Blue Mountains, NSW: The home of adventure and natural wonders right on Sydney's doorstep

Fancy breakfast with kangaroos or climbing atop a cable car 270m above a rainforest?
Fancy breakfast with kangaroos or climbing atop a cable car 270m above a rainforest? Photo credit: Supplied

Breakfast with kangaroos, hikes through some of the world's most diverse rainforests and climbing atop a cable car with 360-degree views of stunning rock formations, eucalypt-covered canyons and waterfalls.

These are just some of the experiences on offer in the Blue Mountains, a UNESCO world heritage area home to some of Australia's most striking landscapes and rarest plant and animal species.

Just a 90-minute drive out of Sydney CBD, the 1 million-hectare Greater Blue Mountains Area is home to more than 100 different species of eucalypt and a number of ecosystems including rainforests, heaths and wetlands.

A longtime hotspot for Sydneysiders plotting a day trip or weekend getaway, the region is chock-full of tourism operators that know how to show off the best of the national park and make sure you're comfortable and entertained while exploring.

Here's how to make the most of it.

Beyond Skyway

It's difficult to get a sense of the true scale of and majesty of the Blue Mountains and unless you have weeks spare to complete day after day after day of tramping, you're unlikely to get to see most of it.

However it's worth seeking out a good vantage point to take in some of the highlights - especially the renowned Three Sisters, a spectacular set of sandstone monoliths in Katoomba that are of huge cultural significance to several Aboriginal nations.

Where better to soak it all in than on top of a cable car suspended 270m above ground?

Known as Beyond Skyway, the AU$349 experience is the newest addition to Scenic World in the Katoomba Gorge.

It's a hell of a view from the top.
It's a hell of a view from the top. Photo credit: Cam Jones Imagery

While the cableway suspended above the Jamison Valley has been a feature of Scenic World since the '50s, just a few months ago the operator started letting tourists climb out of the cable car and onto the roof, where a harness is the only thing stopping you plummeting into the forest below.

For thrillseekers it really is a breathtaking experience. Only open in the few hours just before and after sunset, you'll get 360-degree views of the Katoomba Falls, Three Sisters, Mt Solitary and the eucalypt-laden Jamison Valley while they're bathed in flattering golden light.

It should be noted Beyond Skyway isn't for everyone and it's best to come prepared. If you're scared of heights, it obviously won't be your cup of tea. But also, the 1000m altitude and exposure to the elements means it can get freezing up there in the cooler months, so you'll need a thick jacket.

Blue Mountains, NSW: The home of adventure and natural wonders right on Sydney's doorstep
Photo credit: Cam Jones Imagery

But the views are unparalleled, and a guide will be up there with you to reassure you and talk you through the topography, biodiversity and history of the region. You'll also get a mug of hot chocolate or a mocktail so you can really make the most of your half-hour on the roof.

Then it's back down into the relative warmth and safety of the cable car, where you'll be treated to a glass of champagne to toast your adventure as you're carried back to solid ground.

Breakfast with the kangaroos

Seeing a kangaroo in the wild is very common throughout Australia - there are about 50 million of them, after all -  but for many of us Kiwis the sight of one is enough to get us pointing and shouting with excitement.

There are three main species in the Blue Mountains: the Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Red-necked Wallaby and Swamp Wallaby. But they aren't always easy to spot unless you know where to go, and mainly come out at dawn and dusk.

Pick the right place at the time, though, and you'll be surrounded by them.

Find the right spot at the right time, and you'll be surrounded by kangaroos.
Find the right spot at the right time, and you'll be surrounded by kangaroos. Photo credit: Newshub.

Thankfully, you don't need to be a kangaroo expert to track them down as a good guide is more than enough. Tread Lightly Eco Tours can take you out deep into the Megalong Valley first thing in the morning, where you'll see more kangaroos than you can count.

Travelling by 4WD, your guide will stop along the way as you take photographs, ask questions and take in the beauty of the eucalypt forests and the array of kangaroos and wild birds that inhabit them - and if you're lucky, the odd snake, lizard or eagle.

Kangaroos in the Blue Mountains don't seem too perturbed by the presence of humans.
Kangaroos in the Blue Mountains don't seem too perturbed by the presence of humans. Photo credit: Newshub.

Once you've waded through remote valleys for 20 minutes, you'll emerge in a clearing south of Euroka where you'll be served a breakfast of scones, pastries, coffee and fruit - all locally sourced - as you sit amongst throngs of kangaroos.

While they're wild creatures, most of them seem largely unperturbed by the presence of humans and will let you get very close to them - even within a couple of metres - should you approach them with enough caution and respect.

A day trip in Portland

The Blue Mountains aren't just about getting in touch with nature; they're also home to a cluster of quaint towns with their own charm, each housing a bevy of cosy cafes, restaurants and accommodation.

Leura, Blackheath and Katoomba are among Sydneysiders' favourite spots to visit, but Lithgow and Little Hartley are also growing in popularity - and the historic township of Portland, just west of the national park, feels primed to become the next big thing.

Until recently, not very much went on there. Portland was once the home of a tight-knit community built around the local cement works, but that had closed by the early 1990s and the town had largely been forgotten about by outsiders.

Some of Portland's famous 'signs of yesteryear' dotted around the town.
Some of Portland's famous 'signs of yesteryear' dotted around the town. Photo credit: Newshub.

However the heritage industrial site is once more the lifeblood of the town after being reimagined as The Foundations, a creative hub for artists and a venue for events like markets, concerts and weddings.

The Foundations' grounds are dotted with sculptures and the Portland township is covered in its nostalgic 'Signs of Yesteryear' but the hero piece is the mural of six former cement works employees that was painted onto its towering concrete silos in 2018.

The artwork, which features six employees of the former cement works and some of Portland's most important characters is an acknowledgement of the town's rich history but also a bold statement about what Portland looks set to become.

The artwork features six employees of the former cement works.
The artwork features six employees of the former cement works. Photo credit: Newshub.

A Museum of Comparative Zoology, a nursery garden, new accommodations and trout fishing in the remnants of the cement works' old quarry will be added in the coming months, with Portland pushing to become a tourist destination in its own right.

While it feels like Portland is probably a few years away from realising its full potential, if you're already visiting the national park it's well worth setting aside half a day to explore this little hidden gem.

The Kyah Hotel

After a full day of exploring the Blue Mountains, it's time to unwind and relax with a cocktail and a hearty meal before resting your head. For both cuisine and accommodation, it's difficult to top the Kyah Boutique Hotel in Blackheath.

Once a tired motel called the Redleaf Resort, the building and its 46 rooms have undergone an extensive facelift during the COVID-19 pandemic and in late 2021 reopened as a paradisiacal art deco-style accommodation.

Sporting a fresh pastel colour palette, elegant archways and tasteful mid-century interior design touches, the Kyah Hotel feels like high-end accommodation but retains many of the nostalgic and whimsical elements from its former life as the Redleaf.

Kyah Boutique Hotel is in the shell of what was once a tired old motel.
Kyah Boutique Hotel is in the shell of what was once a tired old motel. Photo credit: Steven Woodburn

Starting at AU$220 per night, the rooms are comfortable and modern, and you'll get access to the Kyah's tennis court, multiple cosy sitting areas with fireplaces and steam room (which comes as great relief in the cooler months).

You'll also be in close proximity to Kyah's excellent onsite restaurant, BLAQ.

Led by Tourism Accommodation Australia's 2016 chef of the year, Mate Herceg, BLAQ continues the hotel's effortlessly cool design and is quickly gathering a reputation for its stellar menu, which features hyper-local ingredients.

The five-hour pork shoulder ragu, pickled heirloom beetroot with Lidsdale goat curd and four-point lamb rack are highlights, and BLAQ also boasts an extensive wine and cocktail list to ensure you're dining in style.

The Kyah Hotel has already garnered quite the reputation for its effortless art deco style.
The Kyah Hotel has already garnered quite the reputation for its effortless art deco style. Photo credit: Steven Woodburn

Its signature drink is the Blaq Martini, made using native wattleseed and macadamia liqueur, but I found the Mountain Mary (a spicier twist on the Bloody Mary) featuring a double shot of Karu Chipotle Vodka to be the real star alongside the Native Negroni, which uses gin sourced from the Devil's Wilderness.

Set aside a couple-hundred dollars for a dinner for two - not cheap, certainly, but worth it to ensure you have the chance to try as much of BLAQ's menu as possible.

The Blue Mountains National Park is more than 1 million hectares in size.
The Blue Mountains National Park is more than 1 million hectares in size. Photo credit: Destination NSW

While I got to experience some of the best bits of the Blue Mountains, my time there was much too brief and left so much of the national park yet to explore.

The beauty of it is in its massive scale and diversity. It's difficult to say you've ever 'done' the Blue Mountains, which is probably partly what keeps Sydney locals coming back in their droves.

I'm already plotting my return back across the ditch to see some more of it, especially to try out some of the hikes through the rainforest I didn't get round to this time.