a ride on the Scenic Railway(corner of Violet Street and Cliff Drive) – a set of glass-roofed carriages that see passengers descend on a 52-degree incline through Jurassic rainforest onto the valley floor. Once the mountain air has stoked your appetite, make a beeline for the fireplace at The Carrington (15-47 Katoomba St). This opulent 19th-century hotel served as a weekend getaway for wealthy Sydneysiders during the 1950s and 1960s and now serves up local Bilpin cider and a delicious beef and Guinness pie.
After lunch, browse the shops on Katoomba Street, where you can pick up a rare first edition at antiquarian bookseller Mr Pickwicks (86 Katoomba St). Or score a piece of 1970s glassware from Katoomba Vintage Emporium (59 Katoomba St), a mazelike antiques mecca you could get lost in for hours. Top off your day with slow-roasted lamb and a glass of pinot noir at Avalon (8-18 Katoomba Street); the restaurant’s building, which once played host to poetry readings, jazz and opera, is a colourful slice of Blue Mountains bohemia.
Start your morning with a short drive down Lovel and Megalong streets to Leura, a nearby township known for fiery autumn trees and dotted with homegrown boutiques, pocket-sized cake shops and elegant cafes. If you’re here on the first Sunday of the month, stop at Leura Public School for the Sunday Market (Mount Hay Rd) for local jam and handmade gifts before pulling up a patch of courtyard at the Red Door cafe (134 Leura Mall). Order the fluffy scrambled eggs and an organic flat white from La Luna roasters.
Leura Cascades, a secluded reserve known for crystal waterfalls and dizzying vistas, is only a few minutes’ drive from Leura Mall. Enjoy a picnic or take a big hike. Follow the Prince Henry Cliff Walk alongside the rapids – savouring the afternoon sun as it filters through the rainforest canopy – before ending your walk at the Bridal Veil Lookout. This serene spot, where you can watch the Bridal Veil Falls plunge down the cliff side, is the perfect place to soak in the view before the drive back home. (Note: The Prince Henry Cliff Walk is 6.8 kilometres long and takes approximately 3.5 hours. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has given the walk a difficulty grading of medium.)