Despite being on the other side of the world, Australia seems to be one of those places everyone has a connection. Friends and friends-of-friends kept sending us their travel recommendations, enthusiastic for us to explore the land of Oz. I think Americans have a particular fascination with Australia, because of all our similarities–from the Aussies’ rebellious beginnings to their wild landmass to their new-school take on Western culture. We’re like cousins separated by the greatest possible distance…which makes reaching them even more exciting. We arrived to Sydney and felt completely at home, but wandered with utter curiosity. We spent four days exploring the iconic harbor, colonial neighborhoods, rugged coastline, tiny islands, and local haunts with our Bondi Beach buddies Ian & Simon. Sophisticated, outdoorsy, and laid-back all at once, Sydney is our kind of town.
Sydney Travel Guide
Fresh off the plane from New Zealand, we went right to the most iconic symbol of the city, if not all of Australia, The Sydney Opera House. We’ve seen images of this building a billion times but to get a feel for its scale, texture, and beauty from every angle was such a thrill. There are also a ton of things we never knew about the building, for instance: It’s not one performance venue but seven, it’s not built on land but actually hovers over the water with the help of 588 pylons, and it took 1,056,006 tiles to make that gorgeous chevron roof.
To get our bearings we went on a walking tour of The Rocks, Sydney’s first colonial village in the 1700s and dark heart of its penal colony past. Walking the historic slums, we learned about the gangs, prostitutes, and sailors that graced the area and how at the turn of the 20th century, they were virtually wiped out by the Bubonic plague, followed by real estate developers eying up the valuable harbor-side land. The Rocks has been revived with trendy shops and restaurants, but still has its historic and rough-around-the-edges charm.
The tour ended at the iconic Harbor Bridge, also known as the “The Coathanger.” This is one of the biggest bridges in the world and made even more famous by the BridgeClimb—daily tours where tourists gear up like rock climbers and scale its frame.
We strolled the Central Business District (CBD) and saw the Gothic spires of St Mary’s Cathedral beyond the skyscrapers. The adjacent Hyde Park is a great place to sit back and enjoy the architecture and greener side of the city. Our favorite part of hanging in Hyde was watching the buskers, especially this master bubble blower that had everyone from grannies to kiddies chasing his floating formations.
When we announced we were going to Australia on the HoneyTrek Facebook page, our buddy Justin said, “You have to stay with my friend Simon.” We always love connecting with friends of friends and said yes without asking any questions. Little did we know that Simon lived in a luxury apartment in the best spot with spectacular views over the most popular beach in Sydney…Bondi Beach!! Simon and his boyfriend Ian were amazing hosts, they showed us the hot spots, cooked us dinner, and even organized some awesome games of beach volleyball.
Bondi reminded us of Santa Monica, California…condensed into a one kilometer cove. People are die-hard about beach living and are out everyday, surfing, biking, tanning, swimming, and strolling the promenade. We know they go everyday, because we started recognizing people and getting neighborly smiles and greetings.
Bondi Beach is the start of a legendary Coogee Coastal Walk. Six kilometers of trail go along the dramatic cliffs, passing cute beach towns, swimming coves and aboriginal rock carvings. The rocks were so surreal with their textures and striations that it was hard to tell what was art or nature (FYI, this rock is not painted, just one of the coolest rocks we have ever seen!).
We hiked for an hour or so and took a break to watch the lawn bowlers at the Clovelly Club. We didn’t know the rules exactly, but we could tell beer was a part of the strategy–even the uniform (they had team pint cozies equip with lids to keep the grass out).
One thing is certain about Aussies—they are hard core. Rough swells, great white sharks nor killer jelly fish, stop them from taking a dip in the ocean. To encourage swimming, the city sets up makeshift pools within the ocean and even put handrails to invite citizens into the treacherous water. We saw little old ladies doing laps in conditions a Navy Seal would think twice about.
If you look at a map of Sydney’s coastline is like an 8.2 on the Richter scale, creating coves, cliffs, bluffs, and dozens of mini peninsulas. We needed to see it from the water so we made a plan to take the ferries all day and in every direction. From Bondi, we took a bus up the South Head peninsula, hopped out at Gap Park to explore the first set of cliffs, then walked to Watson’s Bay terminal to set sail.
We ferried into Sydney harbor and it took our breath away. The sun, sail boats, city skyline, and the wind in our hair was like a postcard come to life. We pulled into Circle Quay then hopped right back on to check out the cute coastal towns in the west like Cockatoo Island. (TIP: To take unlimited rides on the ferry, subway, air train, and bus, get the MyMulti Pass. Great deal!)
Our last ferry stop was to the popular beach town of Manly (the British colonialists gave it this name for its “confident and manly” indigenous people or maybe because it makes you flex your muscles upon arrival). Manly has a lively scene worth checking out, plus the bluffs on the way are stunning!
Sydney is an undeniably great city…the kind you want to live in. We’ll be back, but don’t tempt us, we could stay for good.
Let us know if you make it to Sydney, and if you are heading outside the city…our friend Daniel has a few tips to do Australia on a budget!