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 Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
Celebrate family unity, vitality and respect for your elders with the exotic flavours of the Orient when the Miss Lilian Teahouse heralds the Year of the Pig throughout February.
The new Echo Point dining venue which serves a tasty array of popular Asian street foods, will serve a special Chinese Lunar New Year tasting menu this month.
Escarpment Group, which also operates the adjoining Darley’s Restaurant and the Hydro Majestic Hotel among other tourism ventures, the venue is already festooned outside with coloured lanterns and inside with latticework, dozens of bird cages and other Eastern decorations.
Escarpment Group guest services manager Meagan Iervasi said the Miss Lilian Teahouse was well placed to greet thousands of Asian tourists who flocked to the region during Chinese Lunar New Year given its blend of local and international staff and authentic dishes.
“Lunar New Year is the only time of year in China when people really rest, relax and take time out to focus on family unity, vitality and longevity. This is often the only time of year when people can go home to visit relatives, especially elderly ones. It’s also the time when Chinese people spend money, believing that one must spend money to attract more money.
“We can help you fulfil all those requirements.’’
Lunar New Year and all things Oriental is not new to the Blue Mountains, with Australia’s first tourist destination experiencing Eastern obsession during the
roaring 20s’’ including at department store doyenne Mark Foy’sPalace in the wilderness’’ and modern sister property to the Miss Lilian Teahouse, the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath.
During the post-Bathurst gold rush era around the turn of the 20th century numerous Chinese workers reverted to their traditional skills across the Blue Mountains, with many working as butlers, cooks, nannies, maids and produce suppliers to inns, guesthouses and manor houses. One was Louie Goh Mong (nicknamed `Charlie’), who worked as a cook at Foy’s home and managed the mayhem at the Hydro Majestic for 35 years.
Lunar New Year will be celebrated at the new Miss Lilian Teahouse on the Lilianfels Resort & Spa property, Echo Point Rd and Panorama Drive, Katoomba, with an evening tasting menu. Cost: $75pp includes complimentary sparkling cocktail. Bookings: misslilian.com.au.
Free rides, discounts, two-for-one deals, birthday bubbly – just some of the perks handed out to residents by some of the region’s most popular tourist businesses just for being a Greater Blue Mountains local.
Bilpin Cider Co, Leura Garage, Miss Lilian’s Teahouse and Blue Mountains Explorer Bus reward locals for living in a tourist zone that attracts an estimated four million visitors from around the world every year.
Here are some special offers you are entitled to simply for choosing to live here:
Blue Mountains Explorer Bus. Operates 9.15am – 5.30pm every day. Details: explorerbus.com.au.
The fleet of red double-decker sightseeing buses operates 15 times a day between 29 stops around Leura and Katoomba. Passengers can stay on the bus for the entire one-hour circuit or hop on and hop off anywhere along the route, which takes in retail strips, tourist attractions, lookouts and bushwalking tracks leading to secret waterholes and hidden picnic spots.
Managing director Jason Cronshaw said: “We know that lots of residents have visitors from outside the area, and we want to reward locals for the fantastic job they do promoting this region to their visiting friends and family.’’
Locals deal: Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon residents ride free when accompanying a paying passenger.
The converted mechanics workshop, now award-winning funky eco café/restaurant, serves a menu of seasonal, regionally-sourced produce accompanied by regional wines and craft beers.
Owner James Howarth said: “Most locals want to avoid the weekend tourist crowds and we rely on our resident community during the week, so everyone wins with our locals deals.’’
Locals deal: 10 per cent discount off the final bill Monday to Thursday or two pizzas for the price of one; a free meal for the birthday person and free glass of bubbles on arrival for the table group when the party table is booked BYO (birthday cake allowed); free bottle of wine per couple with every main meal or large share meal (unconsumed open bottles may be taken away); or a free chef’s choice dessert per person with every main meal or large share meal. Conditions apply.
Miss Lilian’s Teahouse, Echo Point Rd and Panorama Drive, Echo Point. Open 11am – 7pm Sunday to Thursday, 11am – 8.30pm Friday and Saturday. Bookings: misslilian.com.au or 4780 1200.
Decorated with bamboo screens, colourful teapots, antique urns and myriad bird cages, the newest dining venue in the area offers an immersive culinary journey to the Orient blending the freshest local produce with generations-old recipes in a dine-in and takeaway. Guests can savour Asia’s favourite comfort foods infused with cinnamon, star anise, cloves, chives, chillies and lemongrass and elegantly served in a refined setting within the grounds of the magnificent Lilianfels Estate.
Escarpment Group guest services manager Meagan Iervasi said: “You can be an international tourist right here in your own backyard. And your culinary journey will be so much tastier when we roll out our new locals loyalty program soon.’’
Locals deal: a 10 per cent locals discount after the venue opening in August/September will be followed by a new loyalty program soon.
Bilpin Cider Co, 2369 Bells Line of Rd, Bilpin. Open 10am – 4pm Monday to Sunday. Details: 4567 0704 or bilpincider.com.
Nestled in the “land of the mountain apple’’, the Bilpin Cider cellar door is a great rural activity for the whole family. With alpacas and lambs, outdoor games and picnic spots, the property is ideal for leisurely moments. Grab a gourmet picnic hamper and a drink and pause from everyday life to take in the view of rolling hills and orchards before stocking up on the range of seasonal local fruit, vegetables and honey, and fresh ciders crushed and bottled on site.
Owner Sean Prendergast said: “There’s nothing better than a relaxed natter over a drink with family and friends. We want to make that pastime as affordable as possible for the locals who are so loyal to us.’’
Locals deal: 10 per cent discount on any items sold at the cellar door.
- All businesses mentioned are commercial clients of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Blue Mountains Explorer Bus Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
What’s big, red, the only one of its kind in the world in a national park and the only one that doesn’t live in a city? The hop-on/hop-off Blue Mountains Explorer Bus.
And Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon locals can use it to explore their own backyard for free for one weekend only – September 22 to 23.
The Locals Ride Free weekend will be a chance to check out secret swimming holes, waterfalls and lush rainforest as well as cafes and restaurants offering special locals-only deals along the route of 29 stops around Katoomba and Leura.
Owned by the Katoomba-based Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT), the buses run 15 times a day between 9.15am and 5.30pm, 365 days of the year.
FAT managing director Jason Cronshaw, whose father John started the Explorer Bus in 1986, said the free weekend would also help locals connect with community and familiarise them with facilities and attractions available to them and their visitors within their neighbourhood.
“The Blue Mountains has seen a mass migration of new residents, mainly from Sydney, and this is an opportunity for us to extend a hand of welcome and show our new neighbours around,’’ he said.
“It’s also a chance to experience what the four million tourists from around the world do each year and appreciate the fantastic blessing of living within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area
“I recommend bagging a seat on the top deck for a truly inspiring perspective, and make sure you jump off at Echo Point to see the Three Sisters rock formation to remind yourself of the extraordinary patch of earth we all call home.’’
Environmentally conscious locals can trundle the highway and byways with a clear conscience after Blue Mountains Explorer Bus became the first tourism operator in Australia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to a big fat zero last year.
It was the first tourism operator in the country to be certified under the Australian Government’s Carbon Neutral Program as 100 per cent carbon neutral. The company also signed the pledge to join the Climate Neutral Now initiative run by the United Nations.
Locals Ride Free will be held during the September 22 – 23 weekend. Simply show proof of residency (eg: driver’s licence, rates notice) when boarding. Register your interest on the Locals Ride Free event on the @bmexplorerbus Facebook page.
- Blue Mountains Explorer Bus is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Katoomba Christian Convention
A multi-million dollar upgrade of the Katoomba Christian Convention (KCC) site would solve parking and noise problems and provide a state-of-the-art venue for large conferences and sporting events for Christian and secular groups alike.
A development application before Blue Mountains Council outlines the plan to revamp outdated facilities at the bushland property next to Scenic World in Cliff Drive and Violet St.
Costing an estimated $25 million, phase one of the redevelopment would replace the existing 2100-seat auditorium with a 3500-seat structure, re-orientated to funnel noise away from neighbours.
There would be a new bookshop and modern toilet facilities and seven breakout spaces/meeting rooms.
Future plans include a new reception, administration and laundry building; replacing the 200-seat volunteer-built dining hall and kitchen with a 500-seat one; and a new café fronting Violet St.
Existing accommodation buildings would be replaced and include six eco lodges each with 56 beds and three 18-bed eco chalets, boosting accommodation capacity by 170 beds to a total of 390 beds.
There would also be new internal access roads and 75 car spaces, landscaping and revegetation.
The development application before the council only seeks approval for works at the Cliff Drive section of the site.
The KCC property also includes Clairvaux Oval in Cedar St, which is used for car parking and has three dormitory-style accommodation buildings, a playground and basketball court.
KCC executive director Jonathan Dykes said the upgrade was needed to bring the “tired’’ facilities up to standard and visitor expectation.
“Things have been adapted and updated as finances and resources have allowed, but we can only stretch that so far for so long.’’
Works conducted over the years to ensure standards compliance (including asbestos removal) had reduced the capacity of the site yet still did not deliver accessible accommodation for people with a disability, he said.
The redevelopment would actually lessen the site’s impact on surrounding residents – aside from its long-time alcohol ban which ensured more moderate patrons, Mr Dykes said.
A larger auditorium with breakout spaces and seminar rooms would contain such events to the property and lessen the number of traffic movements coming and going from the site.
The new facilities had been designed to be respectful of the location and its significant environmental values and the upgrade would be a more environmentally sensitive facility.
“We are pleased that a staff report to the council recommends approval of the DA subject to conditions,’’ he said.
As well as being the largest conference venue in the Blue Mountains, the property was a valuable resource for the region, used as a staging base for emergency services and community information meetings during the 2013 bushfires.
The proposed upgrades would expand the site’s potential as a venue for secular not-for-profit organisations like schools and events such as the annual Ultra Trail Australia running event and corporate groups seeking low-cost accommodation, although its main purpose would remain as a place of worship for Christian groups.
KCC also held seven worship events a year, the largest being its Easter Convention (3100 people attended last year) and the KYCK youth events.
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.
Growing from a small gathering of Christians in a children’s playroom in Katoomba, the first convention was held at Khandala, a house at the end of Katoomba St.
By the 1930s, 800 people attended the annual gatherings each Christmas.
In the 1940s KCC operated from a site in Forester Rd near Echo Point and in the 1950s the current site was acquired and several developments have taken place.
The site was zoned Special Uses 5ACU (Church) in 1985 and includes a baptismal pool carved out of rock.
* Katoomba Christian Convention is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group Photos: David Hill
A full lunar sphere rising above the original Blue Mountains party palace set the tone for the inaugural Hydro Majestic Hotel Moon Festival last weekend.
Several hundred people attended the event on Saturday despite inclement weather and those who visited on Sunday were rewarded with a clear sky and full moon.
The Moon Festival celebrated the season of re-awakening, traditional Asian culture, family and friends, new growth, harmony and the blessings of prosperity and abundance.
Guests wandered the harvest-themed stalls showcasing local and regional produce and feasted on Asian street food including noodles, dumplings and moon cake all under the cheerful glow of Chinese lanterns strung between the trees and the world-famous hotel buildings.
There was also a Buddhist prayer session and a colourful lion dance performance.
Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “The Moon Festival was a great success. People came because the most famous hotel in Australia has come back to life and because we put on an event for the whole family.
“Official figures recently confirmed that the Blue Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in Australia and the Echo Point Visitors Information Centre rated the highest performing in the state but people need a reason to visit and Mark Foy’s `Palace in the wilderness’ is doing just that for locals and visitors.’’
The Moon Festival was just one of the events planned at the Hydro Majestic, Great Western Hwy, Medlow Bath, including Oktoberfest from 12pm to 5pm this Saturday and Sunday, when visitors can nibble on fried chicken and sip German beer from commemorative steins.
Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media