Our jaunt to Australia began with me having to go over to Sydney for some work meetings, followed by a two day conference and ending up with three days at leisure before heading to Brisbane.
Unfortunately, the work meetings were all out in Norwest so it wasn’t possible to sight-see afterwards. The conference was at UTS – great central location very near the Central Train Station. We stayed at the Vulcan Hotel and then moved up to the Hotel Palisade in Miller’s Point. After the conference we headed to the North Sydney Harbourview, and a then couple of hotels at Potts Point – Simpsons and the Holiday Inn.
Opera House & Harbour Bridge
The two icons of Sydney are the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. If you’re feeling particularly rich you can explore both of these structures with truly unique experiences, but it’s also possible to get a feel for them without spending any money at all.
We had a number of options for exploring the Opera House. The cheapest would have involved just wandering around the bits the public are allowed access to – the concourse around the Opera House including the steps. Another option would have been to go to a performance in one of the concert halls.
Apparently it’s possible to get discounted tickets at GroupOn or you could try Sydney Opera’s website. We looked at the options for a tour and the standard Access Tour ranged from (AUD)$40 per person for a standard tour of an hour to the Backstage Tour (2.5 hours, $175) and on to the Taste of the Opera House (4 hours, $295). You get a 10% discount for booking online.
We ended up getting the introductory tour and rocked up to the meeting point, where a camera wielding assistant insisted on taking everyone’s photograph. Our tour guide then arrived with headphones and iPod sized receivers and handed them out to everybody.
After checking that everybody could hear her and that none of the receivers were broken, we headed off on the tour. The tour guide introduced herself as ‘Floyd’ and we were shown the backstage area and then climbed the stairs to various parts of the lobby. Floyd proceeded to give us the low down of the House and how it was built etc. We even went into the main Concert Hall and marvelled at the pipe organ, main stage and designer seats.
In the lobby and the stairwell we were shown two videos, but they kind of seemed to be there to pad out the tour to the required hour. Floyd did well, answering questions with aplomb and pointing out the interesting features and highlights of the tour, but I came away with a vague sense of dissatisfaction.
Thinking about it later I think it’s because Floyd did such a good job in person that the videos felt superfluous. But then, there’s only so much you can do when you can’t go through the complete backstage areas.
After the tour proper we were led to a booth where they presented us each with a personalised hard cover ring-bound booklet with information about the Opera House and five or six photos of us in front of various scenes featuring the Opera House. The photograph they’d taken at the beginning of the tour had been with green light against a reflective background so it acted like a green screen, allowing them to superimpose the image of us in front of any standard background shot they already had.
Kind of tacky when the green screen shot of us in front of the steps leading up to the Opera House could be actually taken not 50m from here we were standing! And then they told us the price – $50! I didn’t see any of the people on the tour taking them up on the offer.
After we’d chortled our way out of the Opera House, we headed to the historical centre of Sydney: The Rocks. This suburb is nestled between the Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay and Darling Harbour and has managed to retain its character despite being earmarked as the next obvious location for skyscrapers and high rise apartment blocks.
It’s now a hot bed of over priced street stalls and retail shops targeting the tourist market. We stop off at the Endeavour Tap Rooms and have lunch – Ange gets a grilled chicken salad, which she says is great, and I get a Wagyu Burger.
Which turns out to be a slab of meat in a bun with a little mayonnaise and a slice or two of gherkin. The meat is nice, but the burger is totally underwhelming – no lettuce, no tomato, nothing else. It is good to get out of the hot sun though, and dining alfresco is a great way to people watch.
The Rocks Museum is free but don’t let that put you off going. All the exhibits are well put together and while there aren’t many of them, the charm of the museum comes when you head upstairs. The exhibits continue but are augmented by videos of the neighbourhood over the years and how times have changed. There’s four or five videos and it’s interesting how they really make the museum experience compete, whereas the videos on the Opera house Tour felt tacked on.
Marvelling at the museum, we head back out into the rocks, wanting to walk back to the hotel over the Harbour Bridge. The afternoon is starting to give way to evening and the wind has picked up a little bit. The layout of the streets is such that a wind tunnel is created, and the funnelled wind picks up some of the tents in the street market which are attempting to separate tourists from their money in exchange for tacky trinkets.
The tents don’t quite fly away as they are attached to each other at the base, but they do get to about twenty feet in the air like a caterpillar pawing at the sky before coming back down to earth with a crash. Well meaning tourists approach to help the shopkeepers gather their merchandise but the security guards gently push them away, no doubt concerned by the potential to purloin the products. Ange and I walk on, trying to make the Harbour Bridge before sunset so we can take photos.
We find the stairs to the Harbour Bridge, which is a long way from where the bridge crosses the water. Still in suburbia, we climb the stairs to the entrance and try to find the way to go on the Western side so that we can take photos of the sunset.
Unfortunately the only way we can see to go on that side of the bridge is if we are on bicycles. I ask a nearby security guard if it is possible to go on that side by foot and he lets me know that the Eastern side is for pedestrians and the Western side is only for cyclists. Oh well Ange and I tell each other, we’ll just have to make do with shots of the Opera House instead.
It doesn’t take long to cross the bridge and the views are amazing. First of all is the back side of a Brutalist Apartment block which was obviously built in the 60s or 70s and reminds me of the Barbican in London.
After that we really start gaining altitude and the views over the Harbour to the Opera House are spectacular.
As we approach the entrance to the pylon (which you can climb for $15) we could see the people doing the Harbour Bridge Climb where they actually walk up over the metal arches elevated above the car-level. We’d looked at doing this bit at $300 per person, we really couldn’t justify the cost.
The flags fly near the middle of the bridge and it’s good to be able to tell how far we’ve come and how far there is left to go. Periodically there are security guards and video cameras, presumably to stop people from trying to clamber up the security fences and plummet to their deaths off the bridge. The fences are curved at the top to help prevent this, but regardless of the successful of these preventative measures, the net effect is to make for some awesome photos.
Anyway, we made our way back past Luna Park to our hotel and relax with some nice room service. It’d been a long day with lots of walking, but the best thing about Sydney’s iconic landmarks is that they’re close enough together to do them in one day.
We were changing accommodation from the North Shore of Sydney to Potts Point the next day, but didn’t want to travel from one side of the bridge to the other and then have to go back again to collect our luggage, so we checked our baggage into Baggage Storage opposite the cruise terminal. For storing our three bags for 4 hours we’d have to pay $30. And then we were off to Manly on the ferry.
Day Trip to Manly Beach
Back in the 80’s there was a cool song by Australian Crawl called Reckless which included a reference to the Manly Ferry. It remains quite an iconic symbol of the connection between the surf beaches of the Eastern parts of Sydney and the CBD. We decided we’d head out there and do the Manly to Shelly Beach Walk.
The Ferry itself was chocker and we settled in to the upper deck, electing to sit inside rather than attempt to fight the crowds for one of the few seats outside. It took maybe 30 minutes to get across and using the Opal Card only cost $7.35.
If we’d taken the Manly Fast Ferry instead we could have done the trip in 18 minutes at the cost of $9.10. The Ferry disgorged its passengers and like a tsunami we flowed from the wharf across the street towards the beach. Or maybe we were like baby turtles all hatching and rushing for the water, picked off one-by-one by shops or restaurants on the way.
Ange and I were hungry and could see a terrace bar from street level which would mean we’d be away from the crowds while still getting fed in the shade, so we headed into the New Brighton Hotel and up the stairs. And more stairs. There were a lot of stairs. All the way to the roof where the waitress kindly pointed out that there was a lift we could have taken.
As I got my breath back we checked out the rooftop – there was exposed seating areas overlooking the beach, but we were keen on avoiding the sun for as long as we could, so selected some seats in the shade.
There was a lovely wicker teepee which reminded me of the similar structures we’d see in Menton, but we figured it would be too awkward to eat while inside. The meal itself was good: Ange had the grilled chicken salad with beetroot and I decided since we were at the beach that I would have the fish and chips. Deeelish!
And then it was on to the walk. It’s only 1.5km from the main promenade to the Shelly Headland Upper Lookout, but that last section from Shelly Beach is a little steep.
On the way we took in the sights, amongst which were the beach fun hire tent, Eastern Water Dragons (cat sized lizards) basking and dodging people trying to feed them BBQ meat, people doing handstands on the rocks, Bush Turkeys, a stuffed tiger in a tree and heaps of people sunbathing or enjoying beach side dining in one of the many restaurants.
The view from the headlands was stunning.
We then headed back to the wharf, stopping briefly at Manly Beach for an ice cream. When we got to the wharf we had maybe twenty minutes to wait, so strategically placed ourselves where the upper deck gates would open, with the view of securing seats at the front of the boat outside. When the gates finally opened the crowd surged forward and we surfed the surge all the way to the front and secured some seats.
The boarding continued on and by the time the ferry left Manly, there was quite the crowd standing directly in front of us! Can’t complain though: everyone was trying to get a good spot to capture shots of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House as we came into the harbour.
The trip back was interesting for a couple of reasons – the first being the conditions. There’s a brief period as you cross the harbour when you’re not protected by the headlands and the sea is briefly choppy. The spray mists across the exposed areas of the deck which makes you viscerally aware the fact that you’re out on the water and not safely ensconced inside. The other part which raised a wry smile was the interaction with the other Harbour users. Other boaties in yachts, pleasure cruisers and small runabouts all waved as they passed, with one scallywag taking the opportunity to moon us.
Anyway, we managed to navigate our way back into the Harbour, past one of the enormous cruise liners that were in port and back to Pier Three where we had left from earlier in the day. Then we hustled back to the Baggage Storage so that we didn’t have to pay for extra time. Circular Quay was a bit quieter in the afternoon as the passengers for the Cruise ship had all embarked meaning there weren’t queues snaking out of the Passenger Terminal. After picking up our luggage, we Ubered to Simpsons of Potts Point, our next accommodation.
Bondi to Coogee Walk
The next day we headed out to do the Bondi to Coogee Walk. Getting to the start of the walk would involve taking the train to Bondi Junction and then a bus to Bondi Beach for the reasonable sum of $2.57 and taking 33 minutes. The walk takes in six beaches and bays, each with their own character.
The most famous of the beaches is Bondi Beach, a large 1 kilometre swathe of sand pounded by surf and enjoyed by swimmers and surfers alike. At the southern end is Icebergs, a private pool close enough to get water splashing into it from the sea. Entry is $7 and includes access to the sauna. It would be tempting to actually do the Bondi to Coogee Walk the other way around, ending here at Bondi and having a dip in Icebergs to celebrate, but since we’re starting here we bypass it: not wanting to do any part of the 6km walk with wet togs. Chafing, you understand.
Along nicely maintained paths with walls of stone and railings, we’re passed by the glamazons in lycra and activewear going about their exercise regimes, despite the noon day sun. About 1.2km from the start of the walk we hit a lovely surf beach with a long expanse of sand. A surf life club sits on top of the hill and the beach itself is narrow but very long- 120 metres of grass and sand before a cafe indicates where the path continues.
The next stop, just around the headlands is Bronte Beach, a broad beach centered around the local life saving club. We grab an icecream from the shop next to the clubrooms and head away from the beach to enjoy it. A spattering of pagodas provide shade for the various people out and about and each is divided in half to provide some semblance of privacy.
In the distance about thirty young guys are surrounding two of their number who are boxing in the sun and a tribe of about a dozen sixteen year old girls are enacting some sort of reunion with ever increasing decibels. We finish our ice creams and head off for the next beach. This involves rejoining the road and we are flummoxed by a split in the road with one path heading down towards the water and the other continuing along the top of the cliff.
The last thing we want to do is find ourselves at a picturesque dead end, so we ask one of the locals which way we should go to get to the next bay. Her companion misunderstands her directions and castigates her – “If they went that way (down to the water level) they’d end up at the Bronte Baths and have to come straight back up!”. We nod our thanks and take the high road.
Curiously we come across a very large Victorian (the era not the state!) cemetery. Huge crosses, mausoleums and other tributes to the dead cover an enormous vantage point overlooking the ocean. There is no shade and so we hurry our way across the exposed paths until we reach the other side and continue on our trip. Very strange location for a cemetery!
Clovelly Beach is at the end of a bay which has a narrow opening which protects the long neck of water which ends in a sandy beach. On the far side from our approach we can see another manmade pool right beside the water. We pass the sandy beach and make our way past the pool to the point which is totally concreted and overlooked by a cafe. There are many sunbathers there, basking on the hot stone like seals. We notice a large number of people snorkelling and pass a sign indicating the different fish that they would be looking at beneath the waves. A very protected place to explore the sea fauna.
The next bay is also a feature for divers, but whereas Clovelly Beach is a narrow finger of water, Gordon’s Bay is a much more open affair with a wide exposure to the sea, surrounded by steep cliffs.
Some signs indicate that there are submerged chains in the water, connecting drums under the water and allowing exploration of marine life here too. As we head around the bay we see a tour group with powered hand held diving thingies which mean you don’t have to swim so much. Definitely what I would use!
I’m not sure what the conditions are, but there is no surf hitting the beach at the far end. So the beach there is rocky, not sandy and locals have made good use of the calm conditions and parked their boats on racks.
We finally round Dolphin Point and head down the hill to Coogee Beach. It’s a long beach that’s well built up with shops behind it and we avail ourselves of the first place we see for some well earned food and drink – the Coogee Pavilion.
That might be a mistake in judgement as the price for tapas and beer is a little on the steep side. The beer and soft drink are certainly welcomed though, and once we’ve recovered, we head to the bus stop for the bus back to Bondi Junction, and from there back to Kings Cross.
My hat is definitely off to Sydney: the airport is very easy to get to, and even with our luggage we find the train a very quick and simple way of getting there for our flight onwards to Brisbane.