The best thing so far about Australia has been the Aussie people. They’re just lovely. We met a couple of guys on Blakey’s paramotor course who, after learning we were on our way to Sydney, insisted we stay at their places to avoid the campground fees so close to the city. Excellent. A couple of nights out of the van sounded appealing, as did being shown around the city with a local.
Our first stop was a place called Dee Why, which is near Manly on the northern side of the city. Our new friend Pete lives right on the beach up there, and the quiet, seaside vibe of the place was great.
We got a brilliant snapshot of what it’s like to actually live there and it was pretty appealing… if you can afford the ridiculous house prices of a few million dollars.
Pete took us out to some of the best lookout points so we could get a feel for the place. One stop was Long Reef Point, where we watched some paragliders swanning about and Pete tried on his new harness he’s buying from one of them. My favourite was Barrenjoey Lighthouse, which has some incredible views up and down the coast. It’s a bit of a climb to get to the top, but definitely worth it.
On our first evening we caught the Manly ferry over to the city after some amazing Tapas in Manly, but the second evening the three of us took some take away burgers and a coolbox full of beer down to the beach and just sat out watching the waves, nomming our burgers and drinking. We were joined by Pete’s paragliding friend and he gave us some good tips about where to go in the city the following evening. We didn’t leave until the coolbox was empty.
How amazing would it be to live somewhere where you can just sit out on the beach after work and eat your dinner? Ok, so we could technically do that at home but it’d be bloody freezing.
Sydney City Centre
On our first night, we got all dressed up and caught the Manly ferry to the city with Pete and Katie with the sole purpose of going to the opera. Pete had messaged us the night before and asked if we fancied it, and how could we refuse? We figured if you’re ever going to go to the opera, Sydney is the place to do it. Yes, it was our budget completely out the window yet again, but that’s the advantage of travelling when you’re a bit older than the usual backpacker – the budget is a very firm guideline, for the really special stuff you can splash out without having to live on cereal for the next three weeks.
We saw Turandot, which is an opera by Puccini about a cruel Chinese princess who sets riddles for her suitors, and if they fail to answer them she kills them. Lovely girl, really endearing. One guy finally comes along and answers correctly, then sets her a riddle in return – to find out his name before daybreak – and that’s when he sings the famous Nessun Dorma (before this only known to me from Paul Potts blasting it out on Britain’s Got Talent).
Anyway, it was great. There were subtitles so we knew what they were singing about although I actually think that took something away from the experience as instead of using the emotion in the music and the acting to suss out what was happening, we were just gawping at the subtitles.
After we’d said goodbye to Pete we were let loose on Sydney by ourselves and it was time to explore a little out of the way from the usual tourist hotspots. We wanted to check out Newtown, a hipster neighbourhood to the west of the CBD. Even though it’s a neighbourhood covered in street art and the more usual kind of graffeti, it has a really friendly feel. It has fantastic bars and restaurants away from the tourist scene at the waterfront, so we decided a bit of day drinking was in order and spent a happy afternoon at Young Henry’s Brewery and Holey Moley – mini golf and a bar all rolled into one. We’re super classy. We finished off the night with a few more bars then an amazing curry at Kammadhenu and a Lebanese shisha bar called Shishabella. We also randomly bumped into a couple we’d shared a room with in Queenstown when we were in New Zealand, which was strange. We just turned a corner and there they were. I don’t think we made a great second impression to be honest as we’d had a few by that point.
The next day we had a pretty late start due to the hangover, but eventually got back into the city for a proper touristy afternoon – a lunchtime jazz cruise in the harbour. We used bookme.au to get half price tickets though and felt really smug as everyone else would have paid $90 each. $45 wasn’t bad for three hours gently floating along, listening to live music, admiring the views and eating lots of food. We also had a walk along The Rocks, a touristy neighbourhood in the shadow of the harbour bridge, full of twisty little streets and markets.
All in all, we loved Sydney. Which is strange for us as cities usually make us feel grumpy and hate people. It is, of course, a very beautiful city but it’s not just that – the public transport is cheap and shiny and new, the different areas have so much to offer, and the crowds weren’t actually as bad as expected. We didn’t even get down to Bondi Beach or walk over the Harbour Bridge, or probably a million other things you’re meant to do in Sydney, but we attended an opera at the opera house, experienced life as a local, and found some quirky places for a fun afternoon, so we were happy.