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Inside: Why Katoomba and the Blue Mountains are the best day trip from Sydney and how to make the most of one day.
Today, we reach continent #7 on this 7-continent trip around the world. From Antarctica to Australia, it’s been quite an adventure!
I’ve visited Sydney three times before on previous round-the-world trips:
On those previous trips, I covered a lot of Sydney’s best things to do. This time, I’m excited to get out of Sydney and explore a little further afield, to the town of Katoomba and the Blue Mountains.
The original plan for the Blue Mountains
My original plan for Australia was to spend a few days in the Blue Mountains followed by a week in the Great Barrier Reef area.
But since my stay coincides with Valentine’s weekend, I couldn’t work out a hotel in the Blue Mountains. The region is a popular weekend getaway from Sydney and therefore quite busy over Valentine’s weekend.
A change in plans…
And then I met a terrific group of Aussies from the Sydney area on my Antarctica cruise earlier in the trip.
So I decided to spend my first two nights in Sydney before heading out to the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef. And we’ve planned to get together for a BYOP (Bring Your Own Penguin) reunion to rehash our Antarctic adventures and catch up.
Luckily, my new best bud from the cruise, Angela, is able to take the day off from work to join me for my 2-night stay in Sydney. She’ll drive down tonight from Newcastle (about 2 hours from Sydney).
Arrival in Sydney
I arrived bleary-eyed at 7:00 am in Sydney after back-to-back redeyes and a full-day layover in Seoul on the way from Phuket.
Thank goodness for the Hyatt Regency Darling Harbour, where the front desk is kind enough to check me in at this ridiculously early hour.
The Hyatt Regency occupies a prime location on Darling Harbour. I spent a very enjoyable stay here on Round-the-World #2 over Australia Day weekend. My room even had a magnificent view of the fireworks over the harbour.
The hotel is not just the largest in Sydney it’s the largest in all of Australia. Since my last visit, they’ve actually completed a renovation. I luck into an upgrade to a beautiful newly-renovated suite. It’s an especially nice perk since Angela is joining me and we can certainly use the extra space.
I drop my bags and catch up on e-mail. It’s still business hours in the States and I do have a business to run while I travel. Something has to pay for all this travelling fun.
I probably should have taken a nap. But instead, I decide to power through and take a walk over to Sydney Harbour. I just can’t be in the city for long without getting a look at the Opera House and Harbour Bridge view. It’s one of the best views in the world.
I spend some quality time at the Harbour and grab some lunch. Then I head back to the hotel to await Angela’s arrival.
My Blue Mountains travel buddy arrives!
Angela arrives around 6:00pm and we celebrate with a glass of champagne (we did a LOT of on the ship). We catch up and enjoy the Darling Harbour view for a bit. Then hop on the train out to the suburbs to meet up with the rest of the gang.
An Antarctic Reunion
Since it’s Valentine’s Day, the restaurant situation for a group of 9 people was not promising in Sydney. So we decided to meet up at a German pub in the Madden’s neighborhood.
Steve and Kate Madden and daughters Ella and Ruby were my next-door neighbors on the Sea Spirit a few weeks ago I’m so excited to see them again. We are also happily joined by the ever-delightful John and Aileen (who follow reunion protocol by bringing penguin photos if not actual feathered friends).
Also, by happy coincidence, my friend Robin from Seattle is in Sydney on business and she comes out to join us as well! Robin and I met while I was in Taipei on Round-the-World #5.
Read More: 24 Hours in Taipei
We were both wandering around outside a train station looking for Taipei 101. The rest is history. We don’t get to see each other often but thanks to Facebook we’ve kept in touch over the years.
We catch up over drinks and dinner and spend hours laughing and reliving our Antarctic experience.
It was such a fantastic evening, and I hope I’ll get a chance to see them again on my way back through Sydney next week. Absolutely one of the best Valentine’s Days I’ve had in years!
A Day Trip from Sydney to the Blue Mountains
The next morning, Angela and I hit the road for the drive out to Katoomba and Blue Mountains National Park.
Named for the natural blue haze created by the eucalypt forests, Blue Mountains National Park is one of the most popular day trips from Sydney. It also makes a great weekend escape from the city.
The Greater Blue Mountains area is comprised of eight adjacent conservation reserves and is one of the largest intact tracts of protected bushland in Australia. In 2000, the area was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Within the National Park, there’s plenty to see and do. From rugged sandstone tablelands and valleys to waterfalls and caves. The highlight of the Blue Mountains is the iconic rock formation known as the Three Sisters.
The heart of the Blue Mountains area is the charming town of Katoomba where many of the area’s best sights and facilities are located.
How to get to the Blue Mountains
From Sydney’s Central Station, the train to Katoomba Station takes just two hours. By car, it’s a 90-minute drive via the Great Western Highway. There are also a number of day trip options available from Sydney. Here are a few:
Since we have a car, we opt to drive. Along the way, Angela suggests a stop in the adorable town of Leura for lunch and some window shopping. Leura is Aboriginal for “lava” and many volcanic stones have been found in the area.
From Leura, we continue on to Katoomba.
Where to stay in Katoomba
Though we’re just here for a day trip today, I spent plenty of time researching hotels before I gave up the idea of staying here (due to the holiday weekend). And I narrowed it down to a few top choices.
Accommodation in the Blue Mountains area is primarily limited to small boutique hotels or rental homes. Since most of the activities are located in Katoomba, the town makes the ideal home base.
Here are the top-rated hotel and vacation rental options in and around Katoomba:
Hotels & Resorts
- Echoes Boutique Hotel & Restaurant – Every room has a terrace with a panoramic view over the Blue Mountains. The restaurant also comes highly recommended.
- Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa – This 5-star resort spans 2 acres of gardens. Amenities include an outdoor pool, two restaurants, and a luxury spa.
Both hotels are within a 5-minute walk of the Three Sisters and guests at Echoes also have use of the broad range of facilities at Lilianfels.
- Narrow Neck Views – 4 bedroom house with breathtaking views over the Blue Mountains from a spacious terrace.
- Cliffhaven House – With 3 bedrooms and a perfect location, this historic home is a terrific affordable option in Katoomba.
Things to do in Blue Mountains National Park
There are tons of ways to experience the beauty of the Blue Mountains. There are numerous hiking trails, guided walks, gardens to explore, and rock climbing opportunities. Visitors can take the hop-on, hop-off Blue Mountain Explorer Bus or explore the Jenolan Caves.
You could easily spend a week exploring it all. But since we only have the afternoon, we hit the two most popular highlights in the Blue Mountains.
Echo Point Lookout – The Three Sisters
Our first stop in Katoomba is the Echo Point lookout, on the edge of the Blue Mountains plateau.
From the lookout point, the vast Blue Mountains valley opens up before us. It’s absolutely stunning. Echo Point is also the best place to view the three defined rocky outcrops known as the Three Sisters.
Formed thousands of years ago, these three weathered sandstone peaks are the iconic postcard image of the Blue Mountains. While there are various versions of the Aboriginal story of the Three Sisters, there’s no arguing how impressive they are.
Scenic World Scenic Railway
From the lookout point, we head over to Scenic World. At Scenic World, visitors can choose between the Scenic Railway, Scenic Skyway, or the Scenic Walkway (or you can do all three!).
The Railway is a steep incline passenger railway that descends to the bottom of the Jamison Valley. In the valley, the Scenic Walkway is an elevated boardwalk through the rainforest canopy.
We chose the most popular attraction and the one with the best panoramic views, the Scenic Skyway. Suspended above ancient ravines and the rainforest canopy, the Skyway’s glass floor cable car is the largest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s the perfect way to appreciate the vast beauty of the Blue Mountains.
Blue Mountains back to Sydney
By the time we leave Scenic World, it’s almost 4:00pm. The weather is looking a little iffy so we decide to head back to the city.
Though it rains for part of the drive back, miraculously the skies over Sydney are cloud-free by the time we arrive back at the hotel. And all the signs are pointing to a marvelous sunset coming up.
Happy Hour at Sydney’s Opera Bar
We head over to Sydney Harbour to join the lively happy hour crowd at Opera Bar, just outside the Sydney Opera House.
Live music is playing, cocktails are flowing and the sky morphs from pink to deep blue as the city lights glow in the distance. I gaze around enjoying a cool night breeze just in awe of our surroundings.
I can’t believe people who live in Sydney get to do this for happy hour every Friday night. What a way to end a work week!
After the sunset, we head into the Rocks for dinner and then call it a relatively early night (for us). I have an early flight tomorrow morning, so a little sleep is definitely in order.
It’s been a terrific two days in Sydney and I am so thrilled to have reunited with my Antarctica family and Robin. And, of course, big thanks to Angela for being such a terrific Sydney and Blue Mountains tour guide!
Something tells me I need to work Sydney into more of my future itineraries.
But for now, it’s time to explore a little farther afield in Australia. I’m headed to a destination that’s been on my Bucket List for years.
Next stop, the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands!