It’s going to be a little strange in December, all that heat and near naked greased bodies, but throw in a good vantage point and a six-pack and I’ll try to show a bit of Christmas cheer. That is until I speak to the folks at home. Then I’ll wish I was back in old Blighty where it’s freezing cold and raining. At least they’ll have eggnog, stuffed turkey and rousing family entertainment with Aunt Harriett’s annual attempt at molesting Dad after Christmas pudding. Oh for a traditional Christmas. Being Down Under, I was told the only way to enjoy the typical British Yuletide spirit is to go bush: the Blue Mountains to be precise, where June through to August is better known as “Yulefest”, with open fires, occasional snowfalls and all the belt-bursting traditional fare you can stuff in your stocking. So I packed my woollies and hopped on a train to Katoomba faster than you can say Rudolf’s got a red knob.

No Rootin’ Shootin’ Hillbilly Country

The cosy town of Katoomba, nestled in the heart of the Blue Mountains region, is only a two-hour train ride from central Sydney and is the largest of a series of small towns that make up the district. Compared to amphetamine-paced Sydney, the whole region feels sedated to the point of unconsciousness, it’s dreamlike quality is enchanting. Katoomba has plenty of quaint cafes, antique shops and an unusually high number of second-hand bookstores. The streets are empty and there’s hardly any traffic. It’s freezing when I arrive and I stop in at a high street cafe for a steaming bowl of hot chocolate. The waiter looks directly at me then smiles like he means it. Frankly, it’s unnerving.

Sitting fireside, the only other customer settles in the armchair next to me and begins to chat about her decision to leave her partner and how she’s recently enrolled to train as a high school teacher. She does this without appearing homeless or insane. Ashamed of my initial urge to have her sit at the other side of the room, I realise that too many encounters in frenzied cities have left me cynical. Here, high in the mountains and far away from the chaotic thrust of city life, is a lovely village community and I must leave my attitude at the door. Following a tip off at the cafe, I check into the YHA, where an open fire roars in a common area that was clearly once a performance theatre. I am told the building once housed a cabaret club. A cabaret club in a mountain village, and a deluge of bookstores and antique shops? Clearly, this is no rootin’ shootin’ hillbilly country.

The Curse

The day is cool and clear and I spend it rugged up bushwalking in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park, thought to be 470 million years old. The mesmerizing ancient landscape consists of chiseled sandstone outcrops, soaring high above hazy blue forests with gentle streams that turn into leaping waterfalls as they descend the deeper gorges. It’s here that you’ll find the immortal Three Sisters. Aboriginal legend says the sisters were once three beautiful woman who wanted to marry three brothers from outside of their tribe, but tribal law forbade it. To protect them from being stolen by the brothers, a witch doctor cast them into stone but died before the curse could be reversed.

I finish my foray into the Jurassic surrounds with a trip to Scenic World in the Jamison Valley. This incredible scenic park has some of the area’s best attractions, including the world’s steepest railway (you can ride it) once used for carting coal, more bushwalks and the breathtaking Skyway – a glass-bottomed cable car journey across the Jamison Valley, suspended high above the dazzling surrounds.

Exhausted from the day’s walking and reeling from the clear-headed impact of the fresh mountain air, I surmise it’s time for a drink. Yet another friendly local points me in the direction of what he says is a “bloody good pub” and there I stay for countless rounds of lager, followed by red wine, followed by a three-course Christmas dinner that I can barely finish. The other punters are a mixture of locals and travellers, with a few I’d met earlier at the hostel. The night is fun and the pub is cosy, and the first drops of snow begin to fall at around 9pm. But the worrying thing is that I don’t remember walking home.

Wish You Were Here

I sleep late and wake about noon, when the ice and snow have melted. Through the window the sky shines a clear blue, belying the cool sting of the air outside, now a chilly six degrees. I’ve just a few hours left before my train back to Sydney and I’m sore from yesterday’s walking, so I do something I haven’t done since Thailand (no, not that, I doubt they do that in Katoomba) – I book in for a massage. Feeling relaxed enough to be poured into a glass, I decide to enjoy a wee tipple by the fire at the local pub while I wait for my train. Delightedly I spy mulled wine on the menu and swiftly knock back a few rounds, convinced it’ll help to ease me back into impending city life. There are Christmas decorations all around and Frank Sinatra croons in the background. I think of Aunt Harriet’s warblings at countless Christmas gatherings and am overcome with nostalgia. I scrawl a note on a beer coaster to post later to the folks at home. It reads: “Midwinter Christmas, the Blue Mountains, 2006. Wish you were here.”

The experience: Yulefest runs from 1 June -31 August with a wide array of traditional Yulefest menus supplied by participating local cafes, pubs and restaurants. For more information Ph: 1300 653 408. If you fancy a massage, give Spa Sublime a call on (02) 4782 3113.

The accommodation: Katoomba YHA. A shared dorm will set you back $24, but there are specials available for multiple nights.

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