I was hitting it off with the weather on my winter break to Sydney, and woke up to another day of sunshine. I’d bagged a package deal at the hostel I was staying in which included a choice of breakfast options, so I filled up before heading out to explore. Many parts of Sydney are exceptionally familiar to me, and the walk from the Rocks down to Circular Quay is one of them. Being a Friday, many people were heading to work but there were also plenty of tourists around. Armed with my Opal card, a must-have for public transport in the city, I jumped on the ferry to Manly, somewhere I tend to go every time I’m in the city. I know the sights on route very well and always sit outside to watch the city buildings pass me by.
From Manly wharf, I passed up the main thoroughfare to the beach which had more bird life on it than people. This place is usually heaving with people in the summer months or on the weekends, so although there were plenty of people on the promenade, it was strange to see the beach so empty. I always do the Manly beach to Shelly beach coastal walk, but I’d never before headed to the opposite end of the beach, so for the first time I took the promenade north instead of south. A this northern end there was a rockpool, a common finding on many of the beaches around here, and behind the beach, the piled up sand blocked the exit of Manly creek, creating a bit of a lagoon. I cut up to the promenade and followed this round to head up the side of the creek, where parents with their children hung out on the grassy areas around it.
After a while, I turned back and followed the promenade back to the south end of Manly beach and round to Shelly beach. This adjoining coastal walk is a great place to spot water dragons, as I almost always see them sunning themselves below the cliffs here. There are some cute little sculptures incorporated into the wall as well and if that wasn’t enough, the view along the coast and the sparkling blue water is stunning. It was mobbed at Shelly beach and the eateries were packed as always. I was torn between waiting for a table and eating late, and in the end decided to go for a walk into Sydney Harbour National Park. I did this walk on my very first visit to Sydney in 2012 but hadn’t been since, so it was nice to re-familiarise myself with it.
Heading up the slope first to the coastal lookout, the track cut inland towards a historical gun placement. I kept a similar line on another track until back on tarmac, I took the road down to Colin Flat beach. I was fairly sure I could walk back to Manly via the coast, and thankfully was proven right. From Colin Flat beach, a track led round to Little Manly beach where a plethora of boats were moored up a little offshore. Then it was just a matter of following the road behind here round the headland to Manly Yacht Club at Cabbage Tree Bay, where the path led round to Manly wharf. By now very hungry, I ate here ahead of catching the ferry to Watson’s Bay.
I’ve been to Watson’s Bay a couple of times, but never from Manly. The private ferry that cuts from this North Head settlement to the South Head settlement has limited times and is not included in the Opal card. But it saved a massive amount of time by removing the need to detour via Circular Quay so it was well worth it. One of the differences between South Head and North Head is that you can see the city skyline from the south. From Watson’s Bay itself but also on the coastal walk round Green Point Reserve and Camp Cove there are a myriad of view points to look back across to the buildings of the CBD. Camp Cove is a cute little beach and round from here is a popular walk that passes a nudist beach and round to the Hornby lighthouse which stands tall at South Head. By the time I’d completed the loop to the Gap, a dramatic cliff at the back of Watson’s Bay, and followed the cliff walk a little further south to Don Ritchie grove, the clouds had moved in and it seemed altogether darker. Back at the ferry wharf, I watched a pelican waiting patiently outside a fish restaurant before catching the last ferry back to Circular Quay.
In the gathering darkness I caught the ferry to Taronga Zoo for my first experience of Vivid Sydney. Whereas the main light displays of Vivid are free to walk around, the zoo’s display is a ticketed and time-slotted event that I decided to go to. Buses awaited the ferry’s arrival and in hoards we were taken up the hill to the main zoo entrance where a reasonably well organised queuing system had me inside with relative ease. Following a set route around the zoo, there were ample displays to look at but it was incredibly mobbed. I hate crowds and this was only just bearable but despite the masses, it was well worth the money.
Eventually I returned to the city and disembarked the ferry at Circular Quay to join the throngs of people exploring the main thoroughfare of Vivid Sydney. The atmosphere was incredible, but again some parts were just a bit too crowded. Some displays couldn’t be approached due to either the wall of people surrounding them or the sea of people following the one-way walkway like a single impenetrable unit. At times it was at your peril to try and cross this melee. The route led round past the Opera House which turned through a series of animations and pictures, and cut into the Royal Botanic gardens where I had walked through the day before. Some displays were understated, some not so popular, but many of them were spectacular and there were definitely many favourites among them. Then the route cut into the Rocks where there was a hub of eateries and in places a bit of a party vibe. I absolutely loved it.
With my friend having twisted her ankle a few days prior, our planned joint explorations had had to be cancelled. Not only was she unable to join me walking around Vivid, but she also wasn’t able to do the Bondi to Coogee walk with me either. Instead, we planned to meet up in Bondi for lunch, so I set off early on the Saturday to catch the bus to Coogee and walk the route in reverse. It is a gorgeous walk and yet again I had glorious sunshine. Last time I walked it was in the summer where the heat had been extreme, but the winter temperature was a lot more pleasant. From Coogee the track cuts up onto the headland at Dolphins Point and round Gordons Bay where a man was taking his dogs for a swim. Next up is Clovelly where the headland offers some great views south. The beach here is a little odd as it is cut right back into a little cove. I came immensely close to dropping my phone into the public toilet here, although the floor of the cubicle didn’t exactly look that clean either. Thank goodness it is waterproof as it got a good clean in the sink before leaving.
The path is supposed to follow the coast at the bottom of the massive Waverley cemetery, but at the time of visiting, the lower path was being reconstructed following a storm washout. Instead, the detour headed into the thick of the cemetery past a variety of headstone styles with a backdrop of a glistening Tasman Sea. Bronte and Tamarama beaches came and went and eventually I found myself at Icebergs and the famous azure swimming pools at the south end of Bondi beach. There is something so iconic about the pool, the beach and the Surf Life Saving club and I spent quite a bit of time on the road overlooking the pool, dreamily looking down at the blue pool surrounded by the blue sea which met the blue sky above. In the distance, Bondi had the most people on it of all the beaches I’d passed that morning, but even it was quiet compared to what I’d seen on previous visits.
When I lived in Aberdeen in Scotland, my best friend lived in London, England. Then I moved to Christchurch, New Zealand and she to Sydney, and since we’ve both been in the Southern Hemisphere, I’ve seen her more than we ever managed when we lived in the UK. Even so, we’re still a sea apart and in two different countries, so we don’t get to hang out half as much as I would like. So it was unsurprising that we managed to pass a good amount of time in Bondi just catching up. Eventually though, she had to head away to a party, and I found myself in a giant queue for a bus back to the city. I’d underestimated the crowds of both Bondi on a Saturday and the commute of those heading into the city for a Saturday night on the town or to visit Vivid. Bus after bus passed by with no space to board, and the sun had set by the time I finally got onto one. In the end though, this meant it was already dark by the time I reached the city, and it seemed like the perfect excuse to just go straight into the Vivid Sydney route again.
For my last night in the city, I took the route through the Rocks, taking the time to make a few detours to some displays I hadn’t seen the night before, as well as lingering at a few favourites. At the waterfront, I ogled the changing look of the Opera House and slowly made my way back to the far side to head into the Royal Botanic Gardens again. The crowds here were just as bad and I waited in line for quite some time to get into the Samsung display. Through the gardens, I took my time walking through and out the other side, a poor little possum was terrified by the large crowd that surrounded it to take its photo. In New Zealand, possums are introduced and therefore pests, but in Australia they are native and protected which is always a shift in perspective that I find quietly amusing. By the time I’d completed the circuit and was back in the Rocks, it was the end of the night for Vivid and the end of the event, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary. There was still lots of buzz in the air as people dispersed, and I’d had an incredible time over the two nights.
My friend was up to doing a bit of walking the next day, so I headed out to the suburb of Newtown. I’d read about a street art trail here, and with my friend familiar with the area, and armed with a rough walking guide on her phone, we spent the day eating food, walking down side streets to look at and discuss the artwork we found and visit a few random places in between. Aside from Newtown itself, we took a wander around Sydney park, a nearby green space, and in the near opposite direction to Sydney university. I was heavily reliant on my friend’s local knowledge as Newtown and its surrounds felt a bit like a rabbit warren to me. We covered so much ground, more than my friend’s fragile ankle probably should have, but by the time we found ourselves back at the train station, we’d eaten and drunk as much as we could, and seen as much street art as we could. It reminded me of visits to see her in London, when I always got to see a different side of the city to the tourist spots, where the real people live.
By the time I’d reached the Rocks to grab my belongings, the sunset had painted pink hues onto the sky. I spent a few minutes on the rooftop overlooking the harbour before I had to force myself to leave. It had been a very satisfying 4 days in my favourite city in the World.