The little girl jumped onto the low dry stone wall and yelled excitedly: "look! I'm on the Great Wall of China.
"Her older sister, pausing only momentarily to look up from her phone, gave her a look of haughty derision and told her to stop being so childish.
As she sprinted along the wall, the girl replied over her shoulder: "we're not allowed to travel overseas anymore. I'm just using my imagination."
This fleeting moment on what was immediately christened the ‘Great Wall of Katoomba’ proved once again how resilient children can be in a crisis. As we adults try to come to terms with an indefinite break from overseas travel, using our imagination might just be the best advice going around.
Like most people I’ve spent the last five months at home, venturing sporadically to the shops, garden centre or DIY store. While my baking has vastly improved, the garden is immaculate and the house spotless, it has become increasingly frustrating not “getting out there”.
So the chance to just pack a bag, jump in the car and head...well, anywhere basically was a blessed relief.
The Blue Mountains have always been a particular favourite of my wife and I for a weekend break, given they are only an hour’s drive from our house in Western Sydney.
Arriving into Leura on a Friday morning, the first thing that stuck me was how many people seemed to have the same idea. The main street was buzzing with families, couples and young people, all trying to shake off the COVID blues.
Our first encounter with ‘Travel 2020’ came when we tried to get a table for lunch in one of the many great café’s dotted along Leura Mall.
The server patiently explained that due to social distancing regulations they were operating under reduced capacity. We weren’t able to stand and wait for a table so we had to give our details and he’d call us when we could be seated.
Fortunately it only took 10 minutes, but once safely ensconced we discovered yet another new facet of post-corona travel.
We had to scan a QR barcode with our phones so they could record our details in case a patron subsequently tested positive.
This process was repeated at every new dining or drinking establishment we frequented: no scan, no entry, with a COVID marshal often on the door to make sure rules were obeyed, even in the local pub. It was both comforting and slightly concerning in equal measure.
One of the main reasons the Blue Mountains are so popular are the fantastic views that can be enjoyed, particularly at Katoomba where they have the famous Three Sisters and the Scenic Skyway cable car across the Jamison Valley.
The vistas up here are absolutely mesmerising, giving you a real sense of the scale and feel of the Australian landscape. What’s more, there are plenty of easy walks to enjoy, particularly at this moment in time.
With borders closed to international travellers, there are no buses disgorging hordes of camera-toting tourists, jostling for the best spot to get that all-important selfie.
Our economy may be the poorer for it, but at least Aussies are getting to enjoy their own country in relative peace and comfort.
From our base at the clean and comfortable Nesuto Leura Gardens Hotel we also managed to find a slightly less popular beauty spot that delivered big time on the scenery.
Sublime Point Lookout is an easy half hour walk from the hotel but is well worth it for the expansive views and smaller crowds.
Another good reason to visit Leura in particular is the shopping. The streets are packed with an enticing mix of great stores: antique jewellery, homewares, candles, craft supplies, homemade chocolates...there’s even a man cave at Teddy Sinclair.
And then there’s the food, which in the mountains is always hale and hearty. We enjoyed the rustic ambience of the Alexandra Hotel, whose eclectic clientele included students, locals, honeymooners and families. It was also good to see live music in the pub on the Friday night we visited.
On our final evening we dined at The Bunker Café Bar and Restaurant, which is set within an historic old house on the hill above Leura Station.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Bunker delivered one of the yummiest salads I have ever tasted, an Asian Slaw containing edamame, mint, coriander, peanuts and a wicked shallot and soy dressing.
It’s not often you get to rave about a salad but I came down from the mountain just longing to give it a try. A memorable end to a truly cathartic weekend.
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
Everyone says that travel will recover eventually, particularly when an effective vaccine is discovered.
In the meantime, while it may be George Orwell’s worst nightmare come true, I for one feel quite comforted knowing that the COVID-safe measures are in place and someone, somewhere is watching over me.
This article first appeared in Traveltalk Magazine.
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