Katoomba is the kind of town Australians call historic with absolutely no sense of irony.
When a crumbling Art Deco cafe passes for culture you know the marketeers here are working overtime.
And when we spotted at least 5 Golliwog dolls for sale in one of the antiques shops, we knew the 21st century hasn’t quite made it to Katoomba.
That observation and resultant tweet created a bit of an online spat with a local too, who couldn’t understand why these dolls are not in the slightest bit appropriate today.
The Blue Mountains’ biggest town is undeniably odd, but does hold some quirky charm, and chinks of modernity.
And stumbling across a street art walk in an old car park was a pleasant surprise.
No one’s here for the high street, though. The sheer scale and beauty of the Blue Mountains, nestled just a cliff edge away, is what draws tourists in their droves to this ramshackle town, less than two hours from Sydney.
Our stay here was unusual to say the least. We’re huge Air BnB fans and when even hostels were proving expensive, we knew it was our only option.
Marketed as a romantic double room, our place was about as romantic as Josef Fritzl’s basement.
Musty sheets, stale smoke smells throughout and a cold draught chattering the windows, our experience was topped off by us walking in on a naked Chinese guest who had no idea we were staying in the other room in the house.
The poor bloke was wandering round the house completely starkers at night with all the curtains open too, so he’d been putting on a show for the whole neighbourhood. When we turned up his face was a picture!
That said, it was cheap and as they say you get what you pay for, we’d just had much better previously for the same money.
It was only for the one night though so we soldiered on for the main event; the misty mountains themselves.
Sadly the mass marketing of the Blue Mountains has turned its focal point – Echo Point – into a bit of a theme park full of automaton day trippers.
Dozens of tour groups crowded on to the viewing platform for their selfie stick shots of the Three Sisters, a stunning rock formation famous in Aboriginal mythology, before escaping back to their minibuses.
After a bit of argy bargy trying to get our own Kodak moments, we knew we had to get out of there to experience the Blue Mountains as they should be.
The friendly guides in the Information Centre gave us tips on a challenging 3 hour trek that would take us to the forest floor and back up again, so we jumped at the chance to escape the crowds.
Within minutes the inane tourist chatter had entirely dissipated and we barely saw another soul all day. Bliss!
Descending what’s known as the Great Stairway (all 902 of them) is a challenge, but one you’ll be glad to take on if you’re relatively fit.
Hiking over felled trees, babbling creeks and waterfalls and amazing rock formations, we felt like the only people there.
The only problem was all the pesky leeches trying to get inside our hiking socks!
The trail we took brings you back up at Scenic World, the lazy-man’s way of getting to the bottom and back.
The near-vertical funicular railway looks impressive and would be worthwhile if you’ve got kids or aren’t confident with the walk; we felt $39 for the return trip took the sense of adventure out of it.
We ended up back on the cliff edge path towards Katoomba, where it’s hard not to be knocked out by the natural beauty of the mountains, which to me more resembled the Grand Canyon had it been filled with lush forest.
It’s a beguiling wilderness that would beguile is even more on our second day.
A murky start the next morning led us to Wentworth Falls, a short trip from Katoomba on the bus.
The sheer descent to the bottom of the 300m cascades is just as challenging as the Great Stairway.
It was carved from the cliffs more than 100 years ago and little has changed; it made the sense of adventure of looking up at the falls from the bottom that bit more satisfying.
Even the misty weather added a certain allure to the place that a blue sky couldn’t have achieved.
We’re glad we packed walking boots, waterproofs and plenty of water because all three are essential here.
But despite the murk the views were out of this world; even more stunning than the Three Sisters.
Our 36 hours in the Blue Mountains were certainly extraordinary, amazing and odd in equal measure.
Sydneysiders are lucky to have such a stunning wilderness so close. But most will no doubt be glad to go back to their Flat Whites and civilisation at the end of the day.