The Blue Mountains

Words & Photographs by Angela Terrell

There are certain holiday memories that stay firmly cemented in our psyches. Being the youngest child in our family, many of mine involve sitting in the back seat of the car on inordinately long road-trips, windows wound down to keep cool and usually being firmly wedged between my brother and sister, catching only fleeting glimpses of the changing landscape as it rushed past. Of course it never rushed too fast as these were the days when highways only had one lane and the family Holden Monaro definitely wasn’t turbo! It was a time when holiday money was treasured and spent wisely and motel breakfasts were a highlight, the individual cartons of cereal almost as exciting as the novelty of watching morning TV sitting on brown chenille bedspreads surrounded by orange flowered wallpaper. Yes, I was a child of the 70s.

Move on a couple of decades and decor has changed, kids watch TV on their phones and cereal is more often than not paleo, but some things have stayed the same; not only confirming the timelessness of certain holiday memories and destinations, but also the comfort that we feel in unvarying continuity. A holiday in the Blue Mountains today is reassuringly the same as it was when I was young. The endless sense of space and possibility of my childhood is still there, the bush walks remain strenuous yet exciting, picnic huts built of sandstone stand in the same parks they have for years and open fires on cool nights remain the perfect place to sip hot chocolate, to chat or to merely ponder. Here there is a sense of permanence in an ever-changing world. 

Less than a two hour drive from Sydney (and easily accessible now by a two lane highway…some things fortuitously do change), the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area encompasses over one million hectares of National Park and wilderness. Here is an area of breathtaking views, chiselled tablelands, spectacular escarpments and valley floors carpeted in dense and endless green eucalyptus forest. Plant life in these valleys and inaccessible gorges is rich, evolving over the millennia untouched by the ever-widening tendrils of modern development, even managing to hide one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees, the Wollemi Pine, until its discovery in 1994.

There is steadfastness in this ancient landscape. Despite the hints of cataclysmic change such as cracks in cliff-faces and massive boulders strewn along their bases, the gentle folds of the valley floor, the whispers of the wind through the trees, the cascading waterfalls and the gentle hues of the landscape, consistently exude a feeling of calm and timeless beauty.

Hike along any of the numerous walking trails in the region and you can’t help but be absorbed by this beauty. Bellbirds echo in the valley and creeks are lost from view in the dense vegetation, the sound of water gurgling over rocks and torrenting down distant waterfalls at times the only evidence of their existence. Sometimes covered by a sheath-like mist and  sometimes sweltering under a blazing sun, this magical area is always spectacular. And on those days when the sun has shone all day and you have the opportunity to watch it slowly set to the west, the sight of the precipitous escarpments turning orange, the vegetation pink and the sky indigo is truly magical.

Of course the slow march of progress can still be felt even here with popular lookouts a haven for tourist buses and the scenic cableway an alternative to descending a thousand hand carved sandstone steps to the valley floor, yet somehow the charm endures. Villages in the Blue Mountain are undeveloped with bakeries and local shops still meeting most needs yet offering numerous accommodation options from timber cottages to luxury hotels (where the orange of the 70s appears to have been replaced by beige and grey). Restaurants are uniformly good, delis offer delectable delights and local artisan stores remain the perfect place to spend a little of that treasured holiday money.

So my advice, don the walking shoes, find that fleecy jumper you haven’t worn for years, jump in the car and go and rediscover this wonderful part of Australia. May it always be that special place to inspire and enjoy.

If you’re looking for more Australiana why not pick up a copy of our Australia issue.

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