July 9th:

Today was the trip to the Jenolan Caves and the Blue Mountains. This was run by Asian Pacific Tours, like the Full Day Sydney tour of two days ago. Once again, a bus came to pick me up at my hotel - it was a tour bus like the others I'd seen, but it had two levels, and it was late. We all got ferried back to Star City and had to change coaches. I went to Bay 5, and was the second party to board the bus (this other group of 5 or maybe 7 popped around the front of the bus as soon as the door opened, and stuck themselves in the face of the driver/guide, totally ignoring the line of people who were waiting politely for the driver/guide to be ready). I got a seat in the second row - the first row remained empty. We finished up with 25 people on the tour.

Our driver/guide was Charles, and he was very knowledgable. This particular tour was mostly driving, so he had lots of time to fill and he did a good job of it. We headed out across the western suburbs, where most of the population of Sydney lives. We passed the Olympic Park before getting on the M4. Next, we drove out to the Blue Mountains, getting a history lesson of the first explorers and how difficult it was to cross those mountains. At least part of his spiel involved showing us the spur that the first successful explorers used, but a heavy fog appeared just at the wrong time. Fortunately, that fog lifted by the time we actually got into the mountains.

We rode up into the mountains and through a little village called Leura that has some nice "Federation" style houses (from about the turn of the last century, when Australia became independent and people started spending more money on housing, among other things). Our first stop was at Echo Point, which was just about 10 minutes from our second stop, but it had some views the second stop didn't. One thing Echo Point was, was cold - the wind was blowing something fierce! The views were worth it, though, including those of some of the rides over at Scenicworld, our second stop.

Once again, we had some passengers who chose to ignore our boarding time at Echo Point. This particular tour also had a major time constraint - the road into the Jenolan Caves is one way (in) until 1:15 pm, and the last 8 km of that road is very narrow, often only one lane wide. If the traffic starts coming out while our bus is going in, major delays would happen. We needed to leave Echo Point on time so that we could have all the time we needed at Scenicworld, due to the time the various rides take. Charles waited for a little extra time, but we ended up leaving three or four people behind, which was only what they deserved. (He went back for them after dropping us at Scenicworld, so they didn't have to walk back to Sydney or anything.) Needless to say, those couple of people weren't late again. It's rather too bad that they had to screw up in the first place - there wasn't all THAT much going on at Echo Point that you needed more than the 15 minutes we were given there.

Scenicworld is a rainforest exhibit supplemented by three "rides" - a Skyway, which goes from the main building across a gap to somewhere near Echo Point and back; the Scenic Railway, the most vertical railway in Australia, if not the world; and the flyway, a cable-car that goes down into the valley and back up, like the Scenic Railway. From the looks of things, there used to be some kind of rollercoaster that went around (the white triangular track is still there), but only three rides are available at this time.

I went on the scenic railway first (it was the recommended way down), and ended up in the front-most seat. That thing is really steep! I got one picture, blurry, as we descended, but mostly I was hanging on for dear life. It wasn't really scary - the descent was very controlled - but still somewhat unnerving. I then walked along the boardwalk, which was located about halfway down the valley, reading the signs that pointed out tree types or rock formations. There used to be a working coal mine down there, too. There were a lot more boardwalks than those who were on the tour had time to walk, but it might have been nice to make the attempt. It was definitely less windy in the rainforest. I reached the skyway and got on pretty quickly - there was no line. The ride was very smooth and nice - but the car ended up being very packed so I couldn't get a wide range of shots.

While waiting the few moments for Charles to get back to the bus, I ran across Rob, the driver from the Sydney Tour, who was driving the Blue Mountain (minus the caves) tour. We exchanged a few words - he recognized me (probably not by name) - and that was nice. The entire group was on time, and we set out for the caves, which was another hour and something away. We left the Blue Mountains and crossed to the next range, the Great Dividing Range, and encountered rain. This slowed us down (for safety's sake), but the cool thing was that back toward the Blue Mountains it was still sunny, so there was this cool rainbow over there. At one point, it looked like it was leaping out of the top of this particular conical hill - I only wish I could have taken a picture. I also saw a rainbow in Waikiki and I tried to take a picture of it, but that didn't turn out. I wonder how many more I'll see?

Because of the rain, we ended up missing the road opening deadline, but fortunately people weren't pouring out in droves. There were a few cars to pass, and one minibus that really wasn't interested in backing up - fortunately, we were a lot larger than it! We ended up with only about 35 minutes for lunch, which was further reduced by the time it took for the cafe to serve up it's "ready-made" food (as opposed to the bistro which had hot food, but which also seemed to have it ready-made and I think it's line was moving faster than ours). I finally got my food and had to sit outside, but I ended up being hailed by the editor of Lochac's newsletter, whom I had met at KWDS5. There was an open chair at her table, and I eagerly sat down (else I would have had to eat in the rain). We chatted, and I ate and shivered, and when it was time for our 2pm tour, I wandered off.

The cave tour, of Lucas cave, was great. Lots of stairs to climb and except for the first set they were pretty easy to do. Our guide, Ian, was also knowledgable, and had some good stories about that particular cave (there are several at Jenolan). The tour lasted about 90 minutes, and I think I got some good shots (and missed a few others).

The trip home was just a straight drive of about 2 and a half hours. Charles had taken our hotels as we boarded at Jenolan, and the Mercure was the second hotel after Star City. I was dropped off at about 6:50, and I started down into Central Station, but the book store was closing (I had decided to buy one of the Dr Who hardbacks, and then maybe get some sushi) so I ditched those plans and went to plan B - room service.

At the room, I ordered dinner (most of which I ate) and waited for Doctor Who. The episode was Father's Day, and it was very well done, but rather low key. I enjoyed it. Next week's episode looks more energetic - and it introduces Captain Jack - and I should bet able to see it up in Cairns, as long as whatever tour I have next Saturday gets me back to the hotel in time.

Oh, I also got my suitcase-shipping bill: $150!!! And that's supposed to be at nearly the cheapest rate available!!!!! I guess I had better not use that option next time.

My airport transfer time has been changed to 7:45 am, but I'll still be downstairs at about 7:30. I'd better finish packing and head off to bed. Next stop, Alice Springs.

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