Head to the hills on Sydney's doorstep for breathtaking scenery, historic townships and gourmet food.
By Georgia Rickard & Marc Llewellyn
Check out Art Deco shops and culture in Katoomba, be astonished by the natural beauty of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park, and go horse riding among kangaroos. Meander through cool-climate gardens and orchards on your final day.
Hire a car from Sydney's city centre or airport and take the 90 minute drive west to Katoomba, a town in the Blue Mountains. Katoomba is known for its gorgeous Art Deco architecture and offbeat shopping. Browse antique stores, vintage emporiums, jumbled-up op shops (stores selling second-hand goods for charity) and quirky thrift stores on the main strip, Katoomba Street. You'll also find first-edition books, fabulously unusual vintage clothes and one-off homewares in stores such as Mr Pickwick's Fine Old Books and Peachtree Antiques. From here, it's a five minute car ride to the gorgeous garden village of Leura, where the shopping gets even better (don't miss The Candy Store). A selection of gorgeously Instagrammable cafés lines the main street. Have a tapas-style lunch at Leura Garage, which does a fantastic cheese board, then return to Katoomba via the Blue Mountains Chocolate Company, where you can make your own hot drink from silky smooth couverture chocolate.
The town of Katoomba sits on the edge of a cliff, offering breathtaking views of the craggy Three Sisters rock formation. Drive (or walk) from Katoomba town centre to the Echo Point lookout to see the Three Sisters and beyond. The views of World Heritage-listed rainforest and dramatic escarpments stretch over the horizon. (Insider tip: come back after dark to see the Three Sisters floodlit until 11pm. It's gorgeous.) Next, head to Scenic World, where you can ride the world's steepest train down into a valley between the mountains, or take an aerial cable car offering great views, before disembarking at the bottom to stroll through 2.4 kilometres (1 1/2 miles) of Jurassic rainforest. Don't worry if it's misty, or even raining. It can be even more beautiful that way. Have dinner or cocktails at Palette Dining, and stay in style at the Victorian-era Lilianfels Resort & Spa or in the stunning old-world surrounds of the Hydro Majestic.
A 15 minute drive this morning brings you to the town of Blackheath for a delicious breakfast at Anonymous. Shop for homewares and lifestyle products at Cabin & Co. Stock up on picnic supplies such as goat's cheese with truffle honey, continental meats, sourdough bread and homemade jams and relishes at This Little Piggy Wiggy provedore. Explore two floors of antiques at the Victory Theatre Antique Centre and Café, where you can also have lunch. Then take a stroll among ponds, fern glades and woodlands at the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens. The best time to see the rhododendrons in flower is from September to November.
Drive downhill into the beautiful Megalong Valley for a spot of horse riding at Euroka Homestead. You'll amble past old shearing sheds and across the rolling plains, hear birds calling from all directions and spot kangaroos grazing in the paddocks beneath the sandstone escarpments. Part of the ride goes along the Six Foot Track, a challenging three-day hike from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. On weekends you can ride to nearby Dryridge Estate vineyard for some wine tasting and a cheese platter overlooking divine mountain views. Back in Blackheath, dine on regional produce tonight at Vesta, where everything is cooked in a 120-year-old scotch oven. Stay at Lilianfels Resort & Spa, or the Hydro Majestic once more.
Drive back towards Sydney today via Mount Wilson, a stunning village of gardens where a portion of Baz Luhrmann's Hollywood epic, The Great Gatsby was filmed. Stretch your legs among rare and exotic plants in Windyridge Garden or the larger Wildenstein Gardens (both offer morning tea, too). Then, follow Bells Line of Road to the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, home to cool-climate plants from around the world. The on-site Tomah Gardens Restaurant is a best-kept secret, quietly run by Sydney's most reluctant celebrity chef, Sean Moran (of Seans Panaroma restaurant at Bondi Beach). Expect silky handmade pasta, seasonal ingredients and a view to be remembered.
Next stop is Bilpin, a small town famous for its apples. You'll know when you're close, because hand-painted signs will start appearing on each side of the road, advertising freshly picked apples and local honey. Look out for a sign pointing out The Local Harvest. Housed in a corrugated shed, this little shop stocks the region's most-loved apple pies, baked fresh each day with local apples. Between January and June you can also stop around Bilpin to pick your own fruit, and not just apples, but walnuts, chestnuts, mandarins, artichokes, persimmons, peaches, strawberries and blueberries (again, just look for the hand-painted signs). It's an easy 90 minute drive back to Sydney's centre from here, but take your time. Bilpin is full of enchanting accommodation options, such as the Love Cabins, which overlook mountain rainforest wilderness, and stylish gourmet escape Farm Panaroma, and there are several great spots to eat, serving (you guessed it) local produce.