Forget what you think you know about the Blue Mountains

I begin my long weekend in the Blue Mountains in true Mission: Impossible style, hanging over the edge of a cable car, 270 metres above the forested Jamison Valley. 

Happily, though, there is no villain up here spoiling for a precarious mid-air fight. Indeed, all four intrepid individuals, including a grandma in her 70s, on this Beyond Skyway experience, are safely harnessed onto the top of the cable car, enjoying the 360-degree views across the mountains, at dusk.

Launched by Scenic World in 2022, Beyond Skyway is the world’s first rooftop cable car adventure. Guests are attached to a guide rail via a moveable cable on their harness, and need to climb a ladder from inside the cable car, to reach the top. Safety is paramount, including pre-tour breath testing.

Beyond Skyway Blue Mountains

Exiting a cable car in mid-air is not for the faint hearted.

The first time I look down, from three times the height of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I’m overwhelmed by adrenaline and butterflies. But within seconds, these are replaced by feelings – just as intense – of serenity and awe at the colossal landscape we’re hovering above.

Cockatoos fly below us, seemingly in slow motion, Katoomba Falls spill down nearby cliffs and our vista includes the Three Sisters, Mount Solitary and the whole mountain range, shimmering into the distance under its trademark blue aura.  

At home in the mountains

Beyond Skyway is the first of several experiences on this trip that challenge notions of a staid Blue Mountains, full of archaic tea rooms, tired guesthouses and leisurely strolls to scenic lookouts.

Kyah Boutique Hotel is another. Once a dowdy 1970s motel, it’s undergone a stylish update, with 46 rooms set across three wings and a sauna, and outdoor hot tub.

Its restaurant and bar, Blaq, is abuzz with weekending Sydneysiders, here for chef Mate Herceg’s fine menu based on local produce, including plenty from the restaurant’s own garden. Among the innovations is a crunchy organic cauliflower, curried mung beans, spiced pepitas and lemon myrtle crumb starter, and a Davidson plum creme brûlée dessert.

Blaq Blue Mountains

The pared-back decor of Blaq, at the Kyah Hotel. Photo: credit TK

The biggest revelation of my visit is, however, Chalets at Blackheath, where I spend the next two nights. 

Comprising just four wood-clad, rammed-earth suites, expansively spread among the surrounding bush, they’re so beautifully crafted, using “biophilic design” that seeks to connect occupants to nature, that I immediately start texting friends, recommending them for romantic getaways.

Each chalet combines delicious seclusion and understated opulence, from the king-size bed, lavishly stocked mini-bar, flatscreen TV disguised as artwork, and in-room wood fire, to the oversized limestone bathroom with twin rain showers and deep freestanding tub. 

Breakfast, including freshly delivered treats from Blackheath Bakery, happens around a communal table in the library, another light-filled space.

With everybody feeling blessed to be staying here, the vibe is very chilled. Chalet managers, Emily and Sean, both originally from the US, are on hand to impart useful information, book an in-house massage, organise a private yoga session on your deck, or power up the on-site electric bikes, so you can explore.

Chalets at Blackheath interior

Chalets at Blackheath (also pictured at the top of the page). Photo: Dominic Loneragan

Overall, the staggering attention to detail in the design, landscaping and every element of this luxury mountain resort make it one of the most impressive Australian properties I’ve visited, and largely justify the $1290 (per chalet per night) price.

More fine Blackheath dining

Although it is tempting to spend the evening barbecuing dinner on the chalet’s sundeck, it’s worth the short drive into Blackheath to eat at Ateș. Chef Will Cowan-Lunn delivers seriously good, Japanese-Mediterranean fusion, aided by a 150-year-old, ironbark-fuelled oven – hence the restaurant’s name, which is an Ottoman Turkish word for ‘fire’. 

Every share plate is a work of art, but the most memorable include the beef tartare on a potato galette with gochujang and daikon, and wood-roasted free-range duck, with roasted plums and white balsamic. 

With all this scrumptious food, it’s fortunate I’m also here to do some walking. On day one, my trekking partner David and I do a long, challenging hike up and down Mount Solitary that reminds us both that the Blue Mountains is also a million-hectare, World Heritage-listed wilderness. 

Grand Canyon Walk Blue Mountains

The Grand Canyon walk. Photo: Daniel Scott

On day two, we take it easier, on the sublime 6.3-kilometre Grand Canyon loop walk, near Chalets at Blackheath. Beginning with panoramic cross-valley views from Evans Lookout and, as we descend into the canyon passing gigantic ferns, moss-clad trees and mini waterfalls tumbling into rock pools, it feels like we’re walking through the garden of Eden. 

Blue Mountains r’n’r 

By our final afternoon we are ready for some r’n’r and so head to Blue Mountains Sauna in Leura. Opened in 2022, this Finnish-style communal sauna features herbal steam infusion rituals, as well as two ice baths to aid recovery from strenuous treks and overindulgent weekends. Like the Scandinavian model it emulates, it’s a social, chatty space that’s popular with locals and visitors.

We emerge refreshed and ready for drinks at Mountain Culture Brewpub housed in Katoomba’s former Echo newspaper building. This microbrewery only opened in 2017 but its beer regularly wins awards; Status Quo, its “juicy New England Pale Ale”, was Australia’s top craft beer in 2022 and 2023.

Tempus Katoomba

Tempus Katoomba: Photo: Supplied

Although Katoomba still feels a tad stuck in the past, recent arrivals like Mountain Culture and Tempus, where we have dinner, are dragging it into an exciting present. Occupying the site of a former bank, this bistro-style restaurant, opened in 2021, has an ethos of sustainability, seasonality and community behind outstanding modern Australian food. 

Among must-try dishes, produced by Welsh-born chef Jason Lee Cole, are the Brussels sprouts with hazelnut cream, eschalots and balsamic and the duck breast with blackberry and witlof jus. They also make the best mocktail – a watermelon basil sour – that I’ve tried in years.

Buunyal Blue Mountains Tour

Our packed three days in the Blue Mountains is nearly over but there’s one more important element to add – an understanding of this immense landscape through the eyes of the oldest living culture on Earth.

The Gundungurra people have been the custodians of this country for thousands of years but the Buunyal tour, with Uncle David King, is new and the only experience of its kind in the mountains. 

It’s hard to overestimate the value of two hours spent on this small group tour, at Scenic World. Riding the world’s steepest train down into the valley and walking under the rainforest canopy with a man who has inherited knowledge of the plant, tree and animal species, as well as the region’s creation stories, adds depth and spirituality to the ancient mountain range.

This passionate sharing of Gundungurra culture, in combination with David’s anecdotes from his childhood, including talking lovingly of his Mum, who was taken away from her family, aged eight, leaves us with final impressions of a rich, humming destination that is anything but boring.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter.
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.