Blue Mountains National Park

When the great biologist Charles Darwin gazed into the depths of the Grose Valley in 1836, he thought the chasm was so huge that it must have been washed out by the sea. We now know that the valley was carved by the Grose River, wearing slowly away at the layered rocks over millions of years.

The ‘national spectacle’ of the Grose Valley was protected from development as early as 1875, and later became the scene of one of the first public environmental campaigns in Australian history. Bushwalkers and others banded together to save the magnificent Blue Gum Forest from the axe in 1932. They bought the river flat lease at the junction of the Grose River and Govetts Creek and gave it back to the public as a reserve.

So it was no coincidence that in 1959 the Grose Valley became the core of the first national park to be declared in the Greater Blue Mountains. Blue Mountains National Park was progressively expanded over the next 50 years to take in over 267,000 hectares in 2010. It was the kernel around which more parks grew, until one million hectares of protected land was recognised as the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area in the year 2000.

Most people know Blue Mountains National Park as that vast sweep of ochre cliffs and blue valleys that spread north and south from the City of Blue Mountains – the chain of villages along the ridgeline followed by the Great Western Highway. Since Charles Darwin visited what is now Govetts Leap and Wentworth Falls, the park has been viewed by millions of other tourists from the many popular cliff-top lookouts. A web of walking tracks, some of them over 100 years old, wind through the escarpments, waterfalls, grottoes, glens and forests from centres such as Katoomba, Blackheath and Springwood, where cafes and art galleries add to the variety of enjoyments.

But Blue Mountains National Park is much more than this. It reaches over the horizon to north and south, and away in the east to the plains of western Sydney. Southwards, the park takes in much of the pristine western catchment of Lake Burragorang, the water supply for six million people. It almost completely surrounds Kanangra-Boyd National Park and protects some of the diverse geology that underlies the sediments of the Sydney Basin. Northwards, beyond the Grose Valley and Bells Line of Road, the park includes the intricate canyon country of the Wollangambe Wilderness, and joins Wollemi National Park. To the east, the Hawkesbury Sandstone landscape of the lower Grose Valley and the well-named Blue Labyrinth is more subdued but full of different species.

Blue Mountains National Park protects about 1000 species of native plants, 46 mammal species, 200 bird species, 58 reptile species, 32 frog species and a myriad of insects and other invertebrates. The intricacy of the park’s landscapes has created many special places to live, where rare and threatened plants and animals find refuge. These include the Blue Mountains Water Skink, which lives in some highland swamps, and the Dwarf Mountain Pine, an ancient shrub that survives in the spray zone of a few waterfalls. Both are found nowhere else on Earth. Other rare species include Glossy Black Cockatoos, Broad-headed Snakes, Spotted-tail Quolls, Large-eared Pied Bats and Sooty Owls.

Much of Blue Mountains National Park has been declared as Wilderness, to provide the highest level of protection under NSW law for its unique landscape and wildlife.