The land down under

Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
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51
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Trip End Nov 30, 2011


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Where I stayed
Sydney Harbour YHA

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Australia has never been high on my list of places to visit - don't ask me why, I’ve just never had a burning desire to go there. Probably just as well, as I very nearly wasn’t allowed in. Upon arrival at the Qantas check-in desk at Auckland airport, the lady looked through my passport and asked me whether I had a visa for Australia. I looked at Andrew, Andrew looked at me, and I said to the lady "I’m British, I didn’t think I needed one"! So much for the Commonwealth, sharing the same queen blah blah blah; apparently I needed a visa prior to entry - I haven’t needed one for any other country so far! Fortunately for me, the Australians are quite organised, and similar to the US they have an online ESTA-style system. So off I went to another Qantas desk, money in hand, to get my online visa.

On arrival in Sydney I was faced with the most unfriendly immigration official in the world (I thought Aussies were supposed to be nice people) - she didn’t say one word to me, not even responding to my hello. And then before I could say stop, she stuck a stamp right in the middle of one of my precious passport pages. I have 8 clean pages left in my passport, and as some countries specify you need at least 3 clean pages on entry, I am trying to be very careful now about where the stamps go!

We arrived at the hostel around 9pm, only to be told that there was a problem with our reservation - despite having booked a mixed dorm, we had been allocated a male dorm, and they quickly realised I wasn’t male! The upside of this was that we were given a private room for the night, which was lovely, but unfortunately it meant we had to switch rooms twice during our stay, which wasn’t ideal. So all in all not a great start to Sydney, and I was asking Andrew why we were here and hadn’t gone straight to Singapore – apparently you can’t fly direct from Auckland to Singapore with oneworld.

Friday morning we decided to head to Circular Quay, only a five minute walk from our hostel, to catch the City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off bus. This had been such a success in Buenos Aires we thought it would be a good way to get a feel for Sydney - or at least for me as Andrew has been here before. It was a pleasant and informative tour, although progress was slow due to the volume of traffic, so it took a bit longer than we anticipated. When we got back to the city centre we jumped off at the rather impressive Queen Victoria shopping centre, grabbed some lunch to eat outside the Town Hall, and then headed to Darling Harbour. We had a lovely stroll from there along Kings Wharf to Dawes Point (under the Sydney Harbour Bridge), and then on to The Rocks for the night market. I’ve managed to get browsing without buying down to a fine art (unfortunately), although we did make a purchase of wraps and cupcakes for dinner! Both Andrew and I were blown away by how expensive Sydney was so we were trying very hard to watch the pennies.

After checking out of our room on Saturday morning, we headed back to the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus to catch a ride back out to Bondi. I’m not sure what I expected Bondi to be like but it was different to any preconceived ideas I had. I guess I was expecting it to be bigger, or at least there to be not so many people or buildings around it, but that may be because I’ve been spoilt by Bermuda. It was a lovely beach, just a bit too crowded for my liking, but I was very impressed with the amount of drinking water stations there were, from which we could fill our bottle. From there we followed the beautiful coastal walkway to Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee beaches, stopping to watch the surfers along the way. Tamarama (or Glamarama as it is affectionately known) was my favourite, probably because it was relatively small and the least crowded.

Wine seems to be a recurring theme in our round the world trip, and I had noticed in an in-flight magazine that there was a Sydney Cellar Door event in Hyde Park this weekend. After finishing the coastal walkway we managed to catch a bus from Coogee that went via Hyde Park, so stopped off to sample some wine. Unfortunately for $25 you could only sample five wines, and as there were near to a hundred wineries there, choosing only a few was quite hard. We decided to try wines from different regions, whilst including the necessary visit to the Shaw Vineyard tent! I have to say though, I think my favourite thing was the Merlot infused chocolate that we bought – absolutely delicious!

After stopping to look at the ANZAC Memorial nearby, we made our way back to Circular Quay and somehow ended up in the Opera Bar! Funny how that happened, we were just strolling along looking at the Opera House and taking some photographs, and then decided it was a nice night to sit outside and have a drink. It was a lovely evening sat on the harbour looking at both of Sydney’s famous landmarks and soaking up the atmosphere. When we returned to the hostel after dinner, we went to look at the view of the harbour from the rooftop terrace and there was a firework display going on over the Opera House. We have no idea what it was for, but it made to a fantastic end to the evening.

Sunday morning we walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the north shore and continued past Luna Park to Blues Point Reserve - it was a lovely walk with great views back over the city. It was very hot and sunny and by the end of the walk we both needed to sit down, and have a drink and something to eat, before we went back over the bridge. I had really wanted to do the Bridge Climb whilst in Sydney, and had been toying with the idea for several weeks, but finally had to say no. Hopefully I can do it on my next visit, but there was no way I could justify spending $200 each to do it when we are on such a tight budget. Instead we had to make do with the $9.50 climb up to the pylon lookout, which had excellent views itself, and the bonus that we were able to bring our camera with us - you can’t on the Bridge Climb.

Despite the dark and ominous looking sky, we decided to stick to our original plan and take the ferry over to Manly to have fish and chips on the beach for dinner. I was surprised by the large number of people heading over to Manly so late in the day but maybe they were all doing the same as us! Manly was a different type of beach to Bondi - it has the famous Norfolk Pine trees, is narrower, but longer, than Bondi, and had far more surfers. After a couple of hours there, walking along the beach, people watching and eating our fish and chips, we headed back to Circular Quay, and on the way were treated to a breathtaking red sunset over the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

On Monday morning we caught the ferry to Watson’s Bay and walked out to South Head. Watson’s Bay is a nice suburb, probably quite expensive though as there were some beautiful big houses, and a lovely beach at Camp Cove. We walked along the beach and then on to the coastal path out to the lighthouse, passing Lady Bay on the way. I thought this looked like a lovely little beach and was going to go down and explore further until I noticed several, not particularly young, naked men wandering around! The walk was short but very nice, and after a quick drink at the Watson’s Bay Hotel we headed back to Circular Quay.

You can’t really visit Sydney without finding out a little more about the Opera House so we took the Essential Tour, an hour long guided tour of this famous landmark. This is the only place I’ve been to which has the ingenious idea of giving the tour guide a microphone and each guest a headset so everyone can hear what is being said, without the tour guide having to shout. It also meant we could go into the Concert Hall and Opera Theatre where people were working on stage without disturbing them, and no-one missed what was being said. The tour was excellent and very informative. I hadn’t realised that the Danish architect who designed it, and had then been forced to resign before its completion, had never returned to Sydney to see the final product. A sad story, but one with a somewhat happy ending - before his death he was asked what his vision for the Opera House for the next 50 years would be, ideas which his son is now helping to put in place. It really is an excellent facility, with five performance venues, and hopefully next time we’re in Sydney we’ll be able to see a show.

The Botanical Gardens are situated right behind the Opera House, so after our tour we decided to go for a walk. I was impressed with how quiet it was - you really wouldn’t know you were in the middle of Sydney. The gardens were very pretty - although there were not as many flowers as I was expecting - and it was very peaceful until we came across the flying foxes! I thought they were birds at first, but it wasn’t until we saw them hanging upside down in the trees like bats that we realised what they were. They were much bigger than I had expected, and made a very loud screeching noise! We then headed to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair where it started to rain and we had to shelter under an overhanging rock. Luckily it didn’t last long, and as we walked back to the hostel we stopped off at the Guylian chocolate shop and bought some cakes to eat on the harbour wall. Yummy!

We had a lovely evening with one of my old university friends who I haven’t seen for about 7 years - Kerry has lived in Sydney for over 6 years so it’s at least that long! It was just like old times though, and we chatted as if we had seen each other just last month – poor Andrew was subjected to all the girly talk, but he was very good about it and joined in when he could get a word in edge ways!

On Tuesday morning we checked out for the third and final time and took ourselves off on a self-guided walking tour of The Rocks, with the help of a guidebook we had bought. It was fascinating to explore some of the little lanes, and to find out about the history of the area, which included a stop at our hostel - the YHA is built above an archaeological dig site.

We didn’t have time for lunch before we had to get the shuttle to the airport – and probably just as well. With a free upgrade from Qantas, and Andrew’s Platinum status, we made maximum use of the Qantas lounge where there was a wide array of food available. Just before we left for the gate they brought out afternoon tea, so I had just enough time to make myself a scone with cream and jam and pop it in a napkin to take with me before running out the door!

Next stop is the island state of Singapore.


Kerry
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Comments

Jane B on

Hi Kez, Sydney sounded fun despite the shakey start! Loving the sound of the chocolatey wine it was it winey chocolate?! Both sound lovely! So impressed / amazing that you have apparently mastered the art of browsing and not buying!! We will soon sort that out when you get home Kez...Much love xxx

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