Early start again, as off to The Blue Mountains just north west of Sydney. It's a couple of hours drive, but most definitely worth it, it's absolutely glorious up there!
First stop was in a Wildlife park, on the edge of one of the Sydney suburbs, about an hour out from central Sydney. It's not the greatest, as most of the cages are far too small, but if you've never been up close & personal with Australia's wildlife (and I haven't) it was actually rather enjoyable. They have kangaroos and wallabies and fair few of the birds all wandering around reasonably free in the park, so you can be very close with the animals. The kangaroos and wallabies are cute, though I had trouble telling them apart. The koala's are so lovely, but very shy and retiring and mostly asleep, though they did pull a few out and put them on public poles where you could queue to have a stroke and get your picture taken. I was actually queueing up when a rather large bird pooped on me from a great height, so I lost my chance at a photo and spent the next 15 minutes washing my jumper & t shirt in the toilets and being charged an exorbitant price for a very cheesy t shirt from the gift shop!! And it's a lousy t shirt!!
Saw a bunch of Kookaburra's, and ended up with the Kookaburra ronda going round in my head for the rest of the day (go on, sing it I dare you & see if it doesn't get stuck in your head for ages!), some weird looking birds called frogmouths - bit like an owl with bad facial hair! Lots of other typical australian wildlife, including a very inquisitive emu that could reach over it's fence - I decided not to get too near to that one, it had an avaricious look about it! The wombat was cute, though not what I expected - though I'm not really sure what I expected, just not that! Same with the tasmanian devil, I had a vague idea of what it looked like, I think I just expected it to be hairier - maybe I'm influenced by the cartoon version!
Next stop was another hour away at Jamieson Point (I think) in the Blue Mountains proper. They are called the Blue Mountains due to the hue they take on in sunlight, which is the eucalyptus trees reflecting back and making the foliage look blue. It is breathtaking, stunning up there. The mountains are huge sandstone covered in thick bush and eucalyptus and it smells lovely. Although it's tropical, it doesn't seem lush, as it seems slightly desert like to me, maybe that's just because the ground is all light brown and sandy due to the sandstone base.
From there is was a short hop to Echo Point for our first view of The 3 Sisters and Katoomba Falls. Legend has it The 3 Sisters were sisters in an aborginal tribe, who were coveted by a male from a neighbouring tribe (and not in a good way) which led to war between the 2 tribes. In order to protect the sisters from the war, the shaman cast a spell and turned them to stone, planning to turn them back after the war. Unfortunately the shaman died in the war and so the sisters remain. The site is important to local aboriginal culture and so is protected. We could also just see Katoomba Falls, but as it hadn't rained for a while, they were running rather low.
Another short hop to Scenic World at Katoomba. Okay, this sounds really corny and disneyesque, but actually it wasn't. The views over the 3 sisters are better there, as are the views of the Katoomba Falls. Had lunch in the revolving restaurant, which was awesome, ate far too much for the first time in ages! Then took the Funicular down to the exploration tracks in the valley (ok, not neccessarily the best option after a huge lunch!) The funicular is the steepest in the world and was built originally to lift coal mined in the valley up the cliff face to be transported back to Sydney. The exploration tracks wander around the tropical forest in the valley, touching on the old mining works and showing off the tropical forest. Unfortunately I didn't really have time to do all of it, as many of the tracks are very steep - getting down is fine, but walking back up was very hard!! Got a cablecar back up to the top, which was great, as I was at the very front of the carriage, so I got great views of the Katoomba Falls, the 3 Sisters and a stack called Orphan Point, which is now too fragile to allow visitors on it.
On our way back towards Sydney now, and stopped in Leura, a lovely little tourist trap of a town for a bit of souvenir shopping, though I think most of us hit Woolies for drinks - which turned out to be a wise move as the air con broke down in the bus shortly after, so the next leg of our trip, which was an hour and a half, was done in a bus with air but no con. Temperature in the bus, 29 - 30 degrees!!
Last stop on the trip was at the Parramatta river, near the Olympic stadiums, where about half of us had tickets for a cruise back down the Parramatta river to Sydney harbour. After the sweltering bus, this was bliss. Sat up on the open air top deck and gently cruised down river on a catamaran, watching the sunset over western Sydney. Took a few photos, but mostly just admired the riverside houses and watched Sydney light up as the sun went down. Came in under the Harbour Bridge and passed the Opera House all lit up!