08 June 2017
13 min read

Australia is full of beautiful displays of mother nature that make great travel destinations. But their unique natural attractions make it even more important to ensure you’re environmentally conscious when you visit them. In this instalment of our ecotourism series, we feature the World Heritage-listed wilderness of New South Wales’ Blue Mountains.

Less than two hours from Sydney, the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is a natural wonderland perfect for those who love to be outdoors. There’s plenty to discover in the region, from the spectacular Wentworth Falls to the famous Three Sisters, to the Jenolan Caves and underground rivers within the mountains.

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When we’re lucky enough to visit places as beautiful as this, it’s important that while we enjoy ourselves taking in the beautiful scenery, we also make every effort to protect the environment so that future generations can enjoy it too.

Ecotourism Australia can help by providing a range of certified products and services you can use while travelling to the area. By looking for the ecotourism certification, you can ensure you only interact with companies who are minimising their impact on the local environment.

Here we’ve compiled some tips for enjoying the Blue Mountains responsibly, including some of the available eco-friendly accommodation, tours and activities you can enjoy guilt-free.

Ecotourism in the Blue Mountains

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Wondering what’s in store for you as an ecotourist in the Blue Mountains?

With over 1,500 species of plants and animals to be found, there’s plenty of nature to take in. The diversity of the eucalypt species in the mountains was one of the reasons for its declaration as a World Heritage site, and indeed the inspiration for the name of the region, which refers to the blue shimmer which rises into the air as the oil from the eucalyptus trees evaporates. The plant life is also hints at our planet’s past, where the Wollemi pine –  once thought to be extinct – grows deep in the rainforest, reminding us of a time when Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica were still joined in the supercontinent Gondwana.

The ancient and diverse natural landscape features tree-covered mountains, ancient caves, deep gorges, gushing valleys of water and lush rainforests.

Look for some of the over 400 animal species, like the spotted-tailed quoll and the glow worms of the old train tunnel in Wollemi National Park. There’s plenty of human history to discover too, with rich Aboriginal cultural traditions dating back 22,000 years.

From farmstays to mountain biking tours to riding the Scenic Skyway, there’s no limit to the experiences you can enjoy in the Blue Mountains.

For more on eco experiences in the region, take a look at Ecotourism Australia’s onlineGreen Travel Guide.

Related: Looking for a more tropical ecotourism opportunity? Check out this guide to the Whitsundays.

Eco-friendly providers

Tread Lightly Eco Tours

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Tread Lightly eco tours supply interpretive ecological tours in the Blue Mountains with fully guided bush walks, remote area sightseeing and wildlife tours. They are specialists in the environmental and cultural aspects of the Blue Mountains National Park.

Tours access remote wilderness and explore the unique ecology of the World Heritage-inscribed area with tailored-made activities.

All Tread Lightly tours have a high quality interpretive and interactive aspect, with qualified ecological guides. Their extensive knowledge of local geology, fauna and flora, and Aboriginal culture will enrich your experience of the region. Visit ancient rainforests, huge waterfalls and deep canyons in the World Heritage National Park, offering great photographic and learning opportunities.

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What makes it sustainable: Tread Lightly eco tours has achieved Advanced Ecotourism Accreditation by using best practice and minimal impact touring for over 20 years. Award-winning head guide Tim Tranter has been a Blue Mountains resident for over 50 years, and provides strong links to the local community and region. Other qualified ecologist and Aboriginal guides provide accurate and research-based interpretations on the environment.

Tread Lightly use a 5kw solar system for office and home, and are a low carbon accredited business (even their clothing and equipment supports low carbon suppliers). They also support the Blue Mountains slow food network with high quality lunches from local suppliers with regional produce.

They have put in place proven processes to support minimal impact touring with minimal impact driving techniques and vehicle choice as well as walking strategies.

Scenic World

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Located on the edge of a World Heritage-listed National Park, around 90 minutes’ drive from Sydney, Scenic World provides visitors with a unique opportunity to interact and engage with the environment.

Visitors can ride the world’s steepest passenger railway, the Scenic Railway; glide between cliff tops through the glass floor of the Scenic Skyway; enjoy panoramic views from the Scenic Cableway; or discover the tranquillity of the ancient rainforest along the 2.4 kilometre Scenic Walkway.

Their rides and walkway provide visitors with a safe, simple and sustainable way to access, engage with, and enjoy the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains.

What makes it sustainable: As a third generation family owned business, Scenic World is committed to operating in a sustainable manner for the benefit of future generations. They take a holistic approach to minimising their ecological footprint, and work with staff, visitors, and the community to constantly improve their environmental performance.

Their environmental policy reflects the values and ethos of the organisation, and outlines measurable objectives and targets so they can monitor and improve their ecological profile.

The staff play a key role in their sustainability plan, and their policy is communicated to all people working for the organisation to improve awareness and build a strong organisational culture of sustainability. They also have a range of environmental management systems in place; and strive to act as a role model for the Blue Mountains region.

Scenic World is actively involved in the Low Carbon Living Blue Mountains initiative which aims to improve the environmental performance of the Blue Mountains tourism sector and establish the region as a low carbon destination. They have achieved a Silver rating and are constantly striving to take their ecological performance to new levels.

The staffs share a passion for the environment and are proud to work in the Blue Mountains.

As custodians of a pristine corner of the world, their job is unique: preserve the site, educate visitors, and share the love for this World Heritage-listed region.

Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah

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The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden is the cool climate Garden of the Royal Botanic and Domain Trust. Sitting at 1,000m above sea level within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, the Garden is home to a world-class collection of plants from the cooler southern hemisphere. It includes 28 hectares of cultivated garden open to the public and 186 hectares of Conservation Area with guided access.

The cultivated Garden is arranged according to geographic origin, displaying the similarities and differences between plants of each region. There are more than 5,000 species of plants, many of them having been collected in the wild by Trust staff and not previously grown in Australia.

The Garden has a Visitor Centre with a la carte restaurant, toilets, baby change facilities, an exhibition space with ever-changing displays. A program of seasonally inspired events, workshops and community programs are offered on site. The Botanists Way Discovery Centre tells the story of early botanists who explored the region searching for rare plants and a route to the west. The Jungle Lodge is a short term accommodation facility providing a comfortable escape for visitors to extend their visit.

What makes it sustainable: The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden runs off a self-sufficient water supply. Water for irrigation and flushing toilets at the Visitor Centre is sourced from their dam, while drinking water is harvested off roof tops and stored in rainwater tanks.

They use a Solar Power-Assisted Electric Garden Shuttle for visitor tours, and have 30.4 kW solar panels on the Visitor Centre roof, generating approximately 45% of the Visitor Centre’s electricity needs, with a future plan to extend the capacity of the system.

All garden waste is recycled by Garden staff to create mulch or compost for use on site. All sewerage (other than solids) is processed on site through their Ecomax septic system, and all toilet cisterns are dual flush.

Waste is sorted and recycled as applicable including scrap metal, cardboard, paper, glass, compact fluorescent tubes, batteries, and toner cartridges. They have a paperless filing and record keeping system, and office copy paper is 80-100% recycled.

The Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens are constantly working to improve their practices with future projects to include the replacement of 97 compact fluorescent light fittings with energy efficient LEDs in the Visitor Centre.

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden houses endangered species from across the globe. Australia’s unique climate and isolation makes it perfect to safeguard many of the northern hemisphere’s endangered species. They have conifers like Abies nebrodensis (Sicilian Fur) of which there are only adult specimens left in the wild, they are home to Camellias and Rhododendrons that are extinct in the wild as well as many others. The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden is also home to a considerable number of Australia’s threatened species including the Blue Mountains World Heritage area endemics Wollemia nobilis (Wollemi Pine) and Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii (Dwarf Mountain Pine) both of which we are propagating in large numbers so that Blue Mountains residents can be a part of the conservation strategy for these iconic plants.

They have over 200 hectares of natural bushland which includes the endangered ecological communities of Blue Mountains Basalt Cap Forest and Blue Mountains Hanging Swamp both of which are working to improve and create exciting new experiences for the public to walk amongst these and learn about the plants and animals that live within.

Billabong Retreat

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A thirty-bed eco yoga retreat just outside of the Blue Mountains National Park and 45 minutes from Sydney, Billabong Retreat offers amazing organic whole food cuisine, an incredible nature setting, stunning resort-style swimming pool and transformative yoga retreats, health retreats, mindfulness retreats and meditation retreats. They are winners of Best Health & Wellness Retreat and Most Unique Accommodation 2013 NSW Tourism Awards.

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What makes it sustainable: Billabong Retreat is a fully-certified eco retreat. They built and operate the retreat with environmental impact top of mind. Eco-friendly features of their buildings include the recycled telegraph poles used for doors and windows, recycled timber decks, and photovoltaic power. They also use solar hot water, rainwater collection, and an on-site greywater system. They are avid recyclers, avoiding single use packaging and using recycled paper products.

Billabong Retreat operates with a view of continuous improvement, understanding they can always do more to protect the environment.

ECOTREASURES

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ECOTREASURES offer customised tours to showcase the Blue Mountains region. Your local eco guide will take you to famous Blue Mountains locations and lookouts, following cliff trails and searching for wildlife and native plants. You can soak up the village atmosphere of the Blue Mountains and share in a Waradah Aboriginal Cultural experiance. A day spent with ECOTREASURES is fun and relaxing, while also leaving you with a better appreciation of Australia’s unique wildlife, culture and heritage.

What makes it sustainable: ECOTREASURES is environmentally sustainable in all aspects of business operations. They aim to highlight the importance of conservation areas to humans in regards to rest and relaxation, and how they can reduce their impact on the natural world. Sourcing local products when possible, they also practice the reduce, reuse, and recycle philosophy for all parts of their business.

They focus on highlighting ways people can help sustainability and their impact on the environment in our tour content. For example, they promote plastic reduction initiatives along with other campaigns that promote sustainable living. They also inform their clients about human impact and ways to minimise the impact on the local environment.

Auswalk Walking Holidays

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Auswalk’s Walking Holidays are an ideal way to unplug, escape the daily grind and explore Australia’s greatest natural landscapes. It’s slowing down and really walking that allows us to truly experience a destination with all our senses: hear the clack and roll of river stones in a flowing creek or the swish of long grass, feel the crunch of gravel and snap of twigs underfoot, smell the eucalyptus, wild thyme, ocean and honeysuckle and ultimately benefit from being fully immersed in nature with the feeling of being recharged and rejuvenated.

Auswalk is a family owned business offering 43 fully supported guided and self-guided walking holidays. They have been operating walking holidays since 1994 and pioneered the self-guided inn-to-inn style of walking holiday in Australia, building a reputation for expertise, experience and reliability. Evening meals are a highlight, utilising local produce served in local restaurants or gorgeous B&Bs.

What makes it sustainable: Auswalk’s aim is to demonstrate to staff, suppliers and travellers their commitment to social and environmental best practice. They do this with measures that reduce water consumption and provide customers with suggestions to minimise damage to the environment, wildlife and marine ecosystems, such as toileting in the bush, not picking wildflowers, remaining on formed paths, and the need for various track erosion control methods.

They provide reusable insulated lunch bags and drinking cups, reducing the amount of packaging materials needed, and give preference to suppliers who demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability.

Their walking routes are carefully chosen to showcase the area’s rich environmental and cultural diversity, while ensuring that historical and educational values are met. Preference is always given to walking routes that are clear, well maintained and does not traverse sensitive areas.

The natural environment is fundamental to the existence of Auswalk, so they are passionate about introducing people to a range of natural and cultural environments, with the aim to develop understanding and sincere appreciation of those environments so that visitors leave with a strong desire to value and protect those environments.

Eco-friendly walks

Walking in nature is one of the best ways to enjoy the stunning surrounds of the Blue Mountains. Looking for some options for self-guided tours? These walks, recommended by Visit NSW, let you visit gushing waterfalls, famous lookouts, amazing natural formations and see plenty of unique plants and animals. There are a variety of walking styles to suit all groups.

National Pass

With views of the Jamison Valley and surrounding cliffs, the 5.4 km National Pass walk takes around 3.5 hours. As well as the stunning waterfalls at both ends of the walk, highlights include the paths cut halfway up the cliff face leading toward a crossing of the incredible Wentworth Falls, right next to the aptly named Giant Staircase. Some sections of this walk – like the Giant Staircase – require reasonable fitness.

Grand Canyon Track

Majestic sandstone walls, plenty of waterfalls and abundant native plants like ferns and golden wattles line the Grand Canyon track, which sets out from Evans lookout near Blackheath. This 6.3 km historic loop track, which walkers have been taking since 1907, is an adventurous track that takes you into the heart of the Blue Mountains landscape.This well-shaded track, which remains close to Greaves Creek, is a particularly good walk for the summer months. Leave 3-4 hours to make the loop, or longer if you’d like to stop for lunch at the nearby picnic area.

Prince Henry Cliff Walk

The Prince Henry Cliff walk follows the cliff edge from Katoomba Cascades to Gordon Falls near Leura. Along this moderate walking track, you’ll be treated to some of the best views in NSW, including several unique hanging swamps, spellbinding views of Jamison Valley, three waterfalls, and the iconic Three Sisters. The cliff walk is 7 km one way, but you can choose the length of your walk by picking up the track at various lookouts along Cliff Drive.

Mount Solitary Walking Track

The Mount Solitary walking track is a challenging track that will enchant experienced bushwalkers. This 12 km return walk can take 6-9 hours to complete, and passes through heath, woodlands and rainforest, with magnificent views and amazing birdwatching. From the historic Federal Pass, walk where the old horse-drawn tramway once ran to the Ruined Castle. From Koorowall Knife Edge it’s a rough unformed track along the ridge of Mount Solitary, with a short detour to Chinamans Gully which offers spectacular valley views. At the top you’ll be rewarded for the tough walk with views across Jamison Valley, where you can revel in the textured hills and dramatic Katoomba cliff line. To the south, you can take in the rugged ravines of Wild Dog mountains and the unspoilt Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness.

Charles Darwin Walk

The Charles Darwin Walk connects Wentworth Falls village with the Blue Mountains National Park in an easy walk suitable for families. You can make a start from Wilson Park and stroll the boardwalk and bush track through open forest, shrub, and hanging swamps to the national park boundary, where the walk meets Weeping Rock loop. Continuing on to Jamison Creek’s rock pools and cascades, these are great spots to take a short break or cool your feet if you are visiting in summer. From the park boundary, it’s only 400m to Wentworth Falls via picturesque Weeping Rock, or 15mins to Wentworth Falls picnic area.

Cliff Top Walking Track

The Cliff Top walking track between Govetts Leap and Evans Lookout offers some of the most breathtaking scenic views in all of the Blue Mountains. With the sun shining from the east, this is the perfect track to warm up on a winter’s morning. Plus, it will get your heart pumping, so it’s perfect for those looking for an energetic walk that lets them take in the natural beauty of the National Park. Following the cliff edge from Govetts Leap lookout to Evans Lookout, you’ll be treated to awe-inspiring views over the iconic Grose Valley on the 6 km track. Look back towards Govetts Leap from Barrow Lookout for brilliant waterfall views. This is a great area for birdwatching, so keep your eyes peeled for yellow-tailed black cockatoos and king parrots.

Travel to The Blue Mountains sustainably

All travel should be undertaken in a way that’s sustainable, and when it’s to a place as beautiful and historic as the Blue Mountains, it’s even more important to leave things as they were when you arrived. It’s not difficult to travel ethically if you are mindful about your travel choices, so we encourage you to thoroughly research the providers you use to make sure you’re making ethical choices.

Looking for more ecotourism guides? Take a look at our guide to ecotourism in The Whitsundays.

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