Our travel agent suggested a 4-wheel-drive tour through the Blue Mountains because we would be able to travel to places in the mountains that a 65-passenger coach wouldn't be able to get to. She was right! Our tour by Australian Wild Escapes took us on a restricted fire trail in the Blue Mountains National Park, provided us with a gourmet picnic lunch, and taught us all about the Australian bush. We learned that bush fires are necessary in order for bush growth to regenerate and the major problem with bush fires is that people have moved farther and farther away from the cities into the bush, allowing the fires to threaten homes.

Our guide Chris was very informative and was able to tell us quite a bit about not only the bush but other aspects of life in Australia. The Blue Mountains were given their name because the drops of oil falling from the leaves of the eucalyptus trees turn the sunlight a bluish-green color. We learned that Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and that it is not safe to venture out without a hat (which I didn't have until two days later) and sunscreen. A hat is even part of the school uniform in Australia. One aspect of the bush that I was not prepared for was the huge flies that pestered us at every turn. They didn't bite, but they really were a nuisance and bothered us all day long. Our first experience with the flies was at the first rest stop at a picnic area (no restaurant with an attached souvenir shop on this expedition) and I was glad that I had my insect repellent and wrap-around sunglasses. Bill had worn long pants and said that although he got hot, at least the flies didn't bother his legs. I was going to take every advantage of summer in December so of course, I had on shorts. At least I had on sturdy Reeboks instead of sandals although smooth-soled aerobic shoes aren't the best choice for a bushwalk.

The vehicle was a new 15-passenger 4-wheel-drive which was built so that the front was able to take a different direction from the back on steep, bumpy roads. There was plenty of storage space for picnic items as well as a built-in water tank to provide water at rest stops. The only convenience missing was an on-board toilet and with the lack of facilities in the bush, the ladies found a nearby secluded area, watching out for snakes all the while.

The first stop was in the pretty mountain town of Katoomba where we viewed the Three Sisters mountain formation, which is a set of sandstone formations. There are several legends concerning the origin of the three towers.

On the right is an example of an aboriginal carving. We learned quite a bit about the nomadic life of the early aborigines, including their method of finding water.

After lunch we went for a short bushwalk down into a canyon and came upon a red-bellied black snake, the third most poisonous snake in the world. The snake was in a small pond eating tadpoles. Although Chris took a stick and held the snake up, the closest I would get to it was through the zoom lens of my camera. Sorry the picture isn't any clearer.

The picture on the right is a eucalyptus tree that was recently burned in a bush fire. We saw areas that had been burned only 6 weeks before that had already regenerated so that there was no evidence that a fire had ever happened.

Read about bushfire fighting by Ian White, volunteer bushfire fighter from Church Point, a suburb of Sydney.

On the way back to Sydney we stopped at a picnic ground where there were kangaroos which allowed us to take their pictures. However, they wouldn't let us get close enough to touch them. One even turned his back on me when I tried to get too close.

This is a view of the western suburbs of Sydney from Tunnel View Lookout.

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