Part 4 of the Great Sydney Caper
We specifically planned our Sydney trip in January to coincide with Micah’s birthday. It was a pretty big number, the one that is typically associated with hills in the U.S. I had been looking for a unique way to celebrate, something that would be an experience, and something we could only do in Australia. I was perusing the Trip Advisor recommendations and found Blue Mountains Eco Tour. They offer a few different tour packages at a reasonable price, including one that gives you the opportunity to see kangaroos in the wild. Wild kangaroos with some hiking? We knew immediately this was the experience we were looking for!
We booked the tour over email and Paul, the owner, and Jenny, his partner, were incredibly easy to correspond with. Booking the tour couldn’t have been smoother. On the day of the tour, Paul picked us up at our hotel in the morning. We drove about an hour out of Sydney to get to the first overlook point. On the drive, Paul told us a lot about the history of the area. We knew the basic history of Australia and of Sydney, but hearing more about how Europeans settled the specific area we were driving through was really interesting.
We spent about 10 minutes at the first overlook point, to get oriented to where we would be spending the rest of our day. It was an amazing view and a great way to appreciate the grandeur of the landscape. At several points during the day, looking at the valley really made you aware of how small you are in the world. How big a place the world really is can be easily masked in cities sometimes. Being confronted with something like these views does wonders for realigning your soul.
The first “real” stop and hike was to see Katoomba Falls. We parked at Scenic World, which is a very touristy place that offers train and gondola rides and things like that. But they also had some very nicely maintained trails. It was an easy hike down to the falls through a beautiful rainforest. (The hike back up was only marginally more difficult because it was going up, otherwise it wasn’t bad either.) The scenery was amazing, and even more amazing was that there was no one around. We didn’t see people until we got to the Falls, and even then there were only a few others. This was in contrast to the parking lot at Scenic World which was pretty packed with other tourists. I guess the train and gondola are a big draw.
Next up was lunch in Leura. Leura is a very quaint town, I believe built as a railroad depot. There were a lot of great restaurants to choose from, we picked a place with great sandwiches based on Paul’s recommendation. After lunch, we went to Pulpit Rock. Pulpit Rock is situated at one end of the valley so we had an incredible view of nearly the entire valley. The overlook point is down a little bit from the ground level where you walk in, it’s easily accessed on a small boardwalk and stairs. It was really windy! The difference of maybe 50-100 feet was astonishing. At the ground level, our hats were in no danger of blowing away. At the overlook point, we had to take them off or risk losing them.
After Pulpit Rock, it was time to find some kangaroos. We drove into the valley to a secret spot that Paul knows about, called Shipley Plateau. (Actually, I have no idea how secret it really is. It just happened that there was no one else there when we were there, so it felt like a secret.) To reach the specific area we had to pass through some privately owned farmland, though the Plateau itself is on public parkland. I think that’s probably why more people weren’t there to check it out, unless you know the drill it is easy to think you aren’t supposed to be there. On the way in, we were on the lookout for kangaroos and wallabies who were just starting to stir. Apparently they are nocturnal; I didn’t know this but it makes sense given how hot it is in Australia during the day. Our first view of kangaroos was magical. This is not hyperbole. It felt like that scene in Jurassic Park where Laura Dern’s character sees the live dinosaurs for the first time and she is astounded. We saw about 3 of them hopping through a field; it was such a quick glimpse of them, but even so it was wonderful. I felt like I had seen something amazing. We saw some wallabies and a few kangaroos on our way in, but we didn’t stop because Paul said he knew a good place where we would probably see a lot of them. He wasn’t wrong! In the middle of a small valley, we saw probably 30 kangaroos lounging on the grass. Some of them were getting up and moving around, some of them were staying put. It was so peaceful to be there, with no one else around, and see so many kangaroos going about their day and basically ignoring us.
We elected to enjoy our afternoon tea break while we pondered the kangaroos. Paul had a thermos of hot water to make tea and coffee, plus fruit and biscuits (known to us Americans as cookies) for a snack. I had also arranged for a birthday surprise for Micah. Jenny, Paul’s partner, handles the communication for the business. When I was emailing her to get our tour set up, I asked about the possibility of getting a small cake for Micah. She got in touch with Louise at Cake Love by Louise, who makes custom cakes, about making something for us in Micah’s favorite flavor (Red Velvet) which isn’t very popular outside of the American South. Louise came through and Cake Love was able to make it for us, and I had a choice of a standard birthday cake or cupcakes with fun Aussie decorations. Since the theme of the day was “doing something uniquely Australian,” of course I went with the cupcakes! They were adorable, and more importantly very delicious. Micah was surprised by the cupcakes, and I was thrilled to have pulled off the surprise. A very big thanks to Jenny and Louise at Cake Love for their extra work to make it happen!
Our last stop was at Echo Point for sunset. We arrived just in time and found a great spot. It was easy to access, it didn’t involve much/any hiking, and had a parking lot near by. I was really surprised that there weren’t more people there, since it was so easy to get to. There were some, probably the most we had seen all day, but we didn’t have to elbow our way to a good view or wait for an opening in the crowd to get nice pictures with no one else in them. It was a great way to end the day.
On the drive back to Sydney, Paul talked to us about cricket. Seeing a cricket match was on our agenda for the next day, and we didn’t have much of an idea about the rules. So it was really helpful to get an intro from him before diving in to the game the next day!
If you find yourself in Sydney and you’re interested in some (relatively light) hiking in the Blue Mountains, I cannot recommend Blue Mountain Eco Tours enough. It was a great, private tour for a really reasonable price. That alone would be reason enough to recommend it. However, Paul and Jenny went above and beyond to work with us on the birthday surprise and were all around wonderful people to deal with from a business perspective. Paul was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had. He had an incredible knowledge of the history of the area and his knowledge of plants and animals was beyond what I could have hoped for. Like, he knew a truly impressive amount of diverse things. On top of all that, he has an interest in photography so he very frequently pointed out great vantage points for pictures and even shared with us some tricks and tips for taking better pictures (in terms of camera settings). I think this was above and beyond his strict job description as a tour operator, and it made our experience with him that much better.
Great tour, great experience, great birthday for Micah.
Coming soon: The final installment in the Great Sydney Caper – “When in Sydney…” The Opera House, racing on an America’s Cup class boat, and our first cricket match.