While Leura and Katoomba are squarely on the radar of bushwalkers, backpackers and day trippers, the quaint mountain village of Blackheath, just a few minutes' drive up the road from Katoomba, is much quieter and remains an ideal place to escape the cares of Sydney.
Blackheath is great for bushwalkers, sightseers and picnickers who can enjoy easy access to the World Heritage-listed beauty of the Blue Mountains National Park. Govetts Leap is the main access point close to Blackheath and was supposedly named when a bushranger named Govett leapt to his death off the cliff in order to avoid capture by the police. Whilst being a rollicking yarn, the story, in fact, is entirely made up. Govetts Leap was actually named after William Romaine Govett, who surveyed many areas of the Blue Mountains during early European settlement of the region.
Despite the boring origins of its name, Govetts Leap has stunning views of the Grose Valley and the surrounding picnic grounds are the perfect setting for an alfresco meal. Govetts Leap also has a visitor information centre where rangers can recommend hiking trails and let you know about other nearby spots such as Beauchamp Falls, Perrys Lookdown and the Grand Canyon. Govetts Leap is also the starting point for bushwalking trails to Bridal Veil Falls, Evans Lookout and Pulpit Rock.
The Megalong Valley is situated on the southern side of Blackheath and also offers some wonderful scenery. A winding (and sometimes icy) road descends into the valley floor and passes a beautiful rainforest, where there are walking tracks, picnic areas and babbling mountain creeks. On the valley floor, grassy meadows lure horse riders, while hikers and mountain bikers will also find areas of interest.
Back in town, Blackheath's parks and gardens are well-worth exploring. The annual Rhododendron Festival, held every November, is a major event and sees the town's private gardens opened to the public. At other times of the year, the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens are a good starting point for botanical enthusiasts, as are the many pretty public parks such as Memorial Park and Popes Glen Reserve.
Blackheath's main drag offers a number of great spots to refuel after taking in the sights. Restaurants and cafes abound and deliver hearty fare with cheerful service. A bookstore, antique centre and an old-fashioned pub round out the main street's attractions.
Blackheath is just under two hours' drive from Sydney via the M4 and Great Western Highway. CityRail services from Central Station depart hourly for the Blue Mountains. For train info, click here.