I don’t know about you but I’ve lived in Sydney for 20 years and I’ve been to the Blue Mountains - arguably one of the city’s biggest and most-recognised tourist attractions - only a handful of times.
And one of those times was when I myself was a tourist, before making the fair state of NSW my home.
The Blue Mountains were always too far away, too ‘rural’ and — here’s my Sydney snobbery showing — too boring. Family weekends away or, as I got older, mini-breaks with friends were always spent either up or down the coast, thank you very much.
Imagine my surprise when one of said friends announced that she was relocating to the rugged region just a few months ago.
As COVID-19 cases and restrictions began to ease, she invited me to stay at her new place and, keen for a change of scene, I said yes. With international, and in some cases even domestic travel off the cards, a weekend in the Blue Mountains was looking pretty good.
A Blue Mountains weekender
When I say ‘weekend’ it really was just 24 hours, or even less. I had to be back in Sydney by mid-afternoon the following day for a physio appointment.
Being a car-less inhabitant of the Inner West, I was very kindly loaned a new Yaris hatchback by Toyota which transported me smoothly and efficiently westward on a Sunday afternoon. Not that the 100km or so journey is a particularly arduous one.
Once on the M4 it’s pretty much just a straight, non-stop drive until Penrith. It took about an hour and 30 minutes to get to my friend’s suburb, Hazelbrook, which is itself about 20 minutes east of Katoomba aka the home of the Three Sisters. Turns out the Blue Mountains aren’t that far away at all.
As I wound my way upward into the mountains I noticed the temperature dial in the car drop several degrees, a welcome relief after scorching Sydney summer days. When I stepped out of the car I greeted my friend with a loud “It’s so cold!” — but I wasn’t unhappy about it.
Without veering into hyperbole, it was like being on a different planet where the air is crisp and clear, the temperature and humidity are a delight and everything is quiet and green and calming. I saw a young boy walking his dog along a street at dusk. Alone. You don’t see that in the big smoke.
Thai food and thrift-shop finds
I arrived just in time for takeaway dinner from the local Thai restaurant, Maprang Thai, in nearby Lawson. There you’ll also find woodfire pizza joint Napoli Corner and Mediterranean eatery Mesa Barrio, both of which come highly recommended by my host.
After an early night — I slept with a doona, it was bliss —it was time to get up and make the most of my limited remaining time.
First order of business was checking out the local op shops (aka second-hand or thrift shops) my friend had raved about. As a long-time Sydney op-shopper, I’d grown accustomed to Sydney op-shop prices.
My jaw was on the floor at The Cancer Wellness Support Op Shop in Katoomba when the kind staffer rang up my purchases — a dress, two skirts, two tops, two vases, a pair of candleholders, a rattan pencil holder and a retro serving dish — for $22. She stared at me like I was mad. I stammered, ‘I’m from Sydney...’ by way of explanation. She nodded sagely in response.
My blow-out shopping trip over, we retired to a cafe on Lurline St for some refreshments. Cassiopeia Coffee was not the old-timey milk bar scene I’d expected — instead it looks like it’s been transplanted from the hipster streets of Melbourne. We sat on upcycled milk crate stools, for goodness sake. The coffee and banana bread were stellar.
Now it was time to stretch our legs so we headed back to Hazelbrook to do the family and dog-friendly Horseshoe Falls walk. The start of the track is just four minutes drive from Hazelbrook’s village centre and surprisingly easy to access making the Falls a hidden pocket of paradise.
The walk actually comprises three waterfalls, the first being Horseshoe which we came across after about 10 minutes of walking then a short distance later Oakland and finally Burgess. The full loop is about 3.5km and takes an hour to 1.5 hours depending on whether you’re strolling or striding.
Sadly, after a quick lunch at my friend’s place, it was time for me to rev up the Yaris and hit the road back home. The return drive was even quicker and easier owing to the light midday traffic.
When I got to my appointment, my physio remarked on how uncharacteristically relaxed I was. ‘I’ve been in the Mountains,’ I said dreamily to which he replied, ‘Maybe you should move there.’ I’m still not quite sure if he was joking or not.
Staying in the Mountains
While I was lucky enough to bunk down at my friend’s home, there are plenty of accommodation options for all types of visitors and budgets in the Blue Mountains. The historic Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath is a luxe option while Katoomba’s Hotel Blue & Conference Centre delivers on the charm at a more affordable price point.
You can also stay a little further out at the Japanese Bath House in South Bowenfels, or spend the day there soaking in the mineral-rich spring waters of a traditional Onsen or hot spring bath overlooking the breathtaking Lake Lyell.
That’s exactly what I’ll be doing on part two of my Blue Mountains road trip because it’s not as far, or rural or boring as some people say. Is it too soon to ask if my friend’s spare room is free, say, next weekend?
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