SYDNEY| Blue Mountains Day Tour

 

One of the absolute must tours when visiting Sydney is a trip to Blue Mountains.  For us, an organised excursion worked out to be more economical than planning the trip ourselves.  The full day itinerary included:

  • Scenic World Blue Mountains
  • Echo Point
  • Featherdale Wildlife Park
  • Parramatta River cruise

Up early, we just about managed to grab a doughnut from a nearby vendor before boarding the coach which was dispatched to our hotel; and once the last passenger embarked, we were jetting across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the fully-loaded double-decker bus.

Blue Mountains

The journey to Blue Mountains National Park is about a 90 minute drive west of Sydney CBD.  As you exit the city and get closer to the park, you can expect to see abundant greenery and rolling hills on either side.  With the valley chasing past, the drive to Scenic World in Katoomba felt like no time at all.

Scenic World lies near to the border of the National Park and provides wonderful views of Blue Mountains, the Three Sisters and Jamison Valley.  There are numerous walks and rides available to get the most picturesque experience of the park.  Some of the attractions include the Skyway, Cableway, Walkway and Railway.

It’s a great alternative to the bustling city and one can get a true feel for Australia’s natural habitat.  There is also a canteen overlooking the valley so you don’t have to worry about meals.  We spent about 2 hours at Scenic World, which I felt was slightly rushed, particularly seeing as the park was busy.  Nevertheless, we managed to try out each ride once and walk through a small section of the forest.

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Figure 1: View of the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters from Scenic World

Echo Point 

After a fun-filled morning at Scenic World, we were bussed to Echo Point.  The Echo Point lookout provides breath-taking views of the valley, Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters.  There are also a few pathways which can be followed into the valley, and toward the valley floor.

Up the road from the lookout point is the Waradah Aboriginal Centre where we enjoyed a traditional aboriginal show.  The show takes an educational point of view and provides explanations of each aboriginal word, dance and didgeridoo note performed.  The show is informative and reasonably entertaining, albeit quite brief.

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Figure 2: Performers at Waradah Aboriginal Centre

Featherdale Wildlife Park

After the show, we piled back into the bus and trekked eastward towards Featherdale Wildlife Park in Doonside.  The park is home to a variety of indigenous species of mammals, birds and reptiles.  Little ones will love cuddling the koalas and walking amongst the wallabies.  You can also get up close and personal with Australia’s more dangerous wildlife such as the saltwater crocodile and Tasmanian devil; or catch a glimpse of the cassowary and the emu.  There is also an expansive gift store to stock up on souvenirs for yourself, friends and family.

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Figure 3: Various wildlife at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Parramatta River Cruise

Our tour ended on a magical note with a cruise down the Parramatta River.  We embarked at the Sydney Olympic Park ferry wharf and welcomed a glass of wine before reserving our spot on the ferry’s deck.  As we sailed along the river we were greeted by the sunset and the lights from homes scattered along the riverbanks.  To add to the whimsy, our ferry ride coincided with the testing of Sydney Vivid – a light, music and projections display which adorns the city each year.  The skyline, Harbour Bridge and Opera House were illuminated by a spectrum of colours; which was the perfect culmination to our last night in Sydney.

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Figure 4: Sydney CBD illuminated for Sydney Vivid

 

SYDNEY| Circular Quay

Circular Quay is Sydney’s main ferry terminus.  Ferries departing from Circular Quay provide transport from the CBD to various locations across Sydney Harbour, including attractions such as Manly Beach (see article Sydney Beaches) and Taronga Zoo.

There are also a number of attractions in close proximity to Circular Quay.  Much like Town Hall (see article Sydney by Foot), Circular Quay is easy to access via the railway system and is a great point of reference from which to explore famous sites such as:

  • The Rocks
  • Sydney Harbour Bridge
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Royal Botanic Gardens

All of the above-mentioned sites are simply walking distance from the terminals, and along the way you are likely to find a variety of restaurants and upmarket bars.  How better to spend the day than hiking up Harbour Bridge, roaming around the gardens or sipping on a sundowner as you overlook the Opera House.

The Rocks

We had booked a two-day excursion of Sydney and part of the itinerary included a walking tour of The Rocks.  Truth be told, I probably would not have been aware of The Rocks or its importance in Australia’s heritage if it was not part of the tour.

The Rocks was one of the early settlements in Sydney and derives its name from the nearby sandstone which was used as building materials.  Historically, The Rocks was home to exiled convicts but has now flourished into a favourite location for both tourists and locals.  While the area still maintains its historical nature, there are many pubs, craft shops and curio stalls hidden among the original sandstone buildings to explore.

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Figure 1: The Rocks, Sydney

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge connects Sydney CBD to the northern parts of Sydney.  It forms an important link for residents working and living on opposite shores, but also promotes tourism as adventure-seekers can endeavour the bridge climb (approximately a 3 to 4 hour hike) for epic views of the city.  Time was not on our side to do the bridge climb and so we will have to wait patiently (and exercise diligently) till our next trip.

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Figure 2: Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Opera House

Possibly Sydney’s most iconic landmark, the Sydney Opera House is an internationally well-known performing arts centre.  The Opera House comprises many theatres and is home to a number of Australian performing arts companies.  There is also the option to book a tour of the Opera House if you are interested in the building’s design, architecture and history.  Sadly, we did not have the privilege of attending any of the productions held, but I feel it would definitely have been a memorable experience.

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Figure 3: Sydney Opera House

 

Royal Botanic Gardens

Adjacent to the Sydney Opera House is a pathway leading into the Royal Botanic Gardens.  On the left, we were struck by stunning views of Sydney Harbour and on the right, a vast and diverse landscape of flora and foliage. Walking deeper into the gardens, we were greeted by family picnics, joggers, and groundskeepers carefully tending the park.  If you are looking for a peaceful cup of coffee or a space for the kids to expend their energy, then the Botanic Gardens is the ideal spot.

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Figure 4: Royal Botanic Gardens celebrates its 200th anniversary

 

SYDNEY| Beaches

Let’s be honest – one of the main reasons to visit Australia is to kick back and take in the sun, sand and surf.  Our spontaneous trip, unfortunately lead us to Sydney at the cusp of winter.  While we did soak up a little sun, the surf was much too cold to make the most of Australia’s breath-taking beaches.  Nevertheless, the trip would have been incomplete if we didn’t at least catch a glimpse of Sydney’s iconic coastline.

 

Manly Beach and Sea Life Sanctuary

The last attraction to tick off on our 5 Sydney attractions pass (see article Sydney Darling Harbour by Day) was Manly Sea Life Sanctuary.   Up bright and early, we made our way to Circular Quay, purchased two express ferry tickets to Manly Beach and by mid-morning we were on our way.  Wind blowing through our hair as we sped away from the dock; the ferry provided fantastic views of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Sydney’s skyline.

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Figure 1: View from the ferry of Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge

As we approached Manly, the waters were littered with private yachts and the sandy shores invited us for a stroll.  Manly beach screamed summer holiday, which made us curse the icy May winds even more.

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Figure 2: View from the ferry as we approached the northern beaches of Sydney

About a five minute walk along the shore from Manly Wharf, and we were at the entrance to Manly Sea Life Sanctuary.

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Figure 3: Manly Wharf

 

Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

The sanctuary is home to many animals who were either rescued, nursed or bred at the facility.  We attended the talks held at Shark Harbour and Penguin Cove, and were highly impressed with how passionate and knowledgeable the staff were.  The talks were eye-opening, informative, and focused on the protection of the local sea life.  The aquarium itself is smaller than Sydney Sea Life Aquarium in Darling Harbour, but delivers a much greater message.

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Figure 4: Sea life at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

 

Manly Beach

Tummies growling, we made our way to the main beach for lunch and settled on a quaint pizzeria.  Lining the beachfront are an assortment of restaurants, cafés and ice-cream parlours to satisfy all your beach day cravings.  One can also wander along the streets linking to the beach and browse for curios, boutiques and snacks.

After lunch we took a short stroll along the promenade, before making our way to the wharf to catch the ferry back to Circular Quay.  We wish we had a little more time at Manly (as well as warmer weather) because we certainly could have spent a day wriggling our toes in the sand, bouncing amongst the waves, and cooling off with an ice-cream whilst taking in the views.

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Figure 5: Manly Beach, Sydney

 

Bondi Beach

Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach is a popular destination for tourists and avid surfers.  Much like Manly, the beachfront offers an array of eating houses and facilities to ensure a comfortable day at the beach.

Our time at Bondi Beach was limited, but it would have been unconscionable to holiday in Sydney and not witness the gargantuan waves for ourselves.  The sheer height of the waves was incredible, followed by a mammoth crash of water against the shore – undoubtedly a surfer’s paradise.

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Figure 6: Bondi Beach, Sydney

 

SYDNEY| By Foot

We found that the most effective ways to get around Sydney’s city centre, were by railway or by foot.  Most mornings we would walk to the nearest station from our hotel, hop on a train and hop off at Town Hall station.  Town Hall is central to most of Sydney’s attractions and acted as a base for our impromptu walking trips.

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Figure 1: Sydney Town Hall

Now my husband and I are hardly fit travellers; however, walking is a great way to get in touch with a city, find your bearings and perhaps even discover enjoyable places which were not on the to-do list.  Having said that, my personal favourite reason to explore by foot is to justify my holiday eating pleasures – I could have those sugar-coated deep-fried churros and a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream for breakfast because I walked 3 kilometres that morning.

Some of the places we “walked into” included:

  • Queen Victoria Building
  • Hyde Park and Archibald Fountain
  • ANZAC Memorial
  • Australian Museum
  • Sydney Tower Eye

 

Queen Victoria Building

Town Hall links to Queen Victoria Building via a network of underground shops and arcades.  Aesthetically pleasing, Queen Victoria Building was built in the late nineteenth century and was originally designed as a marketplace.  The building now operates as an upmarket shopping centre, and hosts a variety of international stores, designer boutiques, cafés and eating houses.

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Figure 2: Queen Victoria Building, Sydney

 

Hyde Park and Archibald Fountain

Hyde Park is centrally located and a prime location to observe Sydney’s diverse inhabitants.  As we walked along its pathways, we witnessed fitness groups, runners and cyclists, families, businessmen adorning the benches with newspaper in hand and, of course, tourists angling for their best photographs of Archibald fountain.  Hyde Park is a popular venue for events, a place to gather and meet with friends and family, or simply a haven to steal a little “me-time”.

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Figure 3: Hyde Park, Sydney
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Figure 4: Archibald Fountain, Hyde Park, Sydney

 

 

ANZAC Memorial

Located in Hyde Park South, the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Memorial was built in honour of the Great War (1914 – 1918).  The memorial was designed by architect Charles Bruce Dellit and was to serve as a monument as well as offices for veteran organisations.  Today, the memorial is also home to a number of war artefacts and memorabilia which are on display and can be viewed by the public.

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Figure 5: ANZAC Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney

 

Australian Museum

I would not consider the Australian Museum as an essential stop for tourists, however, anthropology enthusiasts may enjoy a walk through Australia’s timeline.  Within the museum you can learn about various indigenous species, ranging from birdlife and insects to Australia’s more dangerous creatures.  One can even step back in time to the prehistoric era or gaze at the precious gems displayed at the mineral exhibition.  Other exhibits showcase the rich culture of Australia and the Pacific, with detailed displays of traditional tools and totems.

I could spend hours at the museum, however, unless you have enough time to wander through the exhibits, perhaps leave this till your next visit.

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Figure 6: Exhibits at the Australian Museum, Sydney

 

 

Sydney Tower Eye

Our 5 Sydney attractions pass (see article Sydney Darling Harbour by Day) covered the Sydney Tower Eye.  The Sydney Tower Eye is situated in the Westfield Shopping Centre and is the tallest observation tower in Sydney.  Having explored the city by foot during the day, we decided that a nocturnal aerial perspective would be best.  We aimed to catch the sunset from the top of the tower, but had not anticipated the tour group that had piled out in front us.  Nevertheless, the city lights were breath-taking enough to excuse the long queue.

The tour started with a pleasantly unexpected 4D movie, which undoubtedly enhanced the experience.  Complete with water splashes and vibrating floors, the 4D movie took us on a journey around Sydney and laid out the iconic landmarks to look out for from the observation deck.

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Figure 7: Ready for the 4D movie at Sydney Tower Eye

We were then herded into an elevator which felt like forever to get to the top.  Now, when I say that it took forever was not to say that I became impatient but rather to give you an idea of high we had to travel to reach the observation deck.  From that height, the city of Sydney looked like a toy kingdom.  The tower measures a whopping 309m from the ground, and the observation deck provided a 360 degree view of the illuminated city.  Thanks to our personal walking tour and the 4D movie, we could easily pick out Sydney’s famous sites as well as fuel our enthusiasm regarding where we would visit next.

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Figure 8: View from the Sydney Tower Eye. From left: Hyde Park, Town Hall and Queen Victoria Building, ANZAC Memorial

 

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Figure 9: View of Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Sydney Tower Eye

SYDNEY| Chinese Garden of Friendship

After a bubbly biological experience (of zoology, marine biology and even human anatomy) at Darling Harbour, we headed as fast as my short legs could carry to the Chinese Garden of Friendship for our botany lesson.  Unfortunately, late for a very important tea date, we had just enough time to wander through the timeless gardens.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship was erected in 1988 to commemorate Australia’s bicentenary; and symbolises the friendship between Sydney and China’s sister city, Guangzhou.

It was as though transported back to a time of ancient dynasties.  A surreal contrast to the bustling city life just outside its walls; the gardens are a serene and magical getaway tucked amongst Sydney’s urban streets.

The walkways are designed to show you the entirety of the gardens from a range of heights and vantage points.  You can expect the soft whisper of waterfalls, traditional Chinese architecture, bamboo forests, rock sculptures, colourful koi and exotic plants woven harmoniously together to provide a rich cultural landscape.

Our only disappoint was that we were moments too late for afternoon tea at the Teahouse.  Nevertheless, the gardens were a perfect cool-down to our first day in Sydney and undoubtedly provide a tranquil escape for both tourists and locals.

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Figure 1: Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney

SYDNEY| Darling Harbour by Day

After a magical light display at Darling Harbour the night before, we were eager to explore the tourist attractions by day.  We had, in advance, purchased the 5 Sydney attractions pass from the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium website, which covered:

  • Sea Life Sydney Aquarium (Darling Harbour)
  • Madame Tussauds Sydney (Darling Harbour)
  • Wild Life Sydney Zoo (Darling Harbour)
  • Sydney Tower Eye (Market Street, Sydney)
  • Manly Sea Life Sanctuary (Manly Beach)
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Figure 1: Darling Harbour, Sydney

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

Our first stop was Sea Life Sydney Aquarium.  An extensive aquarium showcasing local fish and coral, including a section of living fossils.  Informative and entertaining for both children and adults alike, the aquarium not only educates about marine life, but also focuses on marine preservation.  Throw in a few interactive games, and Sea Life becomes a must-see when visiting Darling Harbour.

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Figure 2: Marine life at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

One of the major attractions at the aquarium is “Shark Valley”.  The under the sea tunnel allowed us to get up close and personal with the predatory fish that lurk in Australian waters.  Although most of the sharks are not deadly to humans, I certainly would not want to encounter one face-to-face!  Shark Valley is a wonderful way to see how these fearsome creatures interact with other marine life and, for scaredy-cats like me, provides the closest means of admiring the various breeds of shark and other fish without being paralysed with fear.

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Figure 3: Shark Valley at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

Madame Tussauds Sydney

Pumped with enthusiasm from exploring Sea Life, we headed next door to Madame Tussauds wax museum.  Madame Tussauds London was opened in 1884, and after many years of success, has flourished around the globe having branches in major cities such as Sydney, New York and Hong Kong.

The Sydney branch, which opened in 2012, did not disappoint.  The museum beamed with wax sculptures of both international and Australian iconic heroes and celebrities from all walks of life.  The quality of craftsmanship is beyond meticulous, but truth be told, we were more like kids on Christmas morning: impatient to get our hands on everything.  I guarantee you will leave the museum with a smile and a memory card full of ridiculous photographs.

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Figure 4: Wax sculptures at Madame Tussauds Sydney

 

Wild Life Sydney Zoo

Last but not least, was to get our dose of Australia’s dangerous and dynamic wildlife.  The Zoo does not offer the most diverse enclosure of animals in Sydney; however, for a traveller on a time challenge, Wild Life Sydney Zoo provides a quick and comprehensive walk through of Australia’s indigenous species.  The Zoo is primarily focussed on the more deadly reptilians, but one can also cuddle a koala, watch the wallabies and pet the smaller kangaroo varieties.

If you are planning to visit Featherdale Wildlife Park or Taronga Zoo, then Wild Life Sydney can probably be given a skip.  We, nevertheless, had a wonderful time and were left better educated on Australia’s flora and fauna.

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Figure 5: Various animals at Wild Life Sydney Zoo

 

Three of the five attractions ticked off at Darling Harbour; all of which we would visit again.  Each exhibit was child-friendly yet entertaining to all ages. I recommend visitors to stop by if they have a chance and want to make the most out of Sydney tourism.

We had spent the better part of our first day at Darling Harbour, but our veins still pumped with a keenness to explore.  Just 90 minutes until closing time, and we were fast-pacing our way to our next destination.

SYDNEY| Darling Harbour by Night

In between packing up our old home in Cape Town and unpacking at our new home in Johannesburg, my husband and I had a little time to spare.  Time between jobs meant the perfect opportunity to have a holiday.

Having visited family in Perth not too long before, our valid visas made our choice of destination simple.  Sydney was to be our interim home for a week.

Upon arriving at our hotel, we were informed of a fireworks display at Darling Harbour that very evening.  So after a quick shower and change of clothes, we were on the metro to Queen Victoria Building.  Darling Harbour is but a short walk from the station, and soon we were overlooking Cockle Bay.

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Figure 1: View of Cockle Bay and Pyrmont Bridge

The lights, restaurants, ambience – I couldn’t believe how akin Darling Harbour was to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.  The nostalgia was perfect for the first night of our getaway.

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Figure 2: View of Cockle Bay from Pyrmont Bridge

After a lazy walk down Pyrmont Bridge (and having taken our fair share of photographs), it was time to grab a bite to eat.  Darling Harbour offers a wide variety of restaurants and food vendors to satisfy any craving; a food scene that certainly draws parallels with Sydney’s diverse culture. Finally feeling satisfied after our 12 hour flight, it was time to claim our vantage spot along the water’s edge and enjoy our magical welcome to Sydney.

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Figure 3: Firework display over Darling Harbour