I meant it when I said I was on a mission. After visiting the South Coast a few weeks ago following the devastating fires, I’ve made it my mandate to #holidayherethisyear. Plus, it’s easy and cheap to holiday at home, which means more holidays. Are you with me yet?
A nice ninety minute drive away, the Blue Mountains are back in business. First they had fires that we watched climbed cliffs, then (just a week later) they had flash floods that required the only recently returned residents to evacuate again.
But they’re back baby, and way better than you remember them being on that school tour you went on when you were thirteen.
The Blue Mountains are the cheeseboards of domestic holiday destinations. With so many enticing things all in one place, each town, only minutes apart, offers something different to do. Some teem with tourists, while others are largely locals. There are antique stores on almost every corner and the Country Women’s Association selling homemade pickles and jams down the main street. It’s peaceful, you hear birds and the sound of the bush calling you to come explore.
Katoomba got its name from the Aboriginal word ‘kedumba’ which means shiny falling water. It makes sense with the stuff sprinkling across most of the walking tracks in the area. Sometimes you’re even require to run under it, wade through it or jump over it. Fun, right?
But there are plenty of other shiny liquids in the area too. Depending on what time of the morning it is, a brew from Cassiopeia Specialty Coffee is as good as gold. For later in the day, just over the road the recently opened Mountain Culture brewpub is pouring it’s own kind of shiny liquid. Grab it with a bite to eat and a view to view. It’s got a good one of both those things.
If you need something to fill your stomach after all those sparkling waters, Black Cockatoo Bakery is your boy. First serving loaves in Lawson, they’ve now opened up shop in Katoomba. With the classics down pat, they’re also the place to go for something a little special, like a rye with caraway, a dried apricot and toasted fennel seed loaf, a 72 hour fermentation cafe white, and croissants that will make you cry they’re so goddamn deliciously crunchy.
Our base, though, was in the bohemian Blackheath. Just a little further along the highway, it’s home to all kinds of antique stores and art galleries. Locals walk dogs in the streets, past weather-board cottages and cafes where the chances of them bumping into people they know are high.
Our Airbnb was no exception – an eclectic 1930s cottage that opened out to the national park and you could see how close the fire got just a few weeks before. While the garden still overflowed with herbs, the attached artist studio was open for use, and use it we did.
You can go hiking in the area for hours if that’s what you’re into, or if a short stroll is more your style, take it through one of the orchards in the area.
Perfectly timed, albeit not in any way planned (weird for me, I know), we were there for the first day of Logan Brae’s season. Steaming hot apple pie, freshly picked fruit, and a view to boot (a running theme in the mountains), it’s almost too easy to support the locals up here.
If you’re up for an adventure, turn right at the end of the Logan Brae drive, and keep right at the fork until you hit the dirt road. Follow it until you find Blackheath Lookout, where paragliders propel themselves off the cliff. I’ll admit, I found this spot through Instagram, and while (shock horror) it didn’t look the same as it did online, it’s a pretty special spot for a sunset.
Now, the mention of a long walk normally induces a loud moan from my direction, but in this case my curiosity got the better of me. And I wasn’t alone.
The weekend we visited, people were pouring into the few open walking tracks, DSLRs dangling from their necks. In the weird way that dark tourism works, it was as if the social currency for capturing the charred bush was more than when it was lush and full of life.
I couldn’t blame them though. There was something truly beautiful about the regeneration. The new leaves looking over-saturated against the charcoal core of the tree. The fact that they didn’t grow where you’d expect, but were littered along the trunk, tiny signs that there was still life inside.
We did the Grand Canyon Walking Track. A recommended four hour walk that we did in two and a half. I only mention it as a not-so humble brag because, as I admitted, it’s not my usual cup of tea.
At one end the bush was scorched. The leaves where crunchy and the bark burnt. You could tell from the way the trees were slouched, how fast the blaze had swept through. Down the bottom, you were hit with running streams and moss-covered rocks. Shrubs had been uprooted and logs overturned, all the result of the floods that came through just a week after the fires were out. The Mountains just couldn’t catch a break.
But they’re back, and there is plenty to see. By the time you get there, chances are everything will look different.
As I said, the Mountains are the cheeseboards of local destinations, and I’ve only shown you the cheese and cornichons. There’s still the cured meats, the olives, the crackers and every dip you can imagine.
Where’s your favourite place in the Blue Mountains?