We felt a bit like Bonnie and Clyde perched in the back seat of a gleaming burgundy 1929 Cadillac LaSalle Phaeton.
The engine burbled to life.
Summer breeze swirling through the open cabin, trusty driver Rod shifted boisterously through ancient gears, and we chugged out of our Blackheath mountain digs to see the sights.
We were guests of Blue Mountains Vintage Cadillacs and riding in style in one of a handful of lovingly restored old Caddies. They call her Flora.
She’s an immaculate vintage beauty with spotless wire-spoked white-wall tires, bright trim, shiny chrome and glowing body.
Cruising through town, roadside admirers waving and cooing dutifully, Rod informed us that Flora had started her life in rather less stylish circumstances.
“She was used in the early days to cart shearers around the outback,” he said. “A bunch of blokes would pile in and chase work touring the sheep properties out west and up north.
“She was a real work horse in her day and rattled up and down rough tracks and unsealed roads for years. They built ‘em to last back then.”
They sure did. Flora is no rattletrap and her engine sings a sweet but brawny note after 87 years out on the NSW and Queensland byways.
Our tour was to be something of custom-built affair, and we asked if we could check out the best scenic spots in the area. Rod knows them all, being a local born and bred.
He’s also a full bottle on the history and man-made attractions of the area, and was just the wheelman to be running us around the traps.
We visited some of the best lookouts including Evans, Govetts Leap, Narrow Neck, Landslide, Cahills, Boar’s Head Rock, Echo Point and others.
Below us were the tranquil haze-shrouded Megalong and Jamison Valleys, untouched wilderness framed by distant peaks and plateaus.
It’s glorious, pristine Australian terrain that changes hue with the shifting light throughout the day. No wonder some of Australia’s best painters and photographers have visited over the years to capture the undulating beauty.
It’s easy to forget that not too far away to the east is sprawling Sydney. You wouldn’t know it, peering off the top of those escarpments; this was more like an odyssey through Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. (The author actually spent time in the region, hanging out at the Hydro-Majestic.)
The State, local government and residents have done a sterling job protecting and preserving the region from the more negative impacts of mankind.
We visited the main towns in the area – Blackheath, Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls. All are quaint, leafy and proudly show off their historic sites and buildings.
There’s a lot to be said for keeping things the way they are, and all these towns excel at it, much to the delight of the tourists, who come in droves year-round.
We both agreed that Leura was our fave, with its cute cafes, specialty shops, civic pride and beautifully maintained Victorian and Edwardian architecture.
While in town we were lured into the particularly decadent Josophan’s Fine Chocolates where we lingered way too long sampling award-winning dainties.
An advantage of visiting the mountains in summer is that the area is generally ten degrees cooler than the low country. On this particular day it was a sizzling 39C in Sydney, but a very pleasant 28C in the Blues.
Rod took us down to see Wentworth Falls (a.k.a. “Wenty”), his hometown. “There’s my Dad’s house” and “That’s where I went to school,” he chirped.
He also took Flora off-road (just like the old days) and showed us a stunning local lookout known mainly to the locals.
It was a perfect spot to finish our vintage motor tour as the light began to fade, before chugging back to our lodgings along the A32 freeway.
“Hey, that’s a really great old car!” came a wind-baffled cry from a small boy protruding from the back window of a passing Land Cruiser.
“Yep, it sure is,” bellowed Rod, and we joyriders provided a royal wave for the urchin.
If you are going touring in the Blue Mountains, do it in a vintage Caddy with a local at the helm.
There are currently three La Salles in the Blue Mountains Vintage Cadillacs fleet, including Flora. There’s also Ava, a 1928 La Salle Coupe, and Ella, a 1929 La Salle Landau; all fine old girls for making a statement and seeing the region in regal, dignified style.
That morning we had checked out of the Hydro Majestic Hotel and were now ensconced just down the road in the lovely Parklands Country Gardens and Lodges, Blackheath.
The driveway, lined with old pines and cypresses, which were planted over one hundred years ago, takes you past flowerbeds and sweeping green lawns to the homestead and garden cottages. These are designed in traditional Blue Mountains weatherboard style.
We checked into one of the swish Garden Suites and were most impressed. It reminded us a bit of WA’s own Cape Lodge at Yallingup. The ambiance and elegance are very similar.
The Garden Suites are located on the ground floor of each garden cottage and feature an entrance lobby leading into a sitting room, which opens up onto a private garden patio.
The separate bedroom with en suite has a large bay window overlooking the grounds and beautifully manicured gardens. The modern suites are well configured, comfortable, tastefully appointed and provide a luxurious ambience.
A step outside the French doors and you are out in the enchanting gardens.
Each garden cottage comprises four rooms and is individually named with an historical significance to Parklands, include Pope, Govett, Kerslake, Monterey, Pine, Maple and Fairway. Then there is the ground floor Garden Suites and the top floor Loft Rooms.
We loved the gardens and took several strolls around the grounds. But there’s plenty to do besides, including being pampered at the Parklands Day Spa, feeding the ducks at the private lake, or unwinding in the lounge in the main building.
The next morning, the hot weather that had gripped NSW was gone – at least it was in the mountains. Indeed the conditions had gone from summer in Australia to winter in Scotland!
A cool mist and gentle rain fell, imbuing the gardens with a beautiful wintry appearance. It was as if in 12 hours we had visited the mountains in completely different seasons. One half-expected a snow flurry!
But it was a treat to experience the mountain mist and we ambled through it to the homestead building where we enjoyed an excellent gourmet breakfast.
Afterwards we took a look around Blackheath and surrounds (loved the antiques store, cafes and bookshop!) before packing our bags for the trip back down the mountains to the city and airport.
There are several lovely mountain towns on the road back to the Big Smoke, and we swung by Faulconbridge to check out the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum.
I’d always wanted to see where Norm worked and lived. Didn’t see any languorous nude sirens in the garden bowers, though – but then, I doubt Norm did, either.
All in all, we’d had a fabulous time exploring the towns and natural wonders of the Blue Mountains.
As our Perth flight winged away in the late afternoon light, we peered down from the clouds west of Sydney, and saw those tranquil escarpments, peaks and valleys all over again.
The misty Blues seemed to whisper, “Come back soon; there’s so much more to see and do.”
We’ll be doing just that.
Starfish Photographs: Peter Rigby
A very special thanks to:
Blue Mountains Vintage Cadillacs
Parklands Country Gardens and Lodges
Ellen Hill from Deep Hill Media