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.

We woke up on Tuesday back in Sydney with the sun shining brightly and the temperature so much warmer that we contemplated not moving an inch. I had booked the Blue Mountains trip at the get-go so John and I could have a few days away together, just the two of us. When the whole thing happened with his back I considered canceling the trip to the Blue Mountains. But, you never know when we’ll get back here, so I kept the reservation and Mum and I were off late morning to the train station.

I know that I’ve said that the Australian’s are friendly people, well they really are. I hadn’t planned on taking the 10:10am train to Katoomba, but it happened that we managed to get to the Central Train Station just in time to make the earlier train. An elderly train station master (and I mean a man in his 80s), used his master key for us so we could get to the platform just in time for the train to depart. And once on the train, a lady showed me how to flip the seat back over so Mum and I could sit together and not be bothered by the older man sleeping behind us. So that was a good start! Such friendly people here!

After two pretty comfortable hours on the train we landed in Katoomba, the largest town in the Blue Mountains. Once a coal mining area, it has been dominated by resorts and inns that dot the landscape all around the Blue Mountains and welcome the overnight guests as well as the day-trippers from Sydney.

The only way that I can describe the area is to think of the Blue Mountains as the Grand Canyon with trees. Lots and lots of eucalyptus trees dotting the landscape in a dense canopy.

We arrived via taxi at Lilianfels, a really old resort right near Echo Point – the main lookout for the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters. Lilianfels is a lovely English-style hotel with all the amenities of home. The grounds are lush and with Spring springing here, the flowers are in bloom all over the property. The rooms are draped in toile – so not John’s favorite and a-okay with Mum, but very appropriate for the setting. Our room wasn’t ready on arrival, so we had a bit of lunch in the Lounge before taking a walk around the grounds and down to Echo Point which was a 5 minute walk from the hotel.

What can I say about Echo Point except it is totally amazing scenery. For once we got lucky with the weather and it was as clear as can be. The view is reminiscent of the view from the railing of Niagara Falls… the view goes on and on… just utterly spectacular [many pictures to come, I promise!]  We took a few snaps, but the wind really kicked up and we headed to the Visitor Information Center, which turned out to be the usual gift shop with info before heading back via another gift shop to the hotel. I know that everyone hates the typical gift shop variety no matter where you are visiting as much as I, but sometimes they have their purpose – I scored some of the best postcards of the region that I’ve seen… so it was worth the drop in.

Our room was ready when we returned and it is truly lovely with traditional furnishings and incredibly comfortable “Manchester” 😉 The Lilianfels staff is really lovely and they really take their job seriously. You know when you are not just in any hotel anywhere in the world – the staff is attentive and very friendly without being too much and obviously fake. By the evening, Patrick, the Concierge, knew me by name as we discussed dinner reservations in Leura.

So… dinner in Leura was very, very good…. So much better than Rick Stein’s I have to say – and at a much more reasonable price. We ate at Silk’s, which Patrick recommended. The restaurant was a small, French-style restaurant with about 20 tables, no more. For a Tuesday evening, it was well occupied. Mum had the red snapper and I tried my luck at the filet. Both were excellent and we enjoyed a great cup of coffee – I would say #2 on the ranking list of coffee so far….such, such good coffee and I can’t get enough!!!!

There is a whole jargon to the coffee here – and it is nothing like home. I can as most everyone, can walk into Starbuck’s and order anything with ease. In Australia, there is an entirely different protocol. Here’s how I’ve figured it out…

Flat White is an espresso coffee with steamed milk, but no foam. It is “flat” as the steamed milk goes right to the top of the rim of the cup.

Flat White Non-Fat is an espresso coffee with steamed non-fat milk, but no foam.

Flat White mug is the same as above, but a double / sometimes with a splash of cocoa on top.

Cappuccino is just like we have at home.

Mocha is just like we have at home / either a mug or as a single (in a cup).

Black coffee is a normal cup of coffee that you would have at home (this has taken me 10 days to figure out how to order, seriously as some coffee places don’t offer it and it isn’t an option — really). One day Mum confidently asked for a “regular cup of coffee” and incredulously the server just looked at her with a blank stare. Ian realized that they didn’t sell regular coffee and helped her by ending up with a Flat White.

Okay… so you may think that that isn’t that hard to figure out… well guess again. Some coffee shops vary the ordering process themselves as chains are non-existent here and every coffee shop has their own lingo that you have to sort out. Sydneysiders LOVE their coffee and take it incredibly seriously as I’ve said. They’ve pushed Starbucks pretty much out of here and that is a mean feat indeed!