... a dreamer, freelance writer, naturopath, mother & former social work student based in the Blue Mountains. Continue the journey with me- Soul Home: https://www.instagram.com/the_soul_home/thewildemoon: https://www.instagram.com/thewildemoon/
Published June 20th 2012
Idealised view of a white country Christmas - appeals to the romantic and the child in most of us.
So, you've arrived, consumed lunch, and a slow cappuccino. What now, you ask, is there to do?
It's now that many tourists seem to come unstuck. This article is dedicated to a female tourist who complained of bloating because there was nothing to do in the Mountains except eat. Not true. But, to save you from a similar fate, I've compiled this list of activities, things to do and places to go in the Blue Mountains over winter. There's also no need to hide out in your hotel overnight - see my list of indoor activities for when the sun goes down and the temperature plummets.
According to a business report on the Blue Mountains Local Government Area, most tourists to the Blue Mountains seek rest and relaxation, so included here you will find options for chilling out including day spas and meditation retreats. Read on.
Yulefest Yulefest (also known as Christmas in July) is the premier winter activity in the Blue Mountains. Yulefest (also known as Christmas in July) refers to celebrations held in the Southern Hemisphere that try to evoke the atmosphere and charm of traditional white Christmas' in the Northern Hemisphere. The upper Blue Mountains with its cold weather and extensive history of entertaining tourists, is a veteran when it comes to hosting this pseudo version of European Christmas.
Experiencing a Yulefest dinner or weekend away can provide a warm and charming haven from winter. Retreat from winter gloom with the cheer of Christmas themed decorations, hearty fare, roasting log fires, port and plum pudding.
Options for Christmas in July generally consist of a combination of dinner with festive type indoor entertainment (ranging from carol singing, the appearance of Santa, music and shows). Onsite accommodation is included in many packages.
Read about the various Yulefest celebrations and packages available at the venues below:
See my article on Yulefest for more about this event.
Koomurri Aboriginal Centre
Not many people know of this place which is a shame. The Centre is located in the World Heritage Plaza at Echo Point - basically, the big building on the right at the end of Katoomba Street where people go down to the Three Sisters.
Here, tourists can look at the gallery, learn about Aboriginal culture in the greater Blue Mountains area, see dance performances and partake in didgeridoo workshops.
Koomurri Aboriginal Centre is unique in being the only Aboriginal cultural centre of its kind in New South Wales.
There are eight dance performances at the centre each day, covering a repertoire of 30 authentic Aboriginal dances.
Murder Mystery Weekends at St Mounts
St Mounts at Blackheath provides the venue, the script, dinner and accommodation and you provide attendees. The latter is what goes against this because you have to get together your own group which requires a lot of advance planning and friends who aren't busy, broke, antisocial or too far away. Which leads to another point that this isn't exactly cheap. Still, a top idea for a fun indoors weekend in the Mountains, so worth a mention.
For those who into antique shopping try out The Victory Theatre Antique Centre at Blackheath with its two floors of furniture and brickabrak. It also has an excellent adjoining cafe.
If you are passionate about books, browsing old second hand book stores is another option for when the mountain chill bites. You will find several of these along Katoomba Street, including Mr Pickwick's Fine Old Books at 86 Katoomba Street and The Katoomba Book Exchange at 34 Katoomba Street. Mr Pickwicks have late night trading on Friday and Saturday nights until 9 pm - very unusual in this town that generally closes down at 4pm.
Victory Theatre Antique Centre, Blackheath - should keep you busy.
Mediation and Yoga Retreats
On the opposite side of the blatant commercialism of shopping, we have spiritual retreats.
The upper Blue Mountains seems to be a hotspot for spiritual folk and their centres and likewise a mecca for weekend spiritual retreats for Sydney-siders.
One of the most popular is the Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Centre at 186 Mount Hay Road Leura. Set amongst the bush, it specialises in weekend retreats conducted throughout the year. As an educational organisation, the Brahma Kumaris share their wisdom without aiming for profit. For more info on this exceptional organisation, see the official Brahma Kumaris website or phone: (02) 4784 2500
Another very popular option is to undertake a 10 day Vipassana Meditation in Blackheath. Vipassana is an ancient Indian technique of meditation and involves meditating in silence. This is also a non-profit organisation. See the Vipassana website or call (02) 9655 1128 for more information.
Brahma Kumaris, Leura, Blue Mountains - peace, tranquility and self-development in the natural high of the mountains.
Cinema With a Difference
Another thing you can do anywhere. But the Edge MaxVision Screen, with it's tiered ampi-theatre style seating and massive screen is not your average cinema or I wouldn't have mentioned it. The Edge cinema has three 'ordinary' theatres plus the 'big' one. Check out what's happening on the mega-screen, how to get there and ticketing prices at the Edge Cinema website.
A word of advice: get there early as the candy bar and cinema tickets are purchased from the one spot and this inefficient system often results in you being late to your movie.
Mount Vic Flicks (in Mount Victoria) offers the other end of the spectrum in cinema experience and a step back in time. It's an original old theatre, considered legendary with its old fashioned ushers, candy bar and piano player and tends to showcase the more intelligent film. Expect hard seats but cheaper prices - both, oh, so retro. One thing I've never liked about this cinema is the fact its neighbour is a power station, but oh well, one can't always choose their neighbours.
These places of comfort provide one of the chief activities in the Blue Mountains with its history as a place for Sydney-siders to come for health and rejuvenation.
What better place to warm up and chill out than in the spa, steamer or hydro-spa. Partake in a massage, facial or invigorating full body polish and wrap or combine a treatment. Sound good?
To get what you want out of a day spa experience, it's best to consult the spa menu of the establishment. You can generally get this information online on their website. Spas offer varying facilities, decor, treatments and levels of warmth which can affect the experience you will have. Don't forget price.
Yindi Day Spa offers one of the best value for money deals in the Blue Mountains, plus natural products, attractive rooms with Blue Mountains themed wall murals and a convenient and easy to park location in Lurline Street, Katoomba.
Renaissance Spa also uses 100% natural skincare products and is conveniently located in the Carrington Hotel on Katoomba Street.
Or try the Japanese Bathhouse at Blue Mountains Sparadise for something different. Set in a Japanese style garden, it faces Lake Lyall. Blue Mountains Sparadise is located at South Bowenfels, 30 minutes West of Katoomba. For more information including directions go to the Blue Mountains Sparadise website.
Another option is Spa Sublime at Mountain Heritage Hotel, at Katoomba.
The Couples Spa and Massage Room at Yindi Day Spa, Katoomba
Winter Magic Festival
The key calendar event in the Blue Mountains. This annual festival occurs on the closest Saturday to the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. This year (2012 being the year of this article being written) it falls on Saturday 23rd June.
To read more about the annual Winter Magic Festival, see my extensive article on it, here. Be warned, if you happen to be in Katoomba on the day, you will certainly know of it as it takes over the whole town and is attended by huge crowds many of them from Sydney.
The festival includes stalls, street parade, acts by musicians, dancers, puppeteers, clowns, art displays in local shops and after hours entertainment.
The Winter Magic Festival Parade - photograph courtesy of local photographer Cameron Lees
Drives and Lookouts
For individuals who can't abide the cold, drives, with the occasional stop at lookouts, provide an alternative to frigid walks.
Some interesting drives include the Blue Mountains Drive, the drives to both Jenolan Caves and Megalong Valley respectively, as well as the areas of Blackheath.
The Blue Mountains Drive takes one along the winding cliff tops on a route that accesses the major lookouts and natural attractions. These include the Three Sisters at Echo Point, Sublime Point, the Leura Cascades, Wentworth Falls lookouts, Wentworth Falls Lake and the Valley of the Waters picnic area. It takes approximately one hour to complete the route if you include stops.
The drive to Megalong Valley takeS about an hour by car if coming from Katoomba. To get to Megalong Valley from Katoomba, head to Blackheath up the Great Western Highway (a ten minute drive). Turn left at the townships lights - this will have you crossing the Rail tracks. Then turn left again. After approximately 500 metres the road will turn sharp right. Go left at the following junction.
You will travel along a winding road descending into the valley, lined with rainforest and a canopy of ferns.
Along the way, look out for Mermaid Glen – it's all too easy to pass. This magical and mossy glen was used in the movie Mad Max: Return to Thunderdome. It's canopy of trees offers some cover from wet mist or light rain and from unpleasant winds.
Down in the valley, which is primarily a farming community, you will find tea-rooms, horse-riding and the Cox's River.
By taking other routes from the top of the valley you can see breathtaking views from Shipley Plateau, Mount Blackheath and Hargraves Lookout.
Big disclaimer: do stop the car if you intend to look out the window for extended lengths. Secondly, on bad weather days the views might be minimal if non-existant, though the creeping mists which the Mountains is prone to, can be atmospheric.
Eagle Hawk Lookout, Katoomba - one of the tempting lookouts on the tourist drive.
No list on things to do in the Blue Mountains should ever leave these out. The key to avoiding the freeze is to keep it short and rug up like an Antarctic explorer.
Some short walks include Leura Cascades walk to Bridal Veil Falls, or at Katoomba, the Prince Henry Cliff top walk, Katoomba Falls Circuit, the Gordon Falls to Leura Falls walk and the Three Sisters walk as well as the below mentioned Scenic World platform walk.
For a very comprehensive list of walks in the mountains including their length and grading, check out the official Blue Mountains website.
I consider this the top tourist attraction and natural wonder to be seen in the Blue Mountains. This is a full day trip experience. From Katoomba, the caves are approximately one hour away.
Cave activities include self-guided tours, guide-led tours, adventure caving, night and ghost tours and cave concerts.
The unspoilt rather mystical natural features of this 2011 Tourism Australia Award winner are what makes this place so special. The ancient limestone caves are awe-inspiring and the aqua waters of the Blue Lake from whence you can take the Jenolan River Walk, truly magical.
The caves maintain a constant temperature of about 15 to 16 degrees Celsius, so it's still a viable option during winter. Technically, the caves are indoors although I'm not too sure of the accuracy of that.
Tours to the caves are at set times during the day and take different amounts of time to complete. Look up the Jenolan Caves website before you go. In terms of food you have two options, the onsite cafeteria or the more expensive Chisolm's restaurant in Caves House.
The Caves are also an unlikely venue for entertainment from Murder Mystery shows to musical performances and the regular Legends, Mysteries and Ghosts Tour (more on that below). Check out the Jenolan Caves website for the latest of what's on. Click on the 'event's tab.
This is the Blue Mountains version of a theme park and the main dollar spinning tourist attraction of the area. Expect to encounter the kind of crowds you'd find at a Robbie Williams and expect it to drain your wallet.
Scenic World is an agglomeration of tourist type activities - operated by the Hammon family - that include the Scenic Railway, Cable car, Skyway, revolving restaurant, cafes, plus souvenir shop and a constructed platform walk through the rainforest bush.
The brief plunge down through rainforest on the Scenic Railway (the world's steepest railway), has to be up there as one of the truly unique and bizarre Australian experiences. A great option for something to do with kids or for a walk that accommodates your unfit or elderly companions.
To get to Scenic World, drive towards the Three Sisters end of Katoomba Street. Before you get to the end of the street, take the right hand turn at the Scenic World sign, descending into Katoomba Falls Road. Follow the signs to Scenic World. It is located at the corner of Violet street and Cliff Drive and has a massive carpark (parking is free).
Scenic World has a very efficient and high-tech website that lists such factors as the current visibility, wind and temperature in its' Katoomba Weather and Ride Report. There's also live webcam of the view to the famous Three Sisters, that somehow brings to mind the Hollywood sign on the Hollywood Hills.
For more info including prices and location see the Scenic World website.
The Scenic Railway - cheque ages for a 3 minute ride, but gets you into the valley fast!
Golf in the Mountains
For golf enthusiasts this is a nice option for some fresh air, outdoor scenery and brisk exercise that'll warm you up and get your lungs pumping. Best on a sunny day - of course (no pun intended). The Blue Mountains does have some beautiful courses though, including Blackheath Golf Club, Leura Golf Club and Katoomba Golf Club.
Katoomba Golf Course - Golf with a Blue Mountains flavour.
After Dark Activities, Bars and Shows
Some of the best venues for after dark activities in the Mountains are listed here:
The Station Bar
This place is warm! But, that's not all you need to know. It also serves a top pizza and is licensed. On Sundays there is often free jazz. The Station Bar can be found right next to Katoomba Rail Station.
The Fairmont Bar, Fairmont Hotel, Leura
Haven't been here personally, but hear on the grapevine that it's good. The Fairmont has recently been upgraded by new ownership, with recent tourist awards a good sign. It's located at 1 Sublime Point in Leura.
The Piano Bar, Katoomba
This is the name the locals give to the Bank Hotel. Upstairs is a busy, award winning brasserie that makes a great pizza. Downstairs is the rowdy, slightly cramped bar. There's generally entertainment on offer on Saturday nights. The Piano Bar is at the top of Katoomba Street. You can't miss it. Look for the pub with the round outdoor tables generally occupied by hardened looking mountain characters, alongside of the Carrington Hotel (near Subway).
The Carrington Lounge, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba
Classy chill out hole with character, history, awesome architecture, comfy chairs, fireplace and quiet. Grab a hot cidar (my fave), port, wine or beer or a hot choc or other brew.
The Gearins Hotel, Katoomba
Not my favourite place as it's a bit dark (although that's just my personal choice and having said that I was there on New Years Eve 2011 and can be seen at the local trivia) but the Gearins does serve very generous sized cheap bistro type food including good vegetarian choices - rare in the pub scene. The Gearins also holds regular entertainment ranging from trivia (Tuesday nights) to bands and poetry readings. The Gearins is owned by Aussie actor Jack Thompson who does a great job at supporting the arts through this establishment. The Gearins is located on the opposite side of the rail station at 73 Great Western Highway Katoomba. For what's on, best to call them up on 02 4782 4395, or grab a copy of the local Blue Mountains Gazette - they advertise in there. Forget the website. They don't list their events on it, but you can check out the menu there. Here's the link.
The classy bar at the Carrington Hotel Lounge. Grab a bevvy and chill by the fire.
Legends, Mysteries and Ghost Tours
This is a regular night time gig at Jenolan Caves. The two hour tour consists of legends, tales and general local scary stories. A torch-light tour may take you through any of the various caves. If you are of the ilk that likes to be spooked out, I can vouch for the creepiness of Jenolan at night. I know of one former tour guide who advised me that all tour guides avoided the caves at night due to the tales of ghost sightings.
This popular tour runs every Wednesday and Saturday night at 8.00 (and also every Friday the 13th). Maximum spaces for each tour are twenty people maximum. A different way to spend the night.
If you undertake this tour, it's probably best to stay the night at Caves House or face the scary drive back. Having said that rumour has it that Caves House is haunted by the spirit of former maid Ms Chisolm, though some of you might enjoy that thought.
Cafes With a Difference
You can eat Subway anywhere. Get my drift. For something uniquely Blue Mountains try one of the below:
This tea-room on the Corner of Grose & Megalong Streets in Leura features over 3000 teapots on display. If you don't like clutter steer clear. The Devonshire tea is to be recommended.
Add scores of 1920's old world charm and you have The Paragon in Katoomba, an iconic restaurant / cafe with art deco style decor and an enticing display of hand made chocolates. It's an experience in vintage, though in some respects a little on the tired side. The Paragon is on Katoomba Street (main street of Katoomba) at number 65 and is a local legend.
Cafe in the World Heritage Centre at Echo Point
My apologies that I don't know the name for this cafe, but it needs to be mentioned since it's virtually the only cafe in Katoomba where you can sit indoors and still enjoy a magnificent view of Echo Point and the Three Sisters. The food is mediocre here - but Meatloaf had it right when he sang that 'two out of three ain't bad'.
Expansive glass windows and location do wonders for this cafe. It can be found in the World Heritage Centre - the big building at the very end (right hand side) of Katoomba Street. You will know you are there when you find yourself staring at the viewing platform for the Three Sisters and a sea of tourists from all over the globe. Enter the building and go upstairs - that's if you make it past the ice-creamery downstairs. Many have succumbed.
Common Ground Cafe
This earthy cafe serving simple home-style food can be found on the corner of Katoomba and Waratah Street. It is a fave with both tourists and locals alike for its cheap fare and interesting decor. Expect to be served by mellow men with beards (this establishment is run by a religious community). The furniture, made of real trees, gives the cafe the feeling of a hobbit hole. There are plenty of options for vegetarians and varying meal sizes as well as a wood combustion fire, all of which gives it extra brownie points. Perhaps, by now, you're getting my theme about staying warm.
For more information on what's on in the Blue Mountains, stay tuned for my upcoming article on entertainment this winter in the Blue Mountains. For those who are povo, I will also be doing a review on the best el cheapo lunches to be had in the Blue Mountains.
In the meanwhile, stay warm and if you dare to make it up the mountain enjoy your winter sojourn here. Sit back and enjoy that central heating knowing someone else is paying a motza for it. May you have all the snow and warm winter cheer you dream of.
Frosty bench in a park in Katoomba - not your only option.