MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Sydney”

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.

Homeward Bound

In the darkness of another cold desert morning, I waited for my ride to a nearby farm where I had signed up for a different kind of Outback sunrise experience: a camel ride across the desert sands. Originally imported into Australia in the 19th century for transportation, many camels were released into the wild when they were no longer of use and now a massive feral population exists in the country, the largest in the World. Due to their potential for environmental damage, the Australian Government has taken steps to keep their numbers in check. In an ironic twist, Australian camels have been exported back to the Middle East for breeding stock and consumption. In Australia itself, some camels have been farmed, and the camels at the Uluru Camel Tours make up the largest working camel farm in Australia. This was to be the last sunrise that I would witness on my great Australian adventure, and it was the coldest I had been on my trip. It still amazed me the extent of contrast between the cold desert nights and the hot desert days.

In the darkness we were introduced to our camel train. Each camel could take two people, so each group were assigned their camel, with myself and a couple of others getting a camel to themselves. I’d never ridden a camel before, although in my past I’ve ridden horses, elephants and an ostrich. I had many layers of clothes on in an effort to keep myself warm, and was grateful that I had a pair of gloves with me. With the battered sun hat I’d purchased in Adelaide, I looked comical as my photo was taken while my camel took to his feet. Once the large group of people were mounted, we were off. It was an hour’s gentle wander through a well marked trail across the red sands to a series of lookout points where we could watch the sun rise above the horizon and light up the now familiar outline of Uluru. The shadows of the camels added to the experience and whilst there was a lot of waiting around whilst people got their photos taken, I actually didn’t mind because the camel behind me kept me entertained as he chewed religiously next to my foot. The second lookout point that we went to gave a view across to Kata Tjuta and both went through the same colour changes I’d seen before. Like each day previous, it was to be another gorgeously sunny day in the Outback.

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

 

Back at the farm we got a homemade breakfast before we were driven back to the Ayers Rock Resort. I was checked out of the Outback Pioneer Lodge, and had a few hours left before my transfer to the airport. With a plethora of lookout spots to choose from, I’d already made use of several of them over my stay, but one I hadn’t been to was the Uluru lookout which was within walking distance of the lodge. Following a red sandy track across the desert landscape, it felt like I was leaving the resort behind and heading out in to the wilderness, although the occasional noise of traffic told me this wasn’t really the case. I came across a colony of ants bursting up from under the ground and there was so much interesting flora to look at.

 

When I reached the lookout I had it to myself, and proceeded to go snap happy taking all sorts of angles and selfies in a last ditch effort to record this amazing place. There were several points to choose from and I made use of them all. Only when some other people arrived did I leave. A little further along was a war memorial, and from there I cut back to the resort, taking my time admiring the plants, and the birds that accompanied me. I even managed to capture a photograph of a lizard, when normally they would just scurry under a bush before the opportunity arose. When it was time to board the bus to the airport I was sad to leave the place, but I was happy that I’d done it justice.

 

At the little airport, whilst waiting to check in, a trainee ground staff accidentally pressed the wrong button on the computer system and managed to shut down the whole flight whilst I was at the counter. There was a long wait to fix the problem whilst people in the queue became increasingly restless. I’m sure many of them thought I was the hold-up, but eventually the flight got reopened and things got moving again. I had a window seat on my flight to Sydney, and I looked down on both Kata Tjuta and Uluru as we took off, flying past the latter before banking to head east. Like the previous flights, there was a long expanse of desert below, occasionally broken up by large dried lakes. Finally we touched down in Sydney, my favourite city.

 

I always stay in the same place whenever I come to Sydney, the YHA hostel in the Rocks district. Aside from being the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in, not only is it in a prime location, but its rooftop terrace has an awesome view. It was dark when I finally got out to explore. I stuck to Circular Quay and wandered around the waterfront absorbing the view and the atmosphere. It is always a vibrant place to be. I was undecided about dinner, and in the end just ate dessert at the Guylian chocolate cafe.

 

Whenever I visit a place I’ve been before, aside from going to my favourite places, I always try and do something new. My best friend lives in Sydney so we met up for breakfast at one of my favourite cafes, then caught the ferry to Cockatoo Island in Sydney harbour. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has been used both as a dockyard and as a convict establishment, and now you can wander amongst the remains of both of these at your leisure. It was an interesting place to walk around, although mainly we were catching up on each other’s lives as we walked. Being in September, there were seagulls everywhere with plenty of chicks around, some of them in rather precarious positions. In the end we went from looking at the historical sites to chick spotting as the birds were everywhere. We sat with a cider in the sun at the little bar, and later before catching the boat back to Circular Quay, we sat at the little cafe near the pier with the Harbour Bridge visible behind us.

 

That night we headed out of town to go to a comedy show. One of the good things about exploring a city with a local is that you get to see places that you wouldn’t normally go to as a tourist. My friend lives south of the city centre, and in the darkness I quickly lost my bearings, and still have no idea where we ended up. It was a good show and a nice end to my last full day in Australia. My friend had plans the next day so I was on my own again for my final hours in the country. My flight wasn’t till the evening, so after checking out, I was quick to jump on a boat to Manly.

The ferry ride over is a great way to view the harbour, and being the weekend, it was busy. I was lucky to get a table at an Italian cafe on the main strip, and had a delicious sandwich and dessert with my coffee for brunch. On my first visit to Manly back in 2012, I did extensive exploration around the nearby national park, but I didn’t have the luxury of time on this occasion, and so stuck to the promenade that hugs Manly beach, and then around the popular coastal track to Shelly Beach. Out here it was sweltering and sunny, and eventually I retreated to the air-conditioned shops for a breather. I got sucked into a donut shop near the ferry terminal and found some shade by Manly Cove to enjoy it.

 

Despite the sun at Manly, the cloud was building up over the city and the wind brought up a bit of spray over the boat on the way back. There was a large market on in the Rocks district and I used the last of my time to walk through it. The market itself was packed but nearby one of the pubs was running Oktoberfest and aside from the crammed outdoor seats, there was an audience of tourists taking photos as the bar staff walked around in lederhosen, carrying large jugs of beer. Eventually though, I retreated to the rooftop terrace of the hostel to stare over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge one last time. I adore Sydney, and hate to leave it as much as I love to visit it. But after 5.5 weeks, my Australian adventure was over, and now it was just time to head to the airport and head home.

Reacquaintance

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…

Sydney for Two

When I was 19 years old, I travelled across Canada and fell in love with the city of Vancouver. It has, for over 10 years, remained my favourite city in the whole world. Until now. On my first visit to Sydney in 2012, I was travelling solo but this time, not only was I going with my partner and excited to show him my favourite places, but one of my best friends now lives there, meaning an insiders guide to the city. By the end of the week’s holiday, not only had I convinced my partner of the city’s charms, but I had sealed the love for the place which has firmly made it my new favourite city in the whole world.

We arrived on my birthday which was almost coincidental. The real reason we had booked the trip to Sydney was to see the live show of Mrs Brown’s Boys at the weekend. We decided to go a couple of days ahead, meaning no lie-in for me on my birthday. Instead, we had a ridiculously early rise to get to the airport, but the pay-off was that we arrived in Sydney still early in the morning, giving us the use of the whole day. After we hauled our bags up the many many steps from Circular Quay up into the Rocks, we reversed our route and jumped on a ferry out to Taronga Zoo. Last time I had visited, I had been blown away by the bird show and had sold it as a good enough reason to go to the zoo. Arriving in the early afternoon we wound our way through the exhibits under the blazing sunshine. Like Australia Zoo at the end of last year, I was as much (if not more so) enthused about the wild creatures flitting about, as I was about the animals in the enclosures. We were near the kookaburra enclosure when 2 wild kookaburras flew down onto the pathway, which was the closest I had ever been able to see a wild one. I felt sorry for the captive ones, as it seemed as if the wild ones were taunting the others. There was definitely a good bit of vocalisation in what was probably some territorial stand off.

 

I continue to feel very uneasy about captive mammals performing tricks for show, but I guiltily enjoyed the seal show. All the seals they have there were injured individuals that were rehabilitated, and they do seem to enjoy themselves, but I couldn’t help but watch and have thoughts of Blackfish in the back of my mind. From there, we headed straight to the outdoor amphitheatre where the bird show is held, but when we got there, they had a sign up informing us that the afternoon show was cancelled. I was rather disappointed, as it was the main reason for coming back here, but with views over the harbour and the city skyline beyond, it was still a good trip for the afternoon. That evening, we had a wander around the Rocks, and along Circular Quay towards the Opera House. The most amazing red sunset took place over the harbour, and we watched it until the darkness took over, before we headed back for an early night.

 

As an avid fan of Home & Away, it seemed only appropriate to make the long bus journey up to Palm Beach, north of the city. It was a lovely, though long, drive over the harbour bridge, through the northern suburbs and up the east coast past beach after bay after beach after bay. Most people got off at the wharf on the west coast of the peninsula, but we stayed on till it crossed to the east side, getting off at the park which backs the long stretch of golden sand. There was no mistaking this place for the back drop of the fictitious Summer Bay, but it was quiet with barely a soul around and the building that plays the part of the Surf Club was shut up and empty. The beach was stunning, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. We walked from the surf club to the southern edge of the beach where there were a couple of shops and restaurants but still very few people, then headed back to the surf club again. Unsure of how to get up to the lighthouse, we decided to head back to the wharf on the western shore where there was a bit more life, although still very quiet. Unlike the surf on the eastern side, this western side was very protected and the water was lovely and clear. We waded about for a while before heading over the brow of the hill to the pier where it turned out we had missed the one and only sailing of the day. With nothing else happening, and with neither of us having swimwear with us, we decided to head back towards the city. We detoured at Manly to head to the beach, another gorgeous stretch of beach which was conversely crowded with people: sunbathing, in the water, and generally milling about the place. After lunch overlooking the beach, we did a bit of shopping in the surf shops before heading back to Circular Quay. It had been a lovely but hot day, so it was almost a relief when the clouds rolled in for the evening.

 

We had arranged to meet some friends in Darling Harbour, so we opted to walk from Circular Quay round the harbour, under the Harbour Bridge and round the other side. Since last time I was here, part of the walk had been removed whilst building work was going ahead. A brand new casino is in the process of being built, amongst other things, so there was plenty of activity going on. We had to skirt the building site to get back to the waterfront at Darling Harbour and we followed the harbour round, cutting up at Tumbalong Park. I had previously found Darling Harbour quite garish and brash, and hadn’t been a particular fan of the place last time. This time, it was a little different. Whilst still a bit loud and intense, it is changing quite a bit. The monorail tracks are still in the process of being removed and there is some construction work taking place to redevelop it a bit. But it was Tumbalong Park that really helped me change my mind a little. It has an amazing children’s play ground with all sorts of structures for them to play around, and climb over, as well as paddling pools and water features for them to interact with. Being a Saturday, it was absolutely mobbed, and it seemed a great place to keep the kids cool and entertained at the same time. There was plenty of eating options nearby for the parents to get a snack or drink to indulge in whilst supervising their children at play. In the green space behind there was a Thai festival taking place, with stalls serving a wide range of Thai foods, as well as tents to indulge in a Thai massage, tourism spots for Thailand, and Thai entertainers.

 

After a brief wander round, we cut over to Chinatown, another place I hadn’t been to last time, and we gawped at the tanks crammed full of giant crabs and lobsters on display in the windows of the restaurants. It was just a case of crossing the street to go inside Paddy’s Market, one of the largest indoor markets I have ever seen. It was huge, and the range of things on offer was immense, from clothes and toys, to jewellery and souvenirs, and fruit and veg out the back too. We spent a wee while wandering around and still didn’t cover even half of the floor space. Outside at the corner was a wee takeaway shop selling some strange concoction of green tea. The English descriptions were quite vague, with most of the writing being in Mandarin, but I joined the queue and ordered a passion fruit green tea. The tea itself was really nice, but it came with a load of weird jellied sweets at the bottom that would get sucked up the straw and give a weird taste or sensation in my mouth. Looking around, the drinks seemed really popular amongst the predominantly Asian crowd, but I was slightly put off by those jellied sweets. Cutting back through Chinatown, we returned to the Thai festival and partook in a Thai-style neck & shoulder massage whilst waiting on our friends. It was sore in a good way, and the food from the stalls that we all sat down to afterwards was delicious. It was a good way to pass a few hours.

 

After our friends left, we caught the ferry back to Circular Quay for a brief respite before catching another ferry up the Paramatta River to the Sydney Olympic Park. The further up river we went, the more residential the buildings became, and the Olympic Park itself was a surprisingly large area incorporating some wetlands and several walks. Towards the back of the park, there are multiple events buildings and some restaurants. The bus from the wharf took us on a rather convoluted route before we eventually jumped out near the main stadium. Mrs Brown’s Boys was playing at the Allphones Arena and I was very impressed with the whole set up of the park in general but also the building itself. The food and merchandise areas allowed a lot of people to get served at once, meaning quite an efficient service most of the time. They also allowed food into the main auditorium meaning we could sit down whilst we ate. The show itself was great. I was a little disappointed in the first half as, having watched all the series’ several times, it was just an elongated version of a couple of the episodes from the television show. Whilst padded out with plenty of humour and plenty of ad-libbing, it was hard not to feel like I knew a lot of the punch lines before they came. The second half was much better though, and when the cast came out at the end and ‘Agnes Brown’ read out some messages, it was hysterical. Just like in the television series, the actor who plays ‘Rory Brown’ can’t help himself sometimes, often bursting out laughing in anticipation of an upcoming line, and the banter between the cast with impromptu lines was hysterical.

 

The following day was an event that had been quite short-notice, having only found out about it within the week. We caught the train to Blacktown Station on the Blue Mountains line, and from there caught the free shuttle bus to the Sydney Motorsport Park for the Top Gear Festival. My memories of Top Gear on British television go back years, and with a rather long waiting list to be in the audience of said show, I jumped at the chance of going to the festival when I found out that both Jeremy Clarkson and James May were to be there. There was a lot going on at the festival, from stunts and racing displays on the track, to stunts to take part in, as well as stalls selling everything you could ever need for a car, and opportunities to meet drivers, as well as multiple racing car simulators. After a morning spent wandering round the stalls and looking at a lot of cars, we settled into the grandstand seats for an afternoon of stunts and action. The range of stunts was amazing, from motorbikes in mid-air to trucks driving on 2 wheels, and even the Top Gear presenters got in on things. The absolute highlights of the afternoon included Jeremy Clarkson challenging an Olympic Hurdler to a race; car football, whereby James May & Jeremy Clarkson took on the Australian Top Gear presenters at the wheel of Reliant Robins; and a car attached to a bungee cord with someone sitting at the wheel. It was a fantastic day, more than worth the entrance fee, and considering that it had been short notice, it was a major highlight of the trip.

 

After a long day, we took ourselves round to Chinatown where we went in search of a restaurant to have dinner. Just walking down the main street we were almost grabbed at every restaurant by one of the staff trying to tempt us in with their menu and general refusal to take no for an answer. We didn’t make it far before giving in to one determined woman, and taking a seat outside in the warm evening air. We weren’t disappointed though: the food was divine and we ate our fill heartily, watching the large crustaceans being presented to various customers at the restaurants around us. Down the street a busker was playing a lyre and on the boat back to Circular Quay, a lightning storm rolled in to the south of the city, momentarily lighting up the city skyline in a beautiful purple glow. It was a fantastic end to a fantastic day.

 

The next day brought clear blue skies, and a return trip to Manly in the morning which gave fantastic views over the city, the harbour and the Tasman Sea beyond. Back in the city, we jumped on a bus to Bondi, a place I had seen through the rain on my last trip. On this day, it was hot, sunny and the beach and surrounding streets full of eateries and shops were packed. Lunch was enjoyed on a grassy hill behind the beach, people watching those around us whilst trying to fend off the swarm of seagulls that threatened to ruin our enjoyment. Eventually we took to the promenade and wandered along the beachfront before hooking up with the coastal walk south to Coogee. It was a popular walk, and I could see why. On such a beautiful day, there were cracking views north and south along the dramatic coastline, but round every bay was another inlet with another beach offering a multitude of choice for sunbathing, swimming and surfing. Each little bay was beautiful in its own way, and after an hour of snaking round the rugged coastline, we came across Coogee. Coogee was just as gorgeous as Bondi was and nearly as busy, and after all the walking in the heat, the iced coffee from the cafe across the road was well earned and well received. Catching a bus back into the city centre, we retrieved our bags and caught the train to Redfern where my friends live. From the balcony of their flat they have an awesome view back towards the city centre, and I am more than a little jealous that they get to live in this incredible city. It was great to get a local’s perspective of the place, and with them having previously lived in neighbouring Newtown, we headed there for dinner where there was lots of choice for food and drinks.

 

Our last full day was a long one. Getting up early, we caught the Blue Mountains train to Wentworth Falls, the location of my favourite of the 3 walks I did in the region. I had talked this trip up to my partner for months and was determined to show him why I loved it there. After nearly 2 hrs, we stumbled off the train with a few other groups of walkers and jostled with them on the way to the park and on the Charles Darwin walk through the forest. We had been told about a flash storm that had hit the region not long before we arrived in the country but the water level in the river was less than when I had been there in September 2012. It was still a beautiful walk along the riverside, past several waterfalls until we came out at Wentworth Falls and that oh-so-familiar view of the expanse of the Blue Mountains. Like last time, there was a crowd of people at the top of the falls, and the various view points on the way down the steep staircases to the side of the falls, down the canyon wall. Upon reaching the ledge of the National Pass, the crowds thinned out, with many people going no further and heading back up the stairs.

The path passes under the top section of the falls, and above the bottom section, and from here onwards, we had the path mainly to ourselves. Hugging the natural cliff ledge, we walked under dripping overhangs and across stepping stones with loud cockatiels flitting amongst the branches of the thick vegetation. At the far end, we stopped for lunch before heading up the many steps past a couple of waterfalls back up to the top of the canyon, and up to the cafe for a rest stop. The Overcliff track back to the starting point of the hike was closed due to storm damage, so we had to take a detour which shortened the return leg dramatically. We managed to cut back to the cliff edge for the Undercliff track which gave us a higher view of Wentworth Falls and a last sighting of the expanse of the Blue Mountains before heading back up Darwin’s walk to catch the train back to the city.