I can’t imagine ever losing that love for exploring and discovering new places, but as eager as I am to seek out new regions to explore, the list of places I’ve fallen in love with and yearn to go back to is a constantly growing list too. Just five years ago, I could not imagine me ever stepping foot on Australia’s soil, and now, living on the opposite side of the world, it is a mere jump and a surprisingly cheap airfare away, and I find myself drawn back there time and time again. I fell in love with Sydney on my first visit there 2.5 years ago, and with my best friend now living there, I’ve happily made the trip back a couple of times since. The minute I get off that plane at the airport, I feel home. Every stress and worry lifts off my shoulders and a mighty grin splits my face for the duration of my stay. After taking my partner there last year for his first trip to the city, he too fell in love with its charms and we vowed to go back there for New Years Eve.
After spending Christmas in Auckland, we flew from there on a beautiful sunny day and arrived first thing in the morning. We were once again staying in one of the best hostels I’ve ever been in, YHA at the Rocks, and we dumped our bags before making our way to some friends and family at Bondi beach. The city was packed, the busiest I’ve ever seen it, and there were long queues for the buses to Bondi. Stepping off on the main road at the beach, the whole area was a mass of bodies swarming along the pavements, and draped across towels on the grass and the beach.
One of the best things about staying in the Rocks area is the location. Not only does the hostel itself have a fantastic rooftop view overlooking the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but it is an easy walk to Circular Quay and two main transport hubs. Throughout the summer months, Circular Quay is often dwarfed by various immense cruise ships that berth there, and there was no denying that this was peak season. Just a few minutes walk from the hostel is the Harbour Bridge itself, and for the second time, I pulled on the jumpsuit and went through the safety briefing before heading up onto the arch. On my first visit, I had done a day time climb, but this time it was at night. The red sky was fading as we made it up onto the arch and by the time the group had summited, it was dark. Fruit bats flew past us as shadows against the twinkling lights around us, and the big draw with this time of the day was the near silence. With little goings-on below us, it felt a world away up there on the bridge, so tranquil and isolated, and we could really enjoy the experience with little external distractions.
The following morning we took the ferry to Kirribilli then headed up the coast north to Palm Beach. The sun was relentless in a cloudless sky, and even so early in the morning, the place was packed with people and cars. Eventually it was time to head off on the boat trip that we had come up for: a river cruise up the Hawkesbury River. It was a lovely little boat and we were lucky enough to get an outside seat to enjoy the view on the way up. For anyone who watches the soap Home & Away, Palm Beach is the location region, and as we left the wharf behind we passed the building and pier used as Alf’s Bait Shop and saw the Barrenjoey Lighthouse that sits atop the peninsula at the end of the beach. It is a beautiful location, and heading up the river there were small settlements scattered about the place with plenty of people making use of the waterway. There were plenty of pelicans at our first stop, and at the second stop there were 2 float planes making use of the waterway to take people on scenic trips. Finally we reached our destination, Bobbin Head, a quaint little place with a marina and park nestled into the upper reaches of the river. We ate lunch whilst a large shoal of fish fought over scraps of food, before heading back towards the sea and returning to Palm Beach. The sun was setting by the time we reached Kirribilli again and we had a beautiful view of the Harbour Bridge as the sun dipped behind it.
The next day was New Years Eve and it turned out to be one of the most relaxing New Years Eves I’ve ever had. Not normally one for being idle on holiday, I was unusually content to sunbathe for a while on the roof of the hostel before meeting my friends in Chinatown for a much needed Thai massage, followed by a manicure and a tasty lunch. My friends headed back to Kirribilli and I headed back to my hostel to meet up with my partner, and a few hours later we headed down to Circular Quay to catch the ferry. People had been marking their spot in Circular Quay since early in the morning, and by now, near 6pm, we couldn’t get through to get to the ferry. Officials sent us first one way, then the next until we were completely denied entry into the wharf. In the end, we had to catch a train across the bridge, but arriving on the north shore, there was a mass of people cramming down the stairs to exit the train station before being shepherded out only one exit, leaving us on the wrong side of the bridge. Eventually, after a longer walk than planned, we made it to the party in Kirribilli.
Whilst our view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House were restricted, we had a prime view out across the harbour and as the hours passed, the water twinkled with the lights of hundreds of boats. With this against the backdrop of the lit up buildings on the shore, it was stunning. The water reflected all the lights and the sight was simply mesmerising. In between eating and socialising, we nipped up to the rooftop to view the various fireworks displays as well as a boat display and an aerial display as the hours ticked away. Eventually though, as the clock neared midnight, all the occupants from the whole block of flats piled out onto the roof to watch the fireworks. Only on the television can you truly appreciate the whole display, but even from our vantage point, it was an unforgettable experience watching the fireworks dance off the harbour bridge and then the opera house and finally starting up along the harbour. There were too many places to look, and for 12 minutes, the sky lit up with colour and the only sounds to be heard were the bang of the explosions, and the cheers from the audience. Eventually the crescendo came and went, as did the rest of the night, and in the small hours of the morning, we made our way back across the harbour and to bed.
New Years day was a scorcher, and we joined the large crowd of people in Manly on the north shore, taking a walk along the coastal walkway and generally perspiring. Later on we headed to Chinatown, and wandered through to Darling Harbour before sailing back to Circular Quay and an early night.
Since my first visit to Sydney, I had been keen to go to Jenolan caves deep within the Blue Mountains, but up until now I hadn’t had the time. Finally though, we made the nearly 2 hr trip by train to Katoomba to catch the bus to the caves another 1.5hrs away. It was a long way to go, but the scenery was stunning, and finally we wound our way down the narrow road to the caves nestled deep within a valley. The road itself goes through a natural tunnel in the road, coming out at a stunning building that is hidden away at the back. There are multiple cave tours to choose from, and we had selected the Chifley and Lucas caves. They were both fascinating in their own right, but the tour groups were far too large which marred the experience somewhat. Even in the middle of nowhere, it was very obvious that we were in peak tourist season.
In the first cave it was very difficult to hear what the guide was saying as there were so many of us in there, and many of the kids were either crying or talking. The guide herself was taking no prisoners, getting rather agitated and taking on a ‘school ma’am’ role, scolding parents for not quieting their children. We had little time to waste in the rather long queue to get food from the cafe, gobbling it down before having to leg it back to the cave entrance to join the second tour. By this stage, a thunder storm was rolling in, but deep underground we were completely oblivious until the lights all turned out and we were plunged into darkness. The back-up generator failed to kick in and so the second half of the cave tour was self-led by mobile torch light, and the occasional brief spell when the lights came back on prior to going out again. We emerged at the far end to a rain-soaked world, and the whole drive home was in lashing rain.
Our last day in Sydney, we met up with my friends for the last time, and caught the train to Paramatta. Not being a fan of Sydney’s CBD, I found Paramatta to be a much more pleasant place to go for shopping. It was a roasting day, and after a short time spent at the mall, we headed towards the river and waited for the ferry. As it turned out, the tide was too low, and we had to be bused to the next ferry terminal to catch it, but from there, we set sail down the upper reaches of the Paramatta river on route to Circular Quay.
That final night we boarded a tall ship for a dinner sailing around the harbour. With a bbq meal, and a licensed bar, it was a lovely way to spend the evening. I paid extra for the experience of climbing the rigging to the crow’s nest. As soon as we left Circular Quay, I got kitted up and set loose on the rigging. It was harder than I thought. Between the movement of the boat across the water, the long gaps between each rung and the narrowing rigging with height, it all added up to make it quite an exertion. When I finally reached the crow’s nest, I didn’t think I would be able to haul myself onto the ledge. After pausing for a few minutes though, I made the effort and stood proudly on the ledge looking down at a world that seemed so distant below. It was fantastic to look down on the deck below me, enjoying a moment that was privy only to me alone. It was the sight of food being served that drew me out my reverie and brought me back down to the deck and the rest of the passengers.
Another gorgeous sunny day followed, and we checked out of our hostel. Heading across town to collect our rental car, we set off on our next adventure…