You can’t leave Australia without having petted a Kangaroo or a Koala, so we all hop in the car and drive for an hour up North to the Australian Reptile Park, situated close to Gosford. Once out of the city, you drive through immense national parks and all you see are forests and rivers from both sides of the Pacific Highway or M1. The Reptile Park is fun, as you have the opportunity to be very close to all kinds of animals. During live entertaining shows you get to learn more about snakes, crocodiles, tortoises and arachnids. The park gives you a great impression of Australia’s wildlife.
Kangaroos and wallabies are hopping by and the trees are filled with sleeping Koalas. You get a chance to mingle with some of the animals and feed or pet them.
The dingoes are sound asleep, only when a show is announced through the speaker system, they start howling! The Tasmanian devil is also present and so is the cassowary. My daughter is getting excited as she sees the popular platypus. The bird-cages are filled with all kinds of owls, the kookaburra and cockatoos. The colourful lorikeets are lined up in the trees in the park.
Today is a week day and fairly quiet, so plenty of space to admire the animals on our own. The Reptile Park is also famous for its lifesaving snake and spider venom collection work. After spending a couple of hours in this interesting park, we go for a late lunch and drive back towards Sydney, just before the rush hours starts.
A visit to Blue Mountains is definitely a must, while spending time around Sydney. One day is not enough to fully enjoy the beauty of this World Heritage area, but there is no more time left. My daughter and I decided that we don’t need any touring companies to guide us to the mountains. We just take an early train from Central Station, which brings us within two hours to Katoomba, a nice village with plenty of eateries and all kinds of stores. It is also very close to the famous Three Sister rock formation. Walking through the main street of this little mountain village, we notice the drop of temperature. It is at least a 10 degrees difference with Sydney and we are shivering in our shorts. At the end of the street, we arrive in Echo Park, from where you can admire the Three Sisters from different levels.
The legend of the three sisters; three beautiful sisters once lived with the Gundugurra people in the Jamison Valley (down Echo Park). The maidens fell in love with three brothers from the neighbouring nation of the Dharruk people, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were warriors and decided to take the maidens by force. Tribal war forced the Kuradjuri (clever man) of the Gundungurra people to turn the sisters into stone. He intended to restore them after the danger had passed and the war had ended. Unfortunately, the Kuradjuri (clever man) was killed in the battle and to this day, nobody has been able to break the spell and turn the Three Sisters back to their natural form (this is one of a number of versions of the legend).
From the lookout point, there are several walking trails going left and right, and even possibilities to join a scenic skyway, cableway or railway! We just want to get away from the groups of tourists and enjoy the bird and water sounds of the rainforest.
There is a giant stairway, with 1000 stairs to the valley below, but as we only have half a day, we decide to take the Prince Henri Cliff Walk, which connects Echo Point to Leura Waterfalls. There are plenty of scenic lookouts along the edges of the cliffs.
The colour of Blue Mountain is indeed blue! The ‘blue’ haze is enhanced by millions of oil droplets, released into the atmosphere by the huge numbers of eucalyptus trees. As for the sheer cliff line, the plateau was created around 170 million years ago, when forces in the earth started pushing the rock upwards. Over millions of years, weather and rivers carved out valleys and gorges.
The Leura Waterfalls are impressive. You can look all the way down from the top of the falls and we can spot some people sitting on the enormous rocks down the path. We decide to continue our walk, as we still have to walk back over the road to Katoomba and catch the train end of the afternoon.
If ever I will go back, I would love to stay a couple of days in Blue Mountains, as there are plenty of other walking trails and waterfalls to explore. I also would love to witness the early morning light over the mountains and the shadows during the sunset. I am still impressed to find such a pristine environment, on just a two-hour train ride from the centre of Sydney.
Today, we take the early train to Wynyard station and from there the bus to Spit Bridge, for a hike to Manly. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the spectacular Sydney Harbour, Manly sits on a beautiful peninsula, just North-East of Sydney and is famous for its stunning beaches. Our walk starts on the main road, where the bus stops and will take us around 3 to 4 hours along the curvy coastline, with many stairs up and down.
During our walk through the Sydney National Park we encounter some Aboriginal sites and a variety of flora, fauna and rock formations. No dogs are allowed in this park.
Once arriving in Manly town, our peaceful walk ends, as Manly is an immense popular resort for its long stretched beach. We have a well deserved lunch in a Greek place with outrageous prices and after, we hop on the ferry, which will bring us back to Sydney. The ferry is always fun, as not only the views of the Opera House from the water are impressive, but also the busy water traffic is an eye-catcher.
There are several possibilities to walk around the bays of Sydney. You can reach the starting points by bus, car or ferry. A lot of the trails are at times pretty steep, so you need good walking shoes. Stunning secluded bays are inviting you to go for a swim or have a picnic. Don’t forget the sun-lotion!
On Sunday I moved again. This time I rented an apartment from other friends, who temporarily moved out. I also arranged a house sit (with a cute doggy) for the week after. In December I became a member of two Australian house sitters websites, but the dates were never convenient or the “sits” were too far away from Sydney’s center. This time I am lucky; the right dates and bordering my daughter’s neighbourhood. It always takes a day or so to get settled, find the stores, get the groceries and explore the area. On my second day I decide to walk from Chippendale all the way to Circular Quay for a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art. A breeze is clearing the cloudy sky and the light is getting perfect for pictures! Along the quay the Chinese New Year’s celebrations are still visible. At this point I discover The Rocks, just situated after the museum and the quay. The museum has to wait!
This was the area where the first settlers of the new colony arrived. “First Impressions” is a sandstone sculpture, which symbolizes the convicts, soldiers and free immigrants, who arrived after 1788. As later the houses were built of local sandstone, the area got its name ‘The Rocks’. It used to be a neighbourhood with a rough reputation. Many houses and buildings were demolished in between 1900 and 1920, due to their bad condition and later during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Cadmans Cottage is supposed to be the oldest building in The Rocks and was built in 1816. It is named after John Cadman, who was sent to Australia after stealing a horse. Later, he became ‘superintendent of boats’ and lived with his family in the cottage. It also served as Water Transport Headquarters, Sailor’s Home and Headquarters of the Sydney Police. In the area are two historic pubs, well visited by locals, as well as by tourists.
Via the cobbled streets you climb towards the bridge and get a view of the old and new town.
It is possible to go with a tour all the way up the bridge for around AUD 300. For a bit less, you can choose a lower level. I decide to stay underneath the bridge and enjoy the view from there……..
Today, we all move for a weekend to the apartment of friends, who left for a couple of days. Not only the apartment is one of a kind, the view is also amazing. On one site you see the famous Anzac Bridge. At the far end, the skyscrapers of Sydney are dominating the horizon. The balcony is made for living outside and ships are sailing up and down right in front of us.
I have a quiet day, but decide in the evening to collect my daughter from her work at Circular Quay, in CBD or Central Business District. There should be a walk-way along the water, starting down at the apartment. It all looks pretty dark outside and I don’t know how safe it is, but I still want to try hiking to town. Within ten minutes I notice I am not the only one enjoying the cooler evening’s temperature and once arriving on the pedestrian Pyrmont bridge, which takes you to central Sydney, the crowd is overwhelming. I totally forgot it is Chinese New Year! During the first couple of days, I noticed already that Sydney is mainly occupied by Chinese people, but tonight it is only Chinese! Except me……and a few others……
I work my way through Pittstreet, until I reach my daughter’s workplace. Circular Quay is bordering the touristic harbour, the Opera House, the Rocks and the train station. It is all happening here! In the park around the harbour, you can find enormous blown-up animals of the Chinese Zodiac and tonight is the start of the New Year and it is just crazy out there! I go up to my daughter’s workplace, right here in CBD and sip a wine, while she and her team are waiting for the last customers to leave. We decide to walk all the way back and by now it is past eleven in the night and the streets are filled with drunken people! Mind you, more Aussie’s and foreigners now……
17th of February,
It is my birthday and the ‘son in law to be’ is still working his way through the weekend, but my daughter is off and we go for a hike over the Anzac Bridge, towards Blackwattle Bay. The Anzac bridge is one of Sydney’s outstanding landmarks. With a cost of around $170 million it became a key link between the city and the suburbs to the west. It is the longest cable-stayed span bridge in Australia. The finished deck is fully supported by the cables!
The hiking trail takes us all around the bay, with different parks and panoramic views.
Finally, we reach the Fish-Market, where people are not only buying, but also eating! Again, I have the feeling that I arrived in China.
My daughter advises me to go to another company at the same location, where it is quiet and relaxed. Here, at De Costi, we buy prawns, a very tasty seaweed salad and a few Rock Oysters. We already brought our own wine and sit down for a delicious meal! I definitely want to go back before I leave…….
In the evening we walk to Newtown Hotel, where the balcony reminds me of New Orleans. My daughter worked here a few years ago. We meet up with a friend and look down from the balcony on the street, while sipping a beer.
After, I am treated for a tasty birthday meal at ‘Hartsyard’, also in Newtown. Again, we share all different courses and I am impressed with the “fine cuisine” here in Sydney. Our evening continues on the balcony of the apartment, soaking up the amazing views over the city and enjoying the heat of Sydney’s summer night.
The family is having a day off and they take me for a nice drive over the Harbour Bridge, to the Northern coastline of Sydney, passing famous Manly and the suburb Mona Vale. After only a 40 kilometer car drive from the inner city, you soon reach the peninsula with various attractive beaches on the Tasman Sea, the inner bay of Pittwater and more inland Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.
First we visit Whale Beach, where only a few people are enjoying this fabulous day. The sea is pretty wild and the sand is covered with ‘Blue Bottles’, a very stinging type of jellyfish, so no way I am going into the sea! Many beaches have a separate basin in the rocks and there it is safe to swim.
There is not much known about this type of jellyfish. They are siphonophores, a weird group of colonial jellyfish. They still can deliver painful stings, even after the organism has died. The question is: ‘to pee or not to pee’……….? Don’t, as you can aggravate the pain! Rinse with seawater, then use hot water or ice for the pain.
From Whale Beach we drive to Palm Beach. The narrow road climbs slightly and on both sides are expensive houses overlooking the beaches. Palm Beach is stretched out way more than intimate Whale Beach.
From here we return via the other side of the peninsula towards Newport. A small touristic town with plenty of places where you can relax with a drink or grab some food. We have lunch at the Newport Arms, nestled on the shores of Pittwater, with an amazing view of the bay.
After our lunch we get a tour at Bert’s, another (newly opened) venue from the Merivale group, on the same grounds. Inspired by the grand hotel dining rooms of the 1930s, the brasserie and cocktail lounge offer something extra. The wine cellar is amazing and so are the views from the lounge. Here you can relax in the afternoon with champagne and oysters or maybe a lobster or two? Don’t forget to bring your wallet!!! We ‘only’ have a cocktail……pfffffff……….
The return trip takes a bit longer, due to the rush-hour. Tonight we will meet up with two friends, who will rent their apartment to me, as from Sunday on. We will have supper at Kindred, in the district of Chippendale. It is very common to share various dishes with each other, so you get a taste of all the different flavours. It is indeed fine dining and these last days I get spoiled with so much lovely food and wines!
Tomorrow another exciting day, as we all move for a long weekend in an exclusive apartment from friends, overlooking the bay with the Anzac Bridge and the city in the far end.
At 6.15 a.m. I set foot for the first time in my life, in the city and the country, which my daughter calls home. Nearly seven years, she is living here and until now I wasn’t able to visit. I knew it would be a 25 hour trip, though I thought I should be able to get some kind of sleep on the plane. Instead of sleeping, I watched around 4 movies, as my front seat neighbour decided to snore away all the 14 hours from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. Not to mention the screaming baby, who obviously did miss the comfort of his or her bed at home. According to my daughter, an early arrival is the best way to get accustomed to the time change. So I went with the flow, had a shower and a good breakfast at her home and off we went, for a walk. I forgot immediately the cold and rainy Dutch winter and adjusted in no time to the comfortable heat of Sydney. Our small roundabout ended up into an eight kilometer walk, where I got a first glimpse of Chippendale; an ordinary neighborhood, but with plenty of tropical greens and all kinds of small stores, cafes and terraces. I didn’t bring my camera, but during my second week, I will stay in an apartment in the same neighborhood and will be able to explore some more of the surroundings.
After this first walk on Australian grounds, it was time for a glass of wine, some food and a nap, so we walked with my luggage another 20 minutes to Hotel Harry, where I was booked for the first three days. Conveniently close to the city center and on walking distance of various museums and the waterfront. In the evening we decided to have dinner in a small Thai eatery, with the name ‘Spice I Am’, just down from the hotel. They serve authentic and extremely tasty food!
14th of February
St. Mary’s Cathedral
Today, both my daughter and “son-in-law” have to work, so I started exploring Sydney on my own. From my hotel, it is an easy walk towards Hyde Park, where you will find the Anzac Memorial, the Pool of Reflection, the Archibald Fountain and a statue of Captain James Cook. Bordering Hyde Park is the famous St. Mary’s Cathedral, overlooking the Pool of Reflection.
From here you walk along Parliament House towards the impressive Royal Botanic Garden. An oasis of lush green and peacefulness in the center of the city. Here you can spend easily a couple of hours. As I left early this morning, the park was still quiet. People come here to picnic, workout or just have a rest. Many events take place on various occasions. It has an abundance of very old trees and at the end of the park you can see the Opera House.
There is a walking trail from the Opera House along Farm Cove and Mrs Macquaries Point. From here you have a fabulous view over Sydney Harbor Bridge with the glittering roofs of the Opera House in the front. There is even an open air cinema!
I continued my walk along Wolloomooloo Bay and discovered the Swimming Centre, which is outstanding situated on top of the Bay. Further down, bordering the Botanic Gardens, you find the well-known Art Gallery of NSW, which I will visit later during my stay.
A swimming pool with a view
Sydney is a perfect town for athletes and bikers, with so many inviting hiking and biking trails through the parks, along the water and over the towering bridges. After 6 hours of walking, my feet are sore and my head is full of impressions. Time to go back to the hotel.