The Blue Mountains west of Sydney are part of the World Heritage area of the Greater Blue Mountains, one of the world's heritage sites inscribed by the United Nations.
The more readily acessible parts of the world heritage area are generally reached through a transportation and development corridor consisting of a main highway — the Great Western Highway — and the communities along its way.
Discover the Blue Mountains on a road trip from Sydney.
The Blue Mountains, photo by Hamilton Lund © Tourism New South Wales
Not only is it a true blue (meaning fair dinkum or genuine) Aussie attraction but it does have a bluish coloration reportedly brought about by evaporation in its eucalyptus
forests. Starting from the heart of Sydney
, it could be as much as a three hour's drive to reach the popular Katoomba
destination of the Three Sisters
. Get on to the Great Western Highway, then onto the M4 freeway, formerly a toll road, and from there it's a fast clip to the Blue Mountains foothills where it rejoins the Great Western Highway all the way up the mountains.
Blue Mountains waterfall © Australian Tourist Commission
The first Blue Mountains town you hit on the Great Western Highway is Glenbrook. You'll find the Blue Mountains visitor centre here, a good place for a rest stop and for getting more detailed information about the region's attractions you may want to visit. There are maps, too, some more detailed than others, some free, some not. You'll also find close to the visitor centre — ask for directions — an entrance to the Blue Mountains National Park with picnic grounds and walking tracks. You may want to walk to Red Hand Cave with the Aboriginal hand stencils on its walls.
Norman Lindsay sculpture, © Nick Rains, Destination NSW
Continuing up the Great Western Highway you may want to take a detour at Blaxland to Australia's oldest mainland bridge, the Lennox Bridge, which was built by convict labor in the 1830s. Further up the mountain, at Faulconbridge, take the road to the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum and view some of Lindsay's paintings, sculptures and other works. A movie, Sirens
, concerned a fictional meeting between writer/artist Lindsay and a visiting clergyman featuring Hugh Grant and Aussie actresses Elle Macpherson, Kate Fischer and Portia di Rossi.
Viewing the Three Sisters © Tourism New South Wales
For large numbers of visitors to Sydney doing the drive — or joining a tour — to the Blue Mountains, a major stop-off site is Echo Point at Katoomba with panoramic views of the forested Blue Mountains valleys, distant hills, and the nearby massive rock formation known as the Three Sisters. There's a walk from behind the Echo Point Visitor Information Centre which leads to the top of the Three Sisters via Honeymoon Bridge from the Giant Stairway. Not far from the Echo Point lookout, along Cliff Drive, is Scenic World with cable car rides over the valley, railway to the bottom of the valley, and other atractions.
Mt Tomah Botanic Garden © Larry Rivera
On the Great Western Highway north from Katoomba, past the town of Blackheath, you have the option of taking the turnoff at Mount Victoria towards Mt Tomah Botanic Garden, the cool-climate garden of Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
. Various walks through the site bring you to a diversified collection of conifers, rhododendrons, and plants from the Austraian bush and overseas in a scientific collection for purposes of study and research. There's a restaurant on site, too.
Chifley Cave, courtesy Jenolan Caves
Past Mt Victoria and Hartley on the Great Western Highway, there is a signposted turnoff into Jenolan Caves Rd. Past the town of Hampton, and as you approach the caves, the road narrows and twists and turns, so it's important to drive with care especialy when encountering cars on the narrow road and around sharp corners. The caves are part of the Jenolan karst system
which helped carve out the area's underground attractions. All in all, Jenolan Caves is some 200 kilometres from Sydney but because the winding roads require careful driving, some extra time must be allocated to cover the distance. Guided walks through a number of show caves are available.
Gardens of Stone National Park © Hamilton Lund, Destination NSW
The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area is more than 1 million hectares of mainly forested land comprising Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Yengo, Nattai, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone and Thirlmere Lakes National Parks, and the Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve. Parts of this area remain unexplored and many sections are inaccessible to visitors. Hitherto unknown plant and tree species, such as the Wollemi pine — one of the world's living fossil plants
discovered in 1994 in Wollemi National Park — may emerge with further exploration.