Beauty in the Blue Mountains

All good things must come to an end and our last big adventure in Australia was to the Blue Mountains. Emily and I were picked up on a mini bus and joined 18 other people on a journey from Sydney to the mountains. We knew the day had a lot of great stuff in store but we ended up getting much more than we planned for.

Lincoln’s Rock

Our first stop on the tour was at Lincoln’s Rock. This gave us our first look at why they are called the Blue Mountains. Our guide, Robert, explained that the eucalyptus trees in the valley release oil into the air which mixes with dust and causes a blue haze over the valley. It reminded me a bit of the Smokey Mountains.

The location is named for a large, flat rock clifftop. It was very open and had no guard rail. Many people in our lives would not have been thrilled to be there. It was a little disconcerting to be so high up without a barrier. I had promised not to do anything silly like walking to the edge of any cliffs while I was in Australia. I wasn’t even tempted to go to the edge here. However, when our guide told us we could do a little optical illusion, I took him up on it.

It was fun to see the results. Here’s what was really going on, though.

There was a pretty good sized ledge behind me. Once, I gave it a try, several other people wanted their own photos too. So Emily and I wandered and enjoyed the views. We also took some photos from a safer vantage point.

Scenic World

Once everyone got their photos, we headed to Katoomba and Scenic World. We started by crossing the valley on the Scenic Skyway. It is “Suspended 270 meters above ancient ravines, the Skyway provides a unique thrill as breathtaking views are revealed beneath your feet through the electro-glass cabin floor”. It was pretty amazing and we saw some waterfalls in addition to the three sisters. Here’s the view out of our window.

The skyway took us across the valley to the welcome center and gift shop. Thankfully, we were on a tight schedule so we didn’t have time for people to shop around. Instead, we loaded into the cableway and headed down into Jamison Valley.

The cableway leads to the bottom of the valley where we had a historical and natural tour through Jurassic forest. We learned about some of the vegetation as well as the coal mining that used to take place here. It was really interesting to see the old coal buckets they used to transport it out in:

We also saw a female lyrebird. Robert told us to be on the look out and sure enough, he found one digging around the leaves looking for food.

The nature trail ends at the old railroad that was used to take the coal up the mountain. It is the steepest passenger train in the world.

We rode the train up the mountain backwards to the Indiana Jones theme song. It was quite exciting. We had to hold on tight. Notice the handlebars on the roof. We hadn’t started moving yet. I put my foot up on the black bar in front of us to keep me in place.

When we made it back to the top of the mountain, we headed off for our cultural experience.


We drove over to Echo point and the Waradah Aboriginal Center. Emily and I didn’t want to miss the show so we didn’t hurry out to Echo Point to take more photos of the Three Sisters. Although, as I write this, I realized I haven’t actually posted a photo of the three sisters yet. Here you are:

Apparently, there used to be 7 of these structures, but several fell down during an earthquake. Instead of going out to see them again, Emily and I got a hot chocolate and sat on the terrace enjoying the view. Because we didn’t go anywhere, we were first in line to the cultural show. Before they would allow you in, you had to be painted to acknowledge Mother Earth and her gifts. Emily chose the hand paint. I went for the face paint.

The ceremony was lovely. We got to see dances from several different cultures, learn about the different paint markings, and learn the sounds of the didgeridoo. The cultural show was a big part of why we chose this tour and we were not disappointed.

After the show, we headed out to the Echo Point lookout to get another view of the 3 sisters before we began heading back down the mountain. If you look hard, you can see the bridge on the left that lets you walk out the the first stone.

Surprise Encounter

After Echo Point, we headed to a country club for lunch. We spotted the other mini bus from our tour company and were told we would be joining them for lunch. Thinking nothing of it, we walked right in. And then freaked out. Sitting at the table with the other tour group was none other than Neil DeGrasse Tyson! So of course Emily and I had a major (quiet) freakout. We finally asked our guide to ask his guide if we could take a photo with him after lunch. I spent most of lunch trying to get myself under control so I could talk to him like a normal person. I succeeded!

We had a lovely conversation with him about our PhD program and our research. It was seriously surreal. Interestingly enough, no one else on our bus knew who he was. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with their group so we basically spent the afternoon with him.


Once we finished our lunch, we piled back into the bus to head to Featherdale Wildlife Park. As this was not the first wildlife park we’ve been to, I’ll give you the highlights. We got to feed kangaroos:

I met my new favorite animal, the quokka:

I finally met an echidna:

A dingo:

A wombat:

And a tree kangaroo:

However, I was very disappointed we didn’t get to see the Tasmanian Devil. Apparently, he had just been out before we found his enclosure.

Too soon, it was time to go head for our ferry ride back to Sydney. On the way, we drove through the Olympic Park.

It was interesting to hear how they had planned the park so that it would be useable after the Olympic Games. However, a quick drive through tour was plenty for me. So we set off for the ferry and said goodbye to Robert and his mini bus. It was a sunset cruise but it was a bit too cloudy to see any good color. However, we did get a nice view of the Harbor Bridge on our way back into town.

Farewell Sydney

Finally, it was Friday and Emily was headed back to the US. We were both disappointed that we hadn’t found a platypus on our adventures so we headed to one last wildlife park in Sydney. We hit even bigger highlights here! I got to see an echidna eating:

And then I got to pet her!

It was awesome. She was sort of like a hedgehog only bigger. Go watch the video again. Her back feet are on backwards. This is a silly animal.

And we also finally found our platypus!

So it was a successful final day in Sydney. Emily headed off to Hawaii and I headed back to Newcastle for my last week where the only interesting thing to happen was that I tried Vegemite. I followed the instructions I got from the famous researcher in June. It was ok. Have you tried it? What did you think?

So now we are safely home but not for long. On Saturday I head to Ireland. It’s a busy year!

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