In May 2015 Emma and I spent a weekend at Parklands Country Garden and Lodges (highly recommended if you're interested) in Blackheath. The main aim (photographically speaking) of this weekend was to capture Mount Wilson's autumn colours. Basing ourselves in Blackheath put us right in the middle of the action - Mt Wilson, Lithgow, Katoomba and Leura are all are relatively short drive away.
Mt Wilson is a heritage garden village, with a collection of private gardens and estates that are periodically opened to the public. The village is one of the best (if not the best) places to shoot autumn colour in NSW, and is often compared to Bright in Victoria and Arrowtown in New Zealand when people talk about autumn foliage.
Mt Wilson is about 2 hours drive from Sydney, and around 45 minutes from Katoomba. A right turn at Bell onto Bells Line of Road, and then a left turn onto Mount Wilson Road will get you there.
Best Time to Visit
Photographically speaking, Mt Wilson is best in the autumn, when the leaves turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. Many gardens will only open to public during the autumn festival period. Colours (and crowds) typically peak in mid-April, however there will be pockets of colour that hang on longer than others. The photos below were taken on the first weekend of May and show the best colours I was able to find.
In April each year the village holds its annual Autumn Festival. Many gardens that aren't open year-round will open only during this weekend, and its a great time to visit regardless of photography. Crowds are big, so its probably best to leave the serious landscape photography for another weekend.
Visit early in the morning if you want to beat the crowds, and I've found that colder, overcast days with some light rain provide the best photographic conditions here. Overcast skies make exposures far easier, and mist and fog provide great depth to the scene and allow the colours to pop.
Try to avoid rubbish collection day (unless bins are your thing), or you'll be spending a few hours cloning and content-aware filling in Photoshop.
Places of Interest
Mt Wilson is a small town - you can probably cover most of the roads in an hour or two on foot - but there are a multitude of sights to see. I've listed here a few of the best spots I found in my limited time here. Below is a simplified map of the village.
Breenhold Gardens: the first major garden you'll pass on your way in from Mt Wilson Road and immediately on your left as you turn onto The Avenue (you can't miss it, signs everywhere). The estate is large, covering 45 hectares and putting it on par with the Sydney CBD's Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens. The garden was used to film parts of the Great Gatsby, and has been in the Breen family for years.
There is an entry fee ($8, when we visited there was an honour system and cash box operating), but you'll get your money's worth. There are several places of interest I found within these gardens - grab a map from the Breenhold Garden website (click here) and play along:
Queens Avenue: really nice narrow roadway with huge trees hanging over the edges. Perfect for a nice wide panoramic shot with the road leading you through the frame.
Church Lane: turn left at the church (obviously) onto Church Lane. A little way up this street towards the end are some great leafy trees overhanging the road. Some judicious cloning and healing may be needed to remove power lines for a cleaner shot.
Little Red Gate: located at Bebeah Gardens, just near the church on The Avenue. This is potentially the ubiquitous shot for Mt Wilson - very photogenic, very colourful and very easy to miss if you're cruising past and not looking for it. You can rent a small cottage on the estate for the night if you're camping out for the perfect shot.
Cathedral of Ferns: not sure if we actually found this or not, but we ended up on a track near the camping ground and there were a lot of ferns. And leeches. Great location for those moody, foggy forest shots in the right conditions.