Blue Mountains cabin

Last impressions count. As I pack the car to wrap up my stay at Woodlands Cabin on Mt Kanimbla, a fat young wallaby grazes nearby, undisturbed by my mundane doings. I look out over the Kanimbla Valley where the hollows are still wreathed with morning mist and granite ridges brood on the prospect of rain. The wallaby continues its dainty nibbling of selected grasses and I get on my way. This is the sort of vista, the sort of place that, on departure – no matter how long you’ve stayed – you’ll wish for one more day.

The secluded, premium cabin on the western slopes of the Great Diving Range on the edge of the Blue Mountains is one of several in the family-run collection, Logan Brae Retreats. Facing north on a sunny slope it sits at 700 cool metres above sea level. Indoors, my first take is much about wood, with pine walls and the warm tones of cedar flooring. Subtle American Wild West hints – a trio of Stetsons and a coiled lariat – nod to the cabin’s backwoods roots. It would, however, surprise some time-warp cowboy who’d dropped in to find creature comforts such as the freestanding firebox (split logs already aglow and crackling on your arrival), DVD player and disc library, Bluetooth speakers and wi-fi, plus a twin-shower bathroom where the bathrobes wrap like a bearhug. All of this is topped by surely the best bed this side of the Great Divide.

Timber and stone are a harmonious blend in Woodlands Cabin.
Timber and stone are a harmonious blend in Woodlands Cabin.

Despite the 160sq m cabin’s indoor seductions, my attention is constantly tugged out through huge windows to what’s beyond. Even as I soak, grandee-like in the huge dragon-egg bathtub, I’m still facing a panoramic vale where cloud shadows shift across the land and wallabies munch on, same as they’ve ever done.

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The open-plan Woodlands Cabin opened in late 2021 and is an adults-only retreat. Its flash kitchenette is fully equipped for self-catering, with a gas oven and cooktop, fridge, microwave, pots and pans, and oil, salt and pepper thrown in. Nevertheless, it’s best to arrive well provisioned. From here, as the saying goes, it’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll. The dedicated coffee bench features a NASA-grade espresso machine and freshly ground coffee. And, in nice touch, there’s a considerate supply of long-life milk in the fridge.

The owners, Blue Mountains couple Asia Upward and Sam Edwards, have added many thoughtful extras such as sachets of delicious Haute Cocoature dark drinking chocolate as well as a basket of “apple everythings” from their orchard – jams, juice, chips and muesli. These are perfect snacks when guests arrive after a long drive.

And an old rocking chair ... on the porch at Woodlands Cabin.
And an old rocking chair … on the porch at Woodlands Cabin.

There is no free-to-air television but instead plenty of streaming options. I flick through endless menus but somehow come away with little but the echo of Bruce Springsteen singing “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”. For an over-streaming antidote bring a good book (I had Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World) and your favourite tipple. And remember to step on to the deck often and savour that rarest of hits for city types, a rural night’s deep-space silence.

On excursions I keep a lookout for locals such as wombats and echidnas, species not noted for their quick-step getaways. A short trip brings me to Hartley Historic Site further along the western edge of the mountains. A National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger shows me around the well-preserved 19th-century sandstone village. “The whole place is a time capsule,” he promises, without exaggeration.

Buildings at Hartley Historic Site.
Buildings at Hartley Historic Site.

And so it is. Among Hartley’s 17 restored buildings, the standout is the 1837 Grecian Revival courthouse where the colonial past speaks to you, quite literally. As I move around, motion sensor-triggered voices narrate different episodes from the building’s past. Seated in the prisoners’ dock, I sample the view that the likes of bushranger Dan “Mad Dog” Morgan had, and then move on to the judges’ more lofty bench. I decline to serve time constrained in either the bleak, damp cells or the grim wooden stocks. “Adopting the position” on the Crown’s ergonomically designed, wooden flogging bench appeals even less.

No faux colonial theme park, Hartley village is the authentic past, from the intricate white sandstone altar of its St Bernard’s Catholic Church to the tumbledown tin-roofed Shamrock Inn. You can even book comfortable overnight accommodation here at the Presbytery or Old Trahlee cottage.

Cinnabar Kitchen in Blackheath.
Cinnabar Kitchen in Blackheath.

Winding up Victoria Pass to the top of the divide, I head to Blackheath’s Cinnabar Kitchen restaurant to meet an old friend, local writer Julie Miller. What follows is a long, discursive journey into dishes from around the globe. After all, the restaurant’s motto is “Travel the world in one night”.

We trawl the menu temptations – wild scallops tartare, tempura tiger prawns, sizzling Jamaican spiced prawn pot and Ethiopian blackened berbere spiced chicken, and further exotics – before deferring to the guidance of co-chef and co-owner Mary-Jane Craig. She explains that when she and partner Corinne Evatt, veterans of the Blue Mountains culinary scene, opened the licensed, 30-seat eatery five years ago, it was with a vision that their changing menu would be “the culmination of everything we loved”.

Dishes at Cinnabar Kitchen.
Dishes at Cinnabar Kitchen.

Which it is, from a kick-starter elderflower martini and the geo-roaming wine list to the eclectic main events. Not to mention the restaurant’s intimate cinnabar-red decor. Having travelled the world in at least six shared dishes accompanied by a terrific regional Darragh cab sav merlot, we bring it all back home with dessert – lemon curd meringue for my companion and a tangy-sweet apple (local, of course) crumble for me.

The Blue Mountains were already ancient when Arizona’s Grand Canyon was just a wrinkle on North America’s brow. While you’re in this 100 million-year old neighbourhood, take time to check its collection of leaps, lookouts and lookdowns — Evans, Govetts, Perrys and the like. At any one you’re perched vertiginously atop a long-drop escarpment of honeycomb sandstone and surveying the endless wilderness of ancient Gondwana. Better still, venture down a cliff path or rock-hewn stairway to bushwalk for hours or days through this World Heritage wonder at Sydney’s backdoor.

Meanwhile back at the cabin, if you’re inclined to less strenuous ambles, the Logan Brae folk will pack a picnic basket that caters to your diet, plus plates, cutlery, champagne and picnic rug. Alternatively, opt for the great indoors and book a massage or beauty session. Bypassing these add-ons, I take a last scan across the Kanimbla Valley, its distant farms, sunlit clearings and stands of windbreak cypress. Mists still drift in the hollows. Some places are enough in themselves.

In the know

Logan Brae Retreats is at Mt Kanimbla, 32km northwest of Katoomba via the Great Western Highway. It offers three one-bedroom cabins and one two-bedroom; Woodlands Cabin from $795 a night with seasonal variations.

Cinnabar Kitchen is at 246 Great Western Highway, Blackheath. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 5.30pm. Minimum food charge per person $68. No BYO.

Hartley Historic Site is managed by NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service. Self-guided tours cost $8.80 and the visitor centre is open 10am-3.30pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

John Borthwick was a guest of Logan Brae Retreats and Blue Mountains Tourism.

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