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.