As part of my solo trip to Australia, I had arranged to take a day tour to the Blue Mountains of Sydney with Zepher Tours. Having already tried a tour to Hunter Valley, I was keen to experience another party of Australia that seemed unmissable.
There were several pick-ups of visitors joining the tour along the planned route before we hit the road for the drive out to the Blue Mountains. My group on the day included 14 visitors which kept it friendly and more personal however this may vary at other times of the year.
Our driver introduced himself as James, a Sydney local who explained how the day would be structured to fit in all of the planned activities. Unlike other Zepher Tours, the Blue Mountains tour adheres to fixed timings to accommodate the immovable timing of the sunset cruise that’s included at the end of the tour.
James remained talkative throughout the journey explaining elements of the city from a local perspective. He also explained the history of iconic sights around the city like Sydney Harbour and Bridge as well as landmarks like Sydney stadium from the year 2000 Olympics and welcomed the chance to answer questions from the group. James’s interaction with the group helped to generate a buzz and keep us all enthusiastic about the day ahead.
The first stop of the day is to Glenbrook, a small town where we were able to have a coffee break or breakfast time permitting.
As the journey then continued, James explained that he would be showing a DVD that introduced us to the Blue Mountains and the natural habitat that exists.
The video lasted for around 20 minutes and proved to be informative as we learnt that the first route across mountains was discovered in 1813 however older aboriginal sites are now largely underwater as sea water levels have risen.
The Blue Mountains area consists of 1.03 million hectares of sandstone plateaux. The area is world heritage listed site which helps support the eucalyptus growth that also occurs in the area.
At around 850ft above sea level, we arrived at Echo Falls where there’s a chance to see valley from Kedumba View and Echo Point of the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters represent a rock formation over 900m high.
As a natural formation, the Three Sisters have been sculpted by centuries of natural erosion as they are formed by soft sandstone pillars. They represent the most spectacular and recognised landmark of the Blue Mountains.
The group then takes a short walk to a visitor centre for a 20 minute Aboriginal presentation of the Gundugurra and Darug people.
This was a fun and engaging presentation where we learnt that there are more than 300 aboriginal languages so spoken in Australia. Incredible. There’s also cultural dancing and music, including use of the didgeridoo. The presentation is a sufficient introduction to the Aboriginal people before the tour proceeds to Scenic World.
Here, guests have a chance to experience the cableway that passes over a 25-metre high tower on the edge of the cliff, then 510 metres to the Valley Station. There was a long queue however James took us to another pick up point for the cable cars with no queue at all.
The cable car ride offers a spectacular view across Jamison Valley and again of the Three Sisters, Orphan Rock and Katoomba Falls.
Following the cableway ride, there’s a walk through the wooded 2.4km elevated rainforest boardwalk leads to the scenic railway.
James talked to the group along the way to explain the history of the valley; the land is populated with vines and layers of sandstone rock. There are also some examples of the Katoomba coal mine and artefacts representing the coal mining period.
At Katoomba Scenic Railway we had a short wait to join the steepest cable-driven funicular railway in the world that covers a distance of 310 metres at a 52 degree incline. It’s a great experience that our group really enjoyed but try to do a better job than me of keeping your eyes open! Whilst it may be a steep ride, the railway moves at a smooth and steady pace therefore it’s suitable for children and more mature visitors.
After a jam packed morning, James then drove us to the upmarket town of Leura in the Blue Mountains where there is a selection of cafés and restaurants for lunch. There’s around an hour of free time at this stop as lunch isn’t included with this tour.
The journey then continues on a one hour drive to Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney. The tour includes a one hour stop here to explore the park.
I’d already enjoyed a fulfilling experience meeting Australian animals on previous tours in the country, however this reserve has some great sections where the animals are allowed to roam around. This includes a dedicated koala and kangaroo sanctuary enabling visitors to interact more closely with animals in a safe environment.
There are also opportunities to see crocodiles, Tazmanian devils, echidnas and other indigenous wildlife that I hadn’t witnessed previously.
It’s a safe environment for the animals and visitors. I also like that the entry ticket for Featherdale Wildlife Park doubles up as a ‘passport’, encouraging visitors to see all the animals to collect stamps that are dotted around the park.
Throughout the tour James kept us focused on the itinerary and scheduled timings, particularly towards the end of the day when we had to travel from Featherdale Wildlife Park to the marina for a cruise back into the city. Here, there’s an option to get off the cruise at Darling Harbour or Circular Quay at your convenience.
James ensured that we arrived at the marina with plenty of time to catch our cruise that takes roughly 60 minutes to get back into the city. It’s a great chance to catch the sunset over Sydney or views of the city as night falls.
Throughout the day we benefited from the inside knowledge of James as our Zepher Tours driver. Running the tour as a small group makes the experience feel like you are with a group of friends heading out for a fun day, rather than on a robot style tour. It’s also an ideal way to cover a range of sights in a limited time period with an experienced driver, particularly to see areas that visitors may struggle to find.
Zepher Tours focus on provided a relaxed day out in relatively small groups. There’s no impersonal coach groups and it allows a good chance to mingle with other visitors in a less intimidating way that I particularly appreciated as a solo traveller.
Have you visited the Blue Mountains, Sydney? Share you experience in the comments below.
Many thanks to Zepher Tours for providing me with the chance to experience the Blue Mountains of Sydney. Click to join this tour.