Justine Tyerman finds the perfect spot for a final family holiday ahead of her daughter's OE.
The occasion called for something extraordinary. Our younger daughter was heading to the UK on a two-year work and travel adventure. I wanted to postpone the final farewell as long as possible so decided to accompany her to Sydney where our elder daughter lives. It was initially planned as a girls' weekend, but father suspected there would be far too much dangerous female pampering going on and thought he had better keep an eye on the treats mother was likely to lavish on her daughters at such an emotional time.
There was the potential for many this-is-the-last-time-we'll-do-this type situations where common sense hurtles out the window and the numbers on the credit card tend to get flattened.
Father also fancied the five-star resort I found as the perfect place to celebrate daughter's last days Down Under - the stunning Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa, a wilderness experience just 90 minutes' drive from Sydney.
Elegant and refined with the self-assuredness of a multi-award-winning resort, Lilianfels is certainly extraordinary.
Built on the edge of the Katoomba escarpment in 1889 as a grand country house for Sir Frederick Darley, the sixth chief justice of New South Wales, it was named in memory of his daughter Lilian who died of typhoid fever at the age of 22 ('fels' means a high rock or rocky ground in German).
The guest house with 85 rooms - including four suites - was added in the early 1990s, cleverly replicating the architectural features and furnishings of the original house which is now the resort's renowned Darley's Restaurant.
The spacious bedrooms and marble bathrooms are luxuriously appointed with every detail designed to spoil and pamper guests. The views over the Jamison Valley with its spectacular sandstone canyon walls and the famous blue haze of the eucalypt forests are mesmerising.
The resort is built on the edge of the Katoomba escarpment, overlooking the spectacular Blue Mountains and Jamison Valley. Photo / Supplied
The rain and mist miraculously cleared as we arrived allowing us to walk to Echo Point five minutes away. The two sisters took a step back in astonishment as they were confronted with the iconic Three Sisters rock formation glowing gold in the winter sun. We coaxed them down a perpendicular ladder to the platform at the foot of the first rock, with a vertiginous drop to the valley floor below.
The swirly mist added to the enchantment of the ancient landscape, the traditional home of the Darug and Gundungurra people, now listed as a World Heritage site.
After our trek, hyperactive father looked longingly at the resort's tennis courts but the girls shook their collective heads with warmer things in mind. He settled for a workout at the well-equipped gym, many laps of the gorgeous indoor heated pool and a stint in the sauna and steam rooms.
We made a beeline for the divine females-only Jacuzzi, part of the beautiful health and beauty spa facilities at the resort. The outdoor pool in the lovely garden would also be a heavenly spot in the summer months.
Wrapped in soft white robes and slippers, we sampled the lavish toiletries in the bathrooms and had a glass of bubbly before dressing up for dinner in nearby Leura.
Later I explored the resort's reading room, the sisters chatted on plump Victorian sofas in the lounge by the open fire and father had a game or two of snooker at the full-sized billiard table with some Aussie guests only too keen to accept a transtasman challenge.
We fell into sumptuous beds with the softest of pillows and finest linen, and awoke to a sparkling clear winter day.
The resort's spacious bedrooms are luxuriously appointed, with every detail designed to spoil and pamper guests. Photo / Supplied
Breakfast at Lilianfels' restaurant was a substantial affair setting us up well for a day of hiking - plate loads of delicious fresh fruit and creamy yoghurt followed by the best omelette I have ever tasted ... and I pride myself on being an omelette connoisseur.
Having already experienced the thrills at Scenic World - an absolute must for first-time tourists - we drove along the cliff edge route to the Wentworth Falls, where heavy overnight rain had added oomph to the breathtaking waterfall which cascades 187 metres in three tiers. The early morning sun formed small rainbows in the spray.
With dozens of hikes to choose from, we took the under cliff track. We edged our way along a narrow ledge cantilevered hundreds of metres above the valley floor, lured onwards by the vast panorama of rugged escarpments, dark forests and deep gorges that stretch for hundreds of kilometres, and stunned at the audacity of those who constructed the pathway in the early 1900s.
"Snakes hibernate in the winter, don't they?" I said unconvincingly, as we made our way back along an alternative bush-clad route.
Later that day, we snake-phobic Kiwis giggled at the irony of the snake lollies in the resort's mini-bar.
Mere coincidence ... or that quirky Aussie sense of humour?
Getting there: Katoomba/Leura is a 90-minute drive from Sydney. The most direct approach is to head west from Sydney along Parramatta Road to the Great Western Highway (M4). A number of coach companies offer day trips from Sydney to the Blue Mountains, generally leaving from Circular Quay, or you can take a two-hour train ride from Central Station.
Staying there: Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa is at 5-19 Lilianfels Avenue, Katoomba.
Justine Tyerman stayed courtesy of Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa.