So Tuesday was probably our busiest day of the whole visit. While wandering around the harbour, we had found the booking office of a tour company which offered very reduced rates for coach tours departing the next day (I guess a full coach is better than a half full one if it is going on the tour anyway), so we duly booked a trip up to the Blue Mountains. We went down for breakfast at about 0715, and the coach collected us about 30 minutes later. We rendezvoused with a few other coaches, all of which had been collecting passengers from various hotels dotted around Sydney, and then everyone switched to their particular tour, and we all headed off in different directions.
In my mind, coach tours are for the elderly, school groups and ‘special’ people, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a very varied age range, and a jovial, well informed and particularly garrulous coach driver who took care of us for the day. He gave a running commentary about everything from the origins of modern Sydney via the history and development of the highway system around Sydney, to the cost of housing in every neighbourhood and area we passed through.
Our first stop was at Featherdale wildlife park, in the outer reaches of Sydney suburbs. As zoos go it was nice enough, and the tamer wildlife was free to roam at will, with ‘refuges’ that they could retreat to if they didn’t want human interaction. There were wallabies, kangaroos, koalas, a large variety of birds and various snuffling beasts that were wandering about, plus a whole host of other Australian beings in cages and displays. We got to stroke koala’s, and feed various other marsupials who were very friendly and curious. One highlight was a mother wallaby with a baby sticking out of her pouch.
We left the park, and the ceaseless commentary picked up again. We were now headed for Leurah, a quaint and sleepy town up in the mountains, where we were given an hour to have lunch. Our home-made sandwiches were supplemented by a lovely coffee in an old café – the mountains were about 10 degrees colder than Sydney, so warm drinks were appreciated. After lunch we herded back onto the bus and trundled off again.
The Blue Mountains get their name for the blue-ish haze that often settles over the valleys and, when viewed from afar, makes the whole range appear to be blue. The sun warms the Eucalyptus trees, which emit tiny droplets of oil, and these produce the hazy blue tint. The region is really beautiful, as well as being historically very important. It was the opening up of a route through the blue mountains that allowed the early settlers to expand their colonisation of Australia beyond the boundaries of Sydney. For a long time they were thought impassable, both due to the rugged terrain and the ferocity of the locals, but eventually three explorers found a way through, and opened up access to the rest of the continent for the settlers. Until then, many believed China to be hiding behind the massive range of mountains, but instead very suitable agricultural farmlands were opened up.
After stopping at a lovely view-point, to gaze at the Three Sisters (a lovely Aboriginal tale surrounds the shape of these large rocky outcrops) and also to buy a hat to keep Jelly Beans ears warm, we went into the visitor centre at Katoomba. You have a choice of walking down into the Jameson valley, Going for a trip across the roof of the valley in a sky-car, going down via a cable car, or taking the worlds steepest railway, which is what we did. The railway was originally built to support the coal mining activity in the valley, but quickly got used for visitors who wanted a quick way down. It goes down an incline of 52 degrees, and is very steep indeed.
At the bottom, we walked along a boardwalk tough the lovely trees, and were followed by a curious bird for much of the way -it was a large crow or avian of similar design. After a lovely walk, we got the cable-car back up to the top, and again indulged in a warm drink and took some pictures, while staying out of the ever-strengthening wind.
The coach stopped at another lookout vantage, we took more pictures quickly (in order not to be blown 1500 metres down to the valley below), and then headed back toward Sydney. At the outskirts, we detoured into the Olympic park, and had a quick tour through the area, looking at the various stadia and facilities that were built for the 2000 Olympics. The driver then dropped us at the local ferry wharf, and we got the ferry back to town. Whew!