A visit to Australia’s largest city, Sydney, is always an experience but there comes a time when you begin to wonder what’s outside the sprawling metropolitan area. Only a 90-minute drive from the city, the Blue Mountains offer the perfect road trip that gives you the chance to spend time in the city but also see another side to the state in a place full of natural beauty.
When planning my road trip I knew exactly where I wanted to go; I wanted to see the Blue Mountains, the mountainous region that borders Sydney’s outer metropolitan area, that my trip onboard the Indian Pacific had slowly navigated through a year earlier.
The plan was set. We would spend two nights in Sydney – I couldn’t resist the chance to explore the growing small bar scene! – and set off early on our road trip so we could spend nearly a full day in the mountains, a night in Leura – a boutique town known for its growing food scene – before heading back into the city to take the last flight home.
Day 1: Sydney
With no time to waste I was back out on the streets and taking the ferry to Circular Quay for our first stop, the Museum of Contemporary Arts. Alongside their permanent collection is a revolving collection of exhibitions which has included Yoko Ono’s War Is Over! (if you want it), works from the Biennale of Sydney, and Christian Marclay’s The Clock.
Strolling around the gallery made me hungry and as breakfast was a distant memory we headed to The Argyle. Known for its nightlife, The Argyle has recently been taking a new approach to entertainment offering pop-up canteen food options. While there we experienced their yum cha menu which is now unfortunately not available. In place, The Argyle Canteen now serves a new menu featuring authentic Italian and diner-style food. Think Napoli inspired pizzas, thick juicy burgers and Italian sweets for dessert – yum!
After a spot of shopping along Pitt Street Mall – a girl can’t resist! – we dropped our bags and headed out again, this time with our car and walking shoes, to take on the Hermitage Foreshore Walk. It’s a walk with million dollar views between Rose Bay and Watsons Bay where Sydney’s CBD and the Harbour Bridge seem to never leave your field of vision. There are a few steep parts and sets of stairs but for the most part it’s an easy walk. Highlights included stopping by Strickland House. Explore the gardens and grounds of the home-built in 1854, or just admire the view of the Harbour from the green. If it’s warm enough bring your bathers and a towel and have a swim in one of the two small harbourside beaches, my favourite being picturesque Hermit Bay where you can see Sydney’s CBD before you and the Harbour Bridge stretched out across the waters. If it’s chilly both Watsons Bay and Rose Bay have some small cafes perfect for warming up before returning home.
After a quick shower it was time to head out again and take on Sydney’s nightlife. Teaming up with local friends we were taken to a few of their favourite places. First up was dinner at El Loco, located in super trendy Surrey Hills, one of the most talked about Mexican restaurants in Sydney at the moment. Think sharing plates, big portions, and some pretty amazing (not quite Mexican) hot dogs. If you’re feeling like something a little more upmarket Sepia, one of the best seafood restaurants in Sydney is a great alternative but we just wanted something fresh and fun!
After laws were changed late 2013, Sydney’s small bar scene has exploded and I wanted to explore some of the best with a mini bar crawl. After returning to two old favourites, Rook and Stitch we went to Grandma’s Bar, a suggestion from my friend Lawrence. Kitch and mix-matched, Grandma’s Bar is a cool place to hang out no matter the time. Things get really busy after 9pm but never fear, there’s plenty of Tiki mugs and jaffles to share with everyone.
Image owned by Hotel 1888
Day 2: Into the Blue Mountains
Leaving early the next morning we beat the traffic and headed towards the Blue Mountains, just a 90-minute drive away from the city. If you have time and choose to take the M4, be sure to make a stop at Zumbo’s Patisserie, Australian’s master macaroon maker. His hole-in-the-wall store on Balmain’s Darling Street is the flagship store offering the greatest variety of cakes and treats. Of course, I couldn’t resist picking up my favourite – a passionfruit tart!
Being such an easy drive along the highway we didn’t stop in any of the towns we passed by, instead wanting to spend as much time as we could in Mountains.
We decided to check-in to our hotel a little later and instead begin with a tour of the National Park. Being a bit of a bush newbie I decided it was better to go with an expert from Treadlightly Eco Tours. I chose to do the two-hour easy Wilderness Walk to get a taster of the World Heritage area.
Led by Tim, we followed the Charles Darwin Track and I was blown away at the knowledge he had of the area. We saw suspected dinosaur footprints, cave paintings left by the Indigenous people, and plenty of gorgeous native plants. We even had a lunch in a cave with a beautiful view across the valley. I had to ask Tim the question “why are the Blue Mountains called the Blue Mountains” and he didn’t miss a beat; Explaining that the dense forest of eucalyptus trees will release a mist of eucalyptus oil when they get warm and when the mist refracts the light it looks blue from a distance.
While we were out here we decided to head to Scenic World which gives guests four unique ways to experience the Blue Mountains. The first, and of course the one we started with, is the Scenic Railway that boasts it is the steepest passenger railway in the world with a 52º incline. I don’t doubt it after clinging onto my seat as we descended through a passage between two rocks and into the rainforest. It’s well worth the trip down, if not for a bit of an adrenaline rush but to see the Scenic Walkway.
Wandering around the Scenic Walkway, 2.4 kilometres of boardwalk and valley floor, the rainforest just towers above you. Amongst the Jurassic Rainforest is information about the mines and miners who worked in this place and had to get the coal up that crazy incline. If you’re lucky you might see lyrebirds, though I wasn’t quite so lucky on the day we visited.
Back up the Scenic Railway, we were next ushered onto the Scenic Cableway, a large glass cable car that travels the stretch across the Jamison Valley. The cable operator shared information about the area and pointed out the Three Sisters, Orphan Rock, Mt Solitary and Katoomba Falls as we slowly crossed the 545 metre expanse, though you’ll be able to get a better view from the Scenic Skyway.
By the time we had finished experiencing all we could at Scenic World, and buying locally made products like the honey from the gift shop, we were ready to check-in to our hotel.We were staying at the Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains, located just outside of Leura, which better resembled a luxury country club than a hotel as we drove down the winding driveway. The Deluxe Rooms were something special. It was a place that perfectly suits summer or winter weathers, though amongst the rich colours, light woods, and huge comfortable bed I could imagine snuggling up and watching snow fall across the Jamison Valley, the panoramic view that I could see from my window.
I was pretty tired after our day adventuring and suggested we have an early night after dining at the hotel. After a cheeky drink at the newly renovated Sublime Lounge we headed to the Eucalypt Restaurant for a taste of the local fare.
The sign reads “Charles Darwin passed this way 1836”
Image owned by Fairmont Resort
While my friend slept in and enjoyed the pool, I took a walk around the property, past the adjoining Leura Golf Club and the stables to the segway track. Yes, that’s right I was going on a Segway Tour in the Blue Mountains.
Okay, it’s not quite as hardcore as I make it sound. There are two specially designed segway tracks around the property, including a small obstacle course, that takes you around the hotel, past the golf course as well as the rock climbing area and into the scrub. Best of all, you don’t have to be a hotel guest to take a tour!
After packing up the car and saying goodbye to the Fairmont Resort all too soon we decided to make a stop by the town centre to see what all the buzz was about.
Leura’s über cute main street – aptly named the Leura Mall – is the home of dozens of locally run produce stores. Most notably is the artisan chocolate store, Josophan’s Fine Chocolates. Be sure to stop by Teddy Sinclair if you need anything leather. The store sells unique leather goods but the original titles say that a food store needs to be set-up on the premises. To get around this the leather store now sells delicious locally made meat pies at the back of the store!
Unfortunately, my weekend getaway to Sydney and the Blue Mountains was almost at an end but there was one last stop we wanted to make to fuel up before the drive back to Sydney.
The Leura Garage is something of an icon. Incorporating features of – yes, you guessed it – a garage, you’ll find an automotive lift raised high displaying pretty glassware, rusting exhausts above the wine collection and plenty of ‘rough and ready’-style charm throughout the cafe and restaurant. The food is tasty and filling, though top pick were the wood oven pizza and don’t say no to a plate of their amazing shoestring potatoes topped with rosemary salt and with a side of aioli. Mmm… I think they nearly had to roll me back to Sydney!
Now it’s over to you
Which great Australian road trips would you like to take?
What are your road trip essentials?
PS: I’d also be really interested to know what you think of this day-by-day breakdown! 🙂
This post has been created with the support of Shell V-Power.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.