Difficult to know where to start with my time in Sydney….
I took a late bus from Canberra which took about 3 hours – nothing like as difficult as the 19 from Adelaide. But I did make what is in hindsight the foolish decision to walk to the hostel from the bus station – 30 mins when carrying 25 kgs isn’t too clever. Managed to make it over in one piece, had food and then went back to Oxford St to meet Craig, who I haven’t seen since I left school 8 years ago. Fairly quiet night, though it still ended at 3am.
There’s only one obvious place to start when considering the tourist attractions in Sydney – the Opera House. A quick(ish) afternoon tour was definitely a good idea, if only to see that the Opera House is not white at all – it’s a dirtyish yellow closeup. Both halls are huge, though we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. They did however insist on taking pictures against a green screen to sell a photo pack (which I ended up buying anyway). We spent the rest of the day in the pub – starting with lunch at Scruffy Murphy’s (more on there later) before meeting 2 Londoners and moving to Cheers to play pool. It isn’t anything like the TV show namesake but was still a good use of the day… though I didn’t win on the greyhounds.
Thursday was even more laid back – I took a quick walk around the Botanical Gardens before deciding to play the game of going to a random suburb and having a look around. I ended up in Parramatta, which looks nice enough but has nothing for the tourist except for the ferry ride back to Sydney down the Parramatta River… and thanks to the tide, it wasn’t running.
Friday was weird. I decided to go to the Blue Mountains and rather than take the train and do it myself I went instead on a day tour which started at 7am. I started early but it turned out that the pickup at the next hostel would fill the bus… turns out that you can do backpacking as a package holiday, via Oz Experience. Definitely not something I would have done but there were plenty of people to meet, unlike the tour down from Alice Springs to Adelaide.
The Blue Mountains are a definite must see – stunning views from Wentworth Falls (especially if you take the 850 steps down to the base of the waterfall) and the 3 Sisters are equally beautiful. Rather than take the 1,000 steps back up though, we took the old coal train – not for the faint hearted, the incline is 52 degrees!
It turns out the Blue Mountains are named as such thanks to the forest that covers the landscape being mainly Eucalyptus trees, which give off a blueish water vapour.
Saturday – my birthday and for the first time, 28 degree heat and sunshine. Perfect for hitting Bondi Beach in the morning. It’s exactly as you’d expect, packed with people… but there’s still plenty of space to find a spot to throw the towel down too.
Bondi was the first beach I’ve been to where I felt the Aussie rips (strong currents). It’s pretty nasty swimming out to quickly find that you’re further out than anyone else without a surfboard in no time at all. It’s far more disturbing when you try to swim back to the beach and find yourself not moving at all… it’s just a case of waiting for the right wave.
Following Bondi I headed up to Hyde Park to meet Craig – there was a wine tasting festival that weekend featuring wineries from New South Wales. It’s a good setup, even if it’s expensive – it’s $20 for a strip of 5 vouchers, which give you one 60ml or 2 30ml tastes of different wines. Add in the extra $5 for the glass and it’s an expensive way to drink a large glass of wine. It’ was still definitely worth the effort.
From there we headed to Darling Harbour for the last fireworks display of the month (there’s one every Saturday in February) before moving on to Scruffy Murphy’s to watch the rugby. That was a tense but ultimately brilliant evening, hands down one of the best days I’ve had out here.
Sunday was the comedown – not helped by the weather. Back to the wine festival before finding the Greek festival further round in Darling Harbour – we didn’t stay there long after the promised DJ turned out to be traditional Greek music instead. Unsurprisingly it started nearly an hour late…
Monday was better, though still undecided in the weather stakes. I headed back to Darling Harbour to do the obvious tourist attractions, starting with the Aquarium before going to the Wildlife park next door. Both were impressive considering their location in the heart of Sydney – the aquarium for it’s huge underwater tunnels in the shark/stingray tank, the Wildlife park for the huge crocodile they have there. Then the bridge climb…
The Harbour Bridge is one of the big landmarks in Sydney – the climb wasn’t too difficult for me (but for some on the trip it was clearly too much). It was definitely worth the effort and saving a bit by going at night – Sydney by night was very different than by day. I also had a train cross the bridge as I was doing the climb down – the line runs less than a metre from the ladder so was pretty thrown by that!
Tuesday was another quietish day – though we did another bit of climbing, this time up the Olympic Stadium. It wasn’t easy to get to but worth waiting for the gantry tour that takes you up to roof level to see the stadium. A pretty impressive sight – and we were able to walk onto the pitch and stand on the actual podium they used in the stadium at the Olympics.
Wednesday was unfortunately a write off thanks to the heavy rain. We spent the day in the pub – my plan on going up to Manly wasn’t worth it considering how heavy it was. We still had time to go out in central Sydney in the evening though.
I left Sydney the day after but not before taking a trip up the Sky Tower for views that were even better than those at the Harbour Bridge… before getting a late afternoon train to Newcastle, where I now am.
Sydney left me with mixed feelings. As a city it’s definitely got everything you’d need and it certainly feels like London at times. But I’ve not taken anything massively life changing from it – far less so than the week I spent in Adelaide. It’s not lost on me that Sydney is half the size of London whereas Adelaide is about as big as Birmingham… and whist Sydney is somewhere I could easily live, it’s not somewhere I’d necessarily enjoy. Certainly not in the same way as Adelaide…
Saying that, I definitely see myself coming back. There’s plenty I didn’t get round to see – Manly for starters, though I missed some of the quieter beaches to the south, and Manly itself and the beaches to the north. There’s also Luna Park, built on the site of the construction area for the Harbour Bridge. It’s now a theme park – and a pretty good one by the sounds of it too.
I’ll cover Newcastle in my next post but the weather is definitely following me north. I arrived yesterday evening in time for the free food but today has again been a write off – the weather really is worse than pretty much everywhere else I’ve been today. Tomorrow isn’t looking much better either – I leave late tomorrow evening to get the overnight bus to Byron Bay
This wasn’t supposed to be a holiday to find myself but I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks…
Package holidays definitely aren’t for me in any form. The odd tour here and there is fine but only in places that are difficult to get at without transport or to places that are too small to realistically do alone. I certainly can’t have everything planned out for me in advance. I definitely need the ability to mix up what I do and where – museums, beaches, walks, bars – all in equal measure. Obviously it works for some – that’s definitely OK, but not for me. Canberra made that obvious – it’s basically full of museums which are pleasant enough, but there’s simply far too many of them to take in everything… and doing 2 or 3 in the same day without doing something different is very difficult for me.
I’m clearly not spending my time as either a hard-core backpacker or as a proper tourist – I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle. Hostel price isn’t too much of a concern so long as it’s decent enough – I’m certainly not against going up to $35AUS per day for a hostel. Having said that, I’ll quite happily find somewhere cheaper if I can and it doesn’t result in too many compromises… and I’ve found a place in Brisbane that’s charging $19 for the Monday night…
Some tips too if you’re thinking of coming to Australia…
Australia is expensive. VERY expensive. The only thing cheaper than in the UK is petrol. Even AUS $100 is pushing it sometimes, especially in Sydney.
YHA hostels are an easy option. They also attract a more varied crowd from the traditional backpacker or 20 something worker, ueually including a few older people. The major advantage is that as a network it’s possible to book a hostel elsewhere and pay before arriving there – I’ve just done that today in Newcastle for my next hostel in Byron Bay. But it’s not necessarily the best choice. For starters, they charge more unless you have a YHA membership card. I’ve only previously used the hostel in Augusta – which was so far out of the way that the YHA was the only hostel in the area. I’m trying a few more but this one certainly isn’t the best – the kitchen is pretty well stocked… and that includes flies too. I had what looked like a small flying cockroach land in my soup as I was cooking it at lunchtime. YHA hostels also charge for wifi access and it’s simply far too much money, especially on top of the cost of the hostel. I doubt I’ll be using one again whilst I’m in Australia after Byron Bay.
Also, if you’re thinking of heading to Australia, check to see if your phone will work properly here – my phone only supports the 2G networks so I lose 3G, data and large chunks of places have no 2g coverage… which makes phone calls a very mixed bag.
I’ll stop there before I end up rambling too much. Just hope the weather improves over the next few days – rain isn’t that much fun.