AUSTRALIA DAY 13 – SYDNEY

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We had signed up for a Blue Mountain tour with AAT Kings for the day. Blue Mountain got its name from the blue haze that is created when the sun shines on the eucalyptus forests. The Three Sisters, the most famous landmark in Blue Mountains, is an unusual rock formation formed by land erosion. The Three Sisters are called Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. There was an aboriginal legend tied to these three formations which was later proven to be a fabricated story to promote the landmark.  Blue Mountains are bordered by the Jamison Valley and the town of Katoomba.

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Pick up time for our tour was at 7:55 a.m. so it was another early morning for us. Our tour group was quite large with approximately 50 people so it took a long time for us to check in. The bus was much larger than the one we rode on in Melbourne with more comfortable seating. There was a washroom onboard and there were also pull-down shades available.

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Our first stop was a washroom break after a two-hour ride. There is a café, gift shop and observation point at this stop so our tour guide gave us 30 minutes to browse around. Although it was a week day, there were many tourist buses heading up to Blue Mountain and all the buses stop at the same stops so it was very crowded everywhere we went.

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We were dropped off at the Skyway East Station to take the scenic skyway to Blue Mountains National Park. The line up was so long! We waited almost 30 minutes to get on the skyway and the skyway was jam packed with tourists. After a few minutes, we were dropped off at the bottom of the hill of Blue Mountain National Park where you can select between two trails to either take the cableway or the railway up.

Along the trail, there are many signs with information about the vegetation grown here. There are also plaques that talk about the history of mining and the building of the coal railway in Blue Mountain.

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We decided to take the scenic railway up. It is interesting to see photos of visitors who took this same railway back in 1945. The railway cart was however much simpler and dangerous back then! There was fortunately a short line up so we did not have to wait too long. You can adjust the seat to pick the level of steepness you want as you go up. I was feeling adventurous so I picked the cliffhanger which is the steepest option.

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We were heading up the hill facing backwards and it was going quite fast! It was a tad scary but a great deal of fun! It was recently redeveloped in 2013 with glass-roofed carriages and is currently the steepest passenger railway in the world!

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I bet it would be even more exciting going down! We wanted to try it going down but the line up was way too long. It was also unfortunate that the souvenir photos were only offered for the riders going down the railway. We really wanted a souvenir photo but they only had it at that one station which is so stupid!

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We also tried the scenic cableway as well but it was not as exciting as the railway. No wonder the line ups are much shorter.

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The allocated time here was not sufficient for more than once on each ride. Therefore, I highly recommend doing all the rides first and start off with the railway first as it is the most popular. With the remaining free time, we browsed around the gift shop and bought a few souvenirs. To be honest, I would recommend driving up on your own or maybe consider joining the afternoon tour so you can take your time to look around when it is less crowded. Also, I think it makes no sense why the tours would allow the option of not purchasing the pass for the Scenic World rides. You would just be sitting at the gift shop for three hours with nothing to do! Also, the Three Sisters looks almost identical regardless of which angle you take it at; the backdrop in each one of your pictures is pretty much the same. Even if you skip Blue Mountain altogether, I don’t really think you’re missing out on too much!

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After we boarded the bus, we were taken to a small town called Leura to have lunch. All the tour buses are stopped here for lunch so it was very difficult to get a table at the limited number of restaurants. There are also many boutique shops you can check out but since we had to wait for a table at lunch, we only managed to check out a few of them.

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This is also one of the area which I thought the tour was poorly organized. They offered the option of having paid lunch where you will be guaranteed a spot at a designated restaurant and the food was ready to serve when you arrive.  If they knew that the town was going to be so busy during lunchtime, why didn’t they give the tour group a heads up so people will be more incline to opt for the paid lunch option? I know I definitely would have picked that instead!

After we placed our order at the Wayzgoose Café, we checked out a few of the shops. My favourite one was Josophan’s Fine Chocolates which sells a variety of fair trade, Belgian handcrafted chocolates. I got a bar of their dark chocolate and a jar of their glitter sprinkled chocolate frogs and both were very delicious! After doing some shopping, we went back to eat our lunch. We ordered the creamy chicken and mustard pie with mash, fish and chips and the Southern-fried chicken burger. Food and prices were decent.

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We started our journey back to the city after lunch and made our final stop at the Featherdale Wildlife Park. It is a medium sized zoo which was neatly organized and carried all the major Australian wildlife species.

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My favourite part about this Park was their option to take photos with koalas! Unlike the state of Queensland, you are not allowed to hold a koala in New South Wales, so we got one standing next to them while they are perched on a tree. We got to rub them on the waist only. The price was reasonable for the photos and the quality was much better than the one we took in Melbourne.

I also liked how we could see animals like the Small Penguins and the crocodiles up close! After checking out the gift shop and using the bathroom, we got back on the bus for our ride home.

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The ride was about 1.5 hours and some of the tour members were being dropped off at the ferry for an evening cruise. We were headed next to Darling Harbour for dinner so we asked our tour guide if he could drop us off at a nearby hotel which he did.

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The tour ended around 5:30 p.m. which was a little earlier than we expected.

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We made dinner plans with my cousins and friend at The Star Casino at 7:00 p.m. so we had some time to spare to walk around Darling Harbour.

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The area is quite nice with many restaurants, a shopping mall, a convention center, museum and casino all along the harbour.

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You can also catch the water taxi here as well. We had a nice stroll as the weather was not too hot in the late afternoon and we stopped to watch a street performance.

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We met up with my cousins at the entrance of the Harvest Buffet in The Star Casino.

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This was the first time I have met these cousins as they have been living for a long time in Australia and their family line is from a different grandmother. Nonetheless, we had a great time bonding with each other on this trip. I am glad to finally meet them! We lined up briefly and got seated at a large table as we had quite a big group. We were all pretty hungry so we went to get food right away.

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The buffet had a good selection of food items to choose from, especially their seafood. They also had different types of cuisine such as Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.

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They also had a large dessert area!

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We spent about 2 hours here and everyone had a great meal.

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The food was fresh and served hot! They did run out of a few items but was refilled relatively quickly. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced seafood buffet in Sydney, I definitely recommend this one!

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We took some group photos and parted ways. It had been a pretty long day so we decided to head home and skip the casino. The Blue Mountain was our final tour on this trip. It was nice that we don’t have to get up early anymore for the tours but it was also sad because we know it is almost time to head home!