The Blue Mountains are not technically mountains, and they’re certainly not blue. But they are one of the most glorious natural areas of Australia — with soaring rocky tors and lush bushland full of wildlife.
About an hour’s drive from Sydney, they offer an escape from the bustling city and a taste of Australia that many tourists never see. Back in 2019, the region suffered calamitous bushfires, but it’s recovered remarkably well.
I spent a day with veteran tour guide Paul Hartmann and his Yorkshire-born wife Jenny, who set up Blue Mountains Eco Tours in 2013.
We drove in a sturdy Land Rover Discovery to Grose Valley, more than 3,000ft above sea level.
‘Ordinary buses aren’t allowed on these fire trails for fear they’ll damage the fragile ecology,’ Paul said as we bumped along past mountain land bursting with native shrubs and plants such as banksia, mountain devils, sunshine wattle and eucalyptus.
Mind the gap: During her visit to the Blue Mountains, Jo Knowsley experienced Scenic World’s cable car attraction (pictured)
She reveals that visitors can climb atop the cable car, hanging nearly 1,000ft above the floor of the valley below. ‘It’s a mad venture,’ she says
The landscape is overwhelming in its grandeur and wildness. After a one-mile walk along a dramatic ridge, and lunch overlooking the canyon, we move on.
But it is not until late afternoon in the Megalong Valley that we experience the highlight of our day: kangaroos and wallabies, dozens of them, feeding peacefully on grasses in the fading light while we sip wine beside a crackling fire.
Next day, there’s more of a challenge when I head to the Scenic World tourist attraction, which in 2022 started giving visitors the chance to climb atop a cable car hanging nearly 1,000ft above the floor of the valley below.
We were greeted by Aboriginal Gundungurra man David King, who conducts a ‘smoking ceremony’ to welcome us to this part of Country, as the Aborigines refer to their land.
I was then harnessed and rigged out with a hard hat, while a number of metal attachments dangled free — which later clipped me onto the roof of the cable car.
‘The landscape is overwhelming in its grandeur and wildness,’ writes Jo. Above, Hanging Rock, one of the lookout points in the mountains
It takes about an hour to drive from Sydney to the range. Above, early morning skies over Pulpit Rock lookout
Jo recalls seeing kangaroos and wallabies while passing through Megalong Valley
It’s a mad venture, but I was surprisingly calm — perhaps due to the banter of safety man Rob, who is also a part-time firefighter.
Climbing from the car to the roof is a heart-stopping moment. But the views across the canyons are astonishing. There was no noise other than the distant squawks of a flock of cockatoos.
Back in Sydney, there was growing excitement about the Vivid Sydney festival, which dramatically highlights the city’s natural and architectural beauty with thousands of lights and projections casting a glow across gardens and monuments.
This year, it takes place from May 24 to June 15.
My trip had begun with an unusual benefit — a business-class flight with Etihad. We ate (when we chose), we slept in comfort, and enjoyed the least jet lag I’ve ever had on a trip to the Antipodes.
I lived in Australia for ten years in the 1980s, four of them in Sydney. But for me, it’s the city’s proximity to the majestic Blue Mountains — where I married in 1992 — that makes it so special.
Bushfires now threaten Australia on a yearly basis, but the glory of the Blue Mountains has not only survived but thrived.