Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Scenic World in the Blue Mountains, a great day trip from Sydney

I’m just back from an excellent trip to Sydney over the Christmas period, a great part of the world to visit during the European Winter. Now Sydney’s a great place, more of which to come in future blogs, but we had 12 days there. And it would have been a real shame to spend all that time in one city, no matter how good that city is! New South Wales has lots to offer, so we made a point of making some time to escape the city and discover a little more of what NSW has to offer! Time for some Sydney Day Trips!

First resource for our research was YouGoDo’s great maps of things to do, showing all of the attractions and activities in an area on a global interactive map. We are lucky enough to live near the beaches, and a fairly active family, and the seas around Sydney are chock bang full of great white sharks (or at least this was the na├»ve understanding of my young daughters!) so when we started looking for our ‘out of Sydney’ experiences, we looked for some inland fun. Clicking on the activities in the inland NSW locations, Katoomba looked to have some great experiences. A quick chat, and a spot of facebook messaging, to several friends who live in the Sydney area confirmed the Blue Mountains to be an excellent destination. Job done let’s get a car and go there then!

The Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley (the subject of another future blog!) were chosen as our ‘Out of Sydney’ destinations.

The key reason for visiting Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains was to visit Scenic World. Four great thrilling attractions in one place, and a host of stunning scenery, nature and wildlife thrown into the equation. It looked great! Picking up a hire car in the centre of Sydney was no problem, and we were soon heading out east into the Blue Mountains. The trip out to the Blue Mountains was a nice drive on, by UK and European standards, pretty empty roads (even though this was one of the busiest days in the peak holiday period) and after a few hours we arrived in Katoomba and headed to Scenic World.

It was well signposted, and easy to park, and we were soon in to get our tickets. We have travelled a long way here (to the other side of the world!), so it had to be the ‘full monty’ – the Discovery Pass which gives you unlimited access to all of the attractions. The staff were great and pointed out a suggested route.

So of we headed and made a start with the Scenic Skyway, the Skyway cable car was just making its way back across the valley so we had a few minutes to wait. We got soon chatting to the girl who was taking tickets as we waited for the ride. Then it was all aboard the Skyway, where we met Andy the ‘driver’ for our ride, and we soon knew Andy like a long lost travel friend.

The Skyway itself was initially a disappointment, as the glass floor was all fogged up. I put this down to it being early morning dew. A Homer Simpson 'Doh moment' followed shortly after!! Andy encouraged us up onto the glass floor, and then turned on the electro-glass panels once we were at an appropriately dramatic point in the journey! At which time the floor went crystal clear, immediately opening up the scary views down to the forest and the valley some 270m below our feet. The electro-glass is a great feature, especially mounted, as it is, inside Australia’s highest cable car. An amazing ride, the Scenic Skyway takes visitors some 720m across the valley, with great views of the Katoomba Falls, the dramatic Three Sisters rock formations and the Jamison Valley.

On arrival at the East Station we left the Skyway and did a little hiking through the bush over the top of the waterfalls to one of the lookout points. On route we heard and saw the screeching cockatoos in the valley below, lizards and a wealth of great local flora. Then back to the station to take the Skyway back to base. This time we were with Patrick, who was soon another great mate!

Time for a quick coffee and a snack at HQ before going to take the train. Now this is no ordinary train. There is no other railway like this in the world! Scenic Railway, with its amazing 52 degrees incline/decline is the world’s steepest railway. It was decline in our case. We were soon ready to board, and it was out old mate Patrick helping us into the ‘carriages’. What a ride, you have sight of the first 75m or so of the tracks, at which point it looks to disappear off the edge of the world. And it felt like it looked!

Having been puzzled by the Australian road signs on route warning us of ‘crests’ (what’s all that about – surely Aussies can spot a crest – its where the road looks like it’s going into the sky, but probably doesn’t) I had finally found a few great spots for some useful ‘Crest’ signs. The 310m route takes two real steep drops over two great crests! Great ride, and the screams and nervous giggles, seem to prove this is probably more roller coaster than your average train journey!

From here we departed onto the Scenic Walkway, in the rain forest at the bottom of the valley.
At this point you have several routes to choose from, depending on your fitness levels, and the whining levels of any kids or lazy women in the party! We had come a long way, I reminded the family, so we opted for the longest route which was not too physically demanding. A great walk past gentle streams, huge towering creosote trees with amazing girths, scampering bush turkeys and lizards.

Then it was on to the Scenic Cableway, where we bumped in Andy, our driver and old travel mate from the first ride on the Scenic Skyway. Andy managed to entertain and chat to pretty much everyone on the cable car, which I would estimate to be about 60 people, in around 20 languages! A tough task for Andy given the fact he is talking to everyone on board Australia’s largest cable car! Great fun, and great views to take in during the 545m journey, over the Orphan Rock, the Three Sisters and the Jamison Valley.

From here we stepped out to the main visitor centre and the girls hit the shop! A few souvenirs later, we were sadly due to leave Scenic World, and our new mates! The people of Scenic World really do help to make your visit special. Each and every one that we met made you feel special, and showed great enthusiasm to their activity, your day and your background - your trip, why you were there, where you came from, etc. At a busy attraction like Scenic World
this is very praiseworthy indeed. When was the last time you left a large attraction and remembered the names of all the key staff you met? It really is a great set of attractions, in a stunning setting with a great group of staff!

The above covers our day at Scenic World, you can choose any combinations of the attractions on offers, and do these is the order you choose, at your own pace!

From Scenic World we then headed over to the Echo Point Visitor Centre, which also offers great views out over the valley, and had a quick look around the town of Katoomba before heading back to Sydney for the evening. Maybe next time we will stay a few nights in the area, and discover some more the great things to do in the Blue Mountains.

Get yourself out of Sydney and go visit the Blue Mountains, and say ‘hi’ to Andy, Patrick and the Three Sisters!

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