If you’re from Sydney, you’ve definitely been to the Blue Mountains before. Just 1.5 hours away, the area is a peak school camp destination – everyone’s been on some kind of hike that ends with hot choccy in plastic cups if they grew up in the city. Now, it’s likely one of your go-to weekender destinations, and you might think you know everything about the Blue Mountains national park and its waterfalls. Well, psych – you don’t.
We visited the Blue Mountains recently to suss some of the lesser-known walks, cafes and cool shit to do. Turns out, our Year 10 tour of the area didn’t exactly touch on some of the best bits.
If you usually stick to Leura, Blackheath and Katoomba for your Mountains holidays, try going further. We stayed in Little Hartley, a town at the bottom of the Blue Mountains, closer to Lithgow. This area is dotted with stunning farms, all rolling hills and cosy cabins, so you get the space and cottagecore vibes at the same time. Airbnb is great for finding cool properties – we stayed in the Bonnie Blink House, this amazing, chic farmhouse that had an epic central fireplace, huge beds with linen sheets and a fenced yard so you could even bring your dog (except watch out for the kangaroos, they’re everywhere). We were still just fifteen minutes from the top of the Blue Mountains, but felt really removed from the weekend crowds.
You cannot, you simply CANNOT go to the Blue Mountains without getting a Devonshire tea situation. Order that earl grey and some warm, fluffy scones at the Megalong Valley Tea Rooms, a ten minute drive down from Blackheath via a winding but pretty easy to navigate road. You’ll be at the base of towering cliffs, sipping your ye olde beverage under gum trees. It’s the cutest ever. Definitely order the apple pie – the recipe hasn’t changed since 1956, because it is perfect and could not be improved, ever.
DRINK: Dryridge Estate
Keep rolling on from the Tea Rooms and you’ll get to Dryridge Estate, a winery with the most killer view in the area. Sit up on a hill that overlooks the Valley and watch the sun turn the Blue Mountains escarpment red, pink and orange as the sun sets and you sip on crisp savvy b and enjoy their delish cheese and charcuterie platters. Also, they have a really cute kelpie if you enjoy doggy pats.
WALK: Grand Canyon Walking Track
Forget the Katoomba walks like the Three Sisters, which is often flooded with families and tourists, and go for the Grand Canyon track in Blackheath instead. A 6.3km loop, it’ll take you around two to three hours to traverse its stone steps, cool rainforest floors and sweeping views. It’s an easy track but you’ll work up a sweat as you climb out at the end. Don’t worry, though, just think about the jaw-dropping views at the top. If you do want to do the Three Sisters, try to go early or just before sunset to beat the crowds, as the stairs down are narrow and can get a bit clogged. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’ve never seen it before – expect mildly terrifying drops and some incredible rock formations.
EAT: Aunty Eds Restaurant
Kitschy and cute, this Katoomba restaurant is kind of a pub food vibe, with schnittys and delish burgers, making it a great lunch spot. Settle into a booth and, if you’re game, try one of the chaotic shakes like the Iced Vovo, a strawberry-coconut concoction that comes complete with the iconic bikkie on top.
WALK: Giant Stairway
Near the Three Sisters walk, this is a hike only if you’re keen on some seriously tired legs at the end. Opened in 1932, it’s obviously been refurbed over the decades but some of the original carved stairs still exist, and it’s pretty cool to think of the scores of travellers who traversed this steep climb in years gone by. You’ll walk 998 (!!) stairs on this hike, including some almost vertical situations that even non-vertigo folks will be a bit freaked out by. It goes without saying that those terrified of heights need not apply.