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.
By Ellen Hill for Blue Mountains Attractions Group
From furry critters and underground caves to enchanted gardens, bushwalks for small people, cool art and Aboriginal culture, the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is one big playground.
Blue Mountains Attractions Group president Louise Clifton said: “Australia’s first tourist destination has had a long time to perfect the visitor experience and the premier attractions of the Greater Blue Mountains cater for the whole family – not just adults and not just children.
“Everyone loves the adorable animals at Featherdale Wildlife Park, the exciting rides at Scenic World and the fascinating indigenous cultural experience at Waradah Aboriginal Centre is tailored to appeal to all ages, while other attractions are multi-tiered.’’
One of the world’s most spectacular cave systems, Jenolan Caves offers a range of guided tours from easy strolls through the Grand Arch to strenuous explorations of the underworld.
Children will be captivated by meeting their favourite Magic Pudding characters and exploring their gardens at Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum while grown-ups sneak into the art gallery to view the famous paintings.
Everglades Historic House & Gardens and Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah have open areas for children to let off some steam and run while adults wander the exquisite avenues. Both properties also have activity books for kids.
Like all the premier attractions in Leura and Katoomba, Blue Mountains Cultural Centre can be accessed easily via a vintage-style hop-on/hop-off Trolley Tours bus. Grown-ups will be wowed by the world-class artworks on display in Blue Mountains City Art Gallery while kids will be amazed at the interactive World Heritage Exhibition.
No trip to the Blue Mountains is complete without a visit to Scenic World where the young and the young at heart can experience the thrill of the world’s steepest passenger railway, walk on air on the skyway and take the cable car to the valley floor to stroll through ancient rainforest.
Stay overnight at Hartley Historic Site to fully immerse yourselves in colonial Australia (the Old Trahlee property sleeps six and has a cot for babies). Tour the courthouse, admire the artwork along the sculpture walk and the Kew-Y-Ahn Art Gallery. Visit metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick at Talisman Gallery where adults can browse the art and jewellery while the kids make their very own fire poker.
Families can refuel on any budget when visiting the Greater Blue Mountains. Myriad cafes, kiosks and restaurants including those at Everglades, Hartley Historic Site, Jenolan Caves, the Boiler House Café at the Hydro Majestic Hotel and Blue Mountains Cultural Centre serve the full gamut of treats.
Alternatively, numerous picnic spots in picturesque locations such as Euroka Clearing in Blue Mountains National Park Glenbrook entrance, Jenolan Caves, Wentworth Falls Lake, Hartley Historic Site and Everglades are ideal for home-brought fare.
The Greater Blue Mountains also has a range of other accommodation options suitable for families from caravan parks and self-contained cottages to upmarket hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs including St Raphael (The Convent) at Leura, The Mountain Lodge at Jenolan Caves and The Jungle Lodge at Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah.
Go to bluemountainsattractions.com.au for information about where to stay and what to do in the Greater Blue Mountains region or visit the Blue Mountains Attractions Group Facebook page.
- Blue Mountains Attractions Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
HOW do you make a global icon?
Take a swamp rich with flora and fauna and wait until it all dies. Squish down all the rotting bodies in layers and leave them to bake in the sun for endless millennia until they have morphed into coal and rock.
Then slice the “lasagne’’, push up wedges, let the elements mould them and allow plants and animals to reclaim the new-look landscape.
That’s the surprisingly effective explanation Wild At Heart Safaris eco-guide Keiron Sames gives visitors on his guided walks through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area at Katoomba.
The tale will be told to those who take part in an eco-tour during the annual Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism Festival of Walking (October 6-14), during which visitors and locals will be encouraged to put their best foot forward and explore the wild beauty and unique streetscapes of some of the most popular locations in the world.
Promoting fresh air and the grand backyard of the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region, the festival will feature treks and challenging bushwalks, history tours combined with local wine and cheese sampling, ambles through the day and walks at night, garden tours, singles walks, indigenous experiences, family events and child’s eye view walks.
It will be held at locations throughout the region including Jenolan Caves, the Glow Worm Tunnel near Lithgow and Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, as well as Blue Mountains towns.
Blue Mountains, Lithgow & Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker said the festival was “a fantastic opportunity to explore the unique beauty of this magnificent World Heritage Area’’.
“It’s also a chance to rediscover well known paths through themed walks that highlight the region’s history and gastronomical experiences.’’
He tells it at Honeymoon Point about halfway along his two-hour long easy grade walk while the tourists point their camera phones at the endless vista of trees and cliffs and try to grasp the magnitude of one million square hectares of genuine wilderness.
Every few paces along the track, Sames stops to share a titbit of geological or agricultural trivia (
the process of the claystone being undercut and the land falling off is called `sapping’,’’ did you know), point out an interesting plant species or magnificent view orshush’’ the group to listen to a bird call.
Tall, slim and super fit, Sames has been an eco-guide for about a decade, a role which satisfies his urge to share the environment with others and encourage them to be more considerate of it.
He peppers his tours with questions encouraging people to think and learn from the experience.
Why do you think this is called the Blue Mountains?’’ he asks.Does anyone know why the Blue Mountains are blue?’’
The tourists shuffle their feet and look at each other expectantly, each hoping someone else will have the answer.
Sames lets them squirm for a moment before relieving the tension with an explanation of the Rayleigh scattering affect.
Caused by the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light, it can happen when light travels through transparent solids and liquids but is most prominently seen in gases.
In the case of the Blue Mountains trees, especially eucalypts, “sweat’’ and release oil into the air, which magnifies the Rayleigh scattering giving the mountains their blue hue.
He pounces on some yellow flowers (a type of pea from the Fabaecea family, apparently). Shrubby in appearance, “often they are the first to regenerate after an upheaval like bushfire’’.
Next thing, everyone’s huddled around a shrub, bent over double to see the tiny pores on the leaves, through which the plant breathes like skin.
“Anywhere you go in the bush have a look, touch may be nice if it’s appropriate, but never take anything,’’ Sames says, striding off towards a towering fern.
We soon learn that: a) only the top of the plant is living; b) what appears to be the trunk is actually the roots; c) it looks the same on the inside as the outside; d) its pithy inner material was an important source food supply for the indigenous Gundungurra people; and e) the plant grows higher than others so can reach the light source from the sun and its canopy catches falling leaves from other plants which decompose and feed it.
We move onto a scene unique to the Blue Mountains – a hanging swamp on the side of a hillside, and Sames explains how it is created before seamlessly moving onto another topic, then the next.
During the next five minutes we learn that the mountain ash eucalypt is the tallest flowering tree in the world, the sight of eucalypts shedding great strips of bark like a snake skin is a spring giveaway; gum leaves hang down (“They’re like: `Don’t let me get hot and lose water’ ’’); and of the 111 species of eucalypts, 25 per cent are found in Australia and 25 per cent of them are found in the Blue Mountains.
We move down to a temperate rainforest, which used to be the dominant plant community when Gondwanaland was all one land and the environment was moister.
“This area is a living example of that, and that evolutionary process is the specific reason why we were given World Heritage status,’’ Sames says.
We amble up a few shallow steps and are surprised to find ourselves back at the roadside, much the wiser and already missing Sames’ easy company.
- Visit www.festivalofwalking.com.au for more information about Wild At Heart Safaris guided eco-tours and numerous other activities during the Festival of Walking.