Best things to do in Australia's Blue Mountains?
April 4, 2014 10:28 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are going with my parents to Australia in June, and my parents have tasked us with finding out things to do for the portion of our trip in the Blue Mountains, which will be in early June. What are your favorite things to do there in the winter? What are some things that would be good for a group of four adults who are not particularly outdoorsy or athletic?

Things we are looking for in particular: museums, sites of particular natural beauty, restaurants that can accommodate both a vegan diner and a meat-and-potatoes sort of diner, places to go on walks, cultural events, etc. Our group is capable of things like low-grade hikes or bike rides, but nothing very strenuous.

We will be in the Blue Mountains for four days and three nights. We'll be staying at Lilianfels, should you have any recommendations specific to it.

It is my understanding that the average temperature for that time of year in Katoomba is 10 celsius (50 fahrenheit). Should we bring winter coats for cold evenings, or will lighter weight autumn jackets be sufficient?
posted by ocherdraco to Travel & Transportation around Katoomba, Australia (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I went on a night hike to see the stars and the glow worms. Having never seen the southern hemisphere sky so clearly, and having never seen glow worms before, I had a wonderful experience. It wasn't a strenuous hike, but it wasn't flat, and I was glad to have a headlamp to guide me through the uneven terrain.

It was ten years ago, so some of the details are hazy, but I believe I did my night hike in the glow worm tunnel at Lithgow.
posted by monkeymonkey at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow! That sounds amazing! What time of year did you go?
posted by ocherdraco at 11:41 AM on April 4, 2014

I can't remember -- I was there in 2003. Must've been, probably, late June. I believe it was a guided hike that I signed up for once I was in the area.
posted by monkeymonkey at 1:49 PM on April 4, 2014

The Wentworth Falls lookout is my pick of the bunch, there is a short (20min?) walk that takes you through some bush but isn't too difficult, then there are longer walks available as well. Closer to the Three Sisters at Katoomba there's a funicular railway and cable car. DON'T walk down the Giant Stairway (leads down from the Three Sisters), at least not without gloves (there is a metal handrail and you'll freeze). June will be really cold at night - winter coat weather. Katoomba has all kinds of restaurants down the main street, take a walk and I'm sure you'll find something to suit all of you.
posted by superfish at 3:06 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

MeFi's own dansdata lives in the area, and he’d probably respond to a MeMail or tweet.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:24 PM on April 4, 2014

It's a bit silly, but I always stop in the candy store in Leura when I'm nearby. It carries a crazy amount of candy from all over the world. (You'll laugh at the novelty of cheap American candy being sold at premium prices!) It's always really packed, but it's fun.

I went on a knitting weekend with some friends up there last year, and one of them blogged some photos here. We had a particularly nice brunch at The Garage. The shops in Leura are cute too.

Oh! And several years ago we went to a wedding in the Blue Mountains, and the most fun thing we did was go to Sparadise, which is a Japanese bath house out in the middle of nowhere. (Really.) It was amazing. There's a sauna, and a hot mineral bath right next to a cold plunge pool, and outdoors there's a zen garden along with an outdoor hot tub. I remember being in the hot tub and it actually started snowing. So cool. We had some sort of package deal where we got massages too. Highly recommended if you guys need a day of relaxation!
posted by web-goddess at 5:13 PM on April 4, 2014

I've just searched my blog for mentions of the Blue Mountains and remembered that I did a hike there with some friends several years ago. I am neither outdoorsy nor particularly athletic, but I managed the Grand Canyon track all right. (It took us 4 adults about three hours to do it. Blog posts here and here.)

Interestingly though, I've just googled this page which suggests that one is actually graded "difficult." Huh. There are plenty on that site that are listed easier though. I really recommend you get in some bush walking while you're there. Even for someone who prefers the city like me, it's always such a wonderful surprise to realise this beautiful area is so close to Sydney.
posted by web-goddess at 5:25 PM on April 4, 2014

There's a natural foods coop in Katoomba and if you google "vegan blue mountains" the NSW vegan society has a restaurant list.

The Blue Mountains Chocolate factory is very cozy on a cold day, and has these neat hot chocolate makers that suspend the milk over a tea light, comes with very good milk or dark chocolate chips you add yourself.

It'll be decently cold, but there's a couple thrift stores and a couple outdoorsy stores if you need anything.

I would skip Sparadise if you're staying at a spa or you've been to a bathhouse before... It's quite pricey for facilities that are pretty run down, and the food was shockingly overpriced. If it intrigues you at all, just go to the Spa Castle in Queens instead! (There was nothing really wrong or bad about our visit to Sparadise, other than that it was very expensive for what it was compared with other bathhouses we've been to. If you're keen and have the cash to blow, go for it!)
posted by jrobin276 at 12:37 AM on April 5, 2014

Jenolan caves and kanangra walls are both amazing.
posted by deadwax at 5:19 AM on April 5, 2014

Definitely the glow worm tunnel, but if it has been raining heavily, check with the local visitors info centre - I've heard it is very easy to get your vehicle bogged. It's in the Wollemi National Park, home of the famous newly rediscovered Wollemi Pine. It is one of the most beautiful national parks I've seen.

When I stayed in Katoomba a few years ago, we went to an amazing little art deco cinema nearby. I've googled but can't find the details, maybe someone more local knows of it. (Was it this one? I'm not sure.) The Edge cinema in Katoomba was showing a 3D movie on a massive screen about underwater cave diving which blew me away.

Such a shame the Zig Zag Railway won't be reopened by then. You don't have to be a train nut to appreciate the history and incredible views.

Rediscover your inner child at the Toy & Railway Museum.

The Norman Lindsay Museum showcases the work of one of Australia's most celebrated (and at the time, shocking) artists in a beautiful setting.

Have you seen this page? Some good links and ideas there.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head. You will need a winter coat, and a warm hat is a good idea too if you're venturing out at night (and sometimes during the day). It's a crisp clear cold that sneaks through lightweight clothing easily. They can easily (and relatively cheaply) be bought at the local Kmart or a second-hand shop.

There is so much beauty and history in that area... I'm almost envious that I can't see it through fresh eyes like yours.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 6:04 AM on April 5, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all for this wealth of suggestions! This all looks wonderful.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:36 AM on April 5, 2014

Lilianfels is amazing, and a visit there was my first suggestion and it sounds like you have that covered. I visited Jenolan caves and it was cool, but guided cave tours take awhile and don't underestimate how long the drive is or the lack of gas stations. The main thing we didn't do because of weather that I regret is hiking down on the canyon floor, underneath the gum tree canopy. It's absolutely beautiful from above and I can only image it's ethereal down in it.
posted by Nelson at 7:46 AM on April 5, 2014

I live in Leura, and am happy to answer questions via memail.
The cinema malibustacey9999 mentioned is probably unless it was more than 10 years ago when the Katoomba cinema was still open. The Edge with its giant imax type screen is there too, but it is modern.
I second the Norman Lindsay museum, especially if you are driving up from Sydney as it is on the way, about 30mins before Katoomba.
Lillianfels is probably the finest hotel in the district, you won't be disappointed.
It gets chilly at night, down to 2 degrees often in June, but if the sun is out during the day you certainly won't need north american style winter coats, just layer up.
I heartily recommend a bush walk or two, and the main tourist trails are well sign posted and suitable for any ability, providing you can cope with stairs, as some are quite steep.
When you do walk, please take some water, warm clothes and suitable wet weather gear if there is any chance of rain. Our local emergency services get sick of clearing the paths of tourist corpses, dead from exposure.
Well, not really, but the weather really does routinely change dramatically in 10 mins and you can be very uncomfortable, cold and wet hiking the hour back.
There is a big alternative/hippy community in the mountains, so you will have no trouble getting vegan food. My friends run a vegetarian juice/espresso bar in Katoomba's main street called Upbeet if you want a light lunch/breakfast, but really the surprise would be if you found any place to eat that didn't have good vegan options around here.
One justifiable complaint I hear is that the mountains is costly to stay and dine. That is certainly the case for a lot of places - they really are trying to target the premium tourist market, but there are less costly options.
Top notch white tablecloth fine dining is available at Silk's in Leura, Ashcrofts in Blackheath, Darley's at Lillianfels - but these are costly.
Less costly, more typical meals can be had at any of the pubs around town. If it is lunch time on a sunny day with no wind, the back terrace at the Alexandra Hotel in Leura offers ok food with a top view.
I'll mefimail you some other info I've sent friends coming up to stay.
Have a great time!
posted by bystander at 6:29 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks both for this great comment and for your email! It's all very, very helpful!
posted by ocherdraco at 7:44 AM on May 14, 2014

Response by poster: Glow worm caves weren't a possibility, alas, but we had a great time doing other things:
  • Visited more overlooks and lookouts than you can shake a stick at
  • Mountain biking tour out to Anvil Rock
  • Did ALL of Scenic World: cable car down, walked all over the boardwalk below the gum trees (which we had to ourselves; quite a surprise given how crowded everything else was), train back up, skyway across. I would have predicted that this would be pretty lame, but it may have actually been my favorite thing, tourist trappy though it may be—being down under the canopy was just magical
  • Requisite relaxation stuff (there are a plethora of spas in Katoomba/Leura! We were astonished we were able to get spa bookings right before the long weekend, though we did have to split up to three different spas to do it)
  • Nice lunch at Cafe Bon Ton and dessert from Rubyfruit vegan bakery in Leura, extra-fancy dinner at Darley's, the restaurant at Lilianfels
  • A lovely drive down the valley beyond Blackheath
Your recommendations were all very helpful!
posted by ocherdraco at 9:05 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

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