Saturday, 9 April 2016

#60 - Four Wheel Drive and Off Road Tours (Blue Mountains Eco Tours)

If you've driven around Sydney city centre recently, you'll realise that there's not a whole load of off-road driving within the city limits.  At least not without risking arrest and endangering the lives of innocent pedestrians.  Thankfully, you don't have to go very far though to get to some places where there are no shortage of opportunities to get off the beaten track if you have the right vehicle.  We did our off road tour in the Blue Mountains, with a company called Blue Mountains Eco Tours.

The Three Sisters
The tour started with pick up at 7.30am.  In general, the pick up is from your hotel, but as we were living in Sydney, we were picked up from our flat.  The vehicle was a luxurious Range Rover, with comfortable leather seats, and cooling aircon.  I think it can seat up to 7 people, including the driver, but on our tour, there was just us and one other couple.  It was certainly very spacious and comfortable for 5 adults.

The Land Rover in its natural habitat
It takes around an hour and half to get to the Blue Mountains, during which time you might want to catch an extra few minutes sleep.  Once we arrived, we quite quickly went off road, along some small dirt tracks.  We stopped at a spectacular viewpoint for some morning tea.  We had an amazing view over the Jamison Valley, and literally could not see another person.  Once you see the crowds at Scenic World, you will really appreciate the benefit of this.

A laughing kookaburra, I think
Given the small group nature of the tour, there was some flexibility in terms of itinerary.  We did stop near Scenic World, and were offered the option to take part in the activities there, but we had done these previously, and the other couple had no interest in these.  Instead, we went on foot to a nice waterfall in the area.  This is still quite close to Scenic World, so it wasn't quite as isolated as the earlier stop, but still felt quite peaceful.  You do also get to see the famous three sisters from here, so you don't miss out on the headline act.  Note that there is some steep walking involved to get to the waterfall.

Us, standing in front of a waterfall
We stopped for lunch in Leura, which is a lovely little town with loads of cafes and shops.  We've eaten in quite a few of them and not had a bad experience, but I think my favourite was the pie shop just off the main street.  In any case, the guide can give you good recommendations on places to eat.  Lunch was not included in the price, and we all ate separately, although obviously you could choose to eat as a group if you preferred.  We're just a bit antisocial...

This is just 10 minutes away from the Three Sisters, but gets a fraction of the visitors

After lunch, we went off to some of the less visited areas of the Blue Mountains.  None of these were too far from the extremely busy hub of Katoomba, but the drop off in volume of visitors is significant.  You couldn't see the famous three sisters from these spots, but many of the views are every bit as good as the much busier viewpoints around the main tourist area.  We even had a stop that was so off the beaten track, it never even had a name.  We had to make our way through some trees and bushes, until it opened up into a small clifftop clearing.  Again, not a soul around.

One of the secret spots with no name
Eventually, we headed back to the city, and were dropped off back at our flat.  It was a long and tiring day, but we had been to the Blue Mountains a couple of times before, and this tour really did let us see parts that we would never have seen on our own.  The guide was friendly and knowledgeable, and the car was very comfortable for spending a long day with a lot of driving.

More stunning scenery, slightly different angle
One thing to note was that in a small tour such as this, your experience may be influenced by the other passengers on your trip.  We found our fellow passengers to be good company, but if you end up with a couple of irritating people, it could really impact your day.  You can pay extra to make it completely private, but the tour is already quite expensive, so we would probably still take the risk of sharing if we were to do it again.

A small but pretty waterfall
Do you have any secret hidden viewpoints in the Blue Mountains?  If you're willing to share them, let us know in the comments below

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