The Blue Mountains
WRITTEN BY: STUART MARTIN
A more formidable natural barrier is hard to imagine when the Blue Mountains loom into view. So-named for the hue created by light refracting through gum trees’ oily emissions, the range to Sydney’s west presents challenges to those climbing its peaks even today; spare a thought for the intrepid explorers who contemplated it two centuries ago. The first successful European crossing was completed in 1813, an expedition led by Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth, names that live on in towns and villages across the mountain range. Now spanned by the Great Western Highway, the trip from the outskirts of Penrith, over Mount Victoria (the highest point in the range) to the plains beyond takes less than 90 minutes, but barely scratches the surface of a magical bush region on either side. Time taken to explore the vast tracts of eucalypt-studded terrain— in this case to the north of the main highway—is rewarded with tranquil tracks through the scrub, kept quieter by the need for genuine off-road vehicle capability. Isuzu’s D-MAX utility and its MU-X seven-seater sibling offer the mechanical prowess to get you along some challenging tracks to stunning lookouts—all you need is the accompanying skill-set.
WHEN TO GO
Accessibility is a huge drawcard for the Blue Mountains, with something happening all year round, whether you’re waking up to frosted midwinter windscreens or loathe to leave your air-conditioned cabin during summer. Use common sense during bushfire season, stretching as it does further across the calendar every year. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website offers ample information on camp grounds, walking trails and safety alerts (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au). Local privateers such as Simmo’s Offroad Tours can greatly enhance your experience with encyclopedic knowledge (and a laconic manner) on a variety of self-driving group options (simmosoffroadtours.com). In fact, the I-Venture Club chose the beginning of August to venture out with a group of D-MAX and MU-X owners to experience the thrill of a Blue Mountains adventure.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
A three-hour journey from the centre of Sydney puts you in the heart of the Blue Mountains, with the tracks in the national parks easily accessed from a number of locations. Katoomba, Lithgow, Bathurst, Medlow Bath and Wallerawang are just a few options within easy reach of the national parks and reserves.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Sandstone, breathtaking vistas, rocky, rutted tracks and never being too far from a Devonshire tea if things become a little uncivilised. The I-Venture trip through the area began at the elegantly old-fashioned Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath, a testament to an era of building things to last, before abandoning the main highway between Sydney and Lithgow. Diving off into the dirt, it’s easy to put 500 leisurely kilometres on largely unsealed roads over a three-day, stop-and-smell-thewollemi-pine romp to Bathurst.
Rocky, rutted tracks will give some less-experienced drivers (and their passengers) a few concerns, but you can slip carefully without too much training through the bush of the Gardens of Stone National Park. Following this route, the first of many spectacular views will loom large through the windows as the scrub height subsides on approach to the Lost City lookout over Marrangaroo. Enjoy the panorama of rocky outcrops firing skyward from the bush below, then journey back along Blackfellows Hand Trail, with great dining options such as the quirky village kiosk—once the pub—of Newnes, a town built on shale oil and mining money.
Deep in the valley, surrounded by bush and rocky peaks, you’ll find peaceful relief from all things modern if required. No phone coverage means the only chirps are bird noises from the feathered variety, but the associated uncontactability means you should be prepared to help yourself.
The Aboriginal rock art of Blackfellows Hand Cave provides a solemn meeting spot beneath an imposing rock face. The trails of the Ben Bullen State Forest, easily accessible from Wallerawang, will challenge those who relish slightly trickier terrain, and the scene over Wolgan Gap is truly awesome: a stunning view across a wide, unspoiled valley, epic and ancient. Sofala provides options for a creek-side pizza stop at the Tanwarra Lodge, while the banks of the Turon River attract amateur gold panners hoping to strike it rich on the weekend.
Mount Walker and the Marrangaroo National Park provide a variety of trails, including wheellifting rocks and ruts, covered in slippery dirt and dust, although extended river crossings will wash the dust from your belly. Don’t miss the historic Hampton Halfway Hotel, where a pub lunch rewards those who’ve expanded their off-road skills in one of Australia’s often overlooked 4WD wonderlands.
WHERE TO STAY
The Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath is a grand starting point heading west from Sydney, at the top end of accommodation options. It has truly astonishing views. The Black Gold Motel at Wallerawang is a handy overnight spot that stays close to the tracks and limits long ‘transport’ legs to get back off the beaten track. For something a little more high-octane, Rydges at Mount Panorama puts motorsport fans right on the famous racetrack.
PETER & JOHN AUBREY
The NSW father and son attended their first I-Venture trip through the Blue Mountains in August / 2017 Isuzu D-MAX
“This won’t be my last one,” says Peter. “It’s been educational. I did the River Island I-Venture, which opened me up to a lot of the theory and practice of it, then I’ve done a lot of off-roading down on the South Coast. This trip was the next level and far more challenging. It’s given me more confidence about how far I can push the D-MAX. “David Wilson on the radio was helpful and entertaining. It is good—I’m a lot more confident in what I can do now. I only had two options on gaining confidence in the car. In a 4WD club they jump in a bit harder straight off, whereas doing this, I reckon I’ve learnt more and come out in a better position than a 4WD club. As a novice, that can be a problem. “I’ve got the confidence now to do more on my own. I’ll give it a go!”
LAKSHMI & KIRAN KASARLA
The Melbourne, Victoria, couple joined the I-Venture trip through the Blue Mountains in August / 2016 Isuzu MU-X
“We’ve done four-wheel driving trips in it, up to Alice Springs, along the beach from Mt Gambier to Robe and a couple around Healesville and Marysville. But this is our first on our own—normally there’s five or six of us. We have two kids, aged eight and 10, and with other close family, we’d normally have the roof box on top as well. This has been a lovely weekend—the kids would have loved it. “The best part was the lookouts, places that you can’t normally get to unless you have a 4WD. You couldn’t walk that far, the only way is the 4WD! And the food and accommodation is fantastic. We’ve been inspired to do more trips, boosted our confidence levels and found some good camping grounds to come back to with the family.”