Sydney is defined by its ocean setting, so what better way to experience the ocean than to visit the Aquarium! On a weekday not in the school holidays the queue to buy tickets was long and slow, and we had to purchase our tickets via smartphone from the queue!
When visiting a city for a few days at a relaxed pace, hanging out with locals, and staying in a residential neighbourhood rather than a touristy one, it is possible to imagine what it would be like to live there should the opportunity arise. With so many tasty brunches, day trips to the zoo and aquarium, a couple of evening visits to trendy restaurants, and many hours on the beach, our two weeks felt more like a continuous weekend that lasted a fortnight, which is perhaps the definition of a holiday!
I did take some “proper” photographs which will be published on this blog in due course but since this holiday was more about doing and experiencing than seeing, my Instagram feed perhaps gives the best flavour of the holiday—food, drinks, and local detail. Reviewing the raw photographs I did take with my camera, I realise that I inadvertently restricted my efforts to the classic and obvious Sydney photographic gems and disappointingly failed to capture any of the local character or street photography in the more off-the-beaten track neighbourhoods we visited.
With phone cameras such high quality these days, the Instagram moments I captured deserve better than an ephemeral life in the sidebar of this blog so here they are for posterity. 😎🇦🇺
If there is one neighbourhood in Sydney that encapsulates everything about this modern beach-side metropolis, it is perhaps Manly. Even getting there is something special. Conventionally you depart from the urban grubbiness of Circular Quay, a place that is, in-theory, blessed with views of the spectacular twin landmarks of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge but neither are easily visible from the wharves crowded with throngs of tourists, and groups watching the buskers and street performers who create a cacophony of competing noise.
Once your ferry departs, those aforementioned landmarks, and indeed the harbour itself, suddenly open up their beauty to you, and the brisk salty breeze feels incredible after the baking heat of the city. The sun sparkles on the blue water as sail boats and the classic green and yellow ferries cruise through your view. Long after the Opera House shrinks to the size of a postage stamp in in the distance, the silver and glass skyscrapers of the CBD rise up shimmering in the sky, and look so neatly positioned next to the majestic dark bridge marking the horizon between blue sky and blue water.
If you can tear your eyes away from the view behind there are points of interest along the way, and glimpses of other destinations. The white stone of the Edwardian Bathers’ Pavilion at Balmoral makes it easy to spot Balmoral beach and reminisce about lazy days swimming in the refreshingly calm cool water and drinking flat whites on the beach in the shade of a palm tree.
Stepping onto land at Manly feels like arriving in a different world to Circular Quay. It is still Sydney, and there are still tourists, but the business and bustle has been replaced by a relaxed vibe as local and visitor mix happily in the pedestrianised Corso that takes you down the the Ocean Beach—should you choose to go there, because of course Manly also has two harbour beaches with gentle waves for those that like the other sort of beach experience. A little walk along the ocean promenade of bars and cafés takes you to the delightful family friendly cove of Shelly Beach which also has more gentle swimming and even some snorkelling potential that even Bondi and its beautiful neighbouring beaches cannot match.
Every suburb has its share of unique offerings, and a less good side, but I think when most people conjure the idea of Sydney, it is Manly that is closest to actually fulfilling it.
Are lists still on trend for bloggers?
- Luxe Woollahra – next door to the Armani Junior boutique and a vibe to match.
- Belo Bronte – Brazilian themed brunch overlooking the beach.
- Casa Ristorante Italiano Darling Harbour – more lunch than brunch, but proper pizza on the waterfront.
- Homestead kiosk in Centennial Park – great coffee and banana bread for the Yummy Mummies while they watch the kids in the adventure playground.
- Rushcutters Bay kiosk – another trendy hangout with quality coffee conveniently located right next to a fun playground.
- Ruby’s Diner Waverley – locals’ hangout I happened upon via Instagram. Tasty food and dairy-free cakes (yes, plural).
I have to admit I was apprehensive about spending an entire two week holiday in Sydney. This is my fifth visit since 2005, and while the most recent two were quick stopovers, they had refreshed the memory of very enjoyable previous trips—would there be enough new memories made on this trip to make it stand out?
There are also advantages to returning to a familiar place. Upon waking to cool and rainy weather on our first morning, our knowledge accumulated from previous trips meant we were quickly able to adjust our plans to something more appropriate. In need of a good brunch to cure jet lag, we knew that the cafés at Bronte beach would fulfil all the criteria—fresh tasty food, good coffee and fabulous views of the ocean. The inclement weather had generated huge crashing waves that were spectacular to watch, and the beach was deserted, giving it a very different atmosphere to the busy weekend bustle of surfers and swimmers we experienced last time.
Our café choice, Bronte Belo, was based on no criteria other than it being the most well patronised on a very quiet day, but once we sat down we had some feelings of familiarity, and the food was pleasingly excellent. There was a sudden heavy rain shower while we ate which fortunately passed over quickly, and the fresh post-rain air made it ideal conditions for walking the cliff path to Bondi, with its dramatic seascape of waves crashing into the cliffs. At Bondi the weather had taken a turn for the worse, the gusts of wind blowing cold sea-spray and painful rough sand at our exposed skin so we cut short our bare-footed walk along the famous beach and made for shelter in the hipster cafés overlooking it.
There are risks when returning to somewhere—favoured old haunts closed or a shadow of former selves—but it is also lovely to really get to know a place, discover those off-the-beaten track places, and hang out with the locals.
Update: Now with a short video (9 seconds) showing just how big the surf was!
A photograph from our 2014 visit that out-of-camera was a little dull so I used Luminar to bring back some of the drama that was present in the sky that day. That evening there was a huge storm.
The first four days there were constant blue skies ensuring fantastic views of the beautiful Alpine scenery, including the iconic Matterhorn. This was my second ski holiday in the Italian Alps and once again the pistes were quiet, the lift queues non-existent, the food delicious and the coffee excellent. The connection to Zermatt also provided a huge ski area and diversity of slopes.
When the weather was slightly less good, we also enjoyed warm and friendly mountain hospitality.
It has been almost six months since our visit to Wellington. After travelling through the beautiful vistas of the South Island it was great to finish our holiday with some hip cocktail bars and late night espresso.
The Lonely Planet guided us to a fantastic morning coffee stop en route from Motueka to Nelson, the Jester House Café. Despite being a popular tourist spot, the car park was not large and I was very glad we were the only camper van attempting to use it! In addition to three varieties of dairy-free cake they had excellent coffee and some impressively large native eels in the stream outside.
Our stop in Picton was only long enough to enjoy its relaxed ambience and take a short hike around the awesomely beautiful harbour. Our early morning sail out of the harbour was also blessed with fine weather and the crossing to Wellington allowed for some more fine views.
We had a fantastic day in the Abel Tasman National Park. I took a lot of photos, so here is a selection of the most interesting.
After a wonderful view of this ancient monument while driving past in a slow moving traffic jam, the lack of rain meant it seemed a great idea to pay a visit to this World Heritage Site. Sadly, being July, hundreds of other people had the same idea and a limited schedule meant I did not have time for the full £18 experience. In theory you can walk up quite close to the stones without enduring the long queue for a ticket, but the pedestrian approach from the visitor centre did not surpass the drive-by view from the A303. Lesson learned: next time I will pre-book and get up close.
Wanaka is a fun town in a beautiful setting. It was also our entry point to New Zealand’s wild, and famously wet, West Coast.