Our night bus down from Byron Bay was the worst I’ve been on so far, mainly due to the fact it was so full. No chance of sleeping much more than a few winks on a Greyhound when you can’t spread (albeit uncomfortably) across two seats. Add to that a driver who claims he needs the worst of 90s pop to stay awake and you’ve got a winner! Actually, no, the best part was when, during an announcement, the driver suddenly shouted, “Fuck!”, very loudly before proceeding to explain that we just hit a bat. If you’ve seen an Australian bat before, you’ll know how big they are and what an almighty thud they’d make against a windscreen!
Early the next morning, about an hour and a half before we were due to arrive in Sydney, we were driving through what felt like a relatively modern city when Arianna asked how far I thought we were. Glancing out of the window, as we rattled over an old bridge, I smiled and said, “I think we’re here.” Into Sydney we had just crossed, over the famous Harbour Bridge and there was the Opera House.
Once off the bus, we efficiently bought and topped up our Opal cards and jumped on the train to King’s Cross, which turned out to be Sydney’s Pigalle or Soho, and all that goes with it. Sadly, our hostel was pretty terrible, and that’s being kind – an overall feeling of dirtiness, bad smells, long-term residents that didn’t seem bothered about either of the above or about being polite, let alone friendly. I’ve stayed in a bunch of places and this has to have been amongst the worst. Thank goodness we’d emailed the day before to ask for a quiet room after realising it was in big party district and got a free upgrade to a double room! Basic and relatively clean, we even had our own bouncer – Frankie the cockroach.
As we couldn’t actually check in till later (I’m getting muddled up with times here!), we decided we deserved a good brunch and read in the Lonely Planet about Bill’s, owned by none other than Bill Granger, whose Westbourne Grove branch has people queuing round the block every weekend. Not here though! We breezed in, got a table and enjoyed a delicious combination of signature corn fritters and poached eggs with smashed avo on toast.
Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, we decided to make the most of the time we had before check-in to go for a bit of an explore. Of course, this ended up in us walking for several kilometres through Brooklyn-esque neighbourhoods all the way to the Botanic Gardens, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Opera House – and what a moment that was. Sleep-deprived and submerged by a sudden wave of realisation that I had made it to such an iconic place after all these weeks of travelling, I couldn’t hold back the tears as we looked onto Sydney Opera House from one of the best view points in town.
After a quiet afternoon trying to catch up on some sleep, we headed back into town to Blu Bar, on the 36th floor of the Shangri La hotel for some incredible award-winning cocktails and a stunning sunset. It was a bit of a stretch but worth the definitely-not-backpacker price tag.
The next morning, we got up early – missed the free breakfast (it didn’t start till 9!) – and hopped onto a train to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Thanks to Nika and Hillary, I knew that, on Sundays, all transport in and around Sydney is capped at $2.50, meaning it’s a great opportunity to travel somewhere a little further afield instead of going on an organised tour which would cost around $80! The weather was rather grey and windy but still warm enough; we were hoping the same would apply once we alighted in Katoomba from the freezing AC train, but sadly felt the first gust of proper cold mountain air I’ve felt since last winter. Oops, the short shorts were a bad idea!
We soon found a lovely old-fashioned tea room where we enjoyed a warming hot chocolate and cappuccino (I may also have indulged in a very large slice of carrot cake) before having to buy a serious merino top from one of the many mountain wear stores. Once we finally got a move on, we walked all the way down to Echo Point, where the Three Sisters stand proud, only to find millions of people and coach tours.
A quick photo opp and even quicker picnic lunch due to the hundreds of flies, and we were out of there, heading back into town along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. Mere seconds off the beaten track and we were alone, as is so often the case, bar a few other families and intrepid trekkers. It was a lovely walk and we were extra careful not to wake any scary nasties – we only got a fright from an unexpected pheasant-type bird!
By the time we finished the walk, we were cold and sweaty at the same time, exhausted and in dire need of a pick-me-up, which manifested itself in the form of yet another tea house where we enjoyed tea and scones, likes the grannies we are. And we still had room for an Indian that evening!
On Monday, despite the overcast forecast, we decided to do the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. Only, we decided to do it the other way round so as to go against the crowds and end up in Bondi to swim and explore. And I’m glad we did! The light was in our favour, with grey behind us and bright blue ahead, and the walk itself was lovely. We even saw a huge pod of dolphins and had lunch watching them leap and play, not at all bothered by the surfers a few meters away from them.
Our legs and feet starting to feel sore after all this walking, we turned a corner to find the glistening Bondi Icebergs pool inviting us for a dip. In the rocks to the south of Bondi Bay, its turquoise water blends into the deep blue of the sea and huge waves come crashing in, so strong they submerge swimmers in the far lane and create pool waves strong enough to push you off the edge into the kiddy pool. I dipped my toes in the freezing water and pushed myself to complete four lengths – the difference in temperature with the outside so stark it took my breath away. It was quite amazing really, especially having seen pictures of it for years, but I wasn’t too keen on the floating bits of seaweed and jellyfish!
We dried off in the sun, baffled by the teenagers posing for their Instagram feeds, before wandering into town on the hunt for some frozen yoghurt. And then a cocktail! We also decided we should probably try to see the harbour area at night so made our way back to Circular Quay where we walked around the Rocks, Sydney’s oldest district, and had a possibly clandestine aperitivo on the opera steps in the last of the evening sun. The wind was strong and we only had thin jumpers so as soon as we saw the lights come on, we headed back to our little double room!
Finally, on Tuesday – gosh, we’ve been busy – we took the ferry to Manly for a bit of a wander. Despite the tacky tourist shops and a very busy beach, we had a nice time, walking along the coast to Cabbage Tree Bay and then enjoying some fish and chips on the beach.
We were both a little surprised at how much we enjoyed Sydney, an odd mixture between NYC and San Francisco, and would love to see more, though we are also glad not to have come across any huntsmen or funnel-web spiders!
More soon from Melbourne 🙂