We take a road trip packed with ad­ven­ture and pretty scenery along the Bells Line of Road — an early pas­sage through the NSW Blue Moun­tains.

BELLS LINE OF ROAD stole my heart when I was a kid and still prom­ises ad­ven­ture, scenery and a bag of fresh ap­ples. It was the road we trav­elled head­ing to western Queens­land for hol­i­days on my aunt and un­cle’s sheep sta­tion. On one mem­o­rable trip, Bells Line of Road was the first leg of a school ex­cur­sion to Dar­win via Cen­tral Aus­tralia. Mem­o­rable as the coach broke down at Bilpin (and re­peat­edly for the rest of the three-week jour­ney). Later I drove the road my­self to visit friends in the Blue Moun­tains and be­yond, view gar­dens or go bush­walk­ing. The views of rolling hills around North Rich­mond and Kur­ra­jong, and the chink of the bell­birds as the car climbs Bell­bird Hill be­fore scal­ing the rugged cliffs of the Blue Moun­tains proper, never fail to thrill. So, when we were look­ing for acreage out­side Syd­ney, we headed this way. We ar­rived 200 years af­ter the first set­tle­ment, which dates back to the 1790s. To­day the Hawkes­bury (the area around the river stretch­ing to Kur­ra­jong Hills) is home to 64,500 peo­ple, many of whom make the jour­ney to Syd­ney to work, re­turn­ing home to horses, small­hold­ings or hobby farms. Higher up the busi­nesses moun­tains moun­tains are or­chards, farm sand bou­tique busi­nesses. The 59-kilo­me­tre route of Bells Line of Road marks an early cross­ing of the Blue Moun­tains by Euro­peans in 1823. The con­vict-built road opened to traf­fiffic (mainly horses and bul­lock-drawn carts) in 1841. To­day it is a qui­eter, sec­ondary road, eclipsed by the multi-lane Great Western High­way that swoops up from Pen­rith to Mount Vic­to­ria and be­yond. Start your jour­ney on the eastern side of the Hawkes­bury River, at the town of Wind­sor. Dis­cover Thomp­son Square over­looked by the Mac­quarie Arms Ho­tel (built in 1815 and the old­est pub in main­land Aus­tralia) and the Ge­or­gian-style Doc­tor’s House (c. 1830) at 3 Thomp­son Square. Be­hind th­ese his­toric build­ings is the Hawkes­bury Re­gional Mu­seum. From the square catch a glimpse of the Hawkes­bury River, com­plete with a pad­dle­wheel steamer moored up­stream. In the early days of set­tle­ment the Hawkes­bury linked the re­gion to Syd­ney. Wheat, veg­eta­bles and fruit grown on the fer­tile river flats was sent down­stream to Bro­ken Bay and Syd­ney. Ex­plore the old part of Wind­sor to find an­other lo­cal gem, St Matthew’s Angli­can Church in Moses Street, de­signed in 1817 by colo­nial ar­chi­tect and ex-con­vict Fran­cis Greenway. The road from Wind­sor to Rich­mond, the re­gion’s ma­jor town, runs be­side the sin­gle-track rail­way line and past the RAAF base, once touted as a site for Syd­ney’s sec­ond air­port. Slow down pass­ing the base. Not only are you com­ing into Rich­mond, but the arch­ing canopy of plane trees that forms a leafy tun­nel across the road also de­serves to be ap­pre­ci­ated. To­day Rich­mond is the end of the line as far as Syd­ney Trains is con­cerned, but from 1926 un­til 1952 hol­i­day­mak­ers could take a lo­cal train de­part­ing from Rich­mond. Known as the Pansy, it wound its way across sleepy farms through Grose Vale to the vil­lage of Kur­ra­jong. If you stop in the cen­tre of Rich­mond, imag­ine the steam-pow­ered Pansy run­ning be­side March Street along the edge of Rich­mond Park. The train and its tracks are gone but there’s still a mag­nif­i­cent cricket ground and grand­stand. Wan­der to Wind­sor Street for clothes, gifts and cof­fee. If you have kids, there’s a shady play area but they may pre­fer Pughs La­goon Re­serve, a lit­tle park that’s home to ducks and geese. From the la­goon take Kur­ra­jong Road across the plain past the polo club and graz­ing horses. Next stop is North Rich­mond and the Hawkes­bury. It may look be­nign now (it was tamed by the War­ragamba Dam in 1960) but the river has a long his­tory of dev­as­ta­tion, of­ten flood­ing sev­eral times in a sin­gle year. For a closer look at the river and Rich­mond Bridge, circa 1905, stop at Hanna Park. From busy North Rich­mond the road winds through Kur­ra­jong Hills. There are jacaran­das and bauhinias planted along the road, which flower pur­ple and pink in spring. In the 1920s, the Kur­ra­jong area was opened up to re­turned soldiers who took small­hold­ings to grow cit­rus and veg­eta­bles. Sev­eral cot­tages re­main scat­tered through the district such as Macken­zie’s Farm at 567 Bells Line of Road. Just past the old farm at the Com­leroy Road turn-off is an un­ex­pected sign­post for Sin­gle­ton. From 1819 this road was the main route be­tween Syd­ney and the Hunter Val­ley, and once famed for its guest­houses. A short me­an­der along here re­veals splen­did moun­tain views across rolling hills. Bells Line of Road has had sev­eral up­grades since its con­vict be­gin­nings and to­day by­passes Kur­ra­jong vil­lage. >

Bells Line of Road stole my heart when I was a kid and still prom­ises ad­ven­ture, scenery and a bag of fresh ap­ples.

How­ever, it’s worth fol­low­ing Old Bells Line of Road into the heart of the vil­lage for cafes, gift shops and a trib­ute to the district’s agri­cul­tural past. At Me­mo­rial Park (84–96 Old Bells Line of Road), are two large stone wheels. In the 19th cen­tury th­ese mill­stones were lo­cated at a mill on Lit­tle Wheeny Creek. Wa­ter from the creek turned the stones to grind lo­cally grown wheat. Op­po­site the mill­stones was Kur­ra­jong Sta­tion, the ter­mi­nus for the Pansy rail­way. To re­turn to Bells Line of Road, con­tinue along Old Bells Line of Road over a creek and past Goldfind­ers Rest, a ho­tel built in 1851 that ser­viced those head­ing to and from the gold­fields. Part of this old sand­stone build­ing re­mains as a home be­side Lit­tle Wheeny Creek but the bushrangers who once held up trav­ellers near here have long gone. Back on Bells Line of Road, it’s up­hill all the way start­ing with Bell­bird Hill. Keep the win­dows down to hear the mu­si­cal call of bell­birds. Th­ese small khaki-green birds are hard to see but easy to hear. They live among the eu­ca­lypts and are rel­a­tives of a more fa­mil­iar na­tive bird, the noisy miner. There’s a spot to pull over at Kur­ra­jong Heights for views back across the plain to that dis­tant smudge, Syd­ney. Not far on is the quaint Lochiel House, an old cot­tage that is now a res­tau­rant spe­cial­is­ing in lo­cal sea­sonal pro­duce, in­clud­ing herbs grown in the sunny res­tau­rant garden. Drop in to say hello to own­ers Nathan Parker and Tayla Clout, who are mak­ing the most of the rich of­fer­ings of the re­gion, in­clud­ing lo­cal beers, ciders, wines and spir­its. “We’re en­joy­ing won­der­ful black truf­fles at the mo­ment from a farm up in Oberon,” says chef Nathan Parker, who de­scribes her menu as mod­ern Aus­tralian with an Asian twist. As the road climbs — it reaches its high­est point at Mount Tomah at 1080 me­tres above sea level — large or­chards are re­vealed, many shel­tered by vast white nets. Ap­ples, pears, peaches and cher­ries are avail­able in sum­mer and au­tumn from road­side stalls. The lo­cals also make ap­ple pies, ap­ple juice and award-win­ning cider. Hill­billy Cider cen­tres around the Julie va­ri­ety grown at Shields Or­chard at Bilpin. Tessa and Shane Mclaugh­lin launched their brand six years ago. It’s a nat­u­ral cider brewed from sec­onds — ap­ples that wouldn’t be sold for eating. “It’s all 100 per cent crushed ap­ple with no ar­ti­fi­cial flavours or added su­gar,” says Tessa. “We hit on the name Hill­billy as it seemed to en­cap­su­late the life we live here in this part of the Blue Moun­tains, away from the rat race.” They’ve opted to sell only to in­de­pen­dent restau­rants and bars and to sup­port lo­cal busi­nesses, but vis­i­tors can find the cider at the Hill­billy Cider Shed at Shields Or­chard. In the cool moun­tain cli­mate of Bilpin there are also pretty gar­dens to be glimpsed. In spring they are filled with aza­leas, wis­te­ria and blos­som. Pow­ells Road on the western edge of Bilpin is renowned for its gar­dens, with sev­eral open to the pub­lic. Fur­ther on is Mount Tomah, home to the Blue Moun­tains Botanic Gar­dens, this year cel­e­brat­ing its 30th birthday. The plant col­lec­tion is as in­spir­ing as the view from the ve­ran­dah of the vis­i­tor cen­tre and res­tau­rant, which looks north across Wollemi Na­tional Park. Be­yond Mount Tomah, the Bells Line of Road tra­verses rugged sand­stone cliffs. In Oc­to­ber, a flash of red glimpsed among the trees will be a waratah, the state flo­ral em­blem of NSW. Across the val­ley to the south are views to­wards Ka­toomba and Black­heath. For mag­nif­i­cent views, pull off the main road and hike the Mount Banks Sum­mit walk. An­other worth­while de­tour fur­ther along Bells Line of Road is the quiet vil­lage of Mount Wil­son, a small farm­ing area that be­came a sum­mer es­cape for Syd­neysiders. It has few ameni­ties (there’s a café but no store), but is fa­mous for its ma­ture cool-cli­mate gar­dens and lush veg­e­ta­tion that thrives in the rich basalt soil that caps this moun­tain­top. Many gar­dens open dur­ing spring and au­tumn and there are also walks through the na­tive rain­for­est. Not far be­yond the Mount Wil­son turn-off lies Bell and the end of the Bells Line of Road. Here turn left along Dar­ling Cause­way to Mount Vic­to­ria or con­tinue west along Chi­fley Road to dis­cover the old Zig Zag Rail­way and on to Lith­gow, where the road joins the Great Western High­way. Travel on to dis­cover Ry­dal (a vil­lage fa­mous for its spring­time daf­fodils), Bathurst, Or­ange and so much more.

CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP LEFT Fresh bor­age flow­ers from the café garden gar­nish a meal at Lochiel House in Kur­ra­jong Heights; the court­yard garden at Lochiel; Lochiel House is a res­tau­rant within a his­toric tim­ber cot­tage be­side Bells Line of Road. FAC­ING...

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