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DESTINATION: Great Western Highway

By JOHN ROZENTALS

TRAVEL: 04 MAY 2016

Take time to drive the Great Western Highway ... a dozen fine places to stop

Driving the Great Western Highway between Sydney and Lithgow and have a few lazy hours up your sleeve for a bit of relaxation, dining or just soaking up the attractions? Well, here’s a list of a dozen places — not necessarily the main tourist traps — certainly worth stopping at.

Penrith Regional Gallery — 86 River Road, Emu Plains (phone 4735 1100 or visit http://www.penrithregionalgallery.org).

This occupies the former, quite beautiful home of sculptor Gerald Lewers and painter Margot Lewis and sits on the western bank of the Nepean River not long before the highway begins its twists and turns up the mountains. You’ll easily spend a couple of hours browsing exhibitions, strolling gardens, soaking up the architecture and sipping coffee in the café.

Lennox Bridge — Mitchells Pass, Blaxland.

This sandstone structure was opened in 1833 and remained on the main route west of Sydney until the 1920s. It’s reputed to be the Australian mainland’s oldest surviving stone-arch bridge, and is well worth the drive of a few minutes from the highway to view a piece of the country’s engineering history. Its surrounds, by a stony creek, would make a great picnic spot.

Corridor of Oaks — Jackson Park, Sir Henry’s Parade, Faulconbridge.

Longstanding local MLA Joseph Jackson donated the land for this park in 1933 and suggested an avenue of oak trees be planted by all of the country’s Prime Ministers or their nearest surviving relative. But how some of the mighty have failed to prosper. Gough Whitlam’s oak, which, depending on your viewpoint, should be one of the tallest, strongest and grandest of them all, seems barely to have survived. Lots of interesting statues to ponder as well. Nearby, in Faulconbridge Cemetery, is the grave of Sir Henry Parkes, known as the ‘Father of Federation’ and longest-serving Premier of the Colony of New South Wales.

Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum — 14 Norman Lindsay Crescent, Faulconbridge (phone 4751 1067 or visit http://www.normanlindsay.com.au).

The ‘Home of the Magic Pudding’ is housed in Springwood, a rambling mansion that was built in the mid-1890s and bought by Norman Lindsay in 1912. This National Trust property is a fabulous place to explore, and the gardens, with their many statues, truly are magnificent.

Sublime Point Lookout — Sublime Point Road, Leura.

The majority of tourists head to Echo Point for their view of the Jamison Valley but this offers just as spectacular an outlook, especially if you’re interested in seeing the backsides of the Three Sisters. Parking is dead easy (and free) before a shortish uphill but easy walk along a well formed track. A great picnic spot.

Leura Mall — Leura Mall, Leura (visit https://leuravillage.wildapricot.org).

For me, Leura has long been the real jewel in the Blue Mountains crown and the Mall is its absolute heart. Trendy shops and quaint cafés abound in this ‘Mosman in the Mountains’. Make sure to rug up if you’re going to spend a couple of hours window shopping. There’s usually plenty of parking in the area on the top side out the back of the shops. The Red Door Café is excellent for coffee, a snack or some lunch, and the Leura Garage offers great avant garde food.

Everglades Historic House and Gardens — Everglades Avenue, Leura (phone 4784 1938 or visit http://www.everglades.org.au).

I’ve already described the gardens at Norman Lindsay Gallery as truly magnificent so I’m not sure what possible descriptors are left for Everglades, which was developed from the 1930s by Belgian merchant Henri Van de Velde and Danish landscape architect Paul Sorenson. If you can get your eyes off the gardens themselves, the views of the Jamison Valley are breathtaking. Please don’t think you can possibly do this in a few minutes. It’s a major attraction.

The Carrington Hotel — 15-47 Katoomba Street, Katoomba (phone 4782 1111 or visit http://www.thecarrington.com.au).

The Carrington Hotel has regained much of glamour it exuded in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, when its only rival in the Empire was classed to be the Raffles in Singapore. The front stairs, the stained-glass facade, and especially the Grand Dining Room are all fine examples of a more decadent era. Make sure you stop for a drink in Champagne Charlies, and also a browse around the fine bottleshop and deli now housed in what used to be the old Katoomba Power Station.

The Hydro Majestic Hotel — 52-88 Great Western Highway, Medlow Bath (phone 4782 6885 or visit http://www.hydromajestic.com.au).

There used to a joke in Medlow Bath early last century that if you paged Mr or Mrs Smith in the bar at the Hydro, then half the people staying there would front up. Yes, it was that sort of place —a genuine Australian tourism icon and, well, a bit naughty as well. Thankfully it’s been magnificently restored to its original grandeur, and it’s well worth stopping for a look at highlights such as Cats Alley (clearly, not all Mr Smiths were accompanied by a Mrs Smith), the Wintergarden Restaurant, Salon du Thé and the stunning walk along the Megalong Valley escarpment. The high tea is particularly recommended.

Govetts Leap Lookout — Govetts Leap Road, Blackheath.

Like Sublime Point, this is another good spot to enjoy the splendour and absolute wilderness of the Blue Mountains while avoiding the madding crowd at Echo Point. This time the view is of the Grose Valley and the adjacent car park makes access simple indeed.

The Campbell Rhododendron Gardens — Bacchante Street, Blackheath (phone 4787 8965 or visit http://rhodogarden.org.au).

In terms of Blue Mountains attractions this is a relative newcomer, having only been developed since the 1970s by the Blue Mountains Rhododendron Society. Anything it lacks in history, though, is more than compensated for by the sheer natural beauty of its natural and planted environment. It’s good to visit anytime but October and November are most spectacular.

Hartley Historic Village — just a few hundred metres off the Great Western Highway about midway between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.

It’s well worth the short detour to wander around what was a once-thriving commercial centre and government cog, with an imposing courthouse which was built in the Greek Revival style and still stands, along with a dozen or so other buildings. The St John’s Anglican Church is of simple design, but it has withstood the ravages of time and is still used for weddings as well as weekly services.

Hartley ... The St John’s Anglican Church is of simple design, but it has withstood the ravages of time.

Above: The Hydro Majestic General Manager Ralf Brueger in the iconic hotel's magnificently restored Cats Alley.

The Carrington Hotel ... its only rival in the Empire was classed to be the Raffles in Singapore.

Leura's Everglades ... Please don’t think you can possibly do this in a few minutes. It’s a major attraction.

The Corridor of Oaks ... a remembrance of Australian Prime Ministers in Faulconbridge.

Lusty, big-bottomed girls in the splendid gardens at the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum.

Govetts Leap Lookout ... simple access to great Blue Mountains views.

Penrith Regional Gallery ... on the western bank of the Nepean River not long before the highway begins its twists and turns up the mountains.

The Lennox Bridge at Blaxland ... reputed to be the Australian mainland’s oldest surviving stone-arch bridge.

A great alternative to Echo Point ... looking through bushland into the Jamison Valley from Sublime Point.

Floral magnificence ... the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath.

Leura ... definitely a Roaring 20s feel to this Blue Mountains village.