Blue Mountains, Penrith and Hawkesbury tourist loop

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Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media

By Ellen Hill

New brew pubs and high-octane thrills in Penrith. Glowing escarpments and homemade Devonshire teas at the highest Blue Mountains village. Cider made from local apples at Bilpin, and a luxury hotel surrounded by golf courses in the Hawkesbury.

Exploring the Blue Mountains, Penrith Valley and Hawkesbury tourist loop is a glimpse into the shared heritage, lifestyle and community ties we locals live every day.

United by the pulsing life that laps at the foothills of the Blue Mountains - named Dyarubbin by the ancient Darug culture and known as the Hawkesbury Nepean River to us today - you can start the loop at many points, but the easiest way from Sydney is to veer off the motorway at Penrith.

There, you can cruise the river on a flat-bottomed boat or poke into tiny inlets in a kayak to discover private beaches and deep gorges inaccessible to larger vessels.

You can walk, ride a bike or jog alongside the river at Penrith and Emu Plains on the easy 6.4km Great River Walk track. Starting on the eastern bank is best after fueling up at a café before following the path through Tench Reserve and over the motorway bridge.

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Gifted to the people of Penrith by the family of artists Margo and Gerald Lewers in 1980, Penrith Regional Gallery is an ideal spot to catch your breath, or press on to Emu Hall or Laughin’ Boy cafés near the western footings of Yandhai walk bridge for an on-trend turmeric latte – or sip a frothy at The Log Cabin on the eastern side.

There’s plenty of sunny picnic spots along Tench Reserve from which to watch the school rowing teams scud the surface as the heritage-style Nepean Belle Paddlewheeler chugs into the gorge and jet skis weave around them all.

You can wend your way up to the Mountains through Emu Plains after stocking up on Australia’s official best beer at Mountain Culture Beer Co.

Or you can take Mulgoa Road past Penrith CBD with its shopping strips, Panthers club, glitzy hotels (Mercure, Quest and the 5-star Pullman Sydney Penrith) and Rusty Penny Brewery.

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It becomes Castlereagh Rd and leads to The Bunker restaurant and Western Sydney Lakes, where there’s whitewater rafting, canoeing and jetpacking.

Further on, past heritage farmlands and riverbank horse studs, is the confluence of the Hawkesbury Nepean River where the Grose River flows from the Mountains – and you can fish, kayak and wallow in the shallows on a hot day.

The road winds up to Springwood here, past bike tracks and activity centres, and rarely visited villages with secret walking tracks in the World Heritage-listed bushland.

But the road accompanies the river further along too; you can drive past farmgate stalls, polo fields that have hosted royalty and the historic town of Richmond.

Australia’s third oldest settlement is in nearby Windsor, and the Crowne Plaza Hawkesbury Valley is within walking distance of it all – but with 21st century mod cons.

Or you can take the historic river crossing to North Richmond and the Bells Line of Road, where just off the main track, the world’s best vodka (the Morita Chipotle) and gin flavoured with home-grown botanicals is distilled at Karu Distillery.

Continue up the bendy road favoured by motorbike riders to the boutiques of Kurrajong, the rustic cider sheds and orchards of Bilpin, the famous private gardens of Mt Wilson and the great public Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah.

From Bells Line of Road, you can access the Zig Zag Railway at Clarence before cutting across the Darling Causeway to Mt Victoria, with its restored heritage hotels, cafes, indie cinema, museum and quirk-filled boutique.

Wending your way back down the highway, you can pause to explore the boho village of Blackheath, Mark Foy’s ‘palace in the wilderness’’ the Hydro Majestic Hotel, the upmarket stores of Leura and have a last Mountains café stop at Springwood or Glenbrook.

Cafe Society
Finding Cool in the Blue

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