The perfect trip: New South Wales
The haze may be blue, but the mountains themselves are decidedly green. From a high vantage point, there are infinite views of treetops and thick bush stretching over deep valleys, intersected with sheer slabs of flat-topped, saffron-coloured cliffs fringed with green. These formations run in broad escarpments jutting above the landscape, creating solid walls and occasionally breaking into tall sections, like stubby sandstone fingers reaching towards the sky.
Tim Tranter is a local environmental scientist and guide who leads walkers, ornithologists and visiting botanists through the park. ‘These mountains are a Unesco World Heritage Site because they evolved like nowhere else on the planet,’ he says. ‘They do things in an opposite way to the rest of the world. For instance, in the autumn, leaves stay on the trees and the bark falls off.’
The Blue Mountains are a languid work in progress that is, so far, 150 million years in the making. Through the ages, the constant movement of water rushing down into the valleys and gorges has carved this landscape from solid rock – a process that is still going on today. Here, ancient boulders spring leaks to release water that has been trapped within for tens of thousands of years.
Tim’s sure feet navigate the park’s meandering walking trails while his eyes focus upwards. He points to a flat, duncoloured face of ironstone towering above. This kind of stone, he explains, is particularly good at conducting lightning and often sparks tremendous bush fires that feed on the flammable, oil-laden foliage of the eucalyptus trees and roar through the landscape every few years.
It is far from a natural disaster, however. ‘Fire is an essential part of this place,’ Tim says. ‘And the environment springs back to life quickly. Elsewhere in the world, regions take 30 to 50 years to recover from bush fires, but here they are the first stage of new life, with tree fronds forming within a couple of weeks.’
He grins and continues down the trail into the thick green heart of the Blue Mountains bushland, which continues to be shaped by the endless ravages and renewal of the elements.
Where to eat
At Solitary Restaurant, opt for a table on the lawn for views of the magnificent gorges below. Dine on delicately flavoured spatchcock, organic pork and seafood dishes with greens grown in the organic garden (mains from £18).
Where to stay
These indulgent cottages in the suburb of Leura are beacons of eco-sustainability, built almost entirely from recycled materials and powered with a zero-carbon footprint. The Old Leura Dairy’s beautiful, warming stone and timber interiors are adorned with fine linens and unique fittings (from £180).
Hunter Valley: Best for food
At daybreak, Hunter Valley sets a quintessentially Australian scene. Eucalyptus trees wave gently on hills overlooking rows of grapevines, with the low Brokenback Mountains as a backdrop. In the foreground, kangaroos emerge one by one from pools of mist. The air is cool and heavy with the scent of moisture and the Australian bush, and as the sun rises, ‘utes’ – or utility trucks – and other rugged vehicles begin to appear on the backroads, marking the start of another working day.
This place is considered the birthplace of Australian winemaking. Where once the land was taken up with small farms, this is now the domain of family-owned boutique wineries, and a number of world-class wines are produced here.