Hey everyone! I know it’s been AGES since my last post and I do apologize for that! I did this thing called grad school which actually does take up all your free time – who knew 🙂 But that’s done now, so you may get more frequent posts! I make no promises because life is still crazy!
I’ve done a lot of living, traveling, eating and creating since my last posts so now it’s time to play catch up with some select things I feel worth mentioning from the last two years. First up – one of my best travel days from 2016!
If I haven’t mentioned on here before how much I love my job – let’s just take a second for me to tell you that I love my job! Why? They let me travel occasionally which is how I ended up Down Under back in May! Most of my time was filled with work, but I did snag a few free days for myself. My favorite day in Australia was my solo day trip to the Blue Mountains. I’ve traveled a lot – but mostly with other people. I’ve done a few small solo trips and excursions and I always love them – this was no exception! I fully embraced being solo and had a FANTASTIC time.
My trip to Australia was a bit last-minute and I arrived in Australia without much of a plan (I didn’t even know what hotel I was staying at until the day I left!) but I knew I wanted to go to the Blue Mountains based on recommendations. Since I was there in May, all the Aussies I met told me it’d be very cold, so I checked the weather. Every single day was supposed to rain except for one – and luckily I was able to go that day. The Aussies told me it rains every day there but not usually all day so to take that forecast with a grain of salt. So I packed an umbrella, but it wasn’t needed. I did just fine with only a light fleece jacket and it was perfect weather for hiking (I was there May 25th).
There were all sorts of day trips to sign up for that would pick you up at your hotel and included various options (like stopping at a wildlife preserve on the way, lunch vs. no lunch, ferry ride vs. bus ride back, etc…). It was all a bit overwhelming and none of them seemed to leave much time to do what I really wanted to do most – hike around and wander freely. So I decided to forego tours altogether and forge my own way. If you also don’t see a tour that works for you here’s how I did it (and how I’d recommend to do it differently!)
Get an Opal Card (transportation card that works for the buses, trains and ferries) from just about any convenience store or kiosks near the station and load it up with at least $20 AUD. Then, take the Blue Mountains Line from Sydney Central station (or one a few other locations near Sydney) to Katoomba. This takes approximately two hours. Check sign-boards at the station for the track number and use your Opal Card for your fare. Train runs approximately every hour with early morning departure times. Leave as early as you can for maximum time there! I took the 7:30am train, which was delayed so we didn’t leave until closer to 8:30. I got the feeling that delays aren’t super common, but they did a great job announcing it and giving us updates (thank you Sydney Transport!). With your Opal Card you don’t have to buy tickets in advance, so just show up for the time you prefer (timetables can be found online). Sydney Transport has an excellent “Plan Your Trip” tool online. There’s also free wifi in Central Station I was able to use while waiting (though it’s only on the platforms themselves, not around the station or on the trains).
I had a pre-loaded Opal card from the company I was there with but even if I had to put money on it myself the 2-hour train ride to Katoomba was about $6 AUD and the way back was around $8 AUD. Cheaper than any other option you’re going to find! I took one of the earliest trains out of Sydney’s Central station around 7:30am and enjoyed looking out the window from the quiet car for the two hour ride. It does stop quite a few places along the way but it is pretty efficient- and I saw a kangaroo sitting in a field! I was too dumbstruck by that to get a picture, though!
Once you get to Katoomba (isn’t that fun to say???) make sure to tap-off with your Opal card (the machines are much smaller and there are no turnstiles to go through like at the stations in Sydney). Head out of the train station and you’re on Katoomba Street. My biggest challenge was finding a restroom because the one at the station was closed!
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
For ease and convenience I decided to buy a ticket for the Blue Mountains Explorer Hop On/Hop Off bus that takes you around town. Their office is right next to the train station and super easy to find. I got the option that included Scenic World Tickets (Lyrebird Pass) which was a bit pricy at $83 AUD. Not significantly cheaper than some of the day trips (which were around $150 no food or Scenic World tickets included), but I didn’t have to spend time doing stuff I didn’t want to do.
Once on the bus I got off at Stop 8 – Katoomba Falls. I looked at the stops online before going and had a general idea of what I wanted to see, but I hadn’t planned it out quite enough so I ended up just winging it. From there, I took the trail to a beautiful overlook and then followed the signs to the Furber Steps, past Witch’s Leap and saw the gorgeous Katoomba Falls from a few angles. I strategically took the Furber Steps DOWN – they’re pretty darn steep so you should be in good shape if you try to take them UP. I’m in decent shape, but definitely not an experienced hiker. I hiked 10+ miles that day and didn’t once feel like I was in over my head on the trails. I also didn’t have a trail map so I was just using signs and hoping I’d end up somewhere near a stop (which worked out pretty well for me but maybe wasn’t the greatest idea). Once down near the bottom, I took the Scenic Railway back up. When they say it’s the steepest incline railway, they’re not kidding! You go practically vertical and do have to hang on so you don’t fall out of your seat! However – lack of research made me miss the Scenic CableWay as I didn’t go far enough down. By the time I realized, I was back up at Scenic World and decided not to trek back down!
I got some gifts at the Gift Shop at Scenic World and ate lunch in their cafe (the prices weren’t too bad for a tourist trap). For an even more budget-friendly option – pack a picnic as there are plenty of places to sit and eat (just make sure to take all your trash with you!) Then I took the Scenic SkyWay across and hiked over to Echo Point and the Three Sisters. All this took several hours and was a LOT of walking, but to me figuring out what was around every turn was an adventure. I picked the bus back up at Echo Point, but got back off again at stop 16 – Kiah Lookout and walked from there to Leura Cascades (stop 17). No one was getting off but I highly recommend it because it was so peaceful and gorgeous! Kiah Lookout itself wasn’t too different than what I’d been seeing all day, but the bushwalk from there to Leura Cascades was nice. I saw another waterfall (Bridal Veil Falls) and avoided back-tracking. Finding the next stop was a bit difficult since I hiked to it and hadn’t been dropped off there. There weren’t too many people around but I did find a nice couple (also from Indiana – small world!) who knew where it was!
I REALLY wanted to keep going at that point but I’d hiked over 10 miles and up 51 flights of stairs (according to my iPhone) and that didn’t even count any of the steps I went DOWN (which was more than I went up!). I got to the point that every time I stopped my legs were shaking and I knew it wasn’t too smart to keep going! I took the bus back to the train station but had a few hours to kill before the train came. I looked around the antique shops (they’ve got quite a few!) and grabbed a light dinner before catching the train back.
WHAT TO DO
Scenic World – the rides are lifesavers on time and your legs getting up/down the mountain! You also get great views and a bit of a thrill – I love heights but they may freak some people out! Less “rollercoaster ride” and more of a cool vessel that transports you from one place to another. Worth the money but don’t accidentally skip one of the included rides like I did. No lines when I was there but during peak season it’s probably worth to buy tickets in advance to skip the line! Tickets aren’t exactly cheap so you could still have a great day without these – just allow more time to get around and be prepared to hike back up if you hike down!
Waterfall trail – While hiking down towards the Scenic Railway on the Furber steps you’ll come across a small sign that says something like “behind the falls trail”. I almost missed it but I was making a point to look for signs and read them all. It’s a down-and-back trail but HIGHLY worth it because it takes you right up to the waterfall (a fence stops you from going directly into it). This was such a quiet and serene little spot! There were wild cockatoos and birds and I even made a friend (he wanted my granola bar but I did not give it to him!) I only met one other person on this trail, but it was mostly flat and if you love waterfalls as much as I do, it was worth it! This was the most wildlife I saw the whole day!
Think about what you really want to do – If you’re short on time like I was, look at your options and start narrowing it down. It’s insane to try to do all of it (even if you really do utilize that hop on/off bus and don’t do as much hiking.) I saw a couple trying to do all of it and they just seemed worn out and stressed by the end of the day. Yes – it’s all gorgeous and you want to see it all while you’re there but save your sanity! I prioritized doing the Scenic World rides (I knew they’d be great views and I really like heights even though I was worried it’d be more of a tourist trap), the Three Sisters, and as many waterfalls as I could fit in.
THINGS TO SKIP
Explorer Bus – unless you have multiple days (the pass is good for 7 days) or if you really just want to hop off, see a sight and hop back on with minimal hiking. Then it’s a much better value. Since I only had one day and I ended up hiking between most of the stop off points anyway it wasn’t a great value for me. I also realized there was a regular city bus I could have used with my Opal Card. The regular bus didn’t go to all the stops the Explorer Bus did but with some planning I still could’ve seen everything I did with that bus and some walking and just bought my Scenic World tickets. It was highly convenient and the drivers were very helpful with recommendations – but I don’t think I rode it enough to get my money’s worth! I don’t regret doing it, but if you’re on a tight budget there are cheaper ways to do this!
Expensive Transport from Sydney – Looking back – I’m so glad I didn’t pay for a more expensive tour that picked me up and dropped me off in Sydney. Taking the train was SUPER easy – even for someone who doesn’t know much about trains. AND I was able to pick my own time table and plan my own itinerary. But if you really want everything figured out for you and like the itineraries the tours are offering – by all means go for it!
This things to skip list is short because I pretty much loved every second of this day trip!
Overall – I really think you should give this place at least 2 days if you can. But don’t discount it if you only have one day because you can still have a great day! I really wanted to go to Wentworth Falls but it was a half-day recommend hike which wouldn’t leave enough time to do much else, if I’d had two days I would’ve been able to do it! I didn’t see it all, but I left completely satisfied with all that I was able to accomplish, and it still ranks up there as one of my best travel days (and that’s from all 16 countries I’ve been to!)