Named for the eucalyptus fumes that tint the air from a distance, the Blue Mountains have long been a hill sanctuary for stressed-out Sydneysiders. With a charming scones-jam-and-cream-by-the-fireside vibe, the mountains offer gourmet treats, art-deco retreats and good dollop of alternative culture with galleries, festivals, quirky shops and thriving music and foodie scenes.
Overlooking the timeless Jamison Valley, a view that makes you feel like a teeny insignificant speck in the universe, the three poster girls for the Blue Mountains really are among Australia's most gorgeous natural beauties. The story goes that these beautiful sisters from the Katoomba tribe were turned temporarily to stone by a sorcerer to prevent them from hooking up with three unsuitable brothers from the Nepean tribe. But when the brothers killed the sorcerer the young women were trapped in stone for eternity. Today the sisters are a magnet for buses disgorging tourists from around the world, but head down one of the tracks that lead into the bush from here and you'll soon find yourself surrounded by peaceful forest and stunning views.
You can't visit the mountains without taking a decent bush walk and this one is a stunner. First established in 1907, this track from Evans Lookout (accessed from Blackheath) takes you down into the valley, past waterfalls, rainforest, canyon vistas and bird habitats along well-marked trails. It's a steep climb out but you'll have earned your dinner after this four-hour, 5.4km walk.
Built by millionaire deco devotee Henri Van de Velde at a time when a fun house party involved dressing up as a nymph or satyr and traipsing about in your private topiary garden theatre, this stunning property is a rich-man's retreat of terraced lawns, rhododendron walkways and glimpses of the Jamison Valley. It was designed by prestigious Danish landscaper Paul Sorensen in the 1930s and makes inspired use of the onsite waterfall, creek, vistas and even the rocky ground, which he used in terracing walls and pathways.
Selwood Science & Puzzles
One of the mountain's hidden gems, Hazelbrook's puzzle shop is an eccentric, old house filled with brain-teasers, science experiments, optical illusions and puzzles of all descriptions. Hands-on testing is encouraged as you explore the old creaky rooms to the music of a player piano.
Wedding cakes in limestone, lacy curtains, frozen subterranean rivers… the metaphorical names come thick and fast at Jenolan Caves – Australia's most celebrated limestone cave attraction. You will be fascinated by the cleverly lit architectural forms underground and, like so many of the attractions in the Blue Mountains, one of the delights of visiting the caves is the historic feel to the place – the genteel 1898 Caves House presides over the compact valley like a cosy European chalet.
Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum
Author of the children's classic The Magic Pudding, painter of raunchy Arcadian mythology, bon vivant, bohemian and blasphemer, Norman Lindsay is one of Australia's most renowned artists. His sandstone home in Faulconbridge is now a gallery (www.normanlindsay.com.au) displaying his work, including beautiful garden sculptures and book illustrations.
This is one of those kid-thrill experiences that everyone who grew up in Sydney remembers fondly from childhood. You slide into your rickety seat and something seems fishy – why is it tipped back at that uncomfortable angle? All becomes clear when you descend down the near-vertical cliff-face and find yourself pretty much standing on the wall in front of you seat. Great fun – and the stunning valley you're transported to, traversed by an easy-amble walkway with historic and environmental information displays, is a lovely way to get in among the eucalyptus smells. Access the railway through Scenic World which also has a skyway, a cableway, a cafe and plenty of cheesy souvenirs.
By Monique Choy