I’ve recently had the awesome opportunity to join a Tourism New South Wales agent’s familiarisation trip. The itinerary read something along the lines of; Bush walking in the iconic Blue Mountains, a caving adventure at the spectacular Jenolan Caves, wine and dine in the Hunter Valley and shopping up a storm in Sydney (well I just added in the last bit). Pick me! Pick Me! Which they did (yay), and there I was on a plane to one of the most famous cities in the world. Reminiscing about my last visit to Sydney I realise its nearly been 10 years since I was last there, on a 3 day flying visit with some friends, on my way to London doing my big OE. So I figure this trip is long overdue – not that I need an excuse!
Arriving, Blue Mountains Welcome
After collecting our bags we head straight into Central Station on the Airport Link (wishing I had a backpack instead of wheeled suitcase), then directly onto our train to Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains. After a delicious lunch of chunky sandwiches and hot pumpkin soup (the eating fest begins...), we are lead on an introductory bush walk through the Blue Mountains. Our fantastic guide Tim, founder of Tread Lightly Eco Tours, shares his passion of the
bush with us. Tim is extremely knowledgeable and professional. We learn about the local history, aspects of the local Indigenous culture, flora and fauna and the importance of preserving the natural environment and the effect on rare and endangered species. Also highlighted is the danger of heading off into the bush alone – I would recommend getting a guided tour, you learn so much more and you’re in safe hands with people that have grown up in the area.
We spend the afternoon at Scenic World, located on the edge of a 200 metre cliff overlooking the Three Sisters. Scenic World comprises three exciting rides: The Scenic Railway, the worlds steepest incline railway; The Scenic Skyway, a cable car ride over the spectacular Jamison Valley, 200 metres above the valley floor and The Cableway, Australia’s steepest cable car ride. There’s also a valley system of elevated timber boardwalks which give access to the stunningly beautiful Jurassic Rainforest for which the Blue Mountains are so famed. You could easily spend the whole day here!
Exhausted we all sleep well.
I’m a little sceptical about these caves, as I’ve seen a few caves before, but these absolutely blow me away!! Fantastically presented, great walkways and excellent lighting. We see Lucas Cave – The Lucas Cave is the best general cave, offering the visitor both the highest and widest chambers at Jenolan as well as a glimpse of the underground river. Jenolan, without question, is Australia’s most impressive limestone cave system. Open to the public are nice show caves with spectacular lighting, underground rivers and cave formations that amaze visitors.
After lunch, we brave ones change into overalls and abseil down a cliff face, the beginning of The Plughole Adventure Caving tour. We squeeze, crawl and wiggle our way down the cave system, learning about the early explorers and how they found the caves. A few hours, and a lot of laughs, later we emerge a hundred or so metres down, and pop out in the Imperial Cave. I’m SO glad I did this! Very rewarding.
If you have time I’d recommend staying here, plenty of accommodation options within the grounds, and doing a few of the other cave tours. Time your stay with a music performance – the acoustics are meant to be amazing!
We take the long scenic route from the Blue Mountains to Hunter Valley, a new route the tourist board is promoting – The Greater Blue Mountains Drive.
One of our first stops is Tower Estate Winery for a tasting and sight inspection of Tower Lodge. Our small group sits around a beautiful set up table, in a lovely little room with the fire roaring and sample an array of wines. Oh this is good! We’re introduced to the areas specialty reds and whites. I take a likening to the Semillon, which is either aged or new vintage. And this is just a taste of what’s too come.
We’re treated to a night at Peppers Guest House and the most amazing dinner at their restaurant Chez Pok. Stay here, eat here. Highly recommended.
More food, more wine. More wine, more food......
I could stay and stay and stay. All the hosts and business owners/representatives have been amazing. There’re so passionate about what they’re doing and the products the offer. The way they speak about the food and wine, you can smell it and taste it as they talk. I’m full! Full to the brim of divine food, gorgeous wine and great company, with a lot of laughs.
You could throw away your watch, open a nice bottle of red and sink into Hunter Valley time.
As my group has been making our way around the Blue Mountains and stuffing ourselves in the Hunter Valley, there have been four other groups of agents exploring New South Wales (Experience the Outback, North Coast, South Coast and Byron Bay & Beyond). We all meet up in Sydney for a workshop and to catch up on everything that’s been happening over the last few days. It’s great to hear all about what the other regions have on offer, sounds like everyone had a fantastic time.
My sister has flown over from Perth, so we stay up chatting, gossiping and planning out the following days shopping itinerary. We stay right bang central in Darling Harbour, so it’s just a short walk over to George Street so I can SHOP! I’ve a big list of needs and wants for this shopping expedition, however we’re too busy talking and stopping for Sushi Train, and before too long it’s time to head back to the hotel to pack. Funny how it all fits nicely in the suitcase at the start of the trip, and then somehow the suitcase looks 9 months pregnant when you pack to come home. Wishing we had another few nights in Sydney – so much still to explore.
A big thanks to Tourism New South Wales for arranging this fantastic trip. I can highly recommend these destinations, and the itinerary we had was great (plus a few extra nights in Sydney would be prefect).
I’m already planning ahead for 2011, when Travel VUDA will offer a Sydney Cruise & Shop Women Only Escorted Tour. Full details out early August – so watch this space!! Register your interest here.