A Mountain Hideaway by Sydney

Backpackers and young-at-heart budget travelers heading to Sydney, Australia, will now find visiting the Blue Mountains a little more comfortable than before. The Australian Youth Hostel Assn. has just spent $3.6 million to convert a historic Art Deco building into the sixth largest youth hostel in the country.

The Blue Mountains wilderness, recently listed as a World Heritage area and one of the most popular day-trip destinations from Sydney, is about 70 miles south of the center of the city. This rugged region, known for its canyons, waterfalls and ravines, earned its name from the blue haze that forms when moisture evaporates from its eucalyptus trees.

Blue Mountains National Park, a 10-minute walk from the new hostel, is home to a variety of Australia's unique wildlife, including kangaroos, cockatoos, kookaburras, goannas and wallabies. There are hiking trails for all levels of fitness, plus other activities, including rock climbing, horseback riding and mountain biking.

The Blue Mountains Hostel is centrally located in the village of Katoomba (known for its cafes, galleries and antique shops) at 207 Katoomba St., 2780; telephone 011-61-24782-1416, fax 011-61-24782-6203, e-mail bluemountains@yhansw.org.au . The building, which dates from the 1930s, now has modern facilities and can accommodate up to 200 travelers in dormitory rooms with four to eight beds, and in 27 double/twin rooms. Adult rates are about $8 to $10.50 in shared rooms, $16 to $18 per person for a double/twin room, and $31 to $42 for a four-bed room.

The hostel also features a game area, bicycles, e-mail services and parking. It's about a half a mile to the bus and rail station, where there are frequent departures and arrivals to and from Sydney and Adelaide. The rail journey to Sydney takes two hours.

Along with regular bus and rail services, several companies provide packages from Sydney to the Blue Mountains. They include Wonderbus (tel. 011-61-29555-9800 or, toll-free in Australia, [800] 669-800; Internet http://www.wonderbus.com.au); Oz Experience (in the Kingsgate Shopping Center, at the corner of Kings Cross and Darlinghurst Road in Sydney; tel. 011-61-28356-1766, fax 011-61-29368-0908, http://www.ozexperience.com); and YHA Australia (Travel Center of the YHA New South Wales, 422 Kent St., Sydney, NSW 2000; tel. 011-61-29261-1111, http://www.yha.com.au).

The YHA offers day trips to the Blue Mountains in a 19-seat bus with park entrance fees and guide services for $32, and overnight trips with one night's accommodation at the Blue Mountains Katoomba YHA for $55. The tours depart the Sydney Central YHA at 7:30 a.m. and return by 7 p.m.

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Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer; Internet http://www.izon.com.

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