Things to do in the Blue Mountains and The Southern Highlands
Imagine your entire self immersed in a misty blue haze. The air is crisp, and the lush greenery extends out towards the horizon. The mass of stars above twinkle right at you, affirming your decision to escape the concrete jungle at home into nature’s open arms.
You’ve just enveloped yourself in one of Australia’s most iconic landscapes: the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.
This escape to the countryside begins with a 90-minute drive from Sydney – an easy gateway with Qantas‘ flights operating daily from Singapore to Sydney. And there’s more than just the Three Sisters, a rock formation that’s the region’s most popular tourist site. Think bushwalking, kicking back in a Japanese onsen, high tea and alpacas.
So get your international driving license and your hearts ready. Here are 10 things that’ll make your road trip around the mountains be etched deep within your memories.
– Blue Mountains –
1. Abseil down a 150-metre cliff with the Blue Mountains Adventure Company
Start your day at the edge of a plateau with your heart thumping hard against your chest.
Look up, and you’ll see the bright smile of your proud instructor from Blue Mountains Adventure Company. Look down, and you’ll feel awe at the never-ending forest and a sinking feeling within your insides.
But not to fear, the Blue Mountains Adventure Company specialises in rope and climbing activities such as canyoning, rock-climbing and abseiling. They’re situated right in the town of Katoomba and offer access to many areas of the mountains for courses for every skill level.
We took the introductory course to abseiling with our instructor, Gale.
You’ll begin your day familiarising your carabiners and sharpening your descent techniques by abseiling down a 3-metre rock face. Then, a bigger challenge: A 15-metre drop.
When you’re ready, you’ll be brought to the final leg of your abseiling adventure: the 30 metre descent from a 150-metre tall cliff. To give you some context, that’s just a wee bit shorter than Singapore’s [email protected]!
1. Contact Blue Mountains Adventure Company here. Prices differ from activity to activity.
2. Head out to the meeting point at 84a Bathurst Road, Katoomba, NSW, Australia.
3. Your instructor will take you to the abseiling spots.
2. Take a walk through the golden trees of Mount Wilson
Mount Wilson is where you can witness the changes in seasons at certain times of the year through the changing colours of the trees.
Depending on the season, the leaves will transform from verdant greens to hues of gold. And being here at the tail end of autumn allowed us to catch them at their brightest reds.
Explore the estate on foot – you’ll find little picnic spots and serene spaces.
The many private gardens here are also open to the public for a nominal entry fee, averaging AUD$5 (SGD$5.10). Sculpted and well-maintained, these gardens offer a quiet respite away from the bustle of the main road. Our favourite was the Breenhold Gardens, where towering trees lined the roads.
Address: 29 The Avenue, Mount Wilson, NSW, Australia
3. Indulge in a Japanese onsen with a view
Tucked within the mountains is the Blue Mountains Sparadise Bath House. Refurbished from an old-school Tudor house, the place has 5 outdoor Japanese onsens of varying temperatures, a herbal steam room, and an indoor onsen.
Upon entering the venue, you’ll be greeted by yukata-wearing service staff who made us feel like we were in a ryokan in Japan with their hospitality.
The outdoor hot springs turned out to be invigorating, and we could enjoy panoramic views of Lake Lyell as we had a relaxing dip.
The bath house also doubles up as a tea parlour with over 30 tea blends that can be enjoyed in a tranquil tea room. We ordered blends of Echinacea, Thyme, Sage, Balm & Ginger, and Lavender & Peppermint Green Tea (AUD$18 each).
Address: 259 Sir Thomas Mitchell Drive, South Bowenfels, NSW, Australia
Price: AUD$70 (SGD$70.40) per entry
4. Stargaze from wherever you are at night
Being up on the mountains means that you’re often far from the city lights – and a little bit closer to the stars. With the night sky only lit by the light from your phone and your torch, it makes spotting stars a whole lot easier.
Because of the Blue Mountains’ position in the Southern Hemisphere, the heart of the Milky Way lies right above your head. Start your late-night astrophotography adventure by experimenting with your camera – we recommend using long shutter speeds and fast apertures. It won’t be long before you achieve shots like these:
Tip: Blurry photos may be aplenty as it is hard to estimate the focal length that it requires. Start off with an infinite focal length and work your way down. Also, bring a tripod.
5. Have a glass of fresh cider at Hillbilly Cider Shed
Boasting ciders made solely from apples and pears found within the Blue Mountains, Hillbilly Cider Shed is one of the best joints to taste and purchase cider fresh from the barrel.
There are a total of 6 distinct ciders that Hillbilly Cider Shed produces but the one cider that caught our eyes (and palate) is the Non-alcoholic Sweet Julie Cider. We were blown away by the fact that non-alcoholic cider can be just as complex as its alcoholic counterparts.
With no added sugar, the ciders here release an aromatic fruity scent upon being poured into the glass and were a refreshing mouthful!
Sitting on a wooden bench with a glass of cider in your hands – the life.
6. Check out the view of the Three Sisters from lesser-known lookouts
Most people flock to the Blue Mountains for a clear view of the Three Sisters – an unusual rock formation with an aboriginal legend behind it.
But you don’t have to deal with hordes of selfie-wielding tourists when trying to get the best view of the Three Sisters. Here are 2 of our favourite lookouts.
P.S: They’re both less than 15 minutes apart!
Eagle Hawk Lookout
Directly opposite the Three Sisters, this cosy little lookout allows you to take your time and take photos of the formation. If you’re here during the sunrise, you might even be able to observe the Three Sisters being shrouded by slight clouds due to its higher elevation.
Tip: Try spotting the trams from the Scenic Railway creeping up at a 52° angle!
Address: 122A Cliff Drive, Katoomba, NSW, Australia
Three Sisters aside, Elysian Lookout offers a 360° panoramic view of the Jamison Valley and Mount Solitary. Gaze upon the majestic 10-kilometres-wide mountain with eucalyptus trees all around, or in the colder months, witness snow which falls at the mountain’s higher points.
Address: Elysian Rock Access Walk, Blue Mountains National Park, NSW, Australia
– Southern Highlands –
7. Escape to the countryside with Downunder Farmstays
Wanting a taste of country life, we took our case to the Southern Highlands with Downunder Farmstays who led us to our lovely farm hosts – Tony and Sheelagh. Within an hour of our arrival, we were brought to our rooms and had a tour of their estate followed by a hearty lunch and warm conversations.
We interacted with the farm animals: sheep, chickens and even two charming alpacas. They were all surprisingly docile while we carried out our farm duties – feeding and rounding them up.
With a piece of the Australian bushland right at the backyard of the farm, we took it upon ourselves to get on Tony’s tractor and went on a tour in true blue bushie fashion!
8. Go foraging in the woods with chefs from Biota Dining
This is how countryside life should be: waking up for a coffee, grabbing a set of shears, and driving down the roads. But this time, take a chef with you.
Our new bud – Chef Tim.
Enter Biota Dining, which regularly runs farm-to-table workshops for aspiring gourmands. Upon reaching the restaurant, a chef will join you on a mini foraging excursion.
Mini-road trip in this jeep
We learned how to choose the perfect persimmon – soft and jammy ones – and how flowers could play a part in assembling a garden salad. We even had to harvest an entire bush of stinging nettles for our lunch!
Lunch at Biota was as spontaneous as our foraging process. With some of the ingredients we picked up, Chef Tim whipped up a Goat Cheese Garden Salad with Persimmon and Pesto Dressing as well as a Spiced Pork Belly Taco with Deep-fried Nettles.
Address: 18 Kangaloon Road, Bowral, NSW, Australia
9. Walk into a book lover’s dream at Berkelouw Book Barn Bookshop
Entering Berkelouw Book Barn Bookshop felt like a step back in time to the early 1900s. Iron chandeliers and wooden bookshelves lined the premises with a central fireplace keeping patrons warm in the autumn cold.
On the shelves are books from every genre: Religious texts, romance, horror, and current affairs. You name it; they’ve got it.
There’s no better way to spend a slow afternoon with a stack of books by your side, a warm meal and a fireplace right behind you. We ordered Margherita Wood-fired Pizza (AUD$25/SGD$25.20) and Braised Beef Cheeks (AUD$38/SGD$38.20) to share.
The beef cheeks were slow cooked and braised in its juices till it dissolves right in your mouth while the pizza gave off an aroma of smoked wood alongside its herb-infused crust. Mmmm.
Address: Bendooley, 3020 Old Hume Highway, Berrima, NSW, Australia
10. Have breakfast and pick up some cards at The Press Shop
The Press Shop is a few things: a design studio, a stationery shop and cafe. And it looks straight out from a Scandinavian interior design magazine.
On one end of the store you’d see patrons sipping on a warm cup of latte while reading the morning papers and on the other, a vintage letterpress buzzing and producing gold foiled cards.
Open since 6AM, the Press Shop offers coffee harvested from the volcanic soils of Rwanda to early risers.
For our breakfast, we ordered the fluffy Eggs On Toast (AUD$12) and the Mini Egg Florentine (AUD$12.50). More than beautifully poached free range eggs, the drizzle of oils and zesty hollandaise sauce brought about a refreshing start to our morning here.
The press studio residing here, Bespoke Letterpress, has been in the industry for over 10 years. After having your breakfast in the cafe portion of the store, pick up some gold-foil cards and customised stationeries for your friends back home. The years of experience the designers have will make your purchases worth your dime.
Address: 5/391-397 Bong Bong Street, Bowral, NSW, Australia
Weekday Hours: Sat to Sun: 6AM – 4PM
Weekend Hours: Mon to Fri: 8AM – 4PM
Escape to the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands with FCM Executive Leisure and Qantas
Heading out to the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands felt like a much-needed respite. And it was a breeze getting there – first and foremost to Sydney on Qantas’ spacious Airbus A330.
Not only was it supremely comfortable, there was also in-flight entertainment and three full delicious on-flight meals (even ice cream for dessert!)
We loved how we could binge on box sets dramas on board!
It all came at a reasonable price – our two-way flight to Sydney on board Qantas’ finest fleet cost just about $1,000 each (currently on sale at $578)! Considering it’s a national carrier, with all the full amenities and comfort of one, we were assured that we were getting the biggest bang for our buck.
Our secret to getting such low prices was by using FCM Executive Leisure, a one-stop travel platform that prides itself on being the airfare experts. In other words, it helps you find the most affordable airfares among all the travel agencies – or even cruises.
And besides, we all know the work which goes behind planning a holiday – itineraries, budgeting, and travel passes all have to be in order. FCM Executive Leisure is not only a travel agency but they also boast a team of travel experts who can propose holiday ideas for you, giving you the freedom to pick and choose your dream holiday minus the hours of research.
This post was brought to you by FCM Executive Leisure, Qantas and Destination NSW. Photography by: Adria Tham