Back to Australia

Australia is open to tourists again after almost two years. We were itching to be amongst the first to return and arrived in Sydney mid-February. How pleased (and surprised) everyone was to see us. Having not had tourists or visitors from overseas, we received the warmest of welcomes wherever we went.

Having visited the city on a number of occasions this time I wanted to see some off the beaten track Sydney so managed to enjoy walks in the North Shore National Parks, as well as some harbour-side walks and city centre roaming.

Walks

The Spit to Manly walk is one of the most famous in Sydney and is 9km long. Hugging the water you pass various bay and beaches including picturesque Clontarf. A third of it is in Sydney Harbour National Park which has remained much as it was when the First Fleet arrived. Grotto Point has aboriginal rock carvings and there’s plenty of wildflowers, bottlebrush trees and guanas sunning themselves.  On reaching Manly we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the famous Hugo’s restaurant with its wooden decks over the harbour waters. The food was excellent. It was a Friday lunchtime and it was buzzing with Manleyites starting their weekend early.

Another day was spent walking from the Taronga Park zoo ferry terminal (a 5 minute ferry ride from circular quay which is a holiday in itself) to Middle Head – a stunning Harbour side walkway which passes many secret beaches to stop for a swim and small cafes to grab a drink and a snack. We passed through the artist’s park and enjoyed the sculptures before the last part of our walk which ends above the famous Balmoral beach.

Other noteworthy bush walks with stunning views included Bluff Creek near Frenches Forest, in the early morning where you could see the city centre sky rises in the far distance. In Garigal National Park we trekked the Two Creeks Track, an 8 mile route past waterfalls and picnicked on the banks of one of the multitudinous small harbour inlets.

Having done the famous Bondi to Coogee coastal walk previously this time we tried a walk along the northern surfing beaches. We followed the path over the cliffs from Curl Curl to Dee Why and back, past the stunning Dee Why rock pool (50m long) stopping for a freshly squeezed apple orange and ginger smoothie as we looked out on the Southern Pacific Ocean.

 City Centre

 We spent a day walking amongst the city’s historic buildings which often get overlooked. These include the Anzac Memorial in beautiful Hyde Park, Sydney Town Hall, elegant Queen Victoria Building Shopping Arcade and the old Post Office. Not to be missed, and somewhere we visited a number of times, were the Botanical Gardens – a great place to chill out and admire the amazing harbour views. Here you will find Mrs McQuarie’s chair – a rock carved seat carved for the Governor’s wife. Right here is also the Art Gallery of New South Wales with its Australian wonders including the Golden Fleece, Brett Whitely’s view from his balcony of Sydney harbour and William Dobell paintings. The aboriginal and Torre Straits Islander gallery had stunning art as always and has been moved to a better position on the ground floor. Work is being completed on a new wing where this gallery will be at the main entrance.

 There is always so much to see when you spend a day in the Rocks – the original colonist’s settlement.  Don’t miss the Rocks Discovery centre with fascinating displays on the early western settlement of Sydney by the colonists. It is clear what little knowledge they had about the indigenous aboriginals who are now more respectfully acknowledged as the original custodians of the land. Historic places to see included Susannah place with workers cottages, the Big Dig (footings of 40 houses) and the very old Cadman’s cottage. The Overseas Passenger Terminal has some of the most amazing views of the harbour with the constant buzz of ferries passing into Circular Quay. So may bars and restaurants in the area make it a really convivial and pleasant place to pass the day.

From there can pass through the Victorian “Argyle Cut” under the bridge motorway Cahill expressway/ bridge to the observatory – with its beautiful park, shady trees and views of the west side of the harbour. It was a perfect spot to recharge. From there it was a short walk to the newly opened Barangaroo reserve, a garden of terraces leading down to the water which is strewn with sandstone bricks which make perfect seats and where we sheltered from the sun under some gum trees.

As a contrast we went for a peaceful walk in Wendy Whitely’s secret garden an oasis of calm and greenery in Lavender Bay by Milsons Point below the famous house Wendy and Brett Whitely lived in and from whose balcony he painted many of his famous scenes of the harbour. From there we wandered round to iconic Luna Park and enjoyed another stunning view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, with the wooden clanks and roars of the passengers from the rollercoasters in Luna Park in the background.

The ferry rides are always a highlight and I found myself zipping backwards and forwards on them especially during a train strike.

Food and Drinks

Sydney wouldn’t be Sydney without some brilliant food and drink and on the day we visited the Rocks we finished up at the Shangri-La hotel and it’s 36th floor panoramic cocktail bar. We drank most delicious cocktails whilst watching the Friday night rush hour traffic swarm across the bridge and the sun gleam off the Opera House. We followed this with dinner at the unique Bifstecca. Where the only main course is T bone, cooked to perfection over charcoal, with eye fillet on one side of the bone and tender sirloin on the other. Meltingly delicious and the most imaginative sides e.g. polenta with pecorino and truffle. Starters of bone marrow were the richest and most moorish I have ever eaten.

Another evening we had dinner in the lovely Oaks pub in Neutral Bay whose courtyard centre is filled with an enormous old oak tree festooned with lights and tables scattered around it. The fish and chips were top class as were the lychee martinis! Another culinary Sydney institution was Harry’s Pies in Woolloomooloo which the traditional Aussie meat pie is served in all its glory with mushy peas and gravy on top!

We ate well wherever we went, especially seafood. Lobster, giant king prawns and oysters were abundant and affordable and we feasted on them. Our flight was brought forward unexpectedly at the last minute and we had to cancel our planned Sunday lunch at the iconic Icebergs restaurant overlooking Bondi beach and the Icebergs rock pool. It was a shame, but means we have unfinished business in Sydney and will need to return in the next year or two! I also missed a particularly sought after tour of Cockatoo Island with its rich industrial and convict history- another reason to return!

While in Australia I also sneaked in a flying trip to Queensland, visiting Noosa where we swam in the beautiful pacific and sat on its golden Sandy beach which stretched for miles. The shopping is to die for there, the most amazing collection of beachwear boutiques. We also had a particularly memorable lunch on the balcony of the surf club with its stunning unbroken views over the sand and the sea.

 

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