I probably had overly high expectations of what this day would deliver considering the distance to be travelled and the amount to be fitted in so, while a couple of things disappointed, mostly my daughter and I were satisfied and definitely happy we had done it.
Full marks to Mark (yes, pun intended) as he was friendly, efficient and had a wealth of knowledge about the area - Aboriginal and European history, geology, natural history etc. Trying to keep people to a pretty tight timetable and make sure everyone had the right tickets for the options they chose is not easy but Mark seemed to do it without fuss or pressure. Having said that, there was a lot of information to absorb and I did get a bit confused once or twice - but I suspect this was partly because one group on the bus was talking a lot among themselves while Mark was trying to give us information! Annoying.
The stop at Featherdale wildlife sanctuary seems obligatory for all these tours - understandable as so many of the clients are from overseas. For us Aussies who have seen many such places it had less appeal (we just wanted to get to the mountains!) but it was pleasant enough and the koala-cuddlers were very happy! But I wonder if Activity Tours might consider running at least one tour a week which omits this visit and allows more time in the mountains?
For my taste the first stop at Echo Point lookout was so overrun with tourists (us included of course) that the majesty and wildness of the scene was completely lost. By the time I'd discovered the little track that would take us away from the biggest crowds and get us up close and personal with the 3 sisters there was no time left to do it. Thank goodness Mark did take us to two other beautiful lookouts which had a wilder feel, fantastic views and no other visitors. The last one was superb (and I'm not naming it here so that it has a chance of staying that way!)
I believe these tours used to allow people to buy lunch at Leura but this time we visited the newly opened food court at Scenic World (prior to the cable car & railway rides) Not a good idea for us as the choice was between a sit-down meal at a sterile looking restaurant, or a cafe which only sold cakes! All we wanted was a sandwich to take with us on our walk, not to waste precious time eating among the crowds in very commercialised surroundings. I think if this option becomes a permanent arrangement it should be suggested that people wanting to eat "on the go" should bring their own sandwiches or snacks. We would have been happy to do this. We still got a brief stop in Leura and checked out the amazing lolly shop - a little treasure!
The tour around the Olympic site at Homebush was very interesting, as were Mark's comments and knowledge of the different buildings and how they are being used now. And the leisurely cruise down the river (for those in a hurry there was a fast cat option) was a great end to the day.
Summing up - obviously the best way to see the Blue Mountains is to spend a few days there and explore under your own steam. But if you just have one day to get a taste of the mountains this is a pretty good tour and less expensive than many others that seem to offer the same content.
Thanks Mark, you did a good job and your obvious love of the area added to our own appreciation - would love to go on one of those outback tours you talked about!
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