MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the category “Australia”

A Weekend in Oz

I didn’t know it at the time but this was to be the last time I’d use my passport and go abroad. Back at the end of November 2019, completely oblivious to World events that were to come, myself and my partner stood in line at Christchurch airport, ready to hop the ditch for a weekend in Australia. My best friend had been living in Sydney the previous few years but was readying to return to life in the UK and with Sydney being my favourite city in the whole World, it was an easy decision to cross the Tasman Sea to visit her before she was to move to the other side of the World. I would have loved to spend more time with her, but at just 3.5hrs, an early flight there and a late flight back a couple of days later made a 3-day weekend jaunt do-able.

The Southern Alps were shrouded in low cloud as we took off, crossing the breadth of New Zealand’s South Island before spanning the width of the Tasman Sea. I adore Australia and will happily visit anywhere and everywhere within reach, and as always I was giddy when I saw the New South Wales coastline approach and the Sydney suburbs appear out of the clouds as we descended into the city. Sadly the country had been hitting the headlines due to the extreme amount of wildfires that were taking place in various states, but as we landed there was no evidence that any of that was going on.

I always stay at the same place every time I visit, the YHA hostel in the Rocks district. Not only do I love this part of the city, but the hostel is the best hostel I’ve every stayed at and its rooftop viewing deck with a view across to both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House is worth every cent of this dearer-than-most hostel. After dumping our bags there, we met up with my friend and her partner, taking a leisurely stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens by the waterfront of Sydney Harbour. It was a bit overcast and hazy but it was warm and in the bay a couple of catamarans were parked on which Christmas parties were in full swing. Despite the years I’ve now lived in the Southern Hemisphere, I fail to feel festive with a summer Christmas but I did acknowledge that the summer did lend itself to better parties and outdoor festive fun. We laughed at their crazy antics as we passed by, and as we moved beneath the trees I sought out the loud and obnoxious cockatiels that I adore to spot when I’m in Oz.

At the far side of Mrs Macquaries Point, a swimming pool was built a few years prior which spans the side of the gardens. We stopped in at the poolside bar to enjoy an Aperol Spritz, a neon-orange cocktail that despite being Italian in origin, to me is quintessentially Australian. It turned out our waiter was from Glasgow which is where myself and my best friend used to live so it was both nice and surreal to chat away with him about life at home and life in Oz. We were pretty much the last people in the place by closing and we continued on our merry way back through the gardens, musing at the various painted koala statues as we passed.

As we reached the Sydney Opera House, the behemoth of cruiseliners, the Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Sea was negotiating its exit from the harbour. It’s strange to think how uncommon this must be now after everything that has happened in the last year, but at the time it was a normal Sydney event, and we stood to watch it turn with precision and be guided out of Circular Quay by a support boat, tiny in comparison to the enormous multi-decked ship. Sydney harbour has a constant flow of leisure and commercial craft ploughing its waters and these other vessels were simply dwarfed as they zipped past the slow moving liner.

After a while we continued on into the Rocks, taking my friend and her partner up to the roof of the hostel to see the view before we all headed round to Darling Harbour for expensive cocktails in a swanky bar up one of the skyscrapers there. I felt rather underdressed among the fancy socialites out for a Saturday night, but from the bar we had a view up the Paramatta river and the suburbs that flank the river. After dinner it was time to retire to the hostel and get some much needed sleep after the early rise for the morning flight.

 

Stepping onto the rooftop balcony first thing in the morning I was immediately confronted with another cruise ship which had arrived in the middle of the night. Now the first day of December, this was peak season here, and there would be little gap between the myriad of cruises that include Sydney in its route. We walked down through the Rocks past a giant inflatable snow globe, and down the many steps to Circular Quay where it was busy as usual. It was a familiar walk round to the Opera House and back before it was time for the 4 of us to get together once more, this time catching a ferry across to Taronga Zoo wharf on the north side of the harbour.

It wasn’t the zoo we were aiming for, but the coastal walk that runs the length of the harbour from the headlands far up the Paramatta river. I’ve walked sections of it before, but this was to be a new part, where we first headed east towards Bradleys Head. Bradleys Head cuts deep into the harbour and is well positioned to offer a view across to the Sydney skyline. There are so many places to get a view of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge or both, and every time I come to Sydney I go somewhere new to obtain a new perspective. When we reached the amphitheatre near the lighthouse, we found some bush turkeys strutting around the grounds and a couple of kookaburras. Although New Zealand to me is the land of birds, Australia has some incredible bird life, many of which, like the cockatoos and the kookaburras, are loud and raucous. It adds a whole level of auditory stimulation to city explorations. We sat there talking for a bit, watching some people out on the pier as the waves smashed into the concrete.

 

After a while, we headed back to the Taronga Zoo pier but continued on the harbour trail to the west, where the coast cut deep into Sirius Cove. The water was littered with boats and the beach in the cove was busy on a Saturday. Enjoying the company and the views, we reached the far side of the cove and cut up over the headland through the residential streets to reach Mosman Bay, another cove that was crammed full of boats. I often dream about living in Sydney, but the reality is that the city is an expensive place to live, and as much as a harbour view would be the dream, I know it’s not a realistic option for me. So instead, I just admire people’s houses as I pass. We eventually reached our lunchspot, the Mosman Rowers restaurant where it was time for more cocktails and a bite to eat. These are the kind of days that make me immensely happy, away from the stresses of life, with no schedule to keep and little care in the World. Just a group of old and new friends hanging out, enjoying the Australian way of life.

After lunch, we continued to follow the coast round the very deep Mosman Bay towards Cremorne Point. I was surprised to see a bush turkey sitting in a tree as we walked. Used to seeing them rummaging around in the undergrowth, it was strange to see one just sitting on a tree branch. Once at Cremorne Point we were back in view of the Opera House again, with an unrestricted view across to the far side of the harbour once more. We didn’t have to wait too long for a ferry to carry us back to Circular Quay where we passed the light rail that was new at the time, before heading into the Rocks for their Christmas market.

 

The last time I visited Sydney was for Vivid Sydney, the annual light extravaganza that occurs in autumn, but this time, instead of light installations spread between the streets, it was Christmas trees, and toy soldiers and fake snow. These are the kind of events where I wish my family lived nearer. I moved to the Southern Hemisphere on my own in late 2011, and only getting to see my family in Scotland every few years, I miss out on a lot of family outings and celebrations. Sometimes I see mothers and daughters out for tea or siblings hanging out at a bar, or families having picnics and I simply ache to have my family closer. One of my brothers at least has had a brief snapshot of my life over here with a visit a few years ago, but for the most part, my family has no idea what I experience with life Down Under. New Zealand and Australia feel as much, if not more so, of a home as Scotland does, and I know that being here is the right thing for me. Still, I walked round that market, soaking up the buzz, enjoying myself immensely, albeit with a small piece of my heart wishing my mum especially was there with me.

At the far end of the market, we posed under the neon sign before cutting down to Campbells Cove. We were simply dwarfed by the Norwegian Jewel cruiseliner that was parked up at the harbour, and under a hazy sky we just hung out, watching the World go by. The benefit of having friends living in a foreign city is that you get to find out about cool local hangouts. We mulled over choices of where to go for drinks, eventually deciding to catch an Uber into the city. Unfortunately where we aimed for didn’t work out, so we walked through Hyde Park and made our way to Marble Bar, a speakeasy underground in the Hilton. This place was incredibly atmospheric with walls lined with whiskies and liqueur, and a grand ornate ceiling above leather couches. The weekend had already been about cocktails and now it was cocktail time again, with a bit of whisky to balance it out.

 

Having made the most of the cocktail hour at this awesome bar, we eventually headed back to Circular Quay where there was still a few hours of daylight to ogle over the Opera House. The cruiseliner had by now left and we went for dinner at the Squire’s Landing at one end of the ferry terminal. Over the years that my friend had lived in Sydney and I had lived in New Zealand, I had seen her more often than when she had lived in London and I had lived in Scotland. She treated us to a delicious dinner as a goodbye, and we ate as the sun lowered, and the sky changed colour over the sail-like roof of the Opera House, the harbour ferries ploughing back and forth in front of it.

 

The four of us had a final catch up that morning, enjoying breakfast out in a suburb somewhere, sharing stories and making plans for my trip home in August 2020, 8 months later. We said our goodbyes at the end of it, plans in place for our catch up in Scotland, cheerily oblivious to what was to happen over the coming months. Alas, my trip was cancelled, and 16 months later I still don’t know when I’ll see my family or friends again. But at the time we knew none of that, and with our flight home not till later that day, my partner and I took a walk to Sydney Observatory where we had a view of the opposite side of the Harbour Bridge than we’d been looking at so far. I’d been to Sydney more recently than my partner had and he wanted to go to Manly, so we worked our way back to Circular Quay to catch the ferry.

 

As much as I always want to do something new when I visit, I do enjoy a few firm favourites and taking the ferry across to Manly is one of them. For less than the tourist ferries charge, the Manly ferry sails the length of the harbour offering stunning views the whole way before depositing you at a pier by a small beach. From there it is a short walk up the Corso to the gorgeous Manly beach, a long curved stretch of yellow sand that is a popular place to swim and just hang out. From there, a promenade leads round the coast to the more secluded Shelly beach where we grabbed an iced fruit lolly to enjoy in the sunshine. The previous couple of days had had high cloud and a slight haze, but out there we’d left the clouds behind, and we were under more of a blue sky. It was exceptionally hot. After lapping up the views and the heat, we headed back to Manly beach, walking under the summer banners declaring Merry Christmas next to an ice cream cone. Once again I laughed internally at the absurdity of a summer Christmas.

 

Rather than head straight back to downtown, we caught the private ferry across the harbour mouth to Watson’s Bay on the south side. The wind was stronger over here and the weather felt like it was turning. We headed up to the Gap, a clifftop lookout that gazes out onto the Tasman Sea. Sadly this is a popular suicide spot, and over the years since my first visit in 2012, suicide prevention fencing, security cameras and emergency Samaritans notices have been erected all around this area. As the waves crash on the rocks below, it almost feels a little mournful. Cutting back through the park we finally got close up to a Sulphur-crested cockatoo, one of my favourite Australian birds. It simply watched me as it ate above my head, not caring that I was taking so many photos of it.

The wind was starting to whip up so much now that as we waited for the ferry back to Circular Quay, we were surrounded by grounded seagulls that stood by our bench, reluctant to take off to save being whipped away on the wind. There was a good bit of chop as we sailed back and after taking a final walk round the waterfront to soak up the view and the atmosphere, we retired to the rooftop of the hostel to sunbathe until we had to leave for the airport.

 

As we lay there, we watched the sky change, at first subtly but then quite dramatically. From behind the downtown skyscrapers an increasingly thick wall of smog appeared, turning the air thick and the sky a funny colour. It didn’t take long to realise it was the smoke from the nearby wildfires that were raging a little way out of the city. The wind direction had blown the smoke towards Sydney, and as we left the hostel for the last time, the visibility was closing in. For a brief while I was worried our flight home would be cancelled, but although the sky was a hazy pink when we got to the airport, we were able to take off without much concern. The sun was getting ready to set as we left Australia behind, returning to New Zealand to scan my passport for the last time.

Jumping Continents

It took 40hrs to get home from Tanzania and I was exhausted at the end of it all. But with the route required to travel, it was a great opportunity to catch up with my best friend who was living in Sydney at the time. Over a year on, I have no memory of the flight from Kilimanjaro International Airport to Doha in Qatar, but I had read that Qatar Airlines offer complimentary hotel rooms for passengers with an 8hr or longer layover. My layover was 8hrs, so on arrival I headed to the desk to organise it, only to be told that I hadn’t paid enough for my ticket to qualify. In other words, I wasn’t a valued enough customer, and deflated and tired, I was pointed in the direction of the airport’s ‘Quiet Lounge’ to try and get some kip. Apparently though, some of the other users of the gender-specific room had no concept of what quiet meant, and with no hope of sleep, I grew increasingly frustrated at the sounds of people babbling away with their companions in a language I didn’t understand. The time passed so slowly, and eventually I decided to go in search of coffee, finding a rather distasteful brew in a food court, and gaining some Qatari money as change from my US Dollar payment.

At last the Sydney flight was boarding but as is often the case, I could not sleep on the plane, and at around 14hrs of flying, I found myself in Sydney a little after 6am feeling like a smelly, sweaty zombie. But I love Sydney, and it was a sunny day so it wasn’t hard to be happy there. As a New Zealand citizen, I skipped through customs in no time at all, and quick as a flash I found myself at Circular Quay, emerging into the morning sunlight, the crowds not yet having arrived for the day. I will never tire of the view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, and was happy to pass a bit of time here before heading into the city a little to meet my friend for coffee.

Like many places that I have returned to, I have my favourite haunts and visiting these aside, I’m also always keen to experience something new. Bar Bellaccino near Wynyard Station is a favourite cafe to visit here, tucked just below street level in an unassuming building. Tables are at a premium here, but we were lucky to get a space to sit and have a catch up. I had a 12hr layover ahead of my flight home to Christchurch that evening, so there was plenty of time to spend with each other. It was the lead up to Mardi Gras, a huge event in the Sydney social calendar, so as we took a walk from the cafe, there were some temporary artworks dotted about the plazas.

Barangaroo Reserve had been overhauled since I’d last been round that way, so we meandered through the city streets to pop out there, taking our time to watch the comings and goings of the river traffic. It was shaping up to be a scorching day with not a cloud in the sky. I’d come from the African heat but it was still intense on my tired body. After hanging around watching Sydney come to life for the day, we cut down to the waterfront and meandered round to Darling Harbour, where the remains of the Chinese Lantern Festival were gradually being dismantled.

At the back of Tumbalong Park, we found ourselves at the Chinese Garden of Friendship. I’d never gone in there before, having walked past its walls a few times and paying it little attention. On the recommendation of my friend, we went inside and I was very glad we did. Despite the heat, it was a peaceful oasis from the bustling city beyond its walls. Although framed by the tall office blocks and apartments behind it, they added to the view rather than detracted from it. With waterways filled with fish, and water dragons wandering around the foliage, it was a great spot for nature watching. The centre piece is a large pond, framed by willows and evergreens. Rockeries create waterfalls off to the side and raised above it all is a pagoda housing a bell.

 

We became paparazzi for every water dragon that we spotted. I don’t care how many times I see them in Australia, I love the lizards there. Large dragonflies hung out around the reeds at the pond edge, and colourful flowers bloomed in pockets. The path curved round a frangipani tree, which has my favourite flower and a myriad of waterlilies floated nearby. As we completed the circuit round the pond, some people were feeding the fish, and they congregated in large numbers by the edge, yet another water dragon close by in hopes of getting a free feed too. The Chinese New Year had just been celebrated, and a frame had been set up to tie your wish for the Year of the Pig. Most of them were for health and happiness, but I laughed when I read ‘To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentations of their woman’.

 

As we left the gardens behind, we came across a colourful mural on the far side of Darling Quarter. Away from the touristy areas, I could get lost if it wasn’t for my friend’s local knowledge. There was an LGBTQ festival on that day, and I let my friend lead me there. We walked for a bit then got on a bus for a bit, and when we finally arrived, it was all hustle and bustle. It was a fun experience, tainted only by the intense heat that had built up under a cloudless sky. I was struggling a little due to my undertone of tiredness, but I’m glad we went. There were people dressed up, lots of photo opportunities and food and drink to be had. I wouldn’t have even known it was on if it weren’t for my friend being a local, and after getting our fill, we found a spot in the shade to take a breather for a while, my tiredness threatening to overwhelm me.

 

After a while we took a walk to Redfern, passing more street murals, eventually arriving in a part of the city I was a little more familiar with from previous visits. We grabbed burgers from a local eatery as my time in Sydney ticked down, and soon it was time for me to head back to the airport to fly home. My plane took off as the sun was preparing to set and with a window seat, I was worried I would miss the light to catch the city views. As luck would have it, there was enough light to see by, and as it circled on ascent, I was excited to see we were flying almost directly above the harbour, and for the first time ever, I got a direct view down over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge from above. It was the perfect end to a lovely layover in my favourite city in the whole World, but after two weeks on the go in Tanzania, and one of the longest transit times I’d ever experienced, I was excited to get home to my bed to sleep.

Vivid Sydney

I was still living in Scotland when the inaugural Vivid Sydney occurred. I didn’t know of its existence prior to my move to the Southern Hemisphere and I can’t quite remember at what point I found out about it, but I had started to harbour a desire to see it for myself, and last year, for the event’s 10th anniversary, I hopped across the ditch to experience it. Whilst the crowds were a little suffocating at times, the event itself was incredible, and is definitely better witnessed in first hand rather than just from photographs or videos. The atmosphere was at times electric, and the variety of installations was incredible. With this year’s event just around the corner, I’m already wishing I could go back.

 

DARLING HARBOUR

 

TARONGA ZOO

 

CIRCULAR QUAY & THE ROCKS

 

THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS

Familiarity

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.

Across the Ditch

I settled into my window seat, excited about the days ahead of me. I was on the right side of the plane and I was sure that this would offer me a great view on the descent at my destination. Smiling as a woman placed her young child on the middle seat next to me before taking her own in the aisle, I read my magazine distractedly, waiting for the plane to get ready for push back, impatient to get going. Out of the corner of my eye, the woman gave her child something to eat and then all of a sudden the child projectile vomited all over herself, the seat, and her mother. The smell of sour milk hit my nose and I didn’t know whether to laugh or retch. There were several minutes where the woman feebly dabbed with wet wipes, not sure what to do, before the air stewards realised the conundrum and sprang into action. I have a soft spot for my national carrier, Air New Zealand, and it was fascinating to watch them deal with the mini crisis, which had to be handled swiftly and with minimal damage before the flight could take off. The seats were dismantled and the various components bagged for cleaning and I was requested to be moved, getting sat on the left side of the plane, and upgraded to thank me for my co-operation. I was a little gutted to lose my vantage point for arrival, but I felt extremely sorry for the frazzled mother and it was an interesting start for the fun days ahead.

I’d heard about Sydney’s annual light spectacle Vivid Sydney some years ago, and having previously visited the city in Spring, Summer and Autumn, it made perfect sense to complete the seasons with a Winter trip to coincide with the event which was celebrating its 10th anniversary. With my best friend living there too, it was also a great excuse for a catch-up. Having taken the morning flight, I arrived early on a Thursday morning, and headed straight to my favourite hostel YHA The Rocks, where I stay every time I visit the city, to dump my stuff. I rushed up to the rooftop for my beloved view over the Rocks before heading down to the harbour. The sun was out but low and Circular Quay was partly in shadow when I arrived to make the oh-so-familiar walk around the waterfront. As always, Circular Quay was a very busy place to be, and I was hungry, wandering past the expensive waterfront eateries, trying to decide where I wanted to grab a snack.

 

I was distracted from my search for food for a while as I ogled over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House on my way to the Botanic Gardens. I could see some of the Vivid Sydney displays in the distance but my grumbling stomach led me down the steps to the Opera Bar and eateries just below the Opera House itself. I ordered a coffee and toastie and took my seat in the sun, watching the Sydneysiders going about their day. I was amused as a few people got mobbed by seagulls trying to steal their food. My coffee arrived first and I enjoyed it, laughing as someone got their food stolen, reminiscing about that time I got hit on the head in Southland earlier in the year. My toastie finally arrived and I greedily stuck in to it, breaking it into pieces to help it cool whilst I started to devour it. On my second bite I got whacked on the back of my head and couldn’t believe that for the second time that year, I’d been hit from behind by the wing of a bird trying to steal my food! Clearly it was time to get on the move again.

 

The Botanical Gardens were just as busy as Circular Quay had been, and even although the displays were not lit up, there were so many people taking in the Vivid Sydney displays in the daytime. It might have been winter but it was a gloriously sunny day with enough warmth to be in just one layer. I don’t always go to the Botanic Gardens when I visit the city, so it had been a while since I’d taken the promenade round the waterfront. I briefly cut away from the water, following the Vivid Sydney displays round the back of a small wooded area, framed by the city’s skyscrapers. I could only imagine how these would all look lit up in the darkness.

 

I was in the process of cutting back to the waterfront when I noticed a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos crowding round a couple. It turns out that you can buy little cups of cockatoo food to feed the birds in the park, and as such the couple literally had birds on top of them, eager to grab some of the mix that they had on offer. I hovered around, taking the opportunity to take some close-up photos, when suddenly after bending down, a cockatoo jumped up onto me. It was an awesome experience until it started trying to eat my clothes, and biting at my neck, threatening to get a little rough with its annoyance at my lack of food offerings. Still, it didn’t drive me away and I hung around with them and the couple of corellas that were there too, for as long as I could before eventually dragging myself away and heading onwards.

 

It had been a nice break from the sun, but now I was out under the orb continuing my way around, past a statue I’d never noticed before and round to the flower fields offering a floral-framed view back across to the Opera House. There’s also a stunning vista of the cityscape as you reach the point where Mrs Macquaries Chair can be found. There was a good crowd here as this point has become a bit of an Instagram location, and there were many people rock hopping in order to get their own shot across the harbour.

 

As I continued around the headland, I discovered a swimming pool that I didn’t remember from my last time round there in 2012. The dominant structure in Woolloomooloo Bay though is the long building of expensive apartments that juts out on the pier. It was easy enough to cut back into the Royal Botanic Gardens from here at the Lion Gate entrance, and I took in the succulent garden and through to the lotus pond where there was a lot of bird activity to catch my eye. It was a chance to get a close up with some ibis which are quite big birds, but yet scavenge like pigeons.

 

Built since my last visit, the Calyx was an interesting structure hidden near the back of the Botanic Gardens. A circular structure, it contained a massive living wall inside which was fascinating to look at both close up and from the far side of the room. Spelling out the word Pollination, the wall was covered in a plethora of plants and there were displays about the role of bees in pollination and the threat that bees are under worldwide. Back outside in the warm sun, I cut up to the Governor Phillip fountain which I’d never seen before, walking around it as office workers were coming out for lunch. The shaded benches and grassy spots started to fill up with those seeking shade to enjoy their food, and as it got busier here I moved onwards. I skirted past the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Government House to Bennelong Lawn where you can look down onto the front of the Opera House.

 

Back at Circular Quay, the sun was now higher in the sky, removing the shadows from that morning. As there often is, a large cruise ship was docked and there was a hive of activity around the wharf and on the water. Climbing the many steps up the steep face of the Rocks district, I found myself at the Sydney Harbour bridge. I’ve previously climbed the bridge twice but never actually walked across it, so it seemed about time to do so and I joined the mix of locals and tourists on the footpath. It is a noisy affair being so close to the passing traffic as well as the intermittent addition of a train on the far side, but looking east, the view on crossing was of the city, the Opera House and the myriad of boats that plied the harbour.

 

Kiribilli on the north shore reminded me a bit of a district in London where my friend used to live. That same friend also briefly lived in Kiribilli (and in fact I saw in New Year here a few years ago). I mainly just wanted to hang around the waterfront though, so I passed under the bridge and cut down to the baths behind Luna Park, and then the promenade itself. I headed west for a bit then turned and headed east under the great arch. As the afternoon was wearing on by now, shadows were creeping in again, and I watched the harbour goings on for a bit before my hungry stomach kicked me into gear.

 

Once back across the bridge I headed for an early dinner at the Australian, an iconic pub in the Rocks district. I had gotten a sweet deal at the hostel which had included a discounted meal here, and having been here before, I knew I was in for a tasty pizza. Unfortunately my best friend had twisted her ankle, meaning our planned days of walking had to be curtailed. Instead I was to head to her place to catch up at home where she could rest. With a bit of time free prior, I took a long walk as darkness fell round from the Rocks and past the Barangaroo Reserve into Darling Harbour.

 

Whilst the main Vivid Sydney lights were around Circular Quay and the Gardens, there were a handful of displays in Darling Harbour. The most striking one was a large moving creature that was propelled by a couple of helpers. There was a large crowd as the creature interacted with some diners at a local restaurant. In the water, there was so much light and there was a general buzz in the air. Eventually though, I had to leave and I set off to catch up with my friend ahead of much more activities to do over the coming days.

Wildlife of Australia

Scotland will always be my first home, and New Zealand my second, but being lucky enough to have it on my doorstep, I have visited Australia often and fondly consider it a third home. Whilst all three countries are visually stunning in their own right, in my opinion, Australia wins hands down with their wildlife. I can’t get enough of it. But whilst the country is most famous for its marsupials and its bragging rights as being home to the largest number of venomous creatures, there is so much more to Australia’s wildlife, thanks to a variety of climates and landscapes. Even out in the vast desert that fills the centre of the country, there are so many creatures to spot, and I have been very lucky to see so many of them.

MAMMALS – MARSUPIALS

Koala

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA), Magnetic Island (QLD)

 

Red Kangaroo

Spotted: Side of the road (SA), Side of the road (QLD)

 

Forester (Eastern Grey) Kangaroo

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Narawntapu National Park (TAS)

 

Kangaroo Island (Sooty) Kangaroo

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Red-Necked (Bennet’s) Wallaby

Spotted: Maria Island (TAS), Freycinet National Park (TAS), Cataract Gorge (TAS)

 

Swamp Wallaby

Spotted: Griffiths Island (VIC)

 

Tasmanian Pademelon

Spotted: Mount Field National Park (TAS), Maria Island (TAS), Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS)

 

Quokka

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Maria Island (TAS), Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS), Narawntapu National Park (TAS)

 

Tasmanian Devil

Spotted: Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (TAS)

 

Echidna

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Bandicoot

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Antechinus

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW)

 

 

MAMMALS – TERRESTRIAL

Camel

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Water Buffalo

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Wild Cattle

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Water Rat

Spotted: St Kilda (VIC)

 

 

MAMMALS – MARINE

Humpback Whale

Spotted off the coast of NSW, QLD and WA.

 

Humpback Dolphin

Spotted: Coastal QLD

 

Australian Sealion

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

New Zealand Fur Seal

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

 

BIRDS

Emu

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

 

Black-necked Stork

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Pelican

Spotted: Triabunna (TAS), St. Helen’s (TAS), Adelaide (SA), Wollongong (NSW), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (NSW), Hervey Bay (QLD), Currumbin (QLD), Noosa (QLD), Cairns (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Royal Spoonbill

Spotted: Noosa (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Australian White Ibis

Spotted: Sydney (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Adelaide (SA), Currumbin (QLD), Darwin (NT)

 

Feathered Ibis

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Black Swan

Spotted: St. Helen’s (TAS), Narawntapu National Park (TAS), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), St. Kilda (VIC)

 

Cape Barren Goose

Spotted: Phillip Island (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Magpie Goose

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Great Egret

Spotted: Port Fairy (VIC), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Cairns (QLD), Perth (WA)

 

Little Egret

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT)

 

Cattle Egret

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Masked Lapwing

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Nankeen Night Heron

Spotted: Port Fairy (VIC)

 

Fairy Penguin

Spotted: St. Kilda (VIC)

 

Bar-Tailed Godwit

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Radjah Shellduck

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Australian Shelduck

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Pacific Black Duck

Spotted: Currumbin (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Australian Wood Duck

Spotted: Currumbin (QLD)

 

Australasian Swamphen

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Melbourne (VIC)

 

Dusky Moorhen

Spotted: Adelaide (SA), Melbourne (VIC)

 

Australian Coot

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Currumbin (QLD)

 

Comb-crested Jacana

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Pied shag

Spotted: Hobart (TAS), St. Helen’s (TAS), Kangaroo Island (SA), Currumbin (QLD), Noosa (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Australian Darter

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

Osprey

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

White-Bellied Sea Eagle

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD), K’Gari/Fraser Island (QLD)

 

Brahminy Kite

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

Black Kite

Spotted: Darwin (NT), Adelaide River (NT)

 

Australian Kestrel

Spotted: Phillip Island (VIC)

 

Masked Booby

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Brown Booby

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Red-billed Gull

Spotted: Everywhere!

 

Crested Tern

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA), Noosa (QLD)

 

Caspian Tern

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Bush Turkey

Spotted: Sydney Harbour National Park (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Currumbin (QLD)

 

Orange-Footed Scrub Fowl

Spotted: Cairns (QLD), Darwin (NT)

 

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Spotted (and heard!): Sydney (NSW), Blue Mountains National Park (NSW), Great Ocean Road (VIC), Tamborine Mountains (QLD), Mount Lofty (SA), St. Kilda (VIC), Hamilton Island (QLD)

 

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW), Darwin (NT)

 

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Long-billed Corella

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Corowa (NSW), Sydney (NSW)

 

Galah

Spotted: Sorrento (VIC), Hobart (TAS), Benalla (VIC), Perth (WA), Fremantle (WA), Yulara (NT)

 

Australian King Parrot

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW)

 

Rainbow Lorikeet

Spotted: Sydney (NSW), Tamborine Mountains (QLD), Adelaide (SA), Melbourne (VIC), Hervey Bay (QLD), Magnetic Island (QLD), Perth (WA)

 

Yellow Rosella

Spotted: Taranna (TAS)

 

Crimson Rosella

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT)

 

Tawny Frogmouth

Spotted: Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (TAS)

 

Kookaburra

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Sydney (NSW), Noosa National Park (QLD), Hamilton Island (QLD)

 

Black Currawong

Spotted: Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS)

 

Australian Magpie

Spotted: Fremantle (WA)

 

Common Bronzewing

Spotted: Yulara (NT)

 

Bar-Shouldered Dove

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Crested Pigeon

Spotted: Yulara (NT), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Magpie Lark

Spotted: Melbourne (VIC)

 

Common Myna

Spotted: Melbourne (VIC), Coogee (NSW)

 

Blue-faced Honeyeater

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD)

 

Helmeted Friarbird

Spotted: Townsville (QLD)

 

Forest Kingfisher

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Australasian (Green) Figbird

Spotted: Townsville (QLD)

 

Red Wattle Bird

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Black Butcherbird

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

The Unidentifiable Bird

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Brown Honeyeater

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Singing Honeyeater

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Black-faced Woodswallow

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Rainbow Bee-eater

Spotted: Darwin (NT), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Welcome Swallow

Spotted: St. Kilda (VIC), Kuranda (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Flame Robin

Spotted: Maria Island (TAS)

 

Pale Yellow Robin

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

Willie Wagtail

Spotted: Noosa Everglades (QLD), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Superb Fairy Wren

Spotted: Tamar River Valley (TAS), Brisbane (QLD)

 

The Unidentifiable Bird

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Zebra Finch

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

 

REPTILES

Saltwater Crocodile

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Freshwater Crocodile

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)