Byways by the Blue Mountains

It's the cliff faces and canyon more than the moutaintops that give the Blue Mountains their beauty.

The cliff faces and canyons give the Blue Mountains their beauty.

We met a family from Sydney who lowered our expectations of the Blue Mountains National Park when they heard we were spending several days there. I can’t recall their exact words, but they sounded apologetic — something along the lines of, “Don’t be surprised to find they’re not really mountains” and, “at least the cliff faces are rather nice.” They also expressed surprise that we wanted to spend more than a day or two there.

Then Morgan and I began to notice that whenever we saw brochures promoting the Blue Mountains, they featured the same photo of the famous Three Sisters rock formation, as if that’s the only thing in the whole national park worth seeing.

Uh-oh, we thought — why did we plan to spend a whole five nights at an eco lodge there? Then we experienced the upside of lowered expectations: We were pleasantly surprised.

True, Australia’s signature “mountains” look pretty humble in comparison to any foothill in the Rockies, the Andes or New Zealand’s Southern Alps. But that’s because they’re not really mountains; they’re uplifted plateaus with rivers crisscrossing vast forested canyons below. They’re located about an hour away from Sydney and take their name from the bluish-gray haze that hangs in the valley from light reflecting off particles in the air. Seemingly endless escarpments and crevices reveal waterfalls and sandstone sculptures. The tabletop mountains reminded me of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, while some of the rock formations evoke Sedona.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend five days in the region unless you want to do what we did: unplug in a remote spot to spend quiet days running, hiking and homeschooling in between exploring the region’s highlights. But the Blue Mountains are definitely worth more than a day.

Here are some of Morgan’s photos showing reasons to venture beyond the Three Sisters Rock overlook at Echo Point (where all the tour buses stop).

Scenic World:

This is one tourist trap worth the price of admission. Scenic World in Katoomba takes visitors across the Jamison Valley and down below. Even though I’m normally nervous about heights, I loved the views that this glass box revealed as it floated across from one cliff to another:

The Scenic Skyway in Katoomba is a tourist trap but worth the ride.

The Scenic Skyway in Katoomba is a tourist trap but worth the ride.

Kyle and Colly loved the Skyline's illusion of floating through the air and seeing the views below ...

Kyle and Colly loved the Skyway's illusion of floating through the air and seeing the views below ...

... such as this view from the Skyway of Katoomba Falls.

... such as this view from the Skyway of Katoomba Falls.

It’s worth going down as well as across the canyon to explore the walkway through the forest below. Take the cable car down:

Scenic World's super-steep cable car ride down to the valley feels like a slo-mo coaster going down. Colly and Kyle loved grabbing the front seat!

Scenic World's super-steep cable car ride down to the valley feels like a slo-mo coaster going down. Colly and Kyle loved grabbing the front seat!

Then explore the walkway through the forest to learn about the valley’s physical features and history of coal mining:

We all loved the dense, tangled forest around the walkway.

We all loved the dense, tangled forest around the walkway.

Wentworth Falls:

Even prettier than Katoomba Falls, Wentworth Falls (located next to the town of the same name) reveals itself best from a short hike from the town’s main trail head.

Wentworth Falls is a splayed-out, multi-level cascade that's among the prettiest falls we've ever seen.

Wentworth Falls is a splayed-out, multi-level cascade that's among the prettiest falls we've ever seen.

We discovered this curtain of water near Wentworth Falls.

We discovered this curtain of water near Wentworth Falls.

Evan’s Lookout to Govett’s Leap Lookout:

Our lodge in the town of Blackheath was right next to Evan’s Lookout, a point I found more visually alluring than the heavily visited Echo Point in Katoomba. The cliff track from there to Govett’s Leap is only a few kilometers long but challenging due to its series of stairs. Morgan and I had a great run/hike along here and discovered more waterfalls along the way:

A scene from the clifftop trail connecting Evan's Lookout to Govett's Leap.

A scene from the clifftop trail connecting Evan's Lookout to Govett's Leap.

Katoomba, Blackheath and Leura:

Unfortunately we didn’t take photos to show them off, but take my word for it: the towns of Blackheath, Katoomba and Leura are hip hideaways with great cafes and cool shops tucked into 90-year-old buildings decked out in art deco details. Katoomba is the main destination for day-trippers, but if I had to choose one for dining and shopping, I’d pick Leura.

Wild parrots in a rainbow of colors call the Blue Mountains home. This is one of many that visited our front porch in Blackheath.

Wild parrots in a rainbow of colors call the Blue Mountains home. This is one of many that visited our front porch in Blackheath.

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