Date of Trip: June 2009
My trip to Sydney started off with the longest flight that I have ever been on, as everyone’s trip to Sydney usually does. I flew United, in economy plus. Some lessons learned were that an economy plus middle seat, is not as conducive to sleeping as a regular coach seat by a window. I also heard through travelers that I met in Australia, that Qantas coach was far superior, offering individual televisions, and lots of amenities that weren’t offered to United flyers – live and learn!
During my 3 week trip to Sydney, I stayed at the Four Seasons, located in the Rocks District. The hotel has an excellent location, right by the water, with easy access to ferries, shopping, and downtown. I could also walk to the numerous bars and restaurants of the historic Rocks part of town, which I loved. The lobby was great, and the staff were what you would expect out of a Four Seasons. The rooms were recently re-done, but still a bit small, even for a city hotel. My view was great of the Harbour. I wasn’t thrilled with the food, but after three weeks anywhere, I might have gotten a bit bored, especially because I am vegetarian. The bar in the lobby was filled with business men, and served a good variety of appetizers which substituted for my dinners most nights. The fitness center was a bit small and crowded, but doable. I also visited the Shangri-la hotel, located a few blocks away on the Harbour. It had a newer, more modern feel, the rooms were larger, and the bar located on the top floor was amazing. I would definitely stay there over the Four Seasons, if I was traveling alone. The Four Seasons does have more conference space, and a large ball room that can be utilized for large events.
My host was nice enough to set up a harbour cruise for our first full day in the city. After a very good night’s sleep, I woke up early to walk to the docks near the Contemporary Art Museum and board the yacht. I was still adjusting to my 24 hours of flying from the states to Australia from the day before, and I wasn’t exactly happy about my early wake-up call. But once I got some fresh ocean air, I changed my mind. This truly was a great way to see Sydney, and get orientated. We cruised around the main Harbour, seeing the iconic Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the fish market (some great cooking schools there!), and viewing both the magnificent sky line, and quaint harbour homes. It was quite comfortable. Our group left from a port near the Contemporary Art Museum. We had a mini feast aboard of salmon and cream cheese canapés, bacon quiches and fresh fruit with mascarpone. Although the day was cloudy, it was a great way to really get a feel for the city. Sydney is truly beautiful; I loved all the harbor side houses, and our tour guide was great at pointing out the landmarks.
When the weather took a turn for the worse, I decided to go below deck and chat with my fellow travelers, but this proved to be a bad idea. Probably the fastest way to get yourself seasick is to go below deck, which I learned pretty quickly. I rushed to the top to take in some fresh air and clear my head, and the captain let me steer the vessel; we were in open water so it didn’t take much coordination, but it did make for a great photo-op.
The Sydney Wildlife World, located near darling Harbour, was a blast for our group of 20s-40s. Although it was aimed at children, Australia boasts some very unique animals. Some of the exhibits were quite creepy, and allowed for us to get up close and personal with snakes, bugs, and reptiles (not to mention the world’s “most dangerous” bird!) that were all native to Australia. The highlights of Wildlife world were being able to get up close to small Kangaroos,(I snuck a feel through the fence), and the Koalas of course. The Wildlife World will take a picture with you and a perched koala, for 15 AUD, which was worth it. The pictures came out great, and it was a good experience for all of us.
Next door to the Wildlife World is the Sydney Aquarium, but also not to be over looked, is a great restaurant, Hugo’s. Famous for its pizza, it did not disappoint. A perfect thin crust, and imaginative combinations with the best cheese. I also sampled the cheese platter, which was average except for the ricotta, which was amazing. The restaurant offered indoor and outdoor seating, and is a hot spot at night. If you are really into Zoos, Sydney has a great one, just a short ferry ride away.
On our cruise we also stopped at Q-Station, a great place for history buffs, a little boring, especially when it was chilly and rainy like the day I visited. The station was where all immigrants passed through, and were held until cleared of any disease. It features historic buildings, some refurbished, like the acid showers, holding cells, hospitals, and bunks. The grounds were nice, and offered a great view of the Harbour, especially from one of the grave yards. Our guide was friendly, a little funny, and a bit long winded. It was a good piece of Sydney’s history of being a place of immigrants.
One of my favorite, and more exhilarating activities in the Australian capital was biking through Sydney National Park, and down to Manly Beach. Our bike tour company took our belongings (purses and coats) down to the course finish, which was very helpful. They then took us on a leisurely ride of the park, stopping at look outs to whale watch. Although the city riding to Manly Beach seemed a bit treacherous with hills, and navigating through traffic, the ride was fun and relaxing. The beach was crowded, but not so much to disturb our ride of the city. A great photo opportunity, and a good way to get out and about around Sydney, I would highly recommended it.
Another favorite activity was pub crawl, I went on one with a guide, and created several of my own. The Rocks district is perfect for this, pubs are around every corner, and all of them welcoming. Some brew their own beer, and most have a great selection of local brews. The people are also featured, Australians are a welcoming, and funny bunch. I didn’t see a whole lot of reason to leave this quaint neighborhood, other then to venture downtown for some high end shopping. If you are a George St, the main thoroughfare, and head down to the water, there are many restaurants featuring mod-oz cuisine and fresh seafood that are worth checking out. Notable is the Waterfront Restaurant, with spectacular views, and great food.
Bondi Beach is another area of the city that is a must see. I visited on a bus tour, which I think is always a good idea to see a new destination. The beach itself is beautiful, and a great place to people (and surfer) watch. The best place to grab a good lunch is Nick’s, located right by the beach, you can’t miss it. The restaurant features an all glass dining room for a great view, and has delicious seafood.
An obvious must-do is the Sydney Opera House. It’s iconic, and worth the praise. A guided tour is a great idea, to really get a feel for the history. Do not forget your camera. Although no photos are allowed in the actual conference halls, the architecture is spectacular, and there are several balconies to get amazing photos of the Harbour. The Opera House has several over priced gift shops, and a place to grab a bite, but I would visit some of the neighboring restaurants. There are also several art galleries nearby with aboriginal art, again expensive, but I cherish the piece I bought.
For a little adventure travelers can kayak, sail, and jet-boat the Harbour, or go sand boarding at Port Stephens. The Blue Mountains, located a few hours outside the city, is great for environmental enthusiasts. My favorite was visiting wine country, Hunter Valley Wine Region. There are tons of local wineries to visit, all with great Australian wines, and local cheeses. The famous Lindeman’s winery is probably the most well known, and a good stop. On my way, it’s about a 4 hour bus ride, I saw wild Kangaroo, and stopped to take pictures in the fields. A very authentic Australian experience -which is exactly the to reason to travel.