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Blackheath and Beyond in the Blue Mountains

For years he’s been coming to Sydney and we’ve hung out together. I can’t remember exactly how long it has been going on, but I do know we first made contact through MySpace so that definitely dates it somewhat.

This year he was coming again but this time we were going to do something different. Get a car and get out of the city.

Yes, despite Peyton’s coming to Australia on a regular basis to sing at events like I Remember House and Sydney Mardi Gras he’d somehow never seen anything beyond our capital cities.

It was definitely time to change that and so I decided to do what so many Sydney-siders do when they have an international visitor in town. I was going to take him to the Blue Mountains.

But this trip would go beyond a simple spot of lunch and a visit to the Three Sisters.

Blackheath Beauty

While I’ve occasionally been guilty of only making it as far as Leura and Katoomba on Blue Mountains trips before, this time we kept on going until we reached the highest village in the mountains, Blackheath.

I’d visited Blackheath before in a potter around and have a bite to eat kind of way, but I’d never stayed there before this trip and somehow I’d also missed a pretty spectacular lookout.

Govetts Leap has sweeping views across the Grose Valley and is also home to the tallest waterfall in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, the Bridal Veil Falls with a 180m drop.

While the Three Sisters can get quite busy at Govetts Leap there was only a handful of other people, and I quickly decided I’d be bringing every visiting friend those extra few miles from now on.

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There are cliff top walks you can do or if you’re feeling really energetic you could take a track down into the Grose Valley. As we were short on time we decided to just walk to the top of the waterfall, though we soon discovered the ‘few steps’ that we’d been told we’d encounter was more like non stop stepping down down down and then up up up. But hey, it got the blood pumping in that fresh mountain air.

Throughout our mountain time whenever we mentioned to people we were staying in Blackheath we kept being told the same thing: we simply had to eat at Vesta.

Not ones to let great food opportunities pass us by, we were happy to oblige and soon found ourselves in a busy little restaurant with no seats to spare.

Vesta has an open kitchen and at its heart is a 120 year old Scotch oven that helps set the tone of the restaurant. The oven is used to make everything from the crusty bread that you have on arrival to the delicious slow cooked roast lamb and rich and delectable desserts.

Just a few doors up from Vesta is a Blackheath institution, the Victory Café.

Known for its all day (and rather yummy) breakfasts the Victory Café is found in the foyer of the Victory Theatre, an old art deco picture palace that is now an antique centre filled with things I wanted to bring home.

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Even the parking spaces here are pretty thanks to the colourful mural by café regular Jenny Kee.

And just down the road from all of this delicious food was our home for our Blue Mountains adventure – Parklands Country Gardens and Lodges.

Part of the Escarpment group, which includes Lilianfels and the Hydro Majestic, Parklands is a series of cottages on a 28 hectare property. Here you can wander the grounds and visit the large pond, rose gardens, and the kitchen garden that provides seasonal fruits and vegetables for the various Escarpment restaurants.

Our ground floor garden suite opened out onto a courtyard where friendly kookaburras would greet us from lush trees. In the mornings we would walk along a little pathway to the main house for a generous breakfast, and I’d wish I could spend all day just lounging on one of the sofas under elk horn chandeliers.

One day I shall go back for a pure lounging style stay at Parklands and get spa treatments, read books and just relax, but this time there was much to see and do. Including a visit to the unseen.

Getting Spooky on a Blue Mountains Ghost Tour

When Pete Clifford of Blue Mountains Mystery Tours picked us up in Buster the Ghost Bus we weren’t really sure what we were getting ourselves into.

It turns out it was a night full of history, spooky tales and trying not to get too freaked out as we watched lights go up and down on ghost hunting equipment in an old, dark, jail cell.

Knowing Peyton was visiting from Ibiza, Pete was sweet enough to do a couple wildlife spotting style stops along the way, pulling over for mobs of kangaroos and a couple of emus.

After saying hi to the creatures on Australia’s coat of arms we continued on to the old courthouse at the Hartley Historic Site, which didn’t look too scary. Though that may have had something to do with the fact that the sun was still up and there was a pretty rainbow in the sky.

By the time the sun had gone and we’d heard some of Paranormal Pete’s stories about the building I was a little more on edge. By the end of the night Peyton’s sneaky brushing a finger along my hair finally got the reaction he’d been going for and I jumped high enough to spill a drink on myself.

The spookiest bit for me was when Pete brought out the full spectrum video in the old jail cell and we could see pictures of faces on the walls that couldn’t be seen with normal torchlight.

If ghost tours totally freak you out, Pete also does sightseeing tours of the Blue Mountains by day and has so many good stories that I have a feeling they’d be a pretty great experience as well.

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Taking a Tour of the Hydro Majestic

Readers who know the Blue Mountains will know I’m now getting into the ‘beyond’ part of this story as we’re no longer in Blackheath, but places that are easily visited during a stay.

First up, the Hydro Majestic.

I remember this old girl in her salmon coloured days and after she lost her lustre and fell into disrepair I would always feel sad as I drove by, hoping that one day she would shine again.

Well boy has she gone and done that.

It took six years and around $30 million to create the Hydro Majestic that we have today, and I for one think she’s just beautiful.

Even if you’re not staying there you can do what we did and take a tour of the hotel and treat yourself to lunch or high tea.

I loved the chance to explore the hotel with a guide, hearing old stories including some of the tales from Cats Alley, a gorgeous rich red salon where women would parade up and down as if it was a catwalk, prowl for men and get a little catty with each other too.

The Hydro Majestic History Tours are $10pp and bookings are essential as they do book out.

After the tour we headed to the Boiler House Café, which as the name suggests is in an old boiler house and one with a bit of history.

Four days before Sydney got electricity the Hydro Majestic fired up the generator in this boiler house and lit up the hotel. It was opening night back in 1904 and a move that certainly would have made an impression on the guests.

As would the part where the new fangled electricity thing failed during the night and guests had to shiver in blankets as the staff ran around lighting fires. But still, beating Sydney to electricity? Pretty impressive.

These days the boiler house is where you can have a lunch made from Blue Mountains produce while looking over the Megalong Valley.

When lunch was over we drove down into that very valley, seeing the Hydro Majestic from below as we made our way to the cellar door at Dryridge Estate.

A beautiful vineyard with sweeping views out over the valley Dryridge has a range of cool climate wines to sample with a cheese plate. To stop any debate about the designated driver you can also spend the night in a cottage there.

Dryridge Estate view from Cellar Door Megalong Valley

Loving Leura and Katoomba

As I mentioned at the start, often I get stuck at Leura and Katoomba on my Blue Mountains adventures because they’re such lovely spots to visit, but on this trip I still managed to do a couple things that were new to me.

First a visit to Everglades Historic House and Garden. I know, I know, now that I’ve been I can’t believe that I hadn’t visited it before.

A National Trust property this art deco home and heritage gardens have been around since the 1930s and have beautiful views over the Jamison Valley.

There’s an art gallery and you can explore the gardens and have a traditional Devonshire tea thanks to the lovely volunteers. They also have special events like the Shakespeare festival in January.

If you’re there on the weekends you can order up a gourmet picnic hamper, and if you’re looking for things to do with the kids they also have special adventure packs for children which includes a workbook, magnifying glasses, and garden trail so they can discover things around the garden.

When it came time for lunch Peyton and I headed to Leura Garage, an award-winning restaurant in (yes, you know what’s coming) an old garage.

When owner John Howarth decided to turn this heritage building into a great place to eat and drink they had to pull out old fuel tanks and sludge from the building before cleaning it up. Today articulated water helps heat the restaurant through the floor, and rainwater tanks collect up to 22,000 litres of water making the restaurant self sufficient in that department.

They have kept some of the old garage features, and I particularly liked the way the original hoist is now being used to hold up lots of wine.

All of the food is sourced locally and they have lots of seasonal and shared plates so it’s even more fun with a friend so you can try more things.

Leura really is a gorgeous spot, as you can see in this video director and filmmaker, Michael Joy has done for Leura Village…

Next door in Katoomba I was about to have another first experience with a visit to the Lost Bear Gallery which features a lot of great local artists, including one of Australia’s best, Warwick Fuller.

Warwick has won lots of awards and had shows around the world, and he’s also the artist the Prince of Wales chose to be the official artist on the last two royal tours.

We had a chance to meet Warwick and talk to him about what it was like to be part of the royal tour, painting on the run as he kept pace with royal motorcades.

Warwick Fuller in his studio

Warwick is an absolutely lovely, charming man and as Peyton and I left the Blue Mountains to continue our road trip to Mudgee we weren’t only talking about the things we’d seen and done, but about how great it had been to share tales with Warwick and some of the other people we’d met during our stay.

That’s the thing about the Blue Mountains, it’s not just incredible scenery, history and delicious food, it’s the people you meet.

And the ones we’d like to meet again.

Amanda Woods stayed as a guest of Parklands Country Gardens and Lodges but all opinions remain her own.

Amanda would also like to thank Renault Australia for letting her to take a Renault Captur on her Blue Mountains and Mudgee road trip and Peyton for being such a great road trip buddy. 

Speaking of road trips, did you know this super simple way to tell which side of the car your fuel door is on?

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