Katoomba: 114 km (71 miles) W of Sydney; Leura: 107 km (66 miles) W of Sydney; 3 km (2 miles) E of Katoomba; Blackheath: 114 km (71 miles) W of Sydney; 14 km (8 3/4 miles) NW of Katoomba; Wentworth Falls: 103 km (64 miles) W of Sydney; 7 km (4 1/2 miles) E of Katoomba.

The Blue Mountains offer breathtaking views, rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep, inaccessible valleys, enormous chasms, colorful parrots, cascading waterfalls, historic villages, and stupendous walking trails. In 2000, UNESCO classified it as a World Heritage Site. Although the Blue Mountains are where Sydneysiders now go to escape the humidity and crowds of the city, in the early days of the colony the mountains kept at bay those who wanted to explore the interior. In 1813, three explorers—Gregory Blaxland, William Charles Wentworth, and William Lawson—managed to conquer the cliffs, valleys, and dense forests and cross the mountains to the plains beyond. There, they found land the colony urgently needed for grazing and farming. The Great Western Highway and Bells Line of Road are the access roads through the region today—winding and steep in places, they are surrounded by the Blue Mountains and Wollemi national parks.

This area is known for its spectacular scenery, particularly the cliff-top views into valleys of gum trees and across to craggy outcrops that tower from the valley floor. Its colder up here than in the city, and clouds can sweep in and fill the canyons with mist in minutes, while waterfalls cascade down sheer drops, spraying the dripping fern trees that cling to the gullies. A day tour may scratch only the surface but should give you a glimpse into why Sydneysiders love it.

There are four main towns in the Blue Mountains. Katoomba (pop. 11,200) is the largest and the focal point of the Blue Mountains National Park. Its an easy 1 1/2- to 2-hour trip from Sydney by train, bus, or car.

Leura is known for its gardens, its attractive old buildings (many holiday homes for Sydneysiders), and its cafes and restaurants. Just outside Leura is the Sublime Point Lookout, which has spectacular views of the Three Sisters in Katoomba. From the southern end of Leura Mall, a cliff drive takes you all the way back to Echo Point in Katoomba; along the way youll enjoy stunning views across the Jamison Valley.

The pretty town of Wentworth Falls has numerous crafts and antiques shops, but the area is principally known for its 281 m (922-ft.) waterfall, situated in Falls Reserve. On the far side of the falls is the National Pass Walk—one of the best in the Blue Mountains. Its cut into a cliff face with overhanging rock faces on one side and sheer drops on the other. The views over the Jamison Valley are spectacular. The track takes you down to the base of the falls to the Valley of the Waters. Climbing up out of the valley is quite a bit more difficult, but just as rewarding.

Blackheath is the highest town in the Blue Mountains at 1,049 m (3,441 ft.). Take the Cliff Walk from Evans Lookout to Govetts Leap, where there are magnificent views over the Grose Valley and Bridal Veil Falls. The 1 1/2-hour trek passes through banksia, gum, and wattle forests, with wonderful views of mountain peaks and valleys.

The Blue Mountains are also one of Australias best-known adventure playgrounds. Rock climbing, caving, abseiling (rappelling), bushwalking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and canoeing are practiced here year-round.

Color Me Blue

The Blue Mountains derive their name from the ever-present blue haze that is caused by light striking the droplets of eucalyptus oil that evaporate from the leaves of the dense surrounding forest.