By Ellen Hill
With its 1 million sq ha of UNESCO World Heritage wilderness, world-class attractions and plethora of accommodation, dining and activity options, the Blue Mountains has entranced visitors as an outdoor nature-based destination since 1815 when Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife Elizabeth travelled the new road over the mountains and gazed across the plains of the central west from Mt Victoria.
Before long, myriad inns dotted the highway, giving respite to weary travellers on their way to the rich pastoral lands to the west. The next wave of travellers was fortune seekers of the 1850s after Bathurst gold.
Then, in 1867, the railway supercharged the tourism industry, bringing sightseers to the mountains in droves.
Hotels, guesthouses, spa retreats and boarding houses opened in abundance beginning with The Carrington Hotel (first named The Great Western and renamed in 1886), which still commands Katoomba, in 1882. They also continued over the mountains to explore the amazing Jenolan Caves.
Other renowned beauties soon cropped up – what are now known as The Mountain Heritage Hotel & Spa, Katoomba YHA that was called Homesdale, the Palais Royale, The Imperial Hotel at Mt Victoria and, of course, the Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath.
Carrington Hotel historian Paul Innes said the thousands of visitors spilled from train carriages while many of the wealthy arrived by car, the sleek bodies and exquisite detail glinting as they slid along the driveways of grand hotels, spa retreats and guesthouses.
Regardless of how they came, the visitors flowed into the cafes and restaurants, the health spas and along the walking tracks, all eager to explore the decadent new world on the edge of Sydney.
The Blue Mountains was where you could stay in hotels with ensuite bathrooms, where your refrigerator was stocked with groceries on arrival at your cottage and civilised folk dressed in long frocks and suits for dinner, Mr Innes said.
The mountains was also filled with people who supported the holiday craze – butchers, chemists, plumbers, teachers, police and miners: “They were here because the tourists were here.’’
The wave of visitors in the 1920s took to the dance floors, the cinemas, went on driving trips, took the “bracing air’’ on brisk bushwalks and took in the live bands, ate out and shopped.
Edwardian older ladies tut-tutted about the antics of the young “flappers’’ who wore bobbed hair styles, shapeless clothing that revealed far too much leg, went on unchaperoned drives with boys and, gasp, occasionally flashed their knickers during exuberant dancing.
Visitors to the Roaring 20s Festival and all that Jazz can experience that halcyon age of opulence and elegance through a range of events and activities which recreate history.
Take your pick from a range of historical-themed festival events:
- Styles of Crossings through the Ages, 1800s, 1900s & 2013 (Mount York half-day bushwalk and historical tour) at 12.30pm Sundays, February 10 and 17: Explore spectacular locations and make delightful discoveries about the first recognised crossing of the Blue Mountains and the unique environment the early explorers encountered on their travels. While wandering past some spectacular lookouts your guide will share local secrets and interpret the unique environment for you. Cost: $60 plus booking fee. Details and bookings: 4782 1271, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.bmac.com.au.
- Royal? Americans? Mount York? Colonial History with a `20s Twist at 10am Saturday, February 16: Immerse yourself in dramatic Australian colonial history –with a 1920s twist. The physical evidence of the old roads will be examined and their impact on unsuspecting English travellers (aka the Royals), not to mention a sizable amount of Americans who ventured through the location. The tour is medium grade. Cost: $15 includes light morning tea and bottle of water. Details and bookings: 0402 483 599 or http://www.discoverthebluemountains.com.au.
- `20s Tours of the Carrington Hotel, 10am and 2pm, Saturday, February 23: Discover fascinating facts and trivia and even a few secrets about the original grand old dame of Katoomba from the resident historian Paul Innes. End the morning tour of the hotel grounds with a delicious Devonshire tea at the nearby Paragon Cafe (Cost: $27 plus booking fee). Finish the afternoon tour with a cheese and wine tasting at Carrington Cellars and Deli (Cost: $32 plus booking fee). Details and bookings: 4782 1111, email@example.com or http://www.thecarrington.com.au.