Kids can experience edge-of-the-cliff thrills in the Blue Mountains from the safety of a double decker big red bus these school holidays – for free.
Travelling to the best sights and sites of Sydney’s grand backyard after months of Covid-19 hibernation, Blue Mountains Explorer Bus has expanded its route from 29 to 37 stops.
A highlight of the 45-minute trundle around Katoomba and Leura is the jaw-dropping vista of Cahill’s Lookout overlooking the Megalong Valley and Narrowneck peninsular, with plenty of room for little legs to run around.
Hop off the bus at Everglades House & Gardens, where children can work through the activity book.
Immerse yourselves in Australia’s most accessible wilderness along one of the 12 bushwalking tracks along the Explorer Bus route.
From the easy stroll from Honeymoon Lookout to Echo Point, the medium grade walk from Gordon Falls Lookout to the Pool of Siloam or the hard yakka trek from Fairmont Resort to Wentworth Falls, every fitness level (and leg length) is catered for.
When mums and dads are tired of piggybacking tiny tots, the whole family can simply reboard the big red bus at the nearest stop.
After walking up an appetite, recharge in a café or restaurant in upmarket Leura Mall or the eclectic shopping strip of Katoomba.
Operating every 45 minutes between 9.15am and 5.30pm, Blue Mountains Explorer Bus is the only hop-on/hop-off double decker bus in the world in a national park and the only one that doesn’t live in a city.
It is operated by the family-owned Fantastic Aussie Tours, which was established in 1974 and the first tour operator in Australia to be 100 per cent carbon neutral certified.
The Explorer Bus has given visitors to the Blue Mountains the chance to tour the area in their own time with no traffic and parking hassles, no rush and no rules for 30 years.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck it operated 365 days and carried about 65,000 passengers a year.
Managing director Jason Cronshaw said: “Like many others, our business has been hard hit by the virus restrictions, but we have used the time of hibernation to make the big red bus bigger, better and even more value for budget-conscious families.’’
Every bus is cleaned and sanitised regularly throughout each day, hand sanitiser is provided aboard, and social distance seating measures are in place.
“That means there’s plenty of room to see the fantastic view we are blessed to share with visitors, and there’s no fights over the front seats on the top deck.’’
Blue Mountains Explorer Bus will operate every day of the school holidays until July 20.
Guests of the Fairmont Resort can use the Explorer Bus shuttle service to Leura Village for just $5.
Blue Mountains businesses are adapting to the “new normal’’ by creatively embracing new business practices and digital technology.
Blue Mountains Tourism president Jason Cronshaw praised the ingenuity and flexibility of businesses, especially small enterprises.
“The response has been fast and enthusiastic,’’ he said.
“Of course there’s been tears and tantrums as people are understandably upset to see their business and livelihood evaporate literally overnight as government restrictions come in that they weren’t prepared for and can’t control.
“But we’re so blessed to have a creative community that is pragmatic and innovative and steps up to a challenge.’’
“[But] we’re so blessed to have a creative community that is pragmatic and innovative and steps up to a challenge.”Jason Cronshaw – Blue Mountains Tourism
Many Blue Mountains businesses sell online vouchers to redeem when restrictions are lifted, encourage forward bookings and direct customers to online sales platforms.
Here are just some examples of how tourism and hospitality businesses in the Blue Mountains continue to operate under the strict new opening hours and social distancing regulations:
– CafeXpresso (Katoomba) station is one of numerous examples of fast food shops, cafes and restaurants offering takeaway food only.
– Blue Mountains Cultural Centre (Katoomba) has a Virtual InSight program featuring staff insights, tours of the space, art classes with local creatives, tutorials, recipes from the cafe and more. Details: BlueMountainsCulturalCentre Facebook page (a new page will be available on the bluemountainsculturalcentre.com.au website soon).
– Mount Vic & Me (Mt Victoria) takes online orders and posts a swag of quirky Australian Made items, including the Blue Mountains Socks range, tea towels and greeting cards. Details: www.mountvicandme.com.
– Avalon Restaurant – Katoomba (www.avalonkatoomba.com.au) offers takeaway meals, along with most cafes in the Blue Mountains. Several such as the Ori Café & Bistro (www.oricafe.com.au) and Finn & Co (www.finnandco.com.au) at Springwood offer a home delivery service.
– GalleryONE88 Fine Arts – Katoomba (www.galleryonefinearts.com), Talisman Gallery – Hartley (www.talismangallery.com.au) and other galleries have uploaded many photos of artwork to their website and social media and have restricted sales to those platforms or email.
– Blue Mountains Chocolate Company (Katoomba) serves takeaway food and drinks, with a home delivery service within a 20km radius of Katoomba. Details: http://www.bluemountainschocolate.com.au/.
“New normal” for Blueys
The Blue Mountains region has prepared a jam-packed calendar of festivals and events to welcome visitors back to Australia’s first tourist destination.
Blue Mountains Tourism president Jason Cronshaw said while the region was still struggling from mass tourist cancellations during the recent bushfire situation, businesses had taken a positive approach to recovery.
“Compared to other regions where tourism attractions, hotels and infrastructure have been destroyed, we recognise how very blessed we are.
“Much of our 1 million square hectare Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area looks as fantastic as ever, including the globally-recognised Three Sisters scene.
“More bush tracks into the wilderness are opening all the time.
“All the popular tourist strips and businesses are open and welcome visitors.’’
Mr Cronshaw, who also owns the double-decker Blue Mountains Explorer Bus, encouraged people with existing bookings to still come, those who had cancelled to re-book and people considering a trip to #HolidayHereThisYear in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area right on Sydney’s doorstep.
Several long-scheduled festivals and events will go ahead as planned, including annual Roaring 20s Festival events at the Carrington and Hydro Majestic hotels in February, Blue Mountains Music Festival in March and Winter Magic Festival in June.
“The Lady Luck and Wines of the West festivals got things rolling in January and, while crowds were down on previous years, that show of confidence has buoyed the wider business community which will eventually lead the market back to normal.’’
From live music pub gigs, community markets and open days to costumed balls and fundraising dinners, the Blue Mountains will be a hive of non-stop activity throughout 2020.
Take your pick from these upcoming Blue Mountains festivals and events:
- February 1: Great Art Deco Weekend, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba St, Katoomba
- February 7 – 9: Blue Mountains Ukulele Festival, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba
- February 8: Roaring 20s Festival, Hydro Majestic Hotel, Great Western Hwy, Medlow Bath – Charleston for Charity dance, Majestic Long Lunch, Deco Dinner & The Roslyns
- February 8-9 & 29: vintage car rides, Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath
- February 15: Woodford Academy open day, Great Western Hwy, Woodford
- February 23: Trains Trams & Ts Roaring 20s event, Valley Heights Rail Museum, Tusculum Rd, Valley Heights
- February 29: Gatsby Casino Night for Rotary, Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath
- March 13-15: Blue Mountains Music Festival at various venues around Katoomba
- March 21: Woodford Academy Harvest Festival, Great Western Hwy, Woodford
- April 10-14: 61st Australian National Square Dance Convention, Blue Mountains Grammar School, Wentworth Falls
- May 24: Teddy Bears’ Day Out, Valley Heights Rail Museum, Tusculum Rd, Valley Heights
- June 20: Winter Magic Festival, Katoomba St, Katoomba
By Ellen Hill for Katoomba Christian Convention
Katoomba Christian Convention (KCC) management is considering its options after a Sydney Western City Planning Panel refused its development application to upgrade its site.
KCC executive director Jonathan Dykes said: “We’re disappointed.
“We were willing to be flexible with various aspects of the design and had hoped to work with Council and the Rural Fire Service further for a mutually beneficial outcome, but that didn’t happen.’’
While the panel chairman, who acknowledged the excellence of the design, voted in favour of deferral to allow KCC time to work with Blue Mountains City Council and the RFS further and present amended plans, the four other panel members voted for refusal.
The development application was submitted to Council in February and outlined a $63 million staged plan over 30 years to revamp outdated facilities at the bushland property next to Scenic World in Cliff Drive and Violet St.
The proposal for an environmentally-considerate overhaul of a portion of the property included a 3500-seat auditorium, new bookshop, toilets, meeting rooms, dining hall and café, revegetation and landscaping and replacing existing accommodation buildings with eco lodges.
The improvements would have benefited both Christian and secular groups who use the site, the largest conference facility in the Blue Mountains.
“We would simply like to improve our existing old assets by upgrading buildings,’’ Mr Dykes said.
“Our use of the property and number of people we have there would not increase.
“In fact, the upgrade would reduce the current noise impact on neighbours and the fire safety of the buildings would be improved.’’
An improved KCC facility would also create more jobs and ensure visitors kept coming and spent money locally while they took part in events at the site, Mr Dykes said.
“This will allow KCC to support sustainable tourism in the Blue Mountains, which is a primary economic driver for the area.
“KCC’s development aspirations are responsive to a significant number of local, regional and state strategies for increasing overnight visitation to the area.’’
A not-for-profit interdenominational Bible-preaching convention ministry that relies on volunteers, donations and financial support of visiting delegates, KCC was founded in 1903 in the tradition of the Keswick Convention in England.
“We’ve been around for nearly 120 years and we plan to be around for the next 120 years,’’ Mr Dykes said.
While “we’ll be considering our options’’, with the usual busy-ness in the lead up to Christmas and the need for meetings among the KCC board and consultants, a pathway forward would not be decided until next year.