A day out of Sydney and on the road

Climb into a rugged vehicle for a personalized tour of the BlueMountains

Nobody can charge Ted Taylor with failing to take the long view.

When the genial proprietor of Cox's River Escapes, an adventure-tour operation here, starts explaining the landscape in which his clients find themselves, he goes way back into geologic time, a quarter of a billion years ago.

That's when the Blue Mountains were forming. "We were part of Antarctica then," he says. Only later did Australia break free, he explains, drifting north toward Indonesia - a process that continues, at a rate of a few centimeters each year.

Mr. Taylor's commentary makes the landscape come alive: His clients learn to pay attention to the rock strata, to recognize trees and birds. We learn that the mountains are "blue" because of the way the light refracts through the fine, oil-laden water droplets the eucalyptus trees give off in the heat of the day.

He points out the crimson rosella and invites our attention to its high-pitched call: "It sounds like a very tiny pipe on a wind chime." And of course, we see 'roos: four kangaroos and a wallaroo.

Modular adventure

My outing with Taylor is an example of what might be called modular adventure travel - taking time off from a more conventional in-town sightseeing vacation or a business trip to get a taste of the natural environment. Ideally it's done with a guide who can read the landscape as well as Taylor can.

The term "adventure travel" is a rather loose one nowadays. As one travel agent told me, it's used to describe just about any outing "that does not actually involve a tour bus picking you up at your hotel."

In this case, the friend in Sydney I'd invited along offered to drive us the two hours or so out to the town of Leura, where we met up with Taylor. The other option would have been the train from Sydney's Central Station.

The goal was to get a taste of the Blue Mountains, a popular day trip from Sydney, but with a little more personalized service than the usual bus tour provides.

It was a bit of a splurge - this year's rates for day tours (either bush walks or tours in four-wheel-drive vehicles) start at A$200 (US$132) per person for a full day or A$125 (US$82.50) for a half day. (Senior and family discounts are available.)

But we certainly had access - and safer access - to the landscape, courtesy of Taylor's four-wheel-drive wagon.

It is a sunny and benign landscape, full of trails and hugely popular with bushwalkers - but one that can quickly turn dangerous for inexperienced or ill-prepared hikers.

"They seem to think it's going to be like Pitt Street [in downtown Sydney] with traffic lights and signs," says Taylor.

Seeing nature in Australia

About 20 percent of all visitors to Australia have some sort of "nature experience," according to Barbara Murphy, of Australian Tracks and Tours, an agency based in Yorketown, South Australia, with an office in Sydney. She has about 500 "ready-made" adventure itineraries for all over Australia, some as brief as the intriguingly titled "half-day platypus experience."

Or of course it's possible to design one's own itinerary in consultation with an agency. In the age of e-mail, this doesn't even require long-distance phone calls.

Taylor's repeat clients include a family from densely populated Singapore - with which vastly sprawling Australia must make quite a contrast. "It's the parents, the kids, and the grandparents," he says. "They like to walk. But sometimes they just like to sit in the wide open spaces for three-quarters of an hour."

When that happens, he says, he leaves off the usual running commentary on flora and fauna "to give them some space to sit and think."

Which, in today's fast-paced world, must be the one of the best "modular adventures" anyone can have.

*Cox's River Escapes is on the Web at www.bluemts.com.au/coxsriver

Australian Tracks and Trails: www.tea-net.com/tracks

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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