Sydney Day Trip: Blue Mountains (with yet more cool wildlife, and bonus rainbows!)

During my relaxing last few days in Sydney, I knew that one day trip I wanted to take was to head up to the Blue Mountains.  I didn't know much, but had heard they were simply beautiful, so I started hunting up good companies for the day trip.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good consensus, didn't feel like doing it myself, and ended up just buying a trip from the visitor's center in Darling Harbor. It ended up being my least favorite crowd to day-trip with, but it still was a really great day overall!

Bright & early I met my guide & mini-van at a nearby hotel, and then dozed a bit as we picked up the rest of our passengers and headed out of town.  Something strange about Sydney:  there doesn't seem to be a freeway that gets you out of town!  You have to head down a busy neighborhood street for at least a half hour (if not more) before getting to anything resembling an interstate.  Strange!  In any case, soon enough we get up into the hills, park, and our guide leads on a little hike through some cool aussie forests to an absolutely breathtaking vista over a gorgeous valley.  There was a massive waterfall just to our left heading down the cliff into the base of the valley.  It's appropriate that they're called the "Blue" mountains, because it really reminded me strongly of my dear Blue Ridge mountains. 
We also got a sneak peek at our next destination: "Scenic World", which is home to a cool funicular down into the valley, and a gondola that stretches across the valley (you can see the lines in the pic above).  I still have the brochure which touts the four attractions:  "Scenic Railway" (closed for repairs, originally for miners to get down to their mine shafts), "Scenic Skyway" (the gondola/cable car), "Scenic Cableway" (the funicular/cable car), and the "Scenic Walkway" (a raised wood-plank path through the jungle down at the bottom.  Does the word "scenic" look as strange to you as it does me now??  Needless to say - it was pretty.  Here's a shot of the skyway from the original vantage point:
 I'd seen as much rainforest/jungle at that point, so no pictures, but the trees were big and cool.  This one was up at the top, by the gift shop & entrance to the skyway:
 So, this skyway - did I mention it had a glass bottom?  And it's 270 meters down to the valley floor?  A wee bit scary, honestly.  BUT - great views of that massive waterfall - I did the best I could to show all of it, but it just kept going down, down, down...
  So, from that point, we then headed around the corner to another sort of "village" that was mostly a visitor's center for the Three Sisters - an incredibly cool rock formation that is also sacred to the Aboriginal tribe of the area.  Now - there is a hike from the base of the valley over to the base of the Three Sisters (amongst other paths), which is what you would do if you did this on your own (probably).  I imagine it would be also awesome, but I was pretty happy with our more low-key option.  Did I mention it was pretty??
A small rainstorm came up just in time for our group to pop in for a little show by/about Aborigines. This was really interesting, as they demonstrated various dances that were specific to certain tribes (and we were NOT allowed to video this part as it's super mega disrespectful apparently to do a dance not of your own tribe...).  They also demonstrated various weapons, with an assist by an adorably shy birthday boy in the audience.  And of course, we got a little didgeridoo lesson/demonstration:
Now this- this is MEGA cool.  He tried to explain how they keep up the constant circular breathing and all the different rhythms you can make (and what they mean).  It was crazy and difficult, and super cool.   After some time in the gift shop full of very expensive & "authentic" aboriginal art (which I was finally tempted by, but resisted...), it was back in the bus for a little lunch.  After lunch we had time to explore the little town that's up near this whole Blue Mountains center, and it was really cute!  Full of little shops & such, a nice little spot to waste a half hour for sure.  After this little break, it was back in the mini-van and down the mountain. 

I wasn't really aware this next stop was included, so, as a bonus:  another wildlife park!!  Featherdale Wildlife Park is another rehab zoo full of awesome aussie animals.  Here are my favorites.  First up: KOALAS:

 (No holding them here, but you could get a pic - love them!)
 I love that they'll sleep in pretty much any position - the one of the left did move to something looking slightly more comfortable, but that first guy (above and on the right) never did.  Hee!
 This is another wombat, but one you can actually see.  Sorta looks like a cross between a dog & a warthog, but somehow cute.
 Yes, a few kangaroos, but also:  penguins (it was feeding time)!!
 Then I finally saw what we were searching for up in the Daintree: a Cassowary!

More 'roos and tons of birds (gathering for a feeding I believe).  There was also a Tasmanian devil who would not stay still long enough to get a clear shot (it was literally trying to attack all of us looking at him), BUT, the coolest:  this giant, and I mean GIANT croc:
So, I know the picture doesn't do him justice, and at first I couldn't even see him as he was bunched up next to this sort of viewing bench.  But (as again, it was feeding time) the zookeeper was at hand answering questions about this one, and there were some fun stories.  Like how they captured him and he was already too big to put back into one of the "croc-feeding" zoos that are so popular.  So they put him in a breeding place, but he ATE all three of his potential mates.  Thus:  he lives a solo life at Featherdale.  I think he was like 20 feet long or something - HUGE.  And sat with his mouth open the whole time, just showing off his giant teeth.  Hard to turn away from, honestly, but it was time again to get back on the bus.

We were apparently making good time, so our awesome guide stopped off at a nearby sports field to give us an impromptu boomerang throwing lesson.  This was hilarious and really fun.  All the guys in our group were SURE they were going to rock, but I think one person (out of about a dozen or so) got the throw right and got it to almost come back to them.  The guide was pretty good, but he even explained that it takes practice, and in fact there are competitions.  I did break down & purchase some of these "competition-grade" boomerangs, as they looked a bit more fun than the overly-decorated ones in all the shops.  Who knows if they've been torn apart by my various boy relatives at this point, or even used at all, but whatever- cool stuff. 

Our next to last stop was an attempt to check out the old Olympic village, but we were a bit thwarted because of some flower show that was going on.  (I guess the old stadium is now used for all sorts of fairs & shows now.)  After that, and again as a bit of a surprise to me (I really should've researched this trip more!), we were dropped at a ferry stop and actually took a boat back into the center of Sydney.  Other than the skies absolutely opening up on us when we boarded the boat, it was a really cool trip.  Sydney seems to have some GREAT outer neighborhoods - lots actually - and everyone seems to have gorgeous boats!
 AND - thanks to the sudden shower, we got rainbows!!!

(Sadly, yes- I did get raindrops on my lens - but it was so pretty I couldn't NOT be outside, even with some lingering sprinkles...)

All in all, getting to see a rainbow over the harbor bridge and opera house was a fantastic end to a great day, but I still had some fun stuff to do before leaving Sydney for good.  More later - thanks to those of you who still read these!!!  :)