Exploring the Blue Mountains on a Budget, Sydney

I’m ashamed to say that during the time I lived in Sydney, I did not visit the Blue Mountains. (I know, WTF…)

Well, I was under the impression it would be a big expense and I would have to book a tour that left at the crack of dawn and would need an element of planning. I just put it off and never ended up following through with it.

But when I went back to Sydney last month, I was determined I was going to visit the famed beauty of the Blue Mountains. But I wasn’t going to go on an expensive tour. I wanted to explore this gorgeous part of New South Wales on a backpacker budget…

Cue Blue Mountains Explorer Bus.

Blue Mountains Explorer Bus

Blue Mountains Explorer Bus

I discovered this hop on hop off bus service online and knew it was much more my kind of thing. A day pass on the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus is $44 AUD (approx £25 at time of writing), but the catch is you have to get to the Blue Mountains first. The train from Sydney Central to Katoomba takes a whopping 2 hours but is only $10 each way (£5.83), or just $5.81 if you have an Opal card (£3.40). So I think that’s pretty affordable compared to how much the day tours from Sydney cost, right?

Anyway so that was the plan for a full day of Blue Mountains exploration.

Except, we may have slightly overslept… Hey dude, we were jet lagged, ok?

It wasn’t that bad but it meant that rather than leaving Sydney really early to make the most of the day, we left mid-morning which meant we arrived in Katoomba at lunchtime. Not ideal when you only have a day to explore the Blue Mountains but it was doable nonetheless. We just had to chose exactly which stops we wanted to do.

The lady at the Blue Mountains Explorer Buss office, just outside Katoomba station, was super helpful and gave us lots of tips on how to make the most of the time we had. I told her that the first stop I wanted to do was the Scenic World stop (because I’m basic like that) and she warned us that it might slow us down. There are a lot of queues and most people spend up to 2 hours there.

I decided that we should stop to have a look anyway and see whether we wanted to go on the rides…

Well the lady at the ticket office was right, it was so crowded at Scenic World. To be honest I wasn’t too sure beforehand exactly what this was so just to clarify… Basically it’s a collection of ‘rides’ –

1) The Scenic Skyway – A glass-bottomed container that takes you across the Jamison valley and back again, with dizzying views of the ground 270m below.

2) The Scenic Railway – The steepest railway in the world that takes you down to the valley floor in 2 minutes.

3) The Scenic Cableway – A cable-car alternative that takes you either down to the valley floor or back up again.

There is also a Scenic Walkway at the valley floor that connects the railway and cableway stations.

Scenic World, Blue Mountains

Scenic Cableway, Blue Mountains

Scenic Skyway, Blue Mountains

Now I know what you’re thinking, sounds pretty cool right? Well as soon as I got there I was immediately turned off. The place was rammed with the worst tourists avec selfie sticks. All of the attractions had queues and they were really packing people into the carriages. To be honest I just felt like this wasn’t what the Blue Mountains were all about.

I’m glad we got off at this stop and saw what it was all about, but I didn’t really want to spend the next 2 hours in the Disney version of the Blue Mountains to be honest. Also, you couldn’t pay to go on one ride, you had to buy the pass for everything, which would set you back $39 AUD each (£23).

It was worth the stop for this view of the Three Sisters though. Really great views of the valley from this point, it’s just a shame about the hoards of people.

Three Sisters, Blue Mountains

Three Sisters, Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains Explorer Bus comes along every 30 mins, so we literally only spent half an hour here and jumped on to go to the next stop we had chosen.

The bus itself included a commentary by the driver which I really enjoyed (he was also not a fan of Scenic World). Something I always like about tours is the background information and insider knowledge you get, so I was glad to get some in our DIY tour. The driver gave us a lot of information and was pretty funny too.

The next stop we decided to get off at was Echo Point, the prime viewing spot for the Three Sisters and the start point for lots of bush walks.

Three Sisters, Blue Mountains

This was so much better and much more what I thought the Blue Mountains were all about. We wandered through the Eucalyptus trees and all the way down to the base of the Three Sisters itself on the Honeymoon Bridge. You can actually get off the bus at the next stop Honeymoon Look-out and it gives you a nice walk back to Echo Point. But we had a little hike through the forest anyway and discovered several beautiful look-out points.

We were actually lucky on the day we visited as the Blue Mountains were the beautiful shade of blue they’re named for due to the Eucalyptus trees. Apparently it’s not always that obvious in different weather conditions, but it was very blue indeed when we were there!

Echo Point, Blue Mountains

Echo Point, Blue Mountains

Echo Point, Blue Mountains

Echo Point, Blue Mountains

Echo Point, Blue Mountains

Echo Point, Blue Mountains

Echo Point, Blue Mountains

Milkbar, Echo Point, Blue Mountains

We had a bite to eat at the Milkbar by the bus stop at Echo Point (top notch chicken pesto focaccia FYI) and got back on the bus to our last stop – the Leura Cascades.

Now because of our late start we were nearing the end of the bus timetable, but instead of rushing it we decided to take our time and walk back from the Leura Cascades to Leura station. The lady at the ticket office had recommended it and said it was an easy route. So we took our time here at this last stop.

From the bus stop it was an easy bush walk downhill alongside a pretty creek tumbling down the rocks. It’s really pretty the whole way with the sound of water everywhere you go. At the bottom the view of the Leura Cascades is really beautiful. And just round the corner you have amazing views of the mountains again. There are plenty of places to explore here and we spent about an hour walking around. Although remember it’s uphill on the way back!

Blue Mountains Explorer Bus

Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains

Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains

Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains

Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains

Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains

Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains

Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains

Like I said we decided to walk to Leura train station and it was about half an hour’s walk. Although at this point we were absolutely knackered from an afternoon of hiking and it definitely took it’s toll! My feet were killing me by the time we got back on the train, but luckily we had 2 hours back to Sydney to recover…

I really enjoyed our mini adventure here and wish we had more time to explore! I think if we hadn’t slept in and had a couple more hours, it would’ve been the ideal amount of time to be honest.

Blue Mountains Explorer Bus

I think it’s good to know that you can fit a great experience of the Blue Mountains and a few bush walks all into one day here. And also that it can be done on a backpacker budget by getting the train up and making the most of the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus (I’d definitely recommend it).

Have you visited the Blue Mountains? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @HeelsInBackpack!

Blue Mountains Explorer Bus

Total Blogger Transparency: I accepted complimentary tickets on the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus but all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. I wouldn’t play you like that, shorty.

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