Before the drab days of winter, nature puts on one last magical show – a burst of colour and abundance. Ripening apples gleam from the trees while mushrooms in crimson, rust and orange hues peek like pixies from the earth. Most joyous of all are the bright leaves of maples and other deciduous trees.
Blessed with mellow, yet warm days, autumn is the perfect time for stepping outdoors. The hills of the Blue Mountains and inland to the farmlands and pine forests beyond are popular for viewing the splendour of autumn leaves.
Hotspots for leaf peeping include the townships of Wentworth Falls, Leura and Blackheath, and the secluded village of Mount Wilson, with many backstreets and sidewalks scarfed with maples, elms and other colour changing trees. Further afield, the rural town of Oberon also glistens with autumn colour.
Gardens offer another means to enjoy the autumn show. Prime spots include the graceful Everglades Garden in Leura. The 5.2-hectare property is a European-style garden designed by Paul Sorenson and entry costs $15 for adults ($10 concession; kids under five years free).
Alternatively, ramble through the 28-hectare Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah. Entry to the cold-climate garden is free, and it is open daily and has abundant areas suitable for picnics, or perhaps dine at the onsite restaurant.
Just 12 minutes’ drive from Mount Tomah, you can take a jaunt through Bilpin’s orchards. You can pick your own apples at Bilpin Springs Orchard (where you can also pick autumn pears), Shields Orchard and Pine Crest Orchard. For a full list of pick-your-own orchards in the area, check out harvesttrailsandmarkets.com.au.
While in Bilpin, drop in to the Bilpin Market (open Saturday mornings at Bilpin Community Hall). The stalls are laden with in-season fruit, organic veg, bread, honey, preserves and crafts, and are located next to a community garden. The onsite cafe is open for brunch and lunch.
There’s another chance to buy apples further up the hill at Logan Brae Orchard in Blackheath. Every weekend during apple season, the family orchard’s packing shed is opened up to sell fresh apples and tasty apple products, such as juice, jams, apple-and-cinnamon muffins, toffee apples and apple chutney. Owners Sam and Asia create their Logan Brae juice from a blend of Gravensteins and Royal Galas or, later in the season, Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies. Visitors ramble around the outskirts of the orchard and sit overlooking the Blue Mountains escarpment enjoying spicy, steaming cups of hot apple juice and delicious apple pies.
On Sunday 3 May, you can partake in the community spirit of the annual Leura Harvest Festival. It brings a riot of bustling market stalls to Leura Mall – the village’s quaint main street lined with cherry trees and maples. Browse and enjoy the arts, crafts, regional wine and beer tastings, food, plants and more. Watch or partake in the Pet Chook Show or the scarecrow, chocolate cake or jam-making competitions and soak up the creative community vibe.
Blackheath is also home to Blackheath Growers Market, where stalls showcasing fresh fruit and vegetables, snacks, coffee, baked goods, honey, nuts, wine, spices and condiments, plants, free-range eggs, knick-knacks and more spill from the local community centre into the adjacent Blackheath Gardens. The market, which runs hail, rain or shine on the second Sunday of each month (8am to noon), features the products of over 60 local and regional farmers and producers, and prides itself on supporting a paddock-to-plate ethos.
Twenty-five minutes’ drive from Blackheath in the Megalong Valley lies a secret side to the Blue Mountains: vineyards. Both Dryridge Estate and Megalong Creek Estate have cellar doors where you can enjoy your vino overlooking the vines with stunning glimpses of the pink cliffs and emerald valley.
Just beyond the mountains lie enchanting realms of pine forest, the meadows, farms and timber industry offering another landscape and side to the season. In March and April, the dim, hushed plantation forests of Oberon and Jenolan are strewn with foragers rustling through the stillness, searching for saffron milk caps and slippery jacks. The edible mushrooms shine like gems from the pine needle floor, inciting shrieks of discovery from the mushroom-hunters. Rare glimpses of kangaroos and black cockatoos are another delight.
Oberon Council’s tourism manager, Mathew Webb, recommends beginners join a mushroom fossicking tour, such as that run by celebrity forager Diego Bonetto. “Many people are not sure what mushrooms to look for,” says Webb. “The guide knows where to take them that is scenic, safe and quiet.”
Bonetto’s tours are part of Oberon’s Field to Forest Festival (1-30 April), an exciting new event in only its second year. “The whole premise around it is to unearth the hidden gems of our region and the unique, local experiences that happen in this time,” says Webb.
Each autumn, Bonetto runs highly popular mushroom foraging workshops and will host the Forest To Feast forage and picnic. ”I have been harvesting edible mushrooms in forests since I was a kid, following the footsteps of my uncles in the mountains in Northern Italy,” he says. “I love it because it gives you the chance to connect with season, ecologies and cycles. It is precious, fulfilling and empowering. And you get mushrooms to take home. By learning this ancient skill of finding edible food in the landscape you reconnect to a wilder you, and a younger you.” For more info, check out diegobonetto.com.
As well as the mushroom tours, the Field to Forest Festival features a secluded wine and beer trail tour, offered on two Saturdays in April (the 4th and the 18th). Attendees visit four different local vineyards and a brewery ($95 includes transport and tour guide, an Oberon wine-tasting glass, plus wine and beer tastings and home-cooked grazing platters at each stop). There’s also the option to tag along in your own car (for $55). “It’s a very rustic wine experience with vineyards that don’t have cellar doors,” says Webb. “It may be in someone’s house or shed. It’s just a really different experience. One of the wineries is located in the middle of the forest.” The drive also showcases stunning, less-seen scenery. These events, and more, can be booked from the Visit Oberon tourism website (visitoberon.com/events/field-to-forest-oberon-2020).
With its flatter terrain, the trails and woods of the town are also great for cycling. Grab a map on the local cycling trails and mushrooming info from the Oberon Visitor Information Centre.
While in Oberon, take a wander through the regal grounds of Mayfield Garden. For the ticket price ($20 for adults; $10 for children; $55 for a family), you can stroll through an extravaganza of themed gardens, including the Water Garden and Valley of the Five Ponds, in their autumn glory. During Mayfield’s autumn festival (April 10 to May 3), for an extra fee, you can also enjoy the Hawkins family’s private garden, which includes a hedge maze and free rowboats on a man-made lake.
Want your own memento of autumn? Pop into Maple Springs Nursery near the historic village of Hartley (between Lithgow and Mount Victoria). The nursery has an abundance of cold-climate plants to choose from and many more are on display in its lovely Japanese-style garden.
Where to grab a top picnic to go
Mountain High Pies, Wentworth Falls
Baked fresh on the premises daily, a huge selection of gourmet pies including vegan and gluten-free choices, sweet treats, and hot and cold drinks awaits in this award-winning pie shop. Tasty tidbit: 30 per cent of the menu caters to vegetarians.
The Laughing Elephant, Wentworth Falls
Just off the main street, the specialist Asian grocery store offers tasty takeaway rice paper rolls, bahn mi (a Vietnamese sandwich), pho and Japanese udon soups.
Hominy Bakery, Katoomba
Hominy is home to quality, mouth-watering pre-prepared sandwiches, gourmet pies, cakes and pastries – try the gluten-free almond, citrus and cardamom cake or rice and vegetable pie.
Phone (02) 4782 9816
Sushi n Co, Katoomba
Featuring all things Japanese, the humble takeaway boasts fresh ingredients and offers kids, vegetarian and seafood/chicken sushi platters.
Altitude Delicatessen, Blackheath
Prefer a healthy wrap or sandwich? Duck into Altitude. The highly rated deli also serves up burgers, coffee and more.
facebook.com/pages/Altitude-Delicatessen/107036652692906 – CHK
Bakehouse on Wentworth, Blackheath
Another spot to grab a tasty gourmet pie, cake, tart or pastry (made with real eggs, butter and milk). The bakery now has an additional three retail outlets across the mountains, at Leura, Springwood and Glenbrook.
Picnics By Hannah, Blue Mountains region
The high end of picnicking, a three-hour couple’s experience costs $350 and includes a decadent picnic setting, gourmet grazing platter, sparkling mineral water, wine or champagne. Delivered to various scenic locations in the Blue Mountains.
Take me there
Drive: The Blue Mountains lies about 100 kilometres west of Sydney. Go via the Bells Line of Road to visit Bilpin, Mount Tomah and Mount Wilson.
Train: Hourly CityRail trains service the towns of the Blue Mountains from Sydney and the western suburbs. The journey from Central to Katoomba takes two hours. Adult fares start from $16.80 return.
Bus: Transport NSW operates a limited bus service from Sydney to Katoomba for $7. The journey takes about 2.5 hours.
Explore more: visitbluemountains.com.au; transport.nsw.info