The principal tourist destination in the Blue Mountains, offering breathtaking vistas and a rich variety of accommodation.
For most people Katoomba is the true heart of the Blue Mountains. When they think of the Blue Mountains they think of the spectacular views over the Megalong and Jamieson Valleys, the Three Sisters, huge old hotels like the Carrington, the famous Paragon Cafe, the Skyway and the Scenic Railway - all of which can be enjoyed by visitors to Katoomba. It seems as though Katoomba, located 106 kilometres from Sydney and 1017 metres above sea level, has a virtual monopoly on the mountains' most famous attractions.
It is easy to forget, when reflecting on the towns in the Blue Mountains - Leura, Blackheath, Mount Victoria and so on - that the only really substantial settlement along the road and railway line is Katoomba. It is the largest settlement in the Mountains and is also the administrative centre for the City of the Blue Mountains. Katoomba is geared for tourism. It is the central attraction in the mountains.
The area was first explored by Europeans when Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. It is known they came close to the present townsite as one of the members of the expedition clearly marked a tree. The evidence suggests that they camped near the modern-day town site on 25 May 1813. The town's name reputedly comes from a local aboriginal word 'godoomba' meaning 'water tumbling over a hill'.
As early as 1841 George Clarke had discovered coal in the area (the whole Sydney basin has an underlay of coal which rises at Newcastle in the north, around Wollongong in the south and is present at the bottom of the cliffs in the Blue Mountains) and by 1870 kerosene shale had been discovered in Kanimbla Valley. A coal mine opened at Katoomba in 1879 and kerosene shale was being mined by 1885.
The area became hugely popular with the establishment of a railway station in 1876. It was first called 'Crushers' but was changed to Katoomba a year later. From this point it was a popular holiday resort providing excellent bushwalking, delightful views over the valleys and gracious hotels.
By 1889 the Illustrated Sydney News was able to describe Katoomba as 'a town which is practically the outcome of public appreciation during the past four years. The summit of one of the highest points about the Blue Mountains is covered with a cluster of houses, amongst which are many handsome residences with The Carrington conspicuous in the centre. Substantial shops line the main street, and everywhere are evidence of progress and prosperity. Katoomba is going ahead.'
While it remained the centrepiece of Katoomba, it was really during the 1920s and 1930s that The Carrington acquired its reputation. The hotel's visitors included royalty - the Prince of Wales stayed in 1920 and the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927. It was during this time that it became known as the 'Honeymoon Capital of Australia'.
As Katoomba grew as a holiday destination so it's coal mining fortunes declined. The coal mine closed in the 1920s although the spectacular railway to the mine has remained open and is now a popular tourist attraction.
The electrification of the railway line in 1957 can be seen as the symbolic starting point when the whole of the Blue Mountains became a commuter zone for Greater Sydney.