Katoomba is the chief town of the City of Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia and the administrative headquarters of Blue Mountains City Council. It lies at Lat: 33:42:41S (-33.7114) Lon: 150:18:14E (150.3039) elevation 1030 metres on the Great Western Highway 110 kilometres west of Sydney and 39 kilometres south-east of Lithgow, and it has a station on the Main Western line. It is well known for spectacular mountain views and extensive bush and nature walks in the surrounding Blue Mountains area.
Ka-toom-ba is Aboriginal for "shining falling water" and takes its name from a waterfall that drops into the Jamison Valley below the Harry's Amphitheatre escarpment. Previously, the site was known as William's Chimney and Collett's Swamp. In 1874 the locality was named The Crushers after the name of the railway station that served a nearby quarry. The name Katoomba was adopted in 1877 and the town achieved municipality status in 1889.
Katoomba's main industry is tourism based on spectacular mountain scenery. The rock formation known as the Three Sisters, viewable from Echo Point about two kilometres south of the main town, is the most famous feature. Other features of the Jamison Valley visible from Echo Point include Mt Solitary and the rock formation known as the Ruined Castle. A short walk from Echo Point leads to The Giant Stairway which provides access to a number of nature walks through the Valley. Some of these are quite rugged and not recommended for inexperienced walkers. Several of the Jamison Valley tracks including the Stairway itself were closed in recent years due to maintenance, but most have since been re-opened. The section of track between the Ruined Castle and Mt Solitary is not well marked, and recommended only for experienced bushwalkers. Bushwalkers in the area will be much rewarded as the local geography includes extensive areas of dense sub-tropical rainforest, hanging swamps and a series of spectacular waterfalls (albeit with a relatively low water volume).
Other attractions include Scenic World, a tourist complex in the southwest of the town. This site is home to the steepest funicular railway in the world, the Katoomba Scenic Railway, which was originally built to facilitate coal and oil shale mining in the Jamison Valley. Scenic World also offers the Scenic Skyway cable car, which travels over an arm of the Jamison Valley and offers views of Katoomba Falls and Orphan Rock. In 2004 the original Skyway car was replaced by a new car with a liquid crystal panel floor, which abruptly becomes transparent while the car travels. In 1983 construction began at the site on a rollercoaster called the Orphan Rocker; the track was completed, but this attraction has never been opened to the public. The nearby Jenolan Caves are the most celebrated of several similar groups in the limestone of the country being the oldest discovered open caves in the world..
Katoomba is well-served by hotels and guest-houses, the oldest and most prominent of which is the Carrington Hotel, established in 1882 and occupying the highest point in town. The nearby village of Leura also features numerous well-appointed hotels and health spas and Medlow Bath boasts the grand Hydro Majestic Hotel (yet only 3 star), originally built in 1891. The only 5 star Hotel is located in Katoomba. Lilianfels is home to Darley's Restaurant, a 2 chef hatted restaurant The busy town centre, centered on Katoomba Street, features dozens of cafes and restaurants, including the Paragon which dates the early 1900s, as well as a number of second-hand book and antique stores.
The climate varies with height in the Blue Mountains region. At Katoomba (1010 m) summer daytime temperatures are usually in 20s with a few days extending into the 30s (Celsius). Night time temperatures are usually in the teens. In winter the temperature is typically about 10 °C in the daytime with 0 °C or so on clear nights and 3 to 4 °C on cloudy nights. There are two to three snowfalls per year. Annual rainfall is about 1200 mm (48 inches) with many misty days.
Several significant snowfalls have been recorded since 1900. The most significant falls were recorded on 5 July 1900 when snowdrifts were over 6 feet deep in parts of the Blue Mountains. The snow and ice caused significant problems throughout Central NSW, with rail and road closures, damage to buildings, and the disruption of telegraph services. A significant winter storm on 18 July 1965 also produced very heavy snow and ice in the area, with damage to buildings and major difficulties with road and rail transport.
Katoomba and nearby Medlow Bath were first developed as tourist destinations towards the end of the 19th century when a series of grand hotels, notably the Carrington and the Belgravia (later the Hydro Majestic) were built and then repeatedly extended. The Paragon restaurant also dates from the same period. Coal and shale mining was also carried out in the Jamison Valley for many years, but the seams were completely exhausted by the early 20th century and Katoomba was established as a resort town. By the 1960s, Katoomba had somewhat declined, and several of its guest houses were converted for other purposes including convalescent hospitals. Some even succumbed to arson. Housing was inexpensive, allowing many young families to establish themselves, many of whom still live there.
In the 1980s, the guest houses and hotels again became fashionable and many were restored to their former glories. However, since the late 1990s tourism to the area has once again levelled off. Housing in the Katoomba region has become more expensive, but in general housing prices in the district are still markedly lower than those in Sydney.
The area's beautiful scenery and colourful art-deco style shops and houses attract an alternative and somewhat eccentric subculture. Many poets, artists, environmentalists and numerous eccentric characters reside in Katoomba (and the Blue Mountains, generally) and the town hosts the well-patronised Winter Solstice festival, Winter Magic, that features local talent, art and handicraft. The festival was established in 1994 to provide a local focus for the Blue Mountains-wide Yulefest. Yulefest is a long-running tourism initiative that promotes Northern Hemisphere-style Christmas celebrations during the Australian winter months June to August.
Novelist and historian Eleanor Dark (1901 - 1985), best known for her historical novel A Timeless Land, lived in Katoomba with her husband Dr. Eric Dark from 1923 until her death. The couple's home "Varuna" is now a writer's centre.
Lincoln Hall is a well known Australian mountaineer and adventurer who lives in the neighbouring town of Wentworth Falls. He has written a guidebook on walks and attractions in the area. He was responsible for organising the first Australian ascent of Mount Everest in 1984.
The scenic beauty and tranquillity of Katoomba and the surrounding Blue Mountains area have long made Katoomba a haven for Sydney-siders looking for rest and relaxation. As well as attracting a resident artistic community, Katoomba and its environs has also been the inspiration for art and music. For example, Australian artist Peter Kingston (well known as a long time campaigner for the preservation of Sydney's Luna Park) has produced many works inspired by Katoomba and surrounding areas including the etching "Brave and Cruel" which shows a dark figure leaving Leura Railway Station. Another example is The Mexican Spitfires song "Until" which includes lines reflective of the idea of Katoomba as a sanctuary from city life:
In addition to its ever-publicised 'alternative' sub-culture, the area is home to a large number of culturally diverse families and has a significant Aboriginal population. Many celebrities and affluent locals have built or restored houses with magnificent views, especially in Leura, just to the east of Katoomba.