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.
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!
Following in the tradition created on previous trips to Sydney, our first stop after landing was the Balmoral Bathers Pavilion for a proper Aussie brunch overlooking the golden sand. Sipping great coffee in the strong bright sunshine, and listening to the gentle surf, whilst being cooled by the breeze through the open full-height windows, makes this one of my favourite holiday spots.
Our base for this visit was the suburb of Paddington. Colourful period terrace houses interspersed with boutique shops and hip cafés give the area a unique character, plus it has easy access to the ocean beaches near Bondi. Our second day started overcast so we planned to walk the cliff path from Bronte to Bondi. The sea was thick with surfers at every beach we passed, and there were some real experts putting on a great show of skill in the huge waves that eventually crashed into the beach—no swimmers were being allowed into the water such was the force of the waves. At Bronte we prepared for our walk with an Aussie fry up (familiar, but with added avocado) and delicious banana bread slices the size of door stops. Since it was Good Friday, we had spicy and fruity hot1 cross buns as a mid-morning snack while we sheltered from a light rain shower at Tamarama.
Back at Bronte, the rain had blown away and although it remained overcast this made it a perfect temperature for just sitting on the foreshore, watching the world go by, and enjoying a fabulous toasted B.L.A.T. sandwich and more good coffee. Refuelled, we decided it was time for a quick dip in the sheltered rock pool. The water was a little bit cool, but refreshing after our long walk and at water level the giant waves were even more awesome, and could cause quite a surge even through the sheltered pool.
Our final day began with browsing the arts and crafty Paddington markets, then we took a trip to Watsons Bay to admire the majesty of Sydney Harbour from South Head. There was a great family atmosphere here with lots of children enjoying the sunshine and the placid water. The famous fish and chips from Doyle’s lived up to their reputation too—beach life is pretty good when it is this civilised.
After Christmas we travelled from the NSW coast to the Blue Mountains via Kangaroo Valley and the Southern Highlands. Having previously visited NSW during a drought Kangaroo Valley was surprisingly lush and verdant, so much so that during one woodland walk only the bright and multi-coloured birds gave any clue that this was not Britain!
While the Southern Highlands were pleasantly off the main international tourist route, the spectacular vistas in the Blue Mountains fully justified its reputation.
A few photos of Canberra, a city with ample green space and grand architecture. It is difficult to get around without a car though. Despite its master plan being devised in 1912, much of the implementation came much later and exemplifies urban planning of the 1940s and 1950s with large curving roads and roundabouts which make it seem like a grander version of Milton Keynes. Either the original 1912 architect was incredibly prescient to foresee the rise of the motor car, or perhaps he envisioned self-sufficient communities linked by a rail network, it is really not clear how his plan could work otherwise.
Canberra is a very bicycle friendly city, relatively flat with light traffic and ample space for bicycle lanes. Nearby hills such as Mt Ainslie also make for excellent mountain biking apparently, and the coast is only two and a half hours away if you hanker for a weekend on the beach.
When a country gets as much sun as Australia does, it becomes very easy to take gorgeous-looking photographs such as these from our seven day tour of Western Australia. In fact, the sun was so incredibly strong that a lot of the photos were really over exposed and had to be corrected.
While I have previously acclaimed Australia’s beautiful coastal landscape, I remember thinking at the time that the inland scenery was rather hard to describe—the sun blasted continuous scrub of short trees/bushes can hardly be called “pretty”, but there is some eerily attractive about the ostentatious rocky landscape . Looking back, I realise I almost certainly also find the views more enjoyable now that I no longer have to deal with that most intense sun beating down on me, or the highly persistent flies.
Something that I remember was very pretty was the intense blue of the sky set against the red of the earth, although at sunset it was the sky that was beautifully red (and in Perth too.)
Finally, the best bit about tour was definitely the people we met and made friends with on our bus. Rosie, not content with all the fish she saw underwater, also decided to make some new animal friends.
Sydney has many famous beauty spots (photos), but I think my favourite has to Balmoral Beach. Sydney is famous for its beaches, but this one has something the others don’t: an Edwardian Bathing Pavilion which has been converted to a classy café serving excellent coffee and quite possibly the best breakfast in Sydney—and for a city that does breakfast like Sydney does, that takes some doing!
I’m still sorting through the remainder of my photos; more will be posted soon.
North-western Australia is pretty remote: we saw our last traffic light 3 days ago, and driving at night becomes a battle of the wills between the driver and the members of the local wildlife who regard mini-buses as objects of curiosity and wonder… Since I’m not driving, it’s all great stuff!
Today we have reached the zenith of our trip north: the town of Exmouth, located about an hour’s drive north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and close to the Ningaloo Reef. It’s very different to the East coast of the country which has a lot of rainforests: here the landscape is defined by the vivid red soil, with scatterings of short scrubby bushes, and “rain days” number just five a year. Sadly, today was one of those days! We still managed to get in our snorkeling though—apparently fish don’t mind the rain—and the water was still its famous brilliant turquoise colour, but the views of the beaches were not as stunningly beautiful as they would have been on a sunny day.
Snorkeling was good fun: Rosie’s enthusiasm to spending as much time in the water as possible (preferably observing fish!) meant I saw a great many varieties from pretty many-coloured coral-eating parrot fish to evil looking black catfish, and even a shark (which thankfully sped away in the opposite direction as soon as I turned around to find Rosie to save me!).
Tomorrow we head south again: it will take two long days on the bus to reach Perth and actual coffee shops (“civilisation”) again.
After Sydney’s impressive harbour and beautiful beaches, it would easy to be disappointed with Melbourne which has few obvious tourist attractions. However, while Sydney is a stunning supermodel, Melbourne is a multi-layered “onion” of a city, each new exploratory trip reveals new layers: hidden gems of classy shops, chic food markets, interesting cafés, and funky bars. (In the case of the funky bars, “hidden” is literally true: back alleys lead to bars with bizarre but cool school science lab themes, and un-marked entrance ways hide bar staff who hold encyclopedic cocktail menus in their heads.)
If one does tire of the eating and drinking in the city, then a one or two-day trip down the Great Ocean Road provides beautiful coastline scenery. Alternatively, a day trip to the Yarra Valley provides a good excuse to taste some fine Australian wine while admiring the view from the shade of a converted barn or farmhouse.
It would be easy to compare Melbourne to London: for example the Queen Victoria markets are similar to Borough market, and the converted Treasury bar is a bit like the Bank of England pub, and so on. Melbourne felt a little more compact though: while Melbourne has huge sprawling suburbs, the central area where all the action is, did seem a lot smaller than London’s disparate “villages”. Either way, it’s definitely a great place for people who like cities and city-breaks.
I have been in Australia 6 days now, and I really have been too busy to blog! I have taken a great number of photos though, so perhaps I will be able to provide a photo-based retrospective, instead of the running commentary of my last trip.
Anyway, the story so far is that Sydney was just how I remembered it: gorgeously beautiful vistas, excellent coffee, and full of restaurants serving tasty food that was at the same time both comfortingly familiar and slightly different from “the usual” fare. I had forgotten how huge Sydney is though, but since this was my second visit I felt much more able to take life at an easy pace and only revisit those sights I felt warranted a second visit—although there are still too many highlights to list here!
One thing that definitely made this visit more enjoyable was that the flights we took (leaving the UK in the evening and arriving first thing in the morning) were a lot more palatable than departing in the morning and arriving in the evening which left my body clock about 12 hours out of sync with reality. In theory we “lost” a whole day to flying, but it did mean we spent more time sleeping on the very boring plane journey, and were able to start enjoying our holiday as soon as we arrived!