A freelance writer living and loving in the northern beaches of Sydney...travelling, writing, outdoor activities, gardens, and Pilates are a few of my favourite things. Visit me www.potpourritravels.wordpress.com or www.facebook.com/potpourritravels/
The Blue Mountains west of Sydney formed around one million years ago and are a major tourist destination in NSW and Australia. It's predominantly World-Heritage listed National Park, filled with pristine bushland, clean air, and spectacular sandstone cliffs that plunge deep into fern-filled gorges. The bluish haze that seems to hover over the mountain tops is not just your imagination: the Eucalyptus trees that populate the hills release microscopic oil droplets and this oil, mixed with dust and water vapour, create short-wave rays of light which are predominately blue in colour. As a bonus, the colour blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body, slowing our metabolism and producing a calming effect.
Surround yourself in this magical area in any season: Autumn glows gold, yellow and red with the changing leaves, cold winters entice you to sit in front of a log fire, spring garden displays are filled with a kaleidoscope of colour, and in summer, the crisp clear air stays cool and refreshing. So rather than just rush up the main M4 motorway to Katoomba and Leura (not that there's anything wrong with that), why not try a round trip and check out the more scenic route and beauty along the Bells Line of Road to explore the outer west. Begin your journey at the historic township of Richmond in north-western Sydney, which has Good Food markets on Saturdays from 8am - 1pm. Stock up here on fresh produce and allow a few days to explore the quirky and eclectic townships of Mount Victoria, Hartley and Millthorpe. Here's my suggested route:
Coffee and cake at Kurrajong About an hour north-west of Sydney CBD Kurrajong is the perfect place for morning tea. This quaint township sits high on a ridge overlooking the Hawkesbury plains. As you walk down the main street, inhale the clean air and admire local gardens filled with cottage flowers. Browse the antique and gift shops, then refuel with coffee and cake before hitting the road again.
Frolic amongst the fruit trees The best part about this road is the absence of traffic lights and suburbia. It's not long before you're winding your way through bushland and fruit stalls. Winter is apple season and Bilpin has the best apples in the world. Fill your boot with buckets of the fresh stuff or grab jars of local honey, home-made jams, apple cider and vinegar from the variety of roadside stalls.
Meander the monoliths and mountain-tops At 1000 metres above sea-level the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah sits within a World Heritage area and offers some of the best blue-haze views in the region. Filled with giant Redwoods, rare Wollemi pine, rhododendrons, jungle plantings and formal flower borders, its focus is the preservation of cool-climate plants. Tiered pathways score the escarpment giving you a sense of the height and majesty of this iconic site. Plus, there's an interactive information centre, coffee shop, and guided tours to fill you with information and awe to appreciate this spectacular piece of nature at your own pace. There's also onsite accommodation in self-contained cabins should you choose to call it a day and stay overnight. If you're still charged with energy, continue along the ridge-top and discover Mount Wilson.
Magical Mount Wilson This quiet garden village is surrounded by canyons, natural bushland and abundant birdlife. Grand old homes are surrounded by mature cool-climate gardens, and the only noise you'll hear is the wind in the trees and local birdlife. There are no shops, service stations or ATMs, so take your own picnic and find a shady spot. Explore walking trails, or find a quiet corner and soak up the silence. Lookout points reveal rural farmlands to the north and west and more of those spectacular blue vistas.
Rest up at Mount Victoria This historic 19th century World Heritage listed village is the highest in the Blue Mountains and the gateway to the west. Its illustrious history includes being an outpost for convicts who worked on the Old Bathurst Road and the western-most point of the Blue Mountains railway. Wealthy Sydney families made the trek here to enjoy the high mountain air. The modern-day village of Mt Victoria is still filled with historic buildings such as the Toll Keeper's Cottage built in 1849, St Peter's Church built in 1874 and the District Historical Society Museum is housed in the grand sandstone Railway Station. Mount Victoria Manor is the perfect place to stay and channel your inner-royal. Originally built by John R Fairfax in 1876 as a mountain retreat, this splendid country home has been restyled lavishly to welcome the 21st century. Retaining its charming period features and furnishings, this boutique accommodation is welcoming and unique and embraces the charm of the olde worlde village surrounding it. Wander antique shops and read the informative street signs that show there was once a zoo in this intriguing village. Take a walk to Victoria Falls Lookout to soak in more of those blue views, or head to Mount York and see the monument dedicated to the early explorers. With all those cliffs to jump off, it's also the perfect place for rock-climbing, canyoning or abseiling.
choose your tool at The Magic of Metal workshops at the Talisman Gallery
A little further west as you drop down off the plateau is the historic, preserved village of Old Hartley. Stop by the Visitor Centre to pick up some information brochures, then check out The Talisman Gallery, a unique workshop of handcrafted metal art and silver jewellery. Join a workshop to create your own piece of art and watch the skilled artisans transform metal into something magic.
Oberon and Mayfield Gardens From Hartley, you can choose to stop over at Oberon and visit the magnificent Mayfield Garden. This is gardening on a grand scale and you need to dedicate an entire day if you want to do it justice. It's one of the world's largest privately owned cool-climate gardens, covering 64 hectares and events are held throughout the year. Enjoy fresh local produce in the on-site coffee shop and take your time wandering the various sections of kitchen gardens, water garden, grotto, waterfall, Chinese pagoda and more.
Alternatively, depending on your time constraints, you can jump back in the car and head a little further south and west to take a jaunt back in time at nearby Millthorpe.
Walking down the main street Millthorpe makes me want to tie up my horse and settle into the saloon for a beer. This pocket-sized picturesque town is three-and-a-half hours from Sydney and 20 miles south of Orange. It's classified a heritage town by the National Trust and, being in a cool-climate wine region, has all the food and wine options that make a trip to the country so appealing. Quaint gift shops full of old wares, jewellery and collectables, plus boutiques and eateries fill the main street. Start the day at Millthorpe Providores and order a locally roasted Bills Beans coffee. Stroll up Park Street past the cute bluestone primary school and fire station to see more of those wide blue skies and Mount Canobolas in the distance.