Sydney is a huge tourist destination with gorgeous beaches, several major landmarks, gardens, parks, art galleries and more. Some of its most popular claims to fame are the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and Bondi beach, which are all beautiful and definitely worth visiting. However, the swarms of tourists in Sydney can be overwhelming. Also, I’m a bit of an adventure junkie, so when I travel I jump at any chance to get out of the city and go for a hike, swim in a secluded location, or do something a little more physically challenging than posing for a photo with a statue.
A slightly less well known destination outside of Sydney is the Blue Mountains. One of my friends here told me about them because she was able to visit them with her aunt who lives in the area, and she said it was a great experience. I figured it’d be fun to go hiking and see some wilderness and get out of the city for the day, so I started looking into making the trip.
There are a few ways to get to the Blue Mountains. You can drive if you’re comfortable with renting a car, you can take trains or buses to several different towns in the mountains, or you can book a tour with a guide. Considering I still almost get hit every time I have to cross the road because I can’t remember to look right and then left, I didn’t think driving was a great idea. I also didn’t want to waste time wandering around trying to figure out where to go and which trails to take and end up missing things, so I decided to book a tour, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made since I got to Sydney.
I booked with Barefoot Downunder, which is a boutique tour company owned by a husband and wife who live in Sydney, and to be honest, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The owner, Adam, was actually our tour guide. He picked me up about a block from my hostel, and after picking up the rest of the passengers for the day, we set off for the Blue Mountains. During the drive there, Adam had us all introduce ourselves and get to know each other a little, and gave us a laundry list of things to do and see throughout Australia that would save us from overpaying for regular tourist traps.
The drive to the mountains was about an hour and a half, but it was full of information, and it was great to see some Australian countryside and learn a little about the towns we passed along the way. The hike itself was definitely not for beginners. Adam takes a much longer route than other tour companies, which we know because we saw other groups only go about half the distance we did, but it’s because he wants his customers to get their money’s worth.
Instead of going straight down to the biggest waterfall and back up, he took us on a two and half hour loop that starts with a descent through the forest into a canyon, passes by at least a twelve waterfalls, and ends with a steep climb up a stairway built into the side of a mountain. It was both invigorating and exhausting. The scenery was incomparable to anything else I’ve seen here, but by the time we got back to the top I almost couldn’t walk to the bus.
* Photos by Pooja Jaradi
The tour didn’t end there though. After the hike, we had lunch at a great café in Katoomba, where everyone with the tour got 10% off their meal, then we visited the Three Sisters, and went to Lincoln’s Rock to hang our feet over the edge of the world.
When we got back to Sydney, the tour ended with Adam taking us to a bar to treat us all to a drink and by that time it was like sitting down for a drink with a group of old friends. My one beer turned into three, and I was still one of the first people to leave.
Overall, it was definitely one of the best days I’ve had in Sydney. It was exhausting in all the right ways, but more importantly, I felt like I got more than what I paid for. As a natural adventurer, I don’t usually do guided tours or group activities because I like to push myself and I don’t want to be held back, but this was definitely a trip designed for people who want to get out and really experience nature, challenge themselves, and learn a little something along the way.
If you’re planning a trip to Sydney and you want to get out of the city, away from the hordes of tourists, and connect to the great outdoors, I would definitely recommend booking a trip to the Blue Mountains with Barefoot Downunder. You could technically get there by yourself, and the trails are clearly marked once you reach the mountains, but there really is no replacement for a knowledgeable guide who is passionate about their work and the land. If you’re feeling daring, they actually offer an overnight trip to the mountains too! Plus, it takes a pretty special experience to turn a group of 20 complete strangers into friends in less than 12 hours.