One thing I’ve come to learn about traveling is that it is worth the extra money if you can take a tour with a local guide. We did this in Sorrento last summer and had an amazing time, and when booking the trip to the Blue Mountains, I imagined that it would be a perfect compliment to the trip instead of just seeing the typical tourist points of interest.

Through Lilianfels I hired the Tread Lightly Eco Tour group for the Rocks to Rain Forest Four Wheel Drive Eco Tour. Adam was our guide and picked us up at 9am. He is a really friendly guy, and yes, a guide needs to be friendly, but like all people that you are getting to know pretty quickly, you just kind of dive in and pretend that you’ve been friends a long time… that way you get the most out of the guide and you get a great and thorough experience as he feeds off of your questions and fills in the gaps.

One request for Adam is that we wanted to see the elusive kangaroo if at all possible. Adam scratched his head and thought about it for a bit. The kangaroo live in the valleys of protected areas and away from main roads, so seeing them is a bit of skill and luck. Adam couldn’t make any promises, but he said that he would take us to the Megalong Valley where they sometimes hang out. Kangaroos generally are more visible in the early morning when they come out for breakfast. During the hot days (not when we were here, of course), they escape to the bush and stay cool. Regardless, we were hopeful that we would see some.

And then we were off. We drove around the rim of the Blue Mountains and Adam stopped at a really picturesque look out point. No railings or guard rails, Adam stood right on the edge and even though experienced, I thought he was crazy. I was a few steps back from there (okay, maybe a few more). The wind was howling, so it was at times hard to keep your balance. We managed okay and got a tremendous view of one of the valleys and you could see some amazing rock formations in the distance. Back in the vehicle and we were off again.

We learned a tremendous amount about the eco system in the area including all of the beautiful flowering plants that are at their peak for spring time in the area. Also at full peak were massive and I mean massive Rhododendron plants – well really trees. Obviously these were not native to the area, but gorgeous nonetheless. In Michigan where we have all four seasons, I guess that we take the sudden burst of Spring color for granted as in NSW, you have to really look for the flowers as they only show themselves in small clumps here and there. For Adam it seems to be a major event if he comes across a botanical popping their head out after their version of Winter. Most impressive was the Waratah, the state flower of NSW… it is a crimson red dahlia-like flower that blooms this time of year. They are grown hydroponically and sold in florists, but if you pick one in the wild it is a $8K fine. They take their plants seriously here, indeed.

So on and on we went traveling all around parts of the Blue Mountains. There is a very small area of rain forest and the canopy is so dense that it goes from being light to dark very quickly. And then suddenly we were in the Megalong Valley with farms in the distance surrounded by the mountain range. And there, and admittedly very much in the distance, were a group of kangaroo sunning themselves in a farmer’s field. Adam had binoculars and we were able to see them quite well, but my little instamatic camera just captured little gray mounds and you can sort of make them out. Regardless, we finally had our kangaroo sighting! Check one more off the list!

So back to the hotel we made our way, but en route we stopped in a small town and Adam grabbed a couple of sandwiches to go. From there, we took a back trail that came to a head overlooking the valley below (which one, I have no idea), but the view was incredibly picturesque. Adam got a bit too close to the edge for my liking, so he back up, jumped out and proceeded to make a cup of tea for Mum and I. We’re not sure how he really did it, but with the cold it sure felt and tasted great. So we had our sandwich and tea by the edge of the cliff and watched as the hail and then the rain came straight towards us. The 4×4 was moving back and forth and I was a bit nervous as we were so close to the edge. Fortunately, it was a quick storm, but I was happy to be back on the road heading towards Lilianfels to warm up in front of a fire before our next outing.

Later in the afternoon we went back to Leura and had a mooch around the town. We were there only about an hour as the town is not that big, but has lots of lovely shops, cafes and other stores to mooch around in. I picked up a couple of cards and a few gifts and then we headed back for the evening.

In the end the highlight, of course, was the tour. We learned so much about the area – never possible to this extent without a tour. The area is just so incredibly beautiful and I can see why so many visit each and every year.


Saturday found us on the beach in the morning… what a fantastic beach! The weather was clear and the wind was much calmer than on Friday. Mum and I headed down to the beach and walked all along the inlet to the beachside town. It took us a good 45 minutes for the walk, but we stopped occasionally to take in the view of the waves crashing against the shore while dodging the jellyfish that they call “bottlenecks” here.  Squeak, squeak, squeak we made our way along as the wind blew in our face all the way. It was a good, good walk and we both needed the exercise after sitting in the car for most of Friday.

We made our way to the break wall and had a sit on the bench while watching the kids surfing in the water. Everyone surfs here… either standing up or on a boogey board… with all of the known sharks in the area, it is the last thing I would do. The locals, well they just take it in stride and go with the flow. Their favorite saying here is “fare dinkum” – which means “that’s fair”… or something like that…. Which also goes to their general thoughts on “that’s life”, “that’s how it goes”, “c’est la vie”… as the shark comes and takes a limb. Seriously….this will also be evident when we visit Pebbley Beach in the afternoon.

Ian and Jenny met up with us and we had a coffee at the local café before heading back to the house. From there we piled in and took a quick trip over to Bateman’s Bay for lunch. It was a quick trip compared to the drive down from Sydney, the weather was pretty decent (still a bit chilly) and we had lunch at a local café. Lunch was good… Mum and I split a quiche and each had pumpkin soup. I enjoyed another good cup of coffee (ranking #3 on my list of coffee so far) and just hung out and chatted.

Afterwards we had a mooch for all of 5 minutes (yes, the fishing town is that small) before piling back into the CX7 and headed to Pebbley Beach. Before we left Sydney, Ian read my guide book on Australia and came across Pebbley Beach which is supposed to have a “large community of kangaroos” that you can practically go up to and touch (although not advisable). So we were game… we would have our sighting!

We took a very back woods kind of drive to get to the beach and passed the largest termite mounds I’ve ever seen… okay, well, I’ve never seen a termite mound before. We stopped after seeing several by the roadside and Jenny got OUT OF THE CAR and walked RIGHT OVER TO ONE and kicked it!!!!! Crazy girl….but I got her picture! And then Ian prodded me out and I carefully walked over to it… oh geez… just take the picture so I can run and get back in the car! Classic vacation fodder for the rest of the holiday let me tell you.

So finally down at Kangaroo Beach and guess what…not a kangaroo in site..just lots of kangaroo poop. Another visitor told us that someone had drowned earlier in the day and the rescue/recover teams were in the water and above in the helicopter searching for the body. Consequently the kangaroos had left the area and were in the hills as they were scared away by the helicopter. Oh well… there goes my kangaroo sighting… but the whole thing came quickly into perspective for the drowning victim (of course).

Back in the car and back to Mollymook for the rest of the afternoon. We had dinner reservations at Rick Stein’s new restaurant at Bannister’s that Jenny had booked ages ago, so we wanted to get back and have a break before dinner. Rick Stein for all of those not in the know (and before this trip I also was one who didn’t have a clue) is a “celebrity chef” in the world of celebrity chefs in England and Australia (mostly from his BBC cooking show). He is not known in the USA as we all know the market is pretty well crowded with our own battalion of local celebrity chefs cooking in every major city.

Bannister’s is a seaside motel in Mollymook that underwent massive renovation a couple of years ago and it is considered the place to go if you are in from Sydney or points in and beyond. The rooms are very modern and the hotel is pretty cool – think 1950s/early 60s modern – something out of the movie Ocean’s Twelve that Brad Pitt’s character owns and is badly mismanaging. Well, this is lovely and modern with an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean crashing up on the shore. It is also incredibly expensive and we realized after our mooch around Bannister’s that we had made a very good choice on our alternate accommodation in the end – mostly value for price or even price, price, price. Bannister’s suffers from being the pretty girl at the party… after you talk with her after a few minutes, you realize that she is all flash and very little substance.  That also holds true to the hotel and the restaurant, I am afraid.

Don’t get me wrong, Rick Stein’s restaurant is very good – especially if you are a fish person. I am a fish person, and had a very good mussels appetizer which I will long remember, but the “sirloin” as they call it here was well, a disaster to be honest. I know that everyone comes for the fish and seafood, but there will be an odd person besides myself that may be interested in an alternative. And with all the pomp and circumstance that the restaurant has enjoyed with their grand opening in recent weeks (Costal Living magazine was on the premises shooting editorial pictures for the soon to be published article and yours truly is probably in one), the result was less than stellar.

I won’t go into too many details as I’ve been long-winded enough on this subject, but as much as the manager tried to make it right, it only made it worse. To his credit, he didn’t charge me for the entrée and also gave me a lovely cheese plate complimentary. And I don’t think that I was being a “difficult American”, just someone who is a big foodie, as many other patrons will be here, and they really need to get it right. Or consequently, the restaurant may become a big disappointment for some or many that may relegate Rick Stein at Bannister’s to an overpriced, so-so, holiday mini-break.