Saturday, July 02, 2011

Day Three: Blue Mountains

Yesterday was an amazing day. We were gone from the hotel for over twelve hours on our grand tour of the Blue Mountains, a beautiful region about two hours outside of Sydney. We had booked a “small groups” (turned out to be 14—nice) tour in advance, and it was awesome. I only wish there had been another kid along for Jarrah.

We started at 8:00 at the hotel when Gary picked us up. He reminded me of some actor, but I can't think who. Gary pretty much talked without a break for the whole time, and we learned about everything from flood plains to poisonous snakes. I used to give two-hour tours at Smith and had to lie down afterwards, so I don't know how he does it. We picked up the rest of the gang at Star City Casino (we only saw the garage) and hit the highway. They were a quiet lot—no one really spoke all day, which I found especially awkward at meals. 'Course it was hard to get a word in edgewise. But I kid because I love—Gary was really charming and knowledgeable.

After a long drive during which all three of us napped (a happy thing) we alighted in the little town of Leura, and began with “morning tea” (loving that) at Loaves and Dishes (loving that even more.) My flat white and toast were divine but D and J had lemon-lime tartelets to die for. Leura was like every town ever described as “quaint”--you could buy fudge and knick-knacks and stroll the main street while you did so. But it was very cute.

Back on the bus, we headed to Echo Point, our first glimpse of The Three Sisters, a trio of pointy mountains surrounded by canyons and virgin forests and bathed in a very pretty fog. There is a lot of aboriginal lore about the sisters, but I don't remember all of it—something about a witch doctor trying to bring his daughters back to life after he had to turn them to rock to save them from inadvisable marriages. The one bummer about the bus is that we often stopped places for just a few minutes, and I usually wanted more. But we did see an awful lot in one day. Observant Jarrah spotted a tiny yellow tram across the canyon, and it turned out we were going there, to a place called—with delightful vagueness—Scenic World.

Now, Readers, you may think I didn't read the fine print about this excursion, but in point of fact I was probably too dazzled by all the “you will gaze in wonder at nature's splendor while delighting in the calls of exotic birds” kind of language to really know what I was signing up for. Shortly after arriving at Scenic World, we were ushered into a line for something called a “railway.” The part about it being “the world's steepest” I may have seen, but perhaps did not fully understand. The reality began to penetrate when I entered the car and a cage—not a bar, readers, but a fine-mesh CAGE was lowered over my head and locked. Suddenly, the music from Indiana Jones started up and we were off. Straight down at a grade of 52 degrees. And within seconds, in pitch blackness. I have no idea if Jarrah, who was seated next to me, was screaming, and you know why? Because I was screaming so loud I couldn't hear anything else.

And then it was over and we were plunged into tropical rainforest, a wooden path through sassafras and lilli pilli trees, pulsing with birds and dripping with dew. It smelled so good; I wanted to walk forever. But all too soon we were boarding a glass tram which whisked us back up the mountain, not quite as dramatically, but you couldn't beat the view.

Next, the bus drove us a ways to a dirt road into the bush, where we emerged in a perfectly silent canopy of “eucalypt,” as Gary kept calling it. In front of us, the Jemby-Rinjah Eco Lodge rose out of the bush, and we were welcomed inside for a lunch prepared for us alone. It was a scrumptious lunch, including prime rib, roasted sweet potatoes and apple-rhubarb crumble with Devonshire cream, though weirdly silent, since no one on our tour seemed inclined to speak. I was happy for the distraction when someone yelled, “Look, rosella!” and a shockingly blue and red bird appeared on the porch. I had seen rosellas before, but this was a different type, and David, Jarrah and I ended up following his calls along the resort's wooden paths until we could hear calls coming from everywhere, rosellas and other birds, too. I was trying to bask in the peace of the trees and the melange of bird calls, but Jarrah kept yelling for me, so it wasn't exactly pristine. But I have a thing about birds so I enjoyed it very much.

After lunch we drove a short way on a dirt road to Evans Lookout for an incredible view of some sort of grand canyon of the Blue Mountains, and then right back on the road for a long time. More napping. We were traveling something called “The Bells Line of Road” but I think all three of us missed that part. Finally, we were at Featherdale Wildlife Park, which was kind of like the most amazing petting zoo ever. Not only were little kangaroos and wallabies hopping everywhere (they preferred the ice cream cones that held their food more than the food itself) but Jarrah even got to pet a kookaburra and a crazy-cute fluffy grey owl. We saw albino quokkas and a Tasmanian Devil and even little dingo babies wrestling each other like they were from central casting. Sadly, it got dark quickly and we had to speed out of there.

On the way to our Paramatta river cruise that was taking us back to the city, we took a little detour through Sydney Olympic Park. Silly me, I didn't get that this meant the actual Olympics—I thought they meant “Olympic” in the sense of “grand” or “royal.” But we saw all the Olympic venues and that was pretty cool, and pulled up with only minutes to spare for the boat.

Sadly, we couldn't see much in the dark, and Jarrah was pretty mad that the snack bar never opened. Around about this time we all got a little dopey with tiredness, and probably shouldn't have taken a long-ish stroll along Kings Wharf when we got off the boat, reading cafe menus and getting slapped with house music. I felt a little guilty that it was barely 8 p.m and I couldn't hold up my own head. But what's a jet-lagged girl to do?


Stephanie said...

What a day, my fave so far.

LunaMoonbeam said...

In HK, there's a tram that takes you up to The Peak, and they call it the Steepest Tramway Line in the World, or some such thing. It doesn't sound as dramatic as yours, though!

Mary said...

That tram is amazing! I would have screamed, too.

I can't get over the beauty of the land and animals there.

Your photos show it so well!