in Australia, Travel

Pre-COVID, 2020 was to be a year of long overdue travel. A week in the Sydney area was to be our first stop for a month in Australia and nearly as long in southeast Asia. This is the first of several journal posts about our Australia 2020.

Click any photo in the galleries below for a larger overlay.

Travel

For a 15 hour flight in cramped economy, things really couldn’t have gone much better. Our flying time ended up being 14:55. Connie slept better than I did and, other than malfunctioning lights over our seats (for which we were given Air Canada vouchers), the trip was uneventful.

With an e-passport, getting through customs at Sydney Airport was a breeze. A quick passport scan, then a brief digital process to match our faces to our passport photos and, finally, getting our declaration cards checked and a quick sniff by the drug detection dog. From the plane to the main concourse was probably 20 minutes total, with fairly minimal human interaction.

We probably spent 90 minutes at the airport having tea, buying prepaid SIM cards and getting a little pocket cash from the ATM. After that, we opted for a cab to take us right to our accommodations. While I had to remind myself that we have a 12% bonus in exchange rate, one cab ride told me that it wasn’t a financially sound way to get around. We got Opal cards and used the really great New South Wales public transit system exclusively for the rest of our time in Sydney.

Surry Hills

Even with a lot of research, going somewhere you’ve never been can be a real adventure. Thankfully, the place we booked for our first five nights in Sydney was exactly as described online. The host was a great communicator throughout the booking process and it hit most of the key points for me. A walkable neighbourhood, quiet and dark at night, with a firm mattress and pillows. He even met us in person to check us in. As for the neighbourhood, Surry Hills is a super-cool, funky area with tons of watering holes and eateries. To me the notable thing in the pics below is the density and small alley streets with no setback. It was lovely, and I’m not sure why we can’t do that in Vancouver.

We even had a minor neighbour noise problem on our final night and, quite unexpectedly, our host refunded us the evening’s fees.

Strolling Sydney

After we checked in, we managed to remain upright and walk from Surry Hills all the way downtown to, and around, the harbour. It was overcast and threatening to rain, but stayed dry. We found some vegan Chinese lunch, walked through Hyde Park, the Royal Botanic Garden and along the waterfront for views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. We, then continued past Circular Quay to The Rocks, where we had some tasty brew at Endeavour Taphouse.

The second day began by fulfilling the threat of the previous days’ clouds, with heavy downfall from morning until evening.

After an Americano nearby, and Bare Naked Bowls for breakfast, we grabbed some basic supplies for the remaining four nights of our stay. After that, we decided our continued activities for the day would be restricted to indoor activities, given the weather.

Our prime targets were the Art Gallery of NSW and an Opera House tour. I wouldn’t say Japan Supernatural, the main current gallery exhibit, did much for me, but I really enjoyed 50 Years of Kaldor Art, a sort of history of public art exhibits and projects, and some of the permanent paintings and exhibits.

Fortune of War

Sadly, by the time we finished the gallery and swam to the Opera House, all remaining tours were sold out for the day. We ended up back in The Rocks after striking out on the tour and grabbed a snack and a pint at Fortune of War. A cute place with some nice stuff on tap, its main claim to fame is as Sydney’s oldest pub, first licensed in 1822.

For dinner we found some great vegan sushi close to our Airbnb. Rain subsided for the evening, so we had a very pleasant stroll to dinner. Partiers that we are, we closed off Friday night with some excellent vegan sorbet at Gelato Messina Surry Hills.

Manly and the Northern Beaches

Saturday was promising, so we decided to take the ferry to Manly. You can get all over the harbour on the killer ferry system and all public transit in NSW works on the ‘rechargeable’ Opal card.

Our weather held through the ferry ride to Manly and some of the initial walking about. Manly’s a beautiful little surfing and tourist village with an incredible main beach, our first of many. After about half an hour or so hiking around town, the heavens opened up for the remainder of the afternoon. We got thoroughly soaked and found some lunch in town.

The Ferry Trip

Manly Beach and Town

We’d already decided we wouldn’t let the weather bring us down, so after lunch we got on transit and made our way to the northern beaches. We figured we’d either get a break or get dumped on. It turned out to be the latter, so we rode all the way up to Palm Beach.

Palm Beach is at the northern-most tip of the northern beaches, on its own peninsula. It’s a beautiful and somewhat remote area, and had we not been experiencing torrential rain and wind, I’m sure we would have hung around for a while. However, you can only get so wet before the desire for shelter takes over. So, after some photo ops and a (very) little beach time we were on our way. The hour-long bus ride from Manly really hadn’t dried us out much, either.

 

Due to the weather, (much as we would have liked) getting off the bus repeatedly to check out the different beaches on this trip was really not on, so after an ill-fated attempt at food and drink based on some questionable bus driver advice, we finally landed at 4 Pines tasting room back in Manly for a well-deserved ale and some grub. We emerged to a break from a full afternoon of heavy rain and took the bus all the way back to Circular Quay, opting to avoid a return ferry trip. We were still moist and pretty much done for the day.

Ending our wet afternoon at 4 Pines Tasting Room

The Rocks Discovery Museum and the Opera House

Sunday saw more rain, but what had been merely windy on Saturday became historically dangerous by Sunday. In fact, it was so stormy, one-day rain total records were being smashed (to the tune of hundreds of mm per day) and the wind was causing power outages and flooding across NSW. If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s that the bush fires didn’t stand a chance and all were essentially extinguished.

With the weather the worst it had been, we figured we’d do more indoor things. After booking an afternoon Opera House tour online the day before, we decided we’d start with a tour of the free The Rocks Discovery Museum and grab some lunch before heading over and touring the Opera House. I found the history of The Rocks to be pretty fascinating. Let’s just say that, if you’re from Canada and at all aware of European settler colonial activities, The Rocks’ history won’t come as any surprise.

We looked around a fair bit for lunch, but the wind storm meant many businesses were closing early and activity in the area was pretty light for Sydney Harbour. Oddly, we landed at Munich Brauhaus and ended up having a pretty good lunch. You don’t often have a good vegan wrap while listening to an oompah band, at a place more known for schnitzel and sausages.

When our mid-afternoon Opera House tour finally came around, we weren’t disappointed. It probably lasted 90 minutes and delved heavily into the history of its design and build, including the fact that, despite going millions over budget it was entirely paid for by lotteries, without tax dollars being spent. In truth though, I really just loved looking for shapes and lines of which to take photographs. They’ve always been one of my favourite photo subjects.

Bondi to Coogee

When Monday rolled around, Sydney was starting to look like what we expected. It was still pretty hazy, but it was a warm, mostly clear day with a high around 30 celsius. We figured we’d finally enjoy the weather with the Bondi to Coogee walk, and whatever else we could fit in.

Moore Park and the Sydney Cricket Grounds was our first stop this day. Neither of us are cricket or rugby fans, so we didn’t bother with the tour, but we sighted some beautiful black swans in the lagoon, got a few pics of the stadium and watched a little rugby practice out front.

After that, a relatively quick bus ride took us the 10k or so to Bondi Beach. Like many Australian beaches, it’s a big beautiful expanse of golden sand that seemingly stretches as far as the eye can see. Bondi to Coogee is a beautiful clifftop and beach hike of roughly 6k, that takes in a few beautiful stretches of sand and some really intense rocks and surf. The scenery is sort of Tofino/Ucluelet meets Hawaii. We ended the walk with a refreshing libation in Coogee Pavilion.

Since we were working on our last full day in Sydney, we figured the beautiful weather deserved another ferry ride, so after making our way back to Circular Quay, we headed to Sydney’s north shore by boat and had an early dinner in Mosman. It was a pretty nondescript excursion, but was a nice change to see a different Sydney suburb.

And, finally, between the challenging weather and sticky hip flexor / groin thing I’d been nursing, running hadn’t yet been on the agenda. I finally ventured out for a muggy 8k through some of the iconic downtown scenery and out around Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair for an evening view of the bridge and Opera House.

If nothing else, the pics below are a nice evening view of some downtown icons.

We had one more evening in Sydney after a self-drive to the Blue Mountains and Newcastle, but it was a pretty uneventful prelude to flying to Brisbane.