In 1882, Australia defeated the English cricketers for the first time and the Ashes were born. In the same year, the Great Western Hotel opened in what was described as the 'nondescript little mining town of Katoomba'. With its name changed to the Carrington in honour of New South Wales governor Lord Carrington, it was to become the premier tourist resort of the southern hemisphere by the early 1900s, cited by some newspapers of the day as the only rival to Singapore's Raffles Hotel within the British Empire. In the Victorian Grand Dining Room it feels like you have been transported back in time. Laid out much as it was in 1886 but with modern touches, the room features a cabinet displaying silverware engraved with the names of the hotel's various owners, as well as two Ming-dynasty vases shipped from China by Sir James Joynton Smith in about 1913. With a billiards room, a ballroom complete with 1920s chandeliers and open fires in the reading rooms, the hotel's guests experience the leisurely ambience of a bygone era. It even features Champagne Charlie's Cocktail Bar, Charles Carrington having been known to drink champagne with every meal. Regular visitors to Katoomba will recall how the Grand Old Lady of the mountains stood derelict and boarded up from 1985 until 1991, then seemed forever in the process of restoration until her doors opened again in 1998. It feels good to sip a drink on the verandah amid the columns and Italian balustrades, watching the sun set over town. All too soon, however, with feet still firmly stuck in yesteryear, it is time to head westwards to a different slice of history, the small 19th-century settlement called Hartley Village. The National Parks information centre is in the former Farmers Inn and illustrates life in colonial NSW from 1837 to 1887. An 1830s 'Wanted' poster offers a reward of #70 for information about prisoners who robbed a farmhouse; an 1854 poster from England encourages single women to migrate to the colony. The site shows the architecture of the period, from Hartley Court House, designed by Mortimer Lewis in the Greek revival style and completed in 1837, to the well-maintained St Bernard's Catholic Church and presbytery, paid for by the Irish community in 1848. But not every building has been well kept. The Shamrock Inn fell into disrepair, hit by the dearth of drinkers when the highway bypassed the village in 1887. Next: Clarence, with a ride behind the steam locomotive City of Lithgow on the legendary Zig Zag Railway. On completion in 1869, the line, built by engineer John Whitton and comprising several sloping tracks forming the letter Z, with reversing stations at the top and bottom, was considered one of the marvels of the Victorian age. But a 10-tunnel deviation through the escarpment in 1910 made the zigzag redundant. Restored to its full original course by 1988, the scenic route across magnificent sandstone viaducts now attracts 60,000 to 80,000 visitors a year. On the way back to Katoomba stands another icon from times gone by: the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath. Its daily history tour reveals how Sydney businessman Mark Foy bought the old Belgravia Hotel in the 1890s to establish a health spa, which opened in 1904. The spa was administered by a doctor, offered hot and cold water treatments, forbade alcohol and cigarettes and enforced early-to-bed curfews. Needless to say, the wealthy were not happy about being told what to do, so in 1906 Foy closed the spa and reopened the building as a family hotel. We proceed along a walkway where the well-to-do of Edwardian society promenaded three times a day, always in a fresh change of clothes. It is an out-of-the-way path that was passed over when the hotel was recently revamped and thus gives the sense that time really has moved on. The hotel features a casino dome imported from Chicago, paintings that romanticise travel, such as the Camel Riders of the Sahara, and a grand dining room where Chinese waiters in national costume gave guests a taste of the exotic. Returning to Katoomba and passing the celebrated rock pinnacles called the Three Sisters, it is time for a visit to Scenic World. Despite being a modern facility with attractions such as the Sceniscender, a unique cable attraction that lowers riders off a cliff, and plenty of shops for tourists, it brings the past to life. The Blue Mountains' leading tourist attraction, the Scenic Railway was originally built in 1878 to transport coal to the top of the escarpment. But with mining costs increasing and walkers begging for a lift up, a purpose-built passenger carriage was constructed in 1929 and christened the Mountain Devil. So began what Guinness World Records says is the world's steepest passenger-carrying incline railway, dropping 450 metres at a maximum gradient of 52 degrees. After the drop, visitors can follow a boardwalk through the forest to the entrance of an old coal mine, where the hardships of a miner's life are detailed. It wasn't only the men who found it hard: a bronze sculpture of a Welsh/Australian miner and his faithful pit pony affords due respect to the animals that brought the coal to the surface. Back in Katoomba there is one more piece of its history that everyone likes to sample: chocolate, or more specifically the fabled handmade chocolates from the National Trust-listed Paragon Cafe, which features a 1930s art-deco cocktail bar. Leaving the mountains and heading towards Sydney, visitors may stop at the grave of Sir Henry Parkes (1815-1896), the father of the Federation of Australia, at Faulconbridge and the nearby Corridor of Oaks, where every Australian prime minister or a family representative has planted an oak tree. Faulconbridge is also home to the Norman Lindsay Gallery, housed in the old stone cottage where the artist spent many creative years with his second wife, Rose. The columns of the verandah and the style of the sculptures reflect Lindsay's fascination with traditional Mediterranean art. His etching studio in the garden is also open. But what would the gallery be without the paintings inspired by Greek mythology and featuring the nude female figures and pagan ideas for which Lindsay was renowned? Particularly memorable are the painting in which a young soldier and his seeming purity are confronted by sexually aggressive Amazons, and In the Beginning, where the artist portrays a horned and bearded male figure and female companion attended by nubile beauties wearing nothing more than flowers in their hair. How were his paintings received in yesteryear? Society was horrified, of course. At this point it seems appropriate to turn the ignition key and head back to the 21st century. Getting there: Cathay Pacific ( www.cathaypacific.com ), Qantas ( www.qantas.com.au ) and Virgin Atlantic ( www.virginatlantic.com ) fly from Hong Kong to Sydney, from where the Blue Mountains can be reached by road or rail. See www.australiabluemountains.com.au .