Winter is truly one of the best times for road-trippin’. Accommodation prices are slashed as people are usually reluctant to go travelling during this time, but I personally love driving out of Sydney. The roads are less congested, restaurants less busy, and there’s nothing quite like that first frosty deep inhale when you wake up on your first morning away.
Night Owl and I have never been to the Blue Mountains together before, and decided to go for a visit before she started a new job. I wasn’t going to be able to take some time off for a little while over the next month as my manager was going on holidays, so I relished the opportunity to get away for some R&R before I knuckled down. We left Sydney on the morning of a Sunday, intending to stay for Sunday and Monday nights, and return on Tuesday so as best to avoid traffic.
It was a ridiculously sunny and warm Sunday when we headed up the freeway, and stopped at the Glenbrook information centre for a quick break and I checked out the National Parks and Wildlife guides as we were intending to do a walk during our getaway. I was advised to squeeze in a walk that day if I could, as it was forecast to rain for the next two days. Keeping a frantic eye on the time, we quickly popped back into the car and drove up to Wentworth Falls.
I have a must-visit every time I go to the Blue Mountains, and that’s Bakery Patisserie Schwarz which is just across the road from Wentworth Falls Station. It’s homely and warm, the tables decorated with dried flowers, the glass cabinet showing off their varieties of glazed danishes and tarts, buns and doughnuts, with a chalkboard at the back listing their amazing, incredible pies. We order a rye sourdough for the road, along with two pies – beef and mushroom and beef and burgundy, along with a jam doughnut. Both pies arrive with a rustic pile of chopped salad with lettuce, carrot, cucumber, tomato and sprouts drizzled in a generous amount of mayo.
The meat in the pies are slow-cooked, but this doesn’t reduce the sheer amazing chunkiness of it. It’s moreish and delicious. The jam doughnut comes served with a huge squirt of whipped cream, and it’s like eating the lightest, most heavenly scone.
After our fortifying brunch, we rush back to the car to change into our walking gear and fill up our bottles before our walk, It’s not too long a drive to Blackheath, which is where the Grand Canyon walk is located. I’ve done it many years ago with my Sister during summer and it took us a proper half day. It’s a proper walk that takes you down stairs cut into the cliff face into the base of the gorge, transitioning from dry scrub to lush rainforest, and you zig zag around the river before heading back up the steep cliff and many stairs to the lookout.
Shrubs and ferns that accumulate on the cliff face are called “hanging gardens”, watered by the spray of the waterfall blown back up onto the cliff face. It’s a fun and energetic walk (the stairs are killer), and it’s surprisingly cool in the bottom of the gorge, making us glad that we did the walk during a rare warm day. Parts of the walk were a little slippery or had big puddles, so we were also fortunate that we had the time to squeeze in the walk before the forecast rain.
At this point we drop by Leura to pick up some supplies from Woolworths for the next couple of days: eggs, grapes, dip, prosciutto, before making our way to our AirBnB in Katoomba. It’s a lovely flat at the back of a property right against the national park, along Cliff Drive. There’s a living/lounge room with kitchenette, quaint little bathroom and deliciously comfortable bed. The caretaker for our hosts had kindly turned on the heating and the electric blanket, and I was delighted to see the amount of flowers and herbs in the garden, which we had been invited to use as we liked.
Knowing Night Owl’s huge dislike for the cold and just how much nighttime temperatures could drop in the mountains, I had had the foresight of making fresh pasta and cooking up a rich bolognese sauce and packing it with ice packs to take with us. It was simply a matter of boiling the pasta, reheating the sauce, grating over the Parmesan I had brought and topping it with a little fresh parsley from the garden outside. We had this with a bottle of Tempus Two we brought up with us, bought on our Easter trip to the Hunter Valley.
Comfortable as the bed was, we were disoriented when we woke up the next morning, as one usually is when sleeping in an unfamiliar bed. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs with some truffle paste I brought along and the delicious rye bread we bought the day before, we decided to make it a quiet day, but first doing an obligatory visit down the street to the Three Sister’s lookout.
It started drizzling after a short walk, so we decided to limit our day to the small cafes and shops of the mountains. We stopped by Josophan’s Chocolates in Leura for a chocolate fix, and my Sister had asked me to pick up a couple of things for her. Make sure you get a big piece of their brownie and/or chocolate cake while you’re at it. I bought a few handmade chocolates for us two to share later in the afternoon.
We drove back up the road to Blackheath to find Anonymous, a cafe I’ve heard on the grapevine for having some of the best coffee in the mountains. It was raining heavily and very windy at this point – about 2 degrees Celcius – so both of us were very reluctant to get out of the warmth of the car! Luckily the cafe wasn’t too far from where we parked and we were immediately seated on bar stools lining the wall of the minuscule but quaint cafe.
Night Owl wasn’t in the mood for anything heavy, so went with the veggie burger, while I immediately warmed to the Anonymous mixed plate, with corned beef, prosciutto, carved harm, smoked cheddar, brie and blue cheese, house-made pikcles and compote, served with cherry soda bread. For $18 (single serve), it was unbelievable in size and freshness. The concept of the cafe reminds me of Marrickville’s Cornersmith, with their love of pickling.
After lunch, it’s a quick dash back to our AirBnB to put on some more layers, and in my case change my socks as the toes were sodden and freezing. We went by The Carrington Cellars & Deli in Katoomba to find some cheeses for the cheese plate we would have that evening, and spent a little too much time oohing and ahhing at the local produce and drinks fridges. If you’re looking at buying local honey, biscuits, cider, etc, I would highly recommend this place for a visit as it’s not sold at too high a retail price unlike the more touristy venues around the mountains. We left with some ultra-creamy cheddar, a truffle-infused manchego, double cream brie and wild boar pate (among other things).
We were sad to wake up on Tuesday morning and know that we were heading back to Sydney that day, and I was disappointed that frost was forecast for the next days as Night Owl has never seen snow before – maybe next year! After yet another warming breakfast of truffle scrambled eggs and toast, we check out a few lookouts, make another stop by Josophan’s for more brownies and chocolates, before turning off Govett’s Leap at Blackheath to head towards the Megalong Valley.
It’s a long, single-lane of tight and windy road which goes over the mountains to the other side. Some is farmland, and it’s a popular area for horse riding trails that can take you all the way to Jenolan Caves.
Night Owl’s one request for our trip was to have Devonshire Tea, and I had heard good things about the tea at the Megalong Valley Tea Rooms. Service is friendly and brisk, with a roaring fireplace inside. There’s plentiful seating outside as well, which I’ve heard is popular for wallaby-spotting. But we are there for the food after all, and we sit back and enjoy a pot of tea each with our Devonshire Tea ($15.50 per person). The scones are perfection – huge and slightly pear-shaped, crusty on the outside and deliciously soft on the inside. The blueberry jam is moreish and chunky and we wanted much more!
Bathroom break and a windy drive back up into the mountains, we do a brisk walk around Govett’s Leap to aid our digestion before looking for our final meal before we leave. We drive by Synonymous, recommended to me by some other foodies – but unfortunately it’s closed for the day due to a party for a newborn baby. We decide to just drive on down to one of my usuals, Leura Garage, for a quick bite to eat.
Leura Garage is located up towards the station and is adorably outfitted to look like a mechanic’s garage. Their pizzas and tapas are hugely popular, but as we aren’t overly hungry still we order the Seasonal Salad, which is a generous pile of shredded vegetables topped with a tangy, Japanese-style dressing, and the Pork Belly, which has been roasted with apple cider. I order a Hillbilly Apple Cider ($7.50) as well, my guilty pleasure. Apples grow amazingly well in the mountains, and I hope to visit again in time for apple-picking season next year!
30 Station Street
Wentworth Falls NSW 2782
(02) 4757 3300
Josophan’s Fine Chocolates
132 Leura Mall
Leura NSW 2780
(02) 4784 2031
Anonymous Cafe Blackheath
237-238 Great Western Highway
Blackheath NSW 2785
(02) 3456 7890
Carrington Cellars and Deli
Katoomba NSW 2780
(02) 4782 0999
Megalong Valley Tea Rooms
Megalong Valley NSW 2785
(02) 4787 9181
84 Railway Parade
Leura NSW 2780
(02) 4784 3391