Scenic World as thrilling as ever

Strapping ourselves in, we lurch forward before plunging in to darkness. Seconds pass as squeals bounce off the rough sandstone walls. Moments later, we emerge through a narrow chasm to one of Australia's most stunning and recognisable vistas: the Jamison valley stretching to Mount Solitary.

Yes, Katoomba's Scenic Railway has lost none of its thrill since I was a child. In fact, the latest upgrade to the tourist attraction just a year ago saw the addition of new carriages and seats allowing the rider to adjust the inclination of their seats, from laid back to 'cliff hanger'.

Even in laid-back mode with a 5-year-old in tow, the trip down the mountain is thrilling. Friendly staff have coaxed her on board with a bravery kangaroo, which she clings to tightly as we step out in to the lush valley and explore the walkways through the rainforest.

The Scenic Railway continues to delight families of all ages.
The Scenic Railway continues to delight families of all ages.  Photo: Supplied

It's hard to imagine that the slick Scenic World operation we see today started life as a rickety tramway for coal skips at Katoomba coal mine, over 140 years ago, but the mining history is still evident at the base of the mountain, where the mine's entrance has been preserved, a dark passage which leads to the 100 km of mining tunnels which run through the escarpment.

Continuing along the elevated boardwalk, lyrebirds peck amongst the ferns while rusting mining equipment is still strewn along the forest floor. A recreated miner's cottage shows the primitive conditions miners faced at the turn of the 20th century  - wood huts with no running water or electricity.

Everything changed in the 1920s when two weary backpackers hitched a lift back up the mountain in a coal car, making clear the opportunity for a tourist attraction.

While one can still take a return lift via the railway, a more leisurely journey is to be had via the Scenic Cableway at the end of the walkway, featuring those glorious valley views at a slower pace. (More adventurous types may attempt the steep walk back to Scenic World via 996 steps.)

Another welcome feature since I first visited the Scenic Railway in a Boy George t-shirt and side ponytail is the scenic Skyway, which stretches across the Jamison Valley and above Katoomba falls. Watch cockatoos swirl in the spray through the glass bottomed floor of the Skyway car, which gradually becomes transparent as it traverses the valley.

Tip: Scenic World is open daily from 9am-5pm. Arrive early to avoid the crowds and heat in summer, or better still, visit on a week day.

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Sculpture at Scenic world is Australia's only rainforest art exhibition, and is on from 15 April to 10 May 2015.

Where to stay

While it's possible to visit the Blue Mountains on a day trip from Sydney, it's far more enjoyable to make a weekend of it and sample the many sights and experiences of the area. For the full resort experience you can't beat the Fairmont Resort at Leura. Upstairs the hotel resembles a luxe ski lodge with a striking, open lobby and stunning views across the Jamison Valley.

Bad weather outside? The indoor playrooms at the Fairmont Resort Leura are perfect for burning off energy.
Bad weather outside? The indoor playrooms at the Fairmont Resort Leura are perfect for burning off energy. Photo: Amber Robinson

Downstairs, away from couples looking for peace, quiet and romance there's the Kidzone – a child friendly wonderland with climbing equipment, a mirror maze, arcade games and an indoor/outdoor pool. Let the little ones burn off energy in the expansive grounds and hedge maze, or if the weather closes in, retire to the indoor cinema for a family-friendly flick.

Tip: Don't miss the Fairmont express train ride around the resort grounds at $5 per child, per ride. The Fairmont Express operates every Saturday & Sunday and daily during school holidays.

Where to eat

It's impossible to leave the Blue Mountains hungry. We began our culinary journey with an outstanding dinner at Leura Garage. This restaurant and bar located in, you guessed it, an old mechanic's garage, has all the casual cool of a hip Surry Hills joint with friendly service and a great kids' menu thrown in.  Special mention for the delicious rainbow chard with feta. 
Open 12pm –late Bookings:   (02) 4784 3391

Over at Scenic World, take in lunch with a view of the three sisters at EATS270.

A diverse and affordable menu sources seasonal and regional produce, with several linked canteens offering themed meals from around the world. (Australia, Italian, Asian and Indian).

On a nice day, enjoy a local beer or cider on the outdoor terrace.

Open 10:30am – 3:00pm daily, bookings not necessary

If you're craving old-fashioned treats in a quirky setting, check out Gingerbread House in Katoomba. This converted church is a wonderland for sweet tooths of all ages. Our son tried his first 'spider' (ice-cream floater) while we enjoyed some delicious teas and homemade cakes.

If you can lure the kids away from the playground in the garden, try your hand at building your own gingerbread house, decorated with old-fashioned lollies from the in-house store.

Open Mon - Sun: 09:00 - 17:00. Bookings: (02) 4784 2031

The writer and her family travelled as guests of Scenic World.

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