Just outside of Sydney, Australia‘s city limits are the Blue Mountains. The region has gorgeous plateaus and cliffs that are covered in lush greenery that seem as though they have never been touched. Flickr user VernsPics slept in a cave and rose with the sun to get this unbelievable sunrise peeking through the clouds.
My friends and I look at each other unsure. I feel silly I hadn’t bothered to research such an obvious question.
“They are covered in Eucalyptus Trees, which spritz Eucalyptus oil from their leaves,” Tommy explained. “In the sun, the mist creates a haze that appears blue from a distance.”
The Blue Mountains comprise a mountainous region in New South Wales, Australia, and are part of the Great Dividing Range, the third longest mountain range in the world. The Blue Mountains themselves are actually longer than the Rocky Mountains, although not as high. Dramatically cut by deep chasms, hikers have the ability to explore the trails along the mountain ridges and down into these gorges.
When To Visit
When hiking through the Blue Mountains, you’ll experience climatic shifts as you traverse through the different areas of the region. Whether it’s summer or winter, prepare for both seasons, as the weather can change rapidly. While you can visit anytime of year, Australia’s spring, which runs September to November, is when adventure sports like canyoning, rock climbing, abseiling and mountain biking begin their peak season. Additionally, you’ll also be able to experience an array of festivals in the area like the Festival of Walking, a nine-day event featuring everything from street walks to advanced treks, and The Capertee Challenge mountain biking event, where participants ride among sandstone cliffs and abundant wildlife. Other seasons also have perks, like vibrant foliage in the autumn, refreshingly crisp air in the winter and golden warmth in the summer.
There are many ways to get to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. Depending on which area of the Blue Mountains you are going to, the drive will take about 45 minutes to two hours by car. The nearest point is Glenbrook, while the farthest is Jenolan Caves/Oberon. Most visitors choose to spend their time in Leura or Katoomba, which is about 90 minutes from Sydney.
Taking the train is another option. City Rail offers trains directly from the city center or airport. This option is quicker than driving, and also includes access to the hop-on hop-off bus in the Blue Mountains, which visits more than 30 attractions. Trains run every hour, sometimes more than once.
Many travelers also opt to go by coach bus. Generally, buses leaves from Circular Quay. There are numerous companies, which you can browse by clicking here.
You don’t need to be an athlete to hike in the Blue Mountains. Trails range from easy to experienced, and some paths are even wheelchair accessible. First you should choose your home base(s), which includes Glenbrook/Warrimoo, Springwood/Faulconbridge, Lawson, Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba, Blackheath, Lithgow, Megalong Valley, Mount Victoria/Mount York, Bells Line of Road, Mount Wilson or Oberon.
While most of the previously mentioned areas contain an array of trail levels, some are more proportionate to one skill level. For example, those looking for an easy, scenic stroll should head to Glenbrook/Warrimoo, Leura or Katoomba. Moreover, experienced hikers will enjoy Blackheath, Katoomba and Wentworth Falls.
During my trip, I explored a few of the areas, and have my own personal recommendations. There is a reason Katoomba is thought of as the “must see” area of the Blue Mountains, as there are many noteworthy natural sites. The hike from Echo Point to Katoomba Falls is easy/moderate and is about 2.5 miles to return. You’ll get to view the iconic Three Sisters, a unique rock formation that was created by erosion and now appears to be three distinct but concise rock towers. Orphan Rock, Jamison Valley, the ridges of Kings Tableland and Mount Solitary are other sites you’ll take in. You can easily add on to the trek to be able to see Furber Steps, the Scenic Railway and a large boulder outcrop known as the Ruined Castle.
In Katoomba, you should also visit Scenic World for a chance to experience the Scenic Skyway, Scenic Railway, Scenic Cableway, Scenic Walkway and Scenic Cinema. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Scenic Railway is said to be the steepest funicular in the world, with an incline of 52 degrees.
The Wentworth Falls area has everything from the leisurely 3-mile, round-trip “Charles Darwin Walk” to a difficult 4-mile circuit with exceptional views, waterfalls, rain forests and bird watching. On the “Charles Darwin Walk,” you’ll follow the babbling Jamison Creek and will get to sit at the top of Wentworth Falls. Other waterfalls on the trek include Queen’s Cascades and Weeping Rock. If you’d like to make your hike more difficult, start at the Wentworth Falls picnic area and make your way to the Conservation Hut. You’ll pass numerous waterfalls as you walk fenced cliff edges. Keep in mind that while scenic, much of this trail is uphill, so you’ll need to be fit.
Trekking in Blackheath will allow you to discover the top area of the Blue Mountains for all-encompassing views of the area. One simple yet historical hike I recommend is Walls Cave. You’ll start at the end of Walls Cave Road where there will be a sign guiding you down a dirt path to Greaves Creek. Crossing over a small bridge, continue downstream until there is a bend in the creek. Here you will find Walls Cave, which was once inhabited by aboriginals.
if you’ve got a few hours to spare and want something more challenging, Walls Ledge-Centennial Glen-Porter’s Pass is a worthwhile trek. The beginning of the trail can be found near
the Centennial Glen Road parking lot. Right at the beginning, you’ll traverse winding hills following the cliff line where you will be able to look out into the valley. Follow the Porter’s Pass arrows, and along the way you’ll take in Kanimbia Valley, descend into a canyon and enjoy Centennial Glen Waterfall.
What’s your favorite Blue Mountains hike?
While Australia is culturally rich and history significant in general, one worthwhile way to explore the best the country has to offer is through its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These sites are particularly noteworthy in terms of culture and physical significance, and are often beautiful, as well. If you’re planning a trip to Australia, here are 10 must-see UNESCO World Heritage Sites to add to your itinerary.
Great Barrier Reef
Off the east coast of Queensland
Probably the most famous of all Australia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this area contains the largest collection of coral reefs and the greatest biodiversity of all the World Heritage Sites. The are is home to 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusk. Within the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll find 2,500 unique reefs and over 900 islands. Some species of animals in the area that scientists are particularly interested in include the dugong (sea cow) and the large green sea turtle, which could soon become extinct.
Kakadu National Park
A unique example of complex ecosystems, Kakadu National Park includes tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands and plateaux and habitats for rare and endemic species. Because of this, Kakadu is one of the world’s richest wildlife parks. Moreover, rock carvings, cave paintings and archeological sites provide information about the area’s 40,000+ years of inhabitants, from pre-historic hunter-gatherers as well as the aboriginal people still living there today.
Located at the most western part of Australia, Shark Bay has three noteworthy features: its sea-grass beds, which are the largest and richest in the world, its large dugong population of about 11,000 and its stromatolites, which are colonies of algae that create hard deposits and are among the most ancient organisms on the planet. Additionally, Shark Bay is home to five species of endangered mammals, including the boodie, rufous hare-wallaby, banded hare-wallaby, the Shark Bay mouse and the western barred bandicoot.
Australian Convict Sites
Although thousands of penal facilities were constructed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the British Empire in Australia, this UNESCO World Heritage listing contains 11 of them. These include:
- Old Government House and Domain (Parramatta)
- Hyde Park Barracks (Sydney)
- Cockatoo Island Convict Site (Sydney)
- Old Great North Road (near Wiseman’s Ferry)
- Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area (Norfolk Island)
- Port Arthur History Site (Pictured, Tasman Peninsula)
- Cascades Female Factory (Hobart)
- Darlington Probation Station (Maria Island)
- Coal Mines Historic Site (via Premadeyna)
- Brickendon-Woolmers Estates (near Longford)
- Fremantle Prison (Western Australia)
Between 1787 and 1868, about 166,000 people were sent to Australian convict colonies by Britain. Each institution had its own purpose, although all implemented forced labor to help build the colony. The facilities listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites represent the “best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts.”
At about 76 miles long and 15 miles wide, Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. Half the planet’s perched freshwater dune lakes are found here, as well as rainforests, wallum peat swamps, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove jungle, sand dunes and uncultivated coastline. The island is also home to one of the world’s weirdest beaches at Lake McKenzie, where the fine white silica sand is so pure, you can brush your teeth and clean your jewelry with it.
Greater Blue Mountains Area
New South Wales
The Greater Blue Mountains area is made up of eight protected areas, and is mainly praised for its ability to clearly show how the eucalypts in post-Gondwana isolation has changed and adapted over time. Furthermore, the region significantly represents the biodiversity of Australia, as 10% of the vascular fauna as well as many rare, threatened and endemic species live here. Visitors will find the Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve here, as well as seven national parks, including the Blue Mountains, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone, Thirlmere Lakes, Wollemi, Yengo and Nattai.
Sydney Opera House
An iconic symbol of Sydney, Australia, this unique piece of architecture brings together various forms of creativity and innovative. By showing a radically new way of building, the structure has greatly influenced archeciture and design. Furthermore, the opera house serves it’s function of providing a world-class performing arts space, while also responding to its environment and being accessible to the community as a major cultural center.
Purnululu National Park
Purnululu National Park covers almost 240,000 hectares of remote land. The most prominent feature of the Purnululu National Park is the Bungle Bungle Range, a deeply dissected range made of Devonian-age quartz sandstone which has eroded over the past 20 million years to form the beehive-shaped cones shown above. Not only are they bizarre looking, the process by which they came to be involved the interacting of biological, geological, erosional and climatic phenomena. What’s really unique about these formations is they change in appearance depending on the weather, sun position and season.
Lord Howe Island Group
New South Wales
Created by volcanic activity more than 6,562 feet under the sea, these islands feature unique topography and a wealth of endemic species. Some of these include the flightless Lord Howe Woodhen, which was once thought to be one of the rarest birds on the planet, and the Lord Howe Island Phasmid, the world’s largest wood insect which was once thought to be extinct. In terms of landscape, sheer mountain slopes, lagoons, a broad arc of hills and remnants of a shield volcano and caldera can be seen. Moreover, this is where visitors will find the world’s most southerly true coral reef.
Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens
The original purpose of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens was for the international exhibitions of 1880 and 1888. Designed by Joseph Reed and constructed from timber, steel, slate and brick, the structure features elements from the Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance styles. The venue reflects “the global influence of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries.”
The Blue Mountains of New South Wales are characterized by deep gorges and tree cover that appears from a distance to be bathed in a blue haze. The Three Sisters, a formation of three rock towers, are one of the region’s highlights. Today’s Photo of the Day depicts Meehni, the tallest of the Three Sisters.
Today’s Photo of the Day was taken by Flickr user verargulla, whose work has been previously featured on this very page. Want to see your images chosen not just once but multiple times as Photo of the Day at Gadling? Then upload your photos to Flickr’s Gadling Group Pool – that’s the only way to make it happen. And don’t be shy. Our tastes are quite broad.
19 year-old backpacker Jamie Neale, who has been missing in the mountains of eastern Australia for the past 12 days, has been found alive and is said to be in good condition, although he is recovering from exhaustion and dehydration in a local hospital. He was discovered on a trail near Katoomba, the same town that he set out from nearly two weeks ago.
The young Brit was on holiday in Australia when he decided to go backpacking in the Blue Mountains, found approximately 60 miles to the west of Sydney. He was last seen on July 3rd, but set off without his cell phone and didn’t bother to tell anyone where he was going. He also failed to sign the log book at the trail head as well, which complicated search and rescue operations later. To add to his level of unpreparedness, he was clad in dark colored clothes that made him difficult to spot from the air, and his survival blanket was left behind when he left Perth.
The Blue Mountains are a popular destination for hikers and backpackers alike. With more than 150 miles of trail available, and thousands of more miles of untouched wilderness stretching in all directions, outdoor enthusiasts flock to the region which is listed as a World Heritage Site for its natural beauty. The landscape is marked with sandstone plateaus, deep gorges, and eucalpyt forests that are not found anywhere else on the planet.
For Neale though, the beauty of the place that he was lost in turned into an ongoing nightmare. He tells reporters that he ate seeds and various plants to stay alive, and spent his nights huddled up in his jacket trying to stay warm in the cold evening air. He even reportedly spent one night sleeping under a log.
The backpacker’s family had all but given up on finding him, and his father, who had flown in from the U.K. to help search for his son, was preparing to fly home on the vary day that he was found. Now, they’ll wait for him to fully recover before returning home, where he’s likely to not be allowed to wander out of the yard with out his cell phone ever again.