I have to start with a disclaimer. I have fallen in love with Sydney and was lucky enough to have a weekend there when the weather of the approaching winter broke and became glorious. So this post is pretty biased because basically I was blown away and cannot stop raving about the city.
Work commitments meant I did not have a lot of time to see Sydney but I was lucky that my friend C came up from Canberra to act as a tour guide for the weekend (having lived in the city for a number of years) so most of the following recommendations are a result of her good guidance. I had even less time in Brisbane. But basically after more than 20 years of dreaming about making it Down Under I finally did and for the next little while I’ll be living off the memories!
- The friendliness: when I arrived, a lone female traveller, at 10.30pm and could not (despite Google) find where the hotel shuttle left from, I was comforted and guided in the right direction by multiple random Aussies. I cannot stress enough how friendly Aussies are but what also struck me is that while they are as famously laid back as portrayed they have a steely core that does not broach poor service. This is an amazing combination.
- The natural harbour: I had not appreciated quite how massive it is and despite seeing it a thousand times on TV, the Sydney Opera House is really quite special. Look for it on your approach into the city’s airport, like a tiny model, and walk through the gorgeous Botanical Gardens to see it at its best. Another top tip is to go to the cafe at the top of the Museum of Contemporary Art for the most amazing (free) views of the whole of Circular Quay. If you can get a seat at the Opera House bar before sunset, do it. It is a cliché but what a wonderful cliché!
- Vivid Sydney: this annual light and sound extravaganza blew me away with its incredible creativity. The theme for 2013 was colour, with a sub-theme of India. Having lived in and loved Mumbai I was sold. I’m now itching to bring something similar to Brussels. From the projections on the Opera House, Customs House, Darling Harbour and environs there is so much to see. If you can time your trip to coincide with this Autumn extravaganza, you’re in for a treat. My favourite installation turned out to be the intriguing ‘Transformation/Solstice Lamp’ at the AMP Building in Sydney Cove. Initially I thought the origami birds flying up the side of the building were lame compared to some of the more colourful installations but when I got up close with the interactive element I realised there was a lot more going on, with bands of light encircling passers-by, transforming first to sound, and then into birds. Beautiful, ephemeral and haunting.
- Manly: An absolutely gorgeous suburb with an incredible beach. I envy C who lived here for a good few years and enjoyed the legendary ferry trip in to the city every day (although once you get out past the Heads the swell is a bit of a challenge for those of us blessed with motion-sickness tendencies). Recently voted the best breakfast in Manly, head to Hemingway’s for a delicious start to the day. A day trip on the Manly Ferry is a must. Bondi Beach is equally impressive in its expanse. For breakfast with a view, try 34
- For the hipsters among you, the hot, creative quarter between Oxford St & Elizabeth St (around Reservoir St in particular) should provide you with your fill of crazy-trendy coffee shops and furniture stores. Remedial Wife enjoyed a delicious brunch at Toast (corn & kaffir lime fritters or Lebanese or Mexican breakfast just a few of the options on offer).
- If you can afford it, do the Sydney Bridge climb at dusk – amazing views (especially during a full moon and/or Vivid festival) and, I promise, not too strenuous. The staff are lovely, you get plenty of time to take in the vistas and get to wear a bizarre grey and blue jumpsuit. What more could you want? The photo packages are expensive but worth buying at least 2 as you are not allowed to take your own camera up with you. A cheaper option is the Pylon lookout. The area around the bridge (The Rocks) is worth a few hours to get a glimpse of Sydney as it might have been in the early Colonial years, especially if your visit coincides with the vibrant Sunday market.
- In Brisbane, head upriver to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for a chance to hug a koala or get up close and personal with kangaroos.
- Brisbane’s South Bank has great dining and cultural facilities, the Brisbane wheel, a rainforest walk and a Tibetan pagoda. Jellyfish on the North Bank does an Aussie take on fish and chips and you can read about how they had to rescue a shark from the premises after the floods in 2011.
- Top tip: if you take public transport from Sydney airport in to the city remember you will need 2 separate tickets – one to get you from the airport to the connection point (normally at Central) to the rest of the public transport network for which you need a separate ticket. This is totally confusing to foreigners Sydney. If you are in town for a few days, the “My Multi” ticket, which gives access to trams, underground and ferries, is a great option.
Anyway, those of you lucky enough to be expats in Sydney, I salute you. To me, you are living the dream!