Looking for somewhere to explore now that travel is again on the agenda? The temptation may be to print out the boarding pass and take to the air, but Australia has some of the best road trips on the planet that make exploring by car such an easy option.
And you don’t necessarily have to go far.
For this adventure we’re starting in Sydney and heading west to explore the Blue Mountains.
There’s not a whole lot of joy in getting out of Sydney when the traffic is in full swing. But if you hit the freeway network and make a beeline for the M2 it won’t take long till you can see and sniff the wilderness. While a typical road trip to the Blue Mountains involves the M4 western motorway, for this trip we’re heading to the Bells Line of Road for something more challenging and varied.
Head through the historic town of Richmond before making the twisting climb up Bellbird Hill that is the start of the ascent into the mountains proper. The road opens up but is still narrow and windy in parts, although it’s never dull.
While the 2019 bushfires decimated the area – look for blackened tree trunks as a reminder, as well as the greenery that shows how quickly the bush bounces back – they also opened up the spectacular views across the mountains. Vast expanses of gum trees and craggy sandstone rocks make for a stunning backdrop.
Bells Line has various diversions and side roads, but it’s the Darling Causeway that can take you back to the Great Western Highway that is the spine of the main mountain towns. Expect more traffic over there, although you’re also closer to the action with towns dotted along that main thoroughfare.
But for this trip we’re sticking with the lesser travelled road to its conclusion in Lithgow. Overtaking opportunities are limited but you’ll have no shortage of variety and undulations.
One more steep descent from Mount Victoria brings you into the western-most town of the Blue Mountains.
SOMEWHERE TO EAT
The fruit bowl of Bilpin is a great place for a snack. Grab some fruity take-away for later and make sure you try the Bilpin Cider.
But the Mountains offer plenty more. Want something regal with one of the best views in the region? The historic Hydro Majestic is a great place for a long lunch. Darley’s restaurant does it in the style of the building it occupies or you can go more modern with the Boilerhouse next door. There’s even EV charging on site if you need an electric top-up!
Or you could go for something more casual at the Leura Garage (reopening November 4), which has a great atmosphere to match the great food.
While you’re there wander down the main street at Leura, which is a terrific microcosm of the Blue Mountains. See if you can resist the chocolate temptation at Josophan’s on the main strip.
The Mountains are peppered with terrific cafes and restaurants, so you don’t have to look far for alternatives and all manner of options.
THINGS TO DO
Feeling adventurous? There’s no shortage of fantastic bushwalks in the Blue Mountains. The one near the Three Sisters rock formation is one of the most heavily trodden with good reason. Or take the trek to Wentworth Falls (the water falls near the town of the same name).
Or you could explore the Jenolan Caves, the world’s oldest open caves.
The Glow Worm Tunnel in the Wollemi National Park is also worth a diversion.
Scenic World will get the heart rate up with the Scenic Railway that is one of the steepest in the world. Or there’s a cablecar that hangs 270 metres above the gorge below.
There’s no shortage of history in the mountains, either, including memorials to the first European crossing in 1813 by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth.
Or there’s the majestic Norman Lindsay Gallery that is the spectacular former home of the artist and writer.
The Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens is another way to explore the flora and fauna of the area.
WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
The Zig Zag railway was one of the prime tourist attractions in the Blue Mountains, delivering a historic adventure for adults and kids alike. The 2019 bushfires saw the railway close, but it’s due to reopen late in 2021. Make sure you jump aboard for a slow speed cruise on a historic old railway.
Or if you want to get wet head for Jellybean Pool. It’s a bit of walk to get there but is a terrific place for a picnic or swim. Just be prepared for crowds if it’s a hot day.
And if you’re after somewhere unique to stay, check out The Enchanted Cave.
Or if you want something well off the tourist trail check out the Lithgow Heavy Anti-Aircraft Gun Stations and Dummy Station at Clwydd. It’s mid-way between the carpark for the Zig Zag Railway and Lithgow, just before you start the steep descent. The old gun structures were built as an inland air defence for World War II and are now heritage listed.