Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves, NSW Australia (July 2016)
This was a short trip, much closer to home on the outskirts of Sydney.
During the winter school holidays in July 2016 I took a Friday off work so our family could take a long weekend break away from Sydney. Together with hubby, Steve, and the two children (then aged 12 and 8) we drove up to the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves. The weekend was balanced perfectly with activities, site-seeing and quiet down-time.
The Blue Mountains is about a 90 minute drive west of Sydney (2 hours if you are coming from the northern beaches like us). Its breathtaking landscape and scenery spans approximately 11,400 km² and offers an array of attractions, including bushwalking trails, waterfalls and ancient limestone caves. Aside from its world heritage listing, its many towns and villages also offer a delightful experience with their guesthouses, galleries and gardens and there are plenty of dining options from fine dining restaurants, to cafes, coffee shops and tea houses.
As a family we have been to the Blue Mountains a couple of times, but usually just for a day trip. However Steve and the children hadn’t been to Jenolan Caves before and I hadn’t been since I was a small child, so we were looking forward to discovering this part of the mountains.
This was how our weekend went:
We left home on Sydney’s northern beaches on Friday morning at around 9am after the peak hour traffic subsided. We took the M2 and M7 motorways to our first stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park at Doonside in Western Sydney, arriving at around 10.15am. I thought it would be a good idea to stop here so the kids could wander around and see some animals, plus I had an entry discount voucher. Unfortunately when we arrived we discovered they were doing a promotion already with free entry for children. I say ‘unfortunately’ because although this saved us more money than my voucher would have, the downside to this was that loads of other families had the same idea and so the park was packed! We only stayed for just over an hour, so it was an expensive stop (even with the kids free entry). It turned out my kids weren’t as interested as I thought they would be (perhaps they are too old for cute animals now) but also the crowds were a bit too much for us to enjoy ourselves. The enclosures were done up very nicely and there was a good selection of animals but we certainly recommend visiting outside of school holidays or at least when the promotions aren’t being run.
Next we dove up the M4 and Great Western Highway to the Blue Mountains. It was about an hour drive to Leura and we arrived around 12.30pm. The intention was to stop at Leura for lunch (Trip Adviser reviews for Red Door Café and Lilys Pad looked great) but we couldn’t find anywhere to park. After driving around in circles for 15 minutes we decided to drive on to Katoomba, where we found a carpark. We then wondered up the main road (Katoomba Street) to look for somewhere to eat. It was noticeably much colder up in the Mountains, so we were glad when we found a cute looking café called “The Hatters” to get out of the chilly air. The Hatters cafe turned out to be a good choice with great food and service. Next door to a hattery, it was lovely and warm and offered a varied menu including a children’s menu for fussy kids. They also support the “suspended coffee” program so when I paid for our meals I was sure to donate a couple in their jar. I was surprised when I later looked up Trip Adviser and saw so many negative reviews – our experience was very pleasant and our waitress was lovely and friendly. It just goes to show that you should be very careful when reading reviews – there is no pleasing some people. Of course we could have just been lucky!
After lunch we drove down the road to Echo Point to check out the Three Sisters and admire the view. This was just a brief stop as we have all been there before, but you cant visit Katoomba and not stop at the Three Sisters. Plus after all our sitting down in the car drive and cafe, this was a good opportunity to stretch our legs and get some fresh air – although it was freezing! We opted not to stop at Scenic World around the corner this trip as we had been there the year before. If you haven’t visited Scenic World and have a spare couple of hours, I thoroughly recommend you stop by. You should definitely take a ride on their scenic railway (a vertical trip down the canyon) and also a cable car ride across the valley for some spectacular scenery.
After our stop at Katoomba we drove on to the recently restored and reopened Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath. It was only a short journey and we arrived at 2.30pm. I had planned for us to have some coffee/hot chocolates and cake. However we were very disappointed to find out the only place you can do this now is in their gift shop café. You used to be able to sit in their grand dining rooms with spectacular views over the valley when we last visited there a few years ago. Their gift shop/ café is very nicely decorated inside and good for a look around but has no views unless you want to sit outside on a bench in the chilly air – too cold for us! Plus the cake was a little disappointing. We decided next time we visit we will book in for ‘high tea’ in the dining rooms – without the children (the children wouldn’t appreciate a high tea and am pretty sure other diners wouldn’t appreciate children there especially if they misbehave)
Next we drove on towards Jenolan, with a very brief 10 minute detour off the main road at Hartley historic village at 3.30pm. This village dates back to the 1800’s and has some beautiful old buildings which you can self tour. It seemed like a ghost town with nobody around, although I noticed there are also a couple of galleries and curio shops you can stop in. However, we were keen to keep driving on to Jenolan as soon as I grabbed a few photos of the village buildings, including the old Court house and church.
At around 4.30pm we arrived at our cabin just in time to see some kangaroos grazing on the open grounds before the sunset. Booked through Jenolan Caves House and situated about 8km before Jenolan Caves, our cabin was one of 8 free standing cabins, nettled in bush land with grassy areas, kids playground and BBQs. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere – it was fantastic for us city folk! There was no phone, wifi or TV reception, but there was a lovely warm gas fire place and DVD player. The accommodation was very basic (which I knew when I booked). It was warm and cozy with two bedrooms, main living room and kitchenette. We had brought some food with us so we could cook our own dinner but weren’t very hungry after all we ate earlier that day. We had a light dinner and settled in to watch a box set of James Bond DVDs that I brought with us for the whole family to enjoy. Read my Trip Advisor review here.
On Saturday morning after a good night sleep we cooked up some bacon and eggs for breakfast, which we ate while watching the local kangaroos (or were they wallabies?) grazing in front of our cabin. Then we all jumped in the car and headed down to the Jenolan caves. We arrived around 10.30am and already the car parks were filling up, I think we managed to find one of the last few spaces. Thankfully, I had previously booked our cave tours: one for 11.30am (Lucas Cave) and one at 4pm (Diamond Cave) – after reading on their website that bookings were advised to avoid disappointment. They were right, many of the cave tours were fully booked out. I had also read about the limited car parking which was why we arrived much earlier than our booking – more good advice.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Lucas Cave. It involved a lot of stairs, (about 900!) but we all managed them fine despite the dodgy knees my husband and I suffer, plus my lack of fitness. We all found the tour very interesting and informative and the young guide was entertaining (well, I thought he was anyway). I took lots of photos and even the children were enthralled (it was just the right length of time for their attention span).
There wasn’t a lot of choice for lunch at Jenolan Caves and I had read that Caves House restaurant was usually very busy and food selection was typical bistro style – mainly deep fried or sandwiches. There looked like there was already a queue, so I suggested we drive 30 minutes up the windy road to Oberon to find more options for lunch. In Oberon we found the Long Arm Farm Café – a fantastic choice. They had great coffee and fresh/home-made food. It wasn’t a huge menu but had enough variety for the whole family, including one of our fussy kids. It was a little busy but they warned us about the wait and we didn’t mind, especially since our next cave tour booked wasn’t until 4pm giving us plenty of time to eat and drive back to Jenolan.
We finished the day with the Diamond Cave tour, which was quite different to the Lucas Cave, also very enjoyable and with a much smaller group. It felt like a long day though, especially after all the walking around the caves not to mention all the steps in Lucas Cave, so we were quite glad to head back to our cabin up the road for our final night’s stay.
Sunday morning I had a cup of coffee with the kangaroos and took some photos of my daughter getting up close to them. We then packed up and left our cabin at around 10m, headed straight for Oberon, as we had planned our drive back to Sydney via a different route to the way we had come in. We had originally planned to have breakfast at our cabin and then eat lunch at Tarana Hotel but enjoyed the food at Long Arm Farm café so much the previous day we decided to stop back there for breakfast. Of course we ate too much (their home grown bacon was amazing) so we didn’t want lunch.
We then drove through Tarana admiring the town and surrounding scenery and countryside, then through Lithgow and then along the Bell Line of Road through Mount Tomah.
Finally we arrived at Bilpin, a much greener country area with orchards. We decided to stop for a late lunch snack at Tutti Fruitti. It was a cute little cafe with quaint decor but the food there was average and a little disappointing. Bilpin is famous for its apples and at certain times of the year you can pick your own fruit – not winter of course. So at Tutti Fruitti I chose their apple pie. Unfortunately it simply didn’t live up to my husband’s home made Dorset apple pie, nor the famous apple pie I tried the year before in Julian, California. Although it could have just been the canned whipped cream that made it disappointing.
We then headed down the mountain through Kurrajong Heights and Richmond, back into Sydney, arriving back home late afternoon, just in time to get ready for work the next day.
All in all, it was a great weekend away. It was an enjoyably trip spending some quality time together as a family and in some fresh air too.
This was our route map: