Thought by European settlers to be impenetrable, the Blue Mountains were not crossed until 1813 by explorers Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson. They followed ridges to reach the plateau and that was the first step towards opening the west to settlers.
The Blue Mountains are in fact a series of cliffs surrounding a plateau, with rugged eroded gorges up to 760 metres deep. They were so named because of the bluish tinge seen from a distance, caused by the release of oils from eucalypt forests on the higher ridges. Heath-like vegetation grows on plateau edges and sheltered gorges have temperate rainforest. There are many hanging swamps with button grass reeds and thick, deep black soil. The Wollemi pine, a relic of Gondwana vegetation, is found in remote and isolated valleys.
These days, apart from the fortunate people who live there, it is a great drawcard for weekends away, particularly in winter months. The area is well known for its beautiful gardens, many of which are open to the public.
A breathtaking experience is the 720-metre journey on Skyway, 270 metres above ancient ravines, waterfalls and rainforests. The cabin has an electro-scenic glass floor and at the flick of a switch, the valley floor is revealed through the floor. Three hundred and sixty degree views take in the Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls, Mount Solitary and the neverending Jamison Valley. As it is so silent, the experience is like walking on air.
Departure is from Scenic World and it takes around five minutes to reach the eastern station, where passengers may embark and disembark. From there, it takes two minutes to get to the start of Cliff Top Walk. You might like to just take in the views or do the 25-minute walk to Echo Point. Whatever you decide to do, it's views, views, views all the way.
When you feel like a burst of mountain energy, visit the Blue Mountains Chocolate Company. It is a "gallery of all things chocolatey" with a huge selection of handmade chocolates. There are more than 60 to choose from chocolate toffees and nuts, koalas and eggs … and there are free tastings.
Head chocolatier Didier Lanoot made his first croissant at just nine years old, which led him to study pastry-making in Belgium. Didier enjoys art and design and chocolate-making allows him to combine his passions. He says Australians have very different preferences from Europeans. They have classic tastes, while Australians are adventurous and more willing to try new flavours.
The chocolatiers are nearly always on show demonstrating their art and skills, but on most days at 11am, 2.30pm and 4.30pm, one of them will demonstrate and talk about their craft.
The café serves gourmet lunches and wicked afternoon teas. Indulge in fresh ice cream made from totally natural ingredients or bliss out with a hot chocolate made with dark, milk or white chocolate, served in a cup heated by candle.
You can study the art of making chocolates in a three-hour course which is hands-on and practical. Learn how to temper chocolate, make a delicious truffle, fill a chocolate casing or make a hollow Easter egg. At the end, you may ask questions of the chocolatier while indulging in a real hot chocolate and slice of sublime cake.
They've thought of the children at the Chocolate Company there is a cubbyhouse, climbing net, slide and swing.
The Falls Mountain Retreat is a luxury hideaway in 1.6 hectares of gardens on the edge of the National Park in Wentworth Falls. There are walking trails, waterfalls and wonderful views all around the property.
The Falls is ultra-modern, self-contained, serviced apartment-style accommodation, quite the antithesis of the usual historic hotels, cottages and B&Bs offered in the Blue Mountains.
There are four styles of accommodation studios and loft studios and one and two-bedroom apartments. They have open fireplace, two-person hydrotherapy massage spa bath with 18 jets, reverse cycle air-conditioning, television, DVD/MP3 player and CD stereo. All have large enclosed courtyards or balconies at front and back.