Winter in the Blue Mountains is all about open fires, slow-cooked meals, red wine, and sleep-ins, right?
Well, yes, but they’re privileges that feel better if you’ve done something to earn them. And there’s nothing like a bit of outdoor activity to stimulate your appetite and get the senses racing -“ especially when the weather is as gorgeous as it is this month.
Winter is a great time for walking in the Blue Mountains. Simply load your backpack with a thermos and some snacks and head out along one of the numerous bushwalks in the area. Just be sure to do a bit of research first by visiting the National Parks and Wildlife Service at www.npws.nsw.gov.au or drop in on one of the Blue Mountains Visitors Information Centres at Glenbrook, Echo Point, Lithgow, or Oberon, or the National Parks Heritage Centre at Blackheath. Use these services to get information about the walks that best suit you, and remember to take water with you.
The Six Foot Track is a good place to start. All up, it’s a three-day walk from Medlow Bath to Jenolan Caves, but we’re not going to ask you to do this one in its entirety, yet.
Instead, there’s a great day walk section of the track which starts in the beautiful Megalong Valley near Blackheath. The walk commences about 16km along the Megalong Road, after crossing Megalong Creek. The 12km return walk along this section of the Six Foot Track takes you to the Coxs River, through pasture land and some lovely open woodland of Yellow Box eucalypts. There are many kangaroos and wallabies in the area, and varied birdlife with wedgetail eagles resident in the valley.
Another great winter walk is the Grand Canyon, also accessed from Blackheath and closer to the main residential area. Start at Neates Glen along Evans Lookout Rd and take the 5km circular loop down through the canyon of lush temperate rainforest and beautiful tree ferns. The coolness of the canyon floor will soon be forgotten after climbing up the steps to Evans Lookout with its grand view over the Grose Valley to Mount Banks. There is a short well-graded track back to the car or continue on to Govetts Leap along the Cliff Top track with more great views.
Still feeling pumped? The Australian School of Mountain-eering offers full or half-day abseiling adventures that leave beginners like me feeling on top of the world. It starts with a two-metre practice jump and a lot of reassurance from your friendly instructor (Feel the fear, Jack says with a grin as we descend into the unknown), and ends with a heart-racing 50-metre abseil down the sandstone cliffs of Mount York. It’s a psychological challenge as much as a physical thing, and a wonderful thrill.
Horse riding is next, and the best place to do this is in the Megalong Valley. Werriberri Trail Rides has a couple of frisky mounts for experienced riders as well as quieter horses for beginners. This is your chance to saddle up, don the chaps, and discover inner-thigh muscles you never knew existed as your explore the surrounding bushland and forests.
Ease of access works in the Blue Mountains’ favour. It’s an easy 90-minute drive from Sydney, a bit longer if you’re travelling by train, and there is plenty of choice when it comes to sleeping arrangements. At the high-end of the market are Lillianfels and Echoes Guesthouse (both in Leura), the Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath, and the graciously restored Carringtons Hotel and Palais Royale, both in Katoomba.
Not to be overlooked are the dozens of cute B&Bs and self-contained cottages dotted throughout the mountains -“ many of them gay or lesbian owned, or gay- and lesbian-friendly. Blue Mountains Tourism also has plenty of options, at www.bluemountainstourism.org.au
The food has got to be another reason to visit. For a while there, it looked as if Sydney’s food critics couldn’t go a week without mentioning one of the mountain’s outstanding restaurants. Vulcans, Cleopatra’s, Silkes, Solitary, The Rooster, and Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens Restaurant seemed to regularly score rave reviews in the metropolitan press. The good news is these restaurants continue to shine, in a fairly unprepossessing way. Vulcans is a great example of the Blue Mountains style -“ it’s a high-quality, confident, but unpretentious BYO restaurant serving duck sausage entrees and slow-cooked beef dishes or beautifully seared salmon in a small, glass-fronted space on Govett’s Leap Road, Blackheath. Book ahead.
The news is equally as good on the caf?ront. The Mountain Top Caf?t Mount Victoria does fantastic burgers (meat, fish and vego), the coffee and cakes at Katoomba’s The Elephant Bean are right on the mark, and Leura’s Caf?on Ton -“ a Blue Mountains institution -“ continues to satisfy. To tell you the truth, I’d almost be content on a diet of bread and jam. As long as we’re talking wholemeal from Quintons in Leura with lashings of their homemade fig and apple jam, or perhaps a sourdough from the Blackheath Bakery or from Hominy in Katoomba.
Plenty of good reason, then, to pack your bags and head off next weekend. You’ll love it.
Vulcans, 33 Govetts Leap Road, Blackheath. Phone 4787 6899
Caf?on Ton, 192 The Mall, Leura. Phone 4782 4377
The Elephant Bean, 159 Katoomba St, Katoomba.
Werriberri Trail Rides, Megalong Valley Phone 4787 9171
Australian School of Mountaineering, 166 Katoomba St, Katoomba. Phone 4782 2014
Dominic O’Grady is a director of Gay Travel Guides P/L, publisher of the Gay Australia Guide and Qbeds.com