Can you have your cake – and wine – and eat and drink them too? Indeed you can with the new Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT) high tea and winery shuttle in the Blue Mountains and Megalong Valley.
The charter and tour bus company rerouted its itinerary to close to home locations after the COVID-19 pandemic forced interstate tours off the road.
From Saturday, September 5, passengers will be transported from Katoomba into the verdant Megalong Valley and the picturesque vineyards and cellar doors of Dryridge Estate and Megalong Creek Estate.
Alight at one and walk to the other before boarding the FAT bus back to Katoomba.
Passengers can also hop off the bus at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath for high tea and a history tour before continuing on the Megalong Valley on a later bus.
One of Australia’s best kept secrets, the Megalong Valley features tranquil rural landscapes and native forests ringed by towering sandstone escarpments.
Next to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area at the centre of Sydney’s water catchment, the Megalong Valley teems with wildlife.
Operated by Simon and Emma McMahon since 2015, boutique vineyard Dryridge Estate was founded by Bob and Barbara Tyrrell in 2000 and produces distinctive crisp mineral-flavoured wines from the pink granite soil.
Indulge in a leisurely cheese platter and wine tasting before strolling to the nearby kerosene shale mine ruins and Megalong Creek Estate and single vineyard wines.
Established in 2002 by the Draguns family, all grapes are grown onsite and handpicked and transported to Mudgee for wine making by highly regarded third generation winemaker Jacob Stein.
As well as viognier, pinot grigio, pinot and shiraz, Megalong Creek Estate also produces a sparkling they have named Prozzante, a lightly sparked Prosecco-style wine, and a late harvest unique dessert-style wine.
Both wineries are located along the famous Six Foot Track, an important Indigenous pathway linking southern parts of the Hunter Valley with the Blue Mountains and western tablelands for the past 20,000 years.
Blue Mountains Explorer Bus managing director Jason Cronshaw said: “The Megalong Valley has been linked to the Blue Mountains for millennia yet is largely unknown today.
“Our new shuttle service is a fantastic opportunity to reintroduce the area to a new generation of visitors.’’
The Megalong Valley high tea and winery shuttle “means you can have a tipple and we’ll navigate the road for you’’.
“We also have large storage bays under the bus, so don’t be shy about stocking up on your favourite drop.’’
Fantastic Aussie Tours coaches leave Katoomba at 10.15am, 12.15pm, 2.15pm and 4.15pm and Megalong Creek Estate and Dryridge Estate at 11.10am, 1.10pm, 3.10pm and 5.10pm each Saturday and Sunday.
Buses stop at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in time for a history tour and high tea or continue to the Megalong Valley on a later service. Alternatively, stay aboard and continue straight to the wineries.
Book the shuttle and receive complimentary pick-up and drop-off to any hotel in Katoomba or Leura on the famous red double-decker Blue Mountains Explorer Bus circuit.
Tickets: $59pp return shuttle.
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
Charity donors will have firsthand insight into how their donations are used, thanks to a new partnership between Christian Fellowship Tours (CFT) and World Vision Australia.
During some trips, donors would have the opportunity to meet World Vision program recipients and learn about their circumstances and needs.
Christian Fellowship Tours (CFT) guided trips to remote World Vision First Nations projects in Australia will give charity donors firsthand insight into how their donations are spent, with half the profits of each tour going to World Vision to fund its community development work, along with 50 per cent of profits from all CFT international tours.
The first tour will be a 26-day trip to Oberammergau for the Passion play, which is staged once every decade, and foodie trail throughout Europe in July 2020.
Also in July will be a trip from Broome to Darwin with a visit to remote World Vision projects in the Kimberley.
CFT managing director Jason Cronshaw said the initiative will help reduce the perceived distance between charity work locations and donors and personalise the cause to givers.
During some trips, donors will have the opportunity to meet World Vision program participants and staff, learn about their circumstances and see firsthand how their donations are making a difference.
Each tour will have a Christian tour leader, daily devotions and Sunday worship, along with sightseeing and activities, with accommodation, most meals, airfare and transfers included.
Such tours align with the CFT philosophy of travelling with purpose and offer travellers a more meaningful holiday with like-minded people, Mr Cronshaw said.
He had the idea for a World Vision partnership 10 years ago, and it began to take shape when he heard Platinum Foundation’s Joshua Nicholls speak about his high profile One Van One Child sponsorship project.
That prompted Mr Cronshaw to instigate the One Bus One Child program under the World Vision umbrella, through which CFT and sister companies Fantastic Aussie Tours and Blue Mountains Explorer Bus sponsor 14 children in Zambia.
While the company has long given 10 per cent of profits to charity, charitable works became part of the company’s official business strategy when Mr Cronshaw began to study a Masters in Business Administration (Social Impact) at the University of NSW.
The course has helped him identify initiatives and expand the company’s social impact potential, which is a large part of his Christian faith.
“We were doing stuff out of the generosity of our heart more than weaving it into the business model,’’ he said.
The first step is the World Vision partnership, which will help both organisations expand and diversify their charitable capacity.
Mr Cronshaw said he was pleased to see that philanthropy is becoming a larger part of Australian business culture, particularly among young entrepreneurs who are now likely to make ethics and cause-based decisions.
“Any business out there can do something. You don’t have to be an established business. If every business did a little bit it would help society enormously.’’
World Vision Australia Strategic Alliances acting manager (private funding division) David Towill said the CFT partnership makes sense, given the shared philosophies and goals of the organisations to care for all people regardless of race, gender and creed.
Teaming up with CFT is also a creative way of encouraging charitable support in a growing pool of worthy causes and visits will encourage staff working in remote areas in challenging circumstances, he said.
While World Vision was the first such partnership for CFT, Mr Cronshaw hoped it would lead to many more relationships with like-minded businesses, of which he had several on his wish list.
“It’s certainly not an exclusive deal. I believe in this model, and if we can get it right with World Vision we’ll be able to get it right with everybody else.’’
- The 26-day Oberammergau & a Taste of Europe tour will depart July 7, 2020. Highlights of the international World Vision partnered tour will include the Oberammergau Passion Play as well as food and sightseeing activities in Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France.
- The 16-day Visionary Top End tour from Broome to Darwin will depart July 22, 2020. During the trip to the Kimberley, passengers will meet the inspiring people of the region, visit with World Vision staff and learn more about programs the tour helps to support. They will also be awed by the spectacular Outback landscapes and thrilled by unique experiences along the way.
Bookings and information: christianfellowshiptours.com or 1300 635 358.
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 Christian Fellowship Tours
Towering waterfalls, rugged Outback landscapes, ancient Aboriginal art and abundant wildlife. Discover the remarkable Kimberley Coast on the Christian Fellowship Tours (CFT) cruise of the West Australia area in August.
Tour passengers will see the most recognisable natural and manmade attractions of the Kimberley Coast during 10 escorted, unforgettable days cruising between Darwin and Broome.
In the north, discover the majestic King George River with its towering 80m twin falls and the mysterious Bradshaw paintings of Bigge Island.
Explore the Mitchell plateau and cruise the Kimberley’s “big’’ rivers before experiencing beautiful King Cascades, remarkable Montgomery Reef and the amazing natural phenomenon of the Horizontal Falls in the south.
With two landings most days by the unique “Explore’’ excursion vessel or inflatable zodiacs, passengers will have more opportunities to fully immerse in the spectacular setting.
Each evening, passengers will retire to comfortable accommodation with private facilities after dining together.
The tour will include a Christian tour leader throughout the entire trip, daily devotions and Sunday worship, a 10-day cruise, accommodation, most meals, airfare and transfers.
CFT managing director Jason Cronshaw, who will lead the tour, said: “Exploring the remarkable Kimberley Coast by small ship helps you grasp the majesty of the landscape and the awesomeness of our Creator’s handiwork by being amongst it.
“It’s such a privilege to be walk across the salt flats to view the wreckage of a US Air Force DC3 which crash landed on the beach during World War II and visit secluded spots not many other people get to see.’’
More than a leisure cruise, the Kimberley Coastal Cruise will be an opportunity to learn about the history, culture and landscapes of each location visited through on-board commentary, presentations and briefings.
Past travellers have come from varied backgrounds and churches, yet enjoyed the shared experience of travelling with likeminded people.
One said they appreciated the care and support they received on tour, while another enjoyed the bond they formed with fellow travellers.
“The drivers and tour leaders are always helpful especially for those who have physical or other issues or who travel alone.’’
Others also commented that travelling with CFT was an excellent way for single people, especially women, to explore the world in a safe group where they could make new friends.
Travellers on the Kimberley Coastal Cruise tour will have the opportunity to worship together on board the ship on Sunday and take part in the daily devotions for which CFT has become renowned.
The Kimberley Coastal Cruise tour departs from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane on August 1 and returns August 14.
Bookings and information: www.christianfellowshiptours.com or 1300 635 358.
- Christian Fellowship Tours is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Fantastic Aussie Tours
Rail riders can experience a great fat look at the Blue Mountains when the Indian Pacific pulls into Mt Victoria each week.
The optional off-train excursion for passengers travelling from Perth is the result of a new partnership between Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT), Great Southern Rail which owns the iconic Indian Pacific touring train, Scenic World, Blue Mountains Guides and the Trippas White Group which owns The Lookout Restaurant at Echo Point.
FAT managing director Jason Cronshaw said the Blue Mountains excursion would be an option each Wednesday, with passengers alighting the train at Mt Victoria after breakfast.
A FAT bus would then transport them to Scenic World to experience the range of thrilling rides or a trek through awe-inspiring landscapes along Prince Henry Walk with Blue Mountains Guides.
All passengers would then assemble for lunch at The Lookout Restaurant near the Three Sisters rock formation overlooking the Jamison Valley before being returned to the Indian Pacific in a FAT bus and continuing their rail journey to Sydney.
“For many years, Indian Pacific passengers caught glimpses of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area as they hurtled through the bush and the villages,’’ Mr Cronshaw said.
“Now, whatever activity they choose to do here they will experience what we are blessed with every day.’’
The package had taken five years to finalise, with the main challenge reserving a rail pathway in the increasingly busy Blue Mountains rail line timetable.
“This is a fantastic coup for the businesses directly involved in this package including us of course, but it has the potential to bring hundreds of visitors to the region who will hopefully return to stay at least one night in a hotel or B&B, eat out in our cafes and restaurants and visit the attractions and retail outlets throughout the area,’’ Mr Cronshaw said.
Each train had a potential load of 252 passengers.
Indian Pacific manager Penelope Milne said the daytrip option would be expanded to an overnight stay by 2019.
In the meantime, the excursions would encourage longer return visits among passengers.
In fact, one passenger on the inaugural trip on April 4 spent the night in the Blue Mountains before returning home via the public rail network.
- Fantastic Aussie Tours is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media