The Magic of the Mountains

Experience the breathtaking winter wonderland of the Blue Mountains, where you’ll find natural wonders to thrill the whole family.  

Words: Charmaine Yabsley 

“A topographic map opens up the whole world to you. You’d read the book before seeing the film, and it’s the same with understanding how to read a map before you go on a hike.” We’re standing in the early morning mists in Jamieson Valley, in the Blue Mountains, as our guide Caro Ryan from Lots a Fresh Air (www.lotsafreshair.com), prepares us for a morning of hiking and exploration. Her enthusiasm for map reading and understanding her beloved mountains is infectious: the sun may not have peeked over the towering ridges but we – two adults and two children – are fired up and can’t wait to explore.   

Our goal today is to explore the Jamieson Valley, a few kilometres south of Katoomba, the main town in the Blue Mountains. Caro, a deputy unit commander with the NSW SES Bush Search and Rescue team, is passionate about visitors to the area discovering the magic of the mountains as well as understanding the risks of exploring the trails. Her advice is sensible, and she takes pains to encourage people to explore, without putting themselves (or others) at risk. “Choose a hike that’s within your capabilities,” she says. “Be realistic about your fitness levels and capabilities -there’s a lot of stairs and inclines, and it takes a toll on your body. Take water, snacks and first aid supplies and always let someone know you’re going on a walk and where you intend to be.” She’s right. Our four hour trek is tiring, but worth it. The views over the valley and mountain range are breathtaking, as the eucalyptus-hued mountains glimmer in the winter sunshine. The day before had seen a late-season snowfall, blanketing the picture-perfect towns of the mountains in inches of white powder. Clumps of snow still clung to the branches, and small puddles iced over, adding to the story tale element of our hike.  

For there are many stories to hear in Katoomba. One of the most famous Dreamtime stories of the Blue Mountains is the tale of the Three Sisters. According to the legend, there were three beautiful sisters from the Katoomba tribe who fell in love with three brothers from the neighbouring Nepean tribe. However, tribal law forbade them to marry. As a result, a powerful elder turned the sisters into stone pillars to protect them from harm during a tribal battle. He intended to reverse the spell after the danger had passed but was killed in the conflict. The sisters remain as the striking rock formation we are hiking today. 

The Blue Mountains are home to significant rock art sites, which serve as important cultural and historical records for the Indigenous peoples. Part of our walking journey through Wentworth Falls and Jamieson Valley, gave Caro the time to share some of these stories, along with many of her own escapes. So, captivating in fact, that our four hour trek passed by in a flash (and without complaint) by even the smallest family member. 

For the Blue Mountains is perhaps the perfect family holiday destination. It may be due to the numerous outdoor activities guaranteed to keep all family members happy, or the wide range of award-winning restaurants and cafes to enjoy the local produce. Whether you prefer a hearty hike over the hills, or would prefer to sip wine by the fire, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.  

Echo Point & Three Sisters, Katoomba. Photo: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
What to do 

After our morning’s trek, we gave our feet a rest and jumped on the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus sightseeing tour of the main tourist strip (www.explorerbus.com.au). The hop-on/hop-off activity, uniquely held on a refurbished London bus, gave us the perfect view of the area, sailing high over the streets that clung to the side of the cliffs. There’s time to enjoy the majestic views at the various stops and the drivers are a wealth of local knowledge.  

Make sure you take the time to visit each of the jewel-like towns which make up the necklace of the mountains: Leura, Katoomba, Blackheath, and Wentworth Falls are just a few of the many beautiful places to visit to shop, stroll and sip. There are mouthwatering chocolate shops, designer clothing stores, old-fashioned diners, record stores and art galleries to be discovered. You can spend hours wandering from store to store, stopping only to refuel at the many delicious cafes or restaurants. We made sure we had booked a table at the Avalon in Katoomba. Once the Savoy Theatre, the restaurant and café retain its theatrical past, with costumes, art, and décor on display and as delicious as the menu. Our window seat gave us views over Leura and Jameson Valley, so time your booking for lunchtime or for sunset. The restaurant also hosts local musicians and DJs, along with different events to highlight the wide range of cultural talent in the area. (www.avalonkatoomba.com.au)  

When we were done exploring the hiking trails and offerings of the high streets, we rejuvenated with a cocktail or two beside the fireplace at the newly opened Kyah Hotel. The modern mountain retreat boasts the hotel, onsite restaurant Blaq, and newly opened spa. Billed as ‘what happens when fresh mountain air collides with playful Palm Springs-inspired design’, Kyah’s décor successfully competes with its location: think on-trend archways, curves, and cutaway interiors; art deco-inspired furnishings and an abundance of space. The revitalised hotel comprises three separate accommodation buildings (each named after one of Katoomba’s famed Three Sisters) that flow into a welcoming central lobby and entertainment hub.  

The highlight of our stay here was Blaq (named for its location – Blackheath) overseen by Executive Chef Mate Herceg (who is also the General Manger). His mouthwatering menu focuses on a garden-to-plate philosophy allowing the best fare of the Blue Mountains to shine, by prioritising hyper-local, seasonal, and sustainable produce. Our meal here was memorable for all the right reasons – melt-in-the-mouth meats, crispy fries and decadent deserts put the icing on our perfect day.  

When we were ready to lay our weary heads, we headed to our generous two- bedroom suite, which sleeps up to five people. Kyah also offers different room formats and configurations for those travelling with families.  

The next morning, we were feeling the effects of our hike, so headed to the sauna and wood-fired outdoor hot tub – a relaxed start to the day, and a much-appreciated respite to slow down and enjoy the ocean of greenery that was so different to home, yet just as stunningly beautiful.  

To book a room or table at Kyah Hotel, visit www.thekyah.com.au 

Other places to stay: For a home worthy of Anne of Green Gables, book the family into the wonderfully cute Apple Blossom Cottage. The three-bedroom home is self-catering, with a log fireplace, veranda, and BBQ. Located on the south side of Wentworth Falls village, it’s an easy stroll down to the nearby cafes and viewing platforms.  (www.whisperingpines.com.au) 

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