The Blue Mountains is a fabulous destination for families with plenty of fun activities for both parents and kids!
Up High: A Family Holiday in the Blue Mountains
We’ve only been driving through Blue Mountains region for thirty minutes and already I can feel myself slowing down. There’s something about this area with its beautiful scenery, fresh air and calm pace which is so relaxing and reinvigorating.
We’re here on a family holiday for a few days and our plan is to explore the area and relax as well. We pass through mountain villages like Faulconbridge, Hazelbrook and Leura, each one cuter than the last until we finally arrive in Katoomba. It’s a stunning drive with many of the trees turning red. Autumn truly is a great time to visit the mountains.
We stop at the Gingerbread House café in Katoomba after hearing that it’s a great place for kids. We’re not disappointed. My five year old daughter’s eyes widen as we walk inside. She’s a kid in a candy store, literally. Set in a former church, the Gingerbread House features high ceilings, lots of windows and features heavenly delights.
Everywhere we look there are sweets and treats. The glass cabinet is filled with delicious looking cakes and ice cream flavours while the shop is full of decadent treats.
My child spots a pink lollipop that I swear is as big as her head and just has to have it. I completely understand as I’m coveting the Josophans gingerbread house kit. (There’s a sister store Josophans in Leura which contains handcrafted chocolates).
Feeling a bit peckish after our drive from Newcastle, we order some toasted sandwiches and some hot chocolates to enjoy outside. Even though it’s a bit cool out there, it’s fantastic for families. It has a fully fenced yard with plenty of room for kids (especially those who have been car bound like my child) to run around. It even features toys and a cubby house.
Our food arrives and it’s delicious. I can’t stop raving about the incredible hot chocolate. Without a doubt, it’s the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted with plenty of homemade Josophan’s couverture in it. I kid you not, it’s like a dessert in a glass. Don’t even get me started on describing the cakes. One word – impressive!
It’s getting cooler and we’re starting to crash after our sugar highs so decide it’s time to travel to our hotel, the Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains at Leura.
When we get there, I notice there’s lots of kids around the hotel. ‘We have lots of families staying with us for school holidays’ explains the friendly woman at Reception and provides us with a booklet of amenities as well as a schedule of school holiday activities.
As I flip through the literature, I’m impressed with all that’s available for kids. I was vaguely aware that there was a kids’ games room available but it appears there’s lots more on offer than I expected. We stop at our room to drop off our bags and briefly notice the two large beds and a great view north of the autumn foliage over the outdoor pool. However, my daughter and I are impatient to check out the attractions and leave my husband behind to settle in.
Consulting the hotel map, we go to Level 2 to check out the area dubbed KidsZone. We find Dane’s Room, a games designed for kids aged 4 and under. It’s full of age-appropriate toys and rides for babies and toddlers to play with. There’s a small jungle gym, toy cars and a ball pit. It’s evident that there’s a lot of thought has gone into planning this room. There’s ample seating for parents to relax and supervise their child as well as toilets and baby change attached to this room. I appreciate the fact that this room is only for younger kids so parents don’t need to worry about bigger kids being rambunctious and accidentally knocking little ones over.
For older kids, there’s a room next door called KidZone which is for kids aged 5 to 13 which features a giant jungle gym and Wii games.
Next door to this room is the Arcade Alley which contains a mini-bowling alley, mirror maze and classic arcade games like pinball. Although Arcade Alley machines are coin-operated, a portion of the funds are donated to the Schwartz Family Foundation which supports charities and special projects in Australia and overseas.
Further down on this level is access to the outdoor pool. It’s a bit too cold to use at this time of year so it’s fabulous to see the indoor pool and spa. We spend a lot of time in the indoor pool during our stay and it’s often filled with lots of families having fun. The heated spa is especially glorious after a day of sightseeing. Next to this area is the future day spa which is slated to open in spring 2015 – I’m especially looking forward to this new service.
The resort also features its own 128 seat cinema and screens free kids movies on weekends and school holidays. During the Easter school holidays, the screenings included Frozen, Happy Feet, Peter Pan as Rio as well as PG and M movies for older kids later in the evenings.
Also on offer is the Fairmont Express train which travels around the resort as well as a Merry Go Round which offer rides for a fee which is donated to the Schwartz Family Foundation.
For sporty families, there’s walking trails and tennis courts as well as Segway tours.
It’s easy to be impressed by the range of family-friendly activities at the hotel. The owners, Jerry and Debbie Schwartz are themselves parents of young children and understand the need for activities to keep kids occupied and parents happy. Although there’s no dedicated kids club, there’s plenty of opportunities for parents and kids to spend quality time together together in the KidsZone, the pool or wandering the grounds of the resort. I much prefer this as I’m keen to create some family memories.
We’re not the only ones bonding. With lots of other families at the resort and a friendly atmosphere, it’s not long until my child makes friends with other kids and we find ourselves chatting with other parents. We end up swapping notes and finding out about things to do around the area.There’s cute boutiques nearby in Leura if you feel like retail therapy. Opposite the resort is the Leura Golf Course and there’s also bush walks that start from the resort.
We wake up one morning and visit nearby Sublime Point, a tranquil lookout not far from the hotel.
It’s one of my favourite lookouts in the Blue Mountains as it’s never busy and the views are simply sublime. As it’s a minor lookout, the fencing isn’t as secure as other lookouts, so if you take kids along, hold on to their hands.
We return to the hotel and enjoy a buffet breakfast while gazing out across the valley at the escarpments of the Blue Mountains.
As you would imagine, the food in the resort is delicious. I’m a big fan of the buffet breakfast with the usual offerings like bacon, eggs, mushrooms. But there’s also plenty of other choices including fruit, cheeses, meats pastries, eggs cooked to order and a juice machine. Not surprisingly we linger longer than usual enjoying the food and views.
During the course of our stay, we try a few of the different hotel restaurants. On our first night, we opt for a more casual dinner of tapas at Embers bar. It’s a relaxed environment with a large open fire creating a wonderful dining ambience. There’s a range of mix and match tapa plates and the ones we try are divine. I especially recommend the arancini balls.
The following night, we experience The Terrace restaurant. As it’s school holidays, there’s a kids buffet meal available featuring a few different dinner options as well as desserts and sweets.
Our daughter quickly eats her food and then is off in the kids area playing with her new friends while my husband and I take our time ordering from the a la carte menu. There’s so many delicious dishes to choose from, many of them locally sourced, but we finally make a decision. I opt for the lamb rump while my husband opts for the peri-peri chicken. When the meals arrive, they are sumptuous and I gobble mine down too busy enjoying my meal to take photos. It’s a novel experience being able to enjoy a nice dinner complete with wine while still keeping an eye on our child in the adjoining kids area.
On another night, our daughter begs us to go to the kids disco with her new friends. Organised for the school holidays, this fully supervised event features dinner, dancing and games for kids leaving parents to enjoy a few hours to themselves. My husband and I take the opportunity to enjoy a romantic dinner onsite. It’s a wonderful and unexpected opportunity to relax and reconnect with each other.
Although it would be easy to hang around the resort for the few days we are staying, we decide to venture out and experience some of the sights around the region. One day, we visit Jenolan Caves. It’s a 1 ¼ hour drive from Katoomba passing through some lovely countryside. However, be warned the last 8 kilometres is downhill and very narrow and winding. I’m actually relieved that it’s not raining as the weather report predicted. But finally we arrive at the caves and to our delight actually drive through a giant cave to access the car park.
Although there are more than 300 documented caves, eleven caves are accessible to the public via a guided tour. For families, the best caves to tour would be the Imperial or the Chifley. For families with kids aged toddler to four, The Imperial Cave is ideal being the easiest cave to navigate. For kids who are four and older, the Chifley is recommended. For older kids, consider caves such as the Orient, Temple of Baal or The River Cave.
We sign up for the Chifley tour and meet our guide Scott at the assembly point before we embark on our 1 hour tour. We’ve been told that the caves can be a bit cold so we layer accordingly. Scott’s an informative and entertaining guide. He’s also extremely knowledgeable having been a tour guide at the caves for more than 20 years.
He explains how the caves are created and points out interesting facts and features of the cave. He also uses lighting to showcase different geological features including an amazing rainbow light display.
As he escorts us from one cave to another, we ascend metal stairways and squeeze through narrow passages. It’s a fascinating introduction to the world of caves with interesting things to see such as stalagmacites and stalactites.
The tour takes approximately an hour and afterwards there’s an optional self-guided tour through the Nettle Cave using an audio pack. There’s also many scenic walks around the cave complex. To get back to our car, we complete the uphill part of the Carlotta Arch Walk and are rewarded with a sensational view through the arch.
For those who wish to stay longer at the caves, Caves House contains a bistro and accommodation.
Another day we venture to Scenic World in Katoomba. As we enter the complex, we can see the iconic Three Sisters rock formation across the valley. Known to locals as Meehni, Wimlah and Gunneddoo, the Three Sisters feature in local Aboriginal stories. These three weathered sandstone peaks stand at 912 m, 918 m and 906 m respectively and judging by the cameras clicking around me are easily the most photographed attraction in the Blue Mountains.
We decide to start our Scenic World experience by immersing ourselves in the thick vegetation of the mountains. We descend 545 metres into the Jamison Valley on the smooth riding Scenic Cableway. Once down in the valley, we emerge onto the Scenic Walkway and are immediately surrounded by ancient, temperate rainforest. The walkway totals 2.4 kilometres and is ideal if you want to push a stroller or pram around. Just keep in mind you won’t be able to take it on the Scenic Railway.
We walk along the boardwalk with trees towering over us occasionally blocking out the sun. Around us are shrubs, tree roots and vines and giant boulders as well as the remains of the historic coal mine. We’ve timed our visit exceptionally well as Sculpture at Scenic World officially starts the next day so the walkway is dotted with various art pieces. (Here’s my review of the amazing exhibition Sculpture at Scenic World).
We get to the end of the walkway and wait to get on the Scenic Railway. At a 52 degree incline, the Scenic Railway is the steepest passenger train in the world. It’s also very popular but it’s worth the wait. We climb into the Scenic Railway and adjust our seats to make it steeper. As the train rides back up the hill, I can feel butterflies in my stomach but manage keep a firm hold on my daughter. It’s a fantastic thrill going up the cliff face towards the escarpment. From our seats, we can see the Three Sisters and the entire valley until our view is blocked and we’re plunged into darkness as we traverse through a cave before arriving at the Top Station.
We stop for lunch at Eats 270 café which offers a range of different food as well as sensational views across the valley. While we eat our lunch, I read more about the history of Scenic World. Founder Harry Hammon and his sister registered the former colliery as Scenic Railway back in 1945 after visitors wanted rides on the steep railway which was being used in mine operations. The Scenic Railway soon proved popular and and in 1958, the Scenic Skyway was added which takes visitors across the Jamison Valley. In 2000, Harry’s son Phillip Hammon added the Scenic Cableway which takes visitors down into the valley. Scenic World still remains in the Hammon family and is currently managed by the third generation of Hammons, siblings David and Anthea Hammon.
It’s evident from the operation of Scenic World that being family-friendly is important to the Hammons. When I enquire if Scenic World is recommended for younger kids, I’m advised that all Scenic World experiences are suitable for children of any age. However, babies and small children must be held by an adult on the rides as there are no baby seats provided. There’s also pram parking, baby change facilities and storage lockers located in the Main Building. Even the family price is generous for those with larger families or who wish to bring other children such as cousins and friends along. Family admission for Scenic World is $88 and includes 2 adults and up to 5 children aged 13 and under. Children under 4 years of age ride free.
After lunch, we line up for the Scenic Skyway and can see firsthand how popular Scenic World is with families. There’s babies and kids everywhere. However, there’s room for everyone including prams as we enter the SkyWay cable car. We’re traveling 270 metres over the Jamison Valley and there are spectacular 360 degree views from every angle of the cable car including the middle which features a glass floor. From here the views of the Three Sisters and Katoomba Falls are incredible. It’s a 720 metre journey over to the eastern station so only takes a few minutes.
Once we’re over at the other side, we stroll down to the Echo Point lookout and spend more time gazing at the views. The rugged cliffs of the Blue Mountains are truly spectacular especially with the blue haze of the eucalyptus forests.
As I look out and breathe in the fresh mountain air, I’m ready to return home. I’m feeling calm and reinvigorated by slowing down. Once again, the Blue Mountains have done the trick.
Blue Mountains is a three hour drive from Newcastle via Sydney using toll roads M2 and M7.
Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains is a family-friendly hotel located in Leura. The most popular family package is the City Experience with Scenic World package. It includes overnight accommodation, buffet breakfast in Jamison’s Restaurant and VIP Family Pass to Scenic World. Price starts from $349.
The Gingerbread House is located at 56 Lurline Street in Katoomba and is open 9am to 5pm Monday to Sunday. Customer parking available behind the cafe.
Scenic World in Katoomba is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Ticket prices are $39 for adults, $21 for children (3-14 years), $99 for a family (2 adults + 5 children) and $35 concession. Ticket price includes unlimited rides on the Scenic Railway, Skyway, Cableway and Walkway. Sculpture at Scenic World runs from 7 April to 7 May 2017.
Cave tours at Jenolan Caves are scheduled throughout the day. Cave tours range from $32 – $38 for adults, $22 – $27 for children and $75 – $88 for a family (2 adults + 3 children). Prices vary depending on cave being toured.
Disclosure: For review purposes, The Mummy Project received free entry at Scenic World and Jenolan Caves, a free meal at Gingerbread House and received discounted accommodation and a free meal at the Fairmont Leura Resort. However this in no way affected the content of this blog post. All opinions are my own.