The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are perhaps one of the best known tourist destinations in New South Wales, and for good reason. The picturesque countryside and stunning views are ideal for exploring, bush walking or just for escaping city life for a few days.
Getting there and around
Located just a few hours from Sydney by car, this is a great destination for last minute day trip or weekend get away. If you don’t have a car, there’s no need to worry. As with most areas of NSW, public transport is easily accessible and fairly extensive. Direct trains leave regularly from Sydney and generally take less than two hours, which is a great opportunity to watch as the scenery changes the farther you get from the city. If you don’t already have one, an Opal card will save you enough money to be worthwhile just on the return journey from Sydney.
Once in Katoomba itself, most facilities that you could need are within easy walking distance. There is a local public bus service which will get you to some of the major tourist destinations like the Three Sisters, but the operating hours are limited. You should also be aware that there is no bus service from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves, which are significantly further away. Some hostels offer coach bookings or group tours to the caves and other adventure activity locations.
Things to do in Katoomba
Though pleasant, the town in itself is not reason enough to visit the Blue mountains. However, it makes an excellent base for exploring the surrounding region.
The main high street has a large range of restaurants, cafes, bars and gift shops to choose from. If you’re feeling a bit more budget conscious and would rather cook in the hostel kitchen, there’s also an Aldi, Coles and Woolworths a couple of minutes walk from the main street. There is a pleasant atmosphere, fueled by the bustling tourists, that’s vaguely reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands.
Just off the high street, in what might appear to be a normal alleyway, lies one of Katoomba’s best kept secrets. The street art walk, created in 2015 by Street Art Murals Australia, has converted a small side street into a truly spectacular work of art. Every brick wall is covered in colorful spray paint murals. The themes are as diverse as the artists that created them; whatever your particular style, you can’t fail to be impressed.
Before going on any bush walk, it is important to consider your safety. Always ensure you have done proper research before you head out and ensure you are properly prepared. The following list is the minimum you should think about before attempting a bush walk.
- Check the weather conditions and dress accordingly. Remember that the conditions can be changeable.
- Pack enough food and water for the day.
- Look up the route before you leave.
- Always inform someone of where you are going and when you expect to be back. Many hostels have a bush walking list you can fill in.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
This article focuses on easy, well traveled bush routes but common sense should still be applied. If you are going to do a longer trek, extra precautions such as borrowing a free locator beacon from the NSW Police may be advisable. Further advice can be found at the National Parks and Wildlife service site.
Wentworth Falls, Charles Darwin walk and the National Pass
Wentworth Falls train station is a short journey from the Katoomba station, on the same line with no changes required. The beginning of the Charles Darwin walk is about 10 minutes walk from the station and is well signposted. This walk can be done on its own but leads directly into the walk around Wentworth Falls.
The Charles Darwin walk takes you through a lightly wooded area, with several different sets of small waterfalls and areas with river access which are ideal for dipping your toes on warm days. The path mainly consists of wooden planks and is relatively flat and easy going.
The path down to the main falls is of much steeper steps but the views at the end, both of the falls and the valley below are worth it.
It is possible to stop at this point, or before the steps down to the falls, to do a return walk. An alternative is to continue along the National Pass and then along the cliff tops to form a circular route. The National Pass is a walkway cut into the cliff-side, halfway above the valley floor. The path is well maintained, with barriers blocking off the steep drops. There are places where you may have to stoop to avoid overhanging rock. The walk will reveal more amazing views and take you under a small waterfall, before another series of steep steps take you back to the top.
Once at the top, you can stop for a well deserved rest at the Observation Hut Cafe where they serve a variety of hot and cold drinks, snacks and hot meals.
The Three Sisters and Federal Pass
The main attraction of Katoomba, the Three Sisters are a natural rock formation which can be viewed from the designated viewing platform, which is also the location of a visitor information centre. It is also possible to follow the path down onto the Three Sisters themselves, from where the view of the valley and the town are unrivaled.
From the viewing area on the formation, a set of steps leads down to the Federal Pass which takes you along the bottom of the valley. The walk along the bottom is flat and shaded by the surrounding forest and therefore provides some relief from intense sunlight. However, there are more than 900 steps up and down to the path. There are plenty of opportunities for rests along the way and the lifts at Scenic World are another option if you don’t want to try the stairs.