Link to Travel Diary (China).

Sydney and the Surrounds - 2006

7th December - Sydney

Only a 9 hour flight when I'd been expecting 10, I'd not allowed for day-light saving time in Sydney. And on the flight the best in-flight entertainment I've seen. Rather than just having a dozen channels to pick from with films showing at certain times, we had our own hard-drive and we could pick from about 50 films. They would get uploaded to our computer and we could watch them as and when we liked, pausing them, forward winding, rewinding or skipping to a new film as and when we liked. Marvellous!

Arrived at 8:20am and was at the hostel by 10. Booked into the Wake Up! hostel near Sydney Central Station. Described as been hip and trendy which I'm sure are words you would use to describe me so I should fit right in ;-) Checked-in and got into my room right away. 4-bed dorm, sharing with 3 American college students who've been in Sydney for 6 months and this is their final week. Not ideal. Had hoped to be sharing with some other back-packers to hook-up with. But at least they are hardly there so it's not all bad.

Felt quite knackered all day. Wandered down George Street to the harbour and had a bit of a wander around Circular Quay. Took a few photos with my new camera and then wandered back and crashed out for a couple of hours. In fact didn't do a lot more all day.

8th December - Sydney (Day out to Bondi)

Still feeling a bit knackered so I decided to do a beach day. And when in Sydney there's only one beach to hit, Bondi. Hooked up with some others at the hostel and we caught the bus down to Congee and walked the 3 or 4 miles along the coast path to Bondi. It's a great walk and the weather was perfect for walking. Mid-20s, decent breeze and pretty much clear skies. On the way we passed 6 different bays. The biggest were Congee where we started which is shown in the picture and Bondi which is huge. The coast line was more rocky than I expected, but the water was just as crystal clear as you see in the Visit Australia adverts.

We got to Bondi at about 1pm and spent nearly 4 hours hanging out on the beach. It was ideal conditions for totally burning up in the sun. The sun down here is intense but the water was a lot colder than I expected and the on-shore breeze made the temperature feel quite cool. In fact there were quite a few women sun-bathing topless and yep, it looked like it was a bit cold ;-)

Bondi was quite busy but it is so big that there was plenty of space. But this was mid-week, I won't be heading down at the week-end when I think it would be too crowded to be enjoyable. We lay in the sun, did a bit of swimming, wandered up and down and generally had a lazy day. It was so, so good. It's the first real kick-back day I've had on the whole trip. I could get used to this beach bum lifestyle, I'm going to have to book myself up for a surfing lesson.

It's great having all these beaches so close to Sydney. Bondi is only 9kms from the city and easy to get to on the bus. In fact I'm really liking Sydney. Last time a came here, 10 years ago, it was only for a couple of days and I didn't get a great feeling about the place but this time I'm already loving it. I got talking to a few people and they said that the Olympics really changed Sydney, cleaned it up and made it generally more attractive. Maybe that's it or maybe it's just that I'm getting to see the place properly.

Our first sighting of Bondi, it's the furthest beach in the distance, you can see the other coves and beaches running along the coastline.

9th December - Sydney

Today I decided to see Sydney. Set off at 10am and walked and walked and walked, didn't get back to the hostel until gone 6pm. Like yesterday at about 10am it was pretty overcast, but unlike yesterday it never really cleared up. There were breaks in the cloud but as you can see from the photos not really the weather I expect from Sydney. First up I headed for The Rocks. It's the oldest part of Sydney and is right up on the harbour, practically underneath the Harbour Bridge. Not a big area but full of little windy streets with a nice old feel to them. Being the weekend (so I'm told, it's hard to keep track when you're travelling) there was a The Rocks Street Market was in full swing. Loadsa arty, crafty and touristy stuff all 'Proud to be Made in Australia'. Actually there was some nice stuff but as before whenever I'm in a market I have a great excuse not to buy anything, I can't carry it.

From The Rocks I headed around Circular Quay and over to the Opera House. It's as impressive close up as it is from a distance, although it could do with a bit of a clean-up it's not quite as brilliant white as I'd expected.

Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. So good I thought I'd show them to you twice from different angles!

I carried on walking along the harbour to Mrs Macquarie's Point, which is where I took the photo above, you can see why Lonely Planet said it's the best view in the harbour. It's this point is Mrs Macquarie's Chair which is a cut rock ledge which was originally built for Lachlan Macquarie's wife Elizabeth for her to admire the view. From there I walked on to Finger Wharf, a very exclusive residential quay with lots of very big motorboats parked along it. At the end of the wharf is Russell Crowe's penthouse. I passed the Cathedral and the New South Wales Art Gallery and headed on to Kings Cross. Kings Cross, it says is Lonely Planet, has always had that raffishly larrikin spirit. That's one way of putting it. Now it's a real eclectic mix, it's the red light area, it's full of sex shops, it's the Gay area, but it's been spruced up lately and there are now some swanky new developments and next to the sex shops are wine bars and coffee shops (not of the Amsterdam type).

El Alamein Fountain. Known locally as the elephant douche in Kings Cross, I thought it looked great.

From here I got a round about bus back to Circular Quay and jumped on a ferry to Darling Harbour. This is quite a touristy area, but I liked it. A lot of restaurants and bars, as well as an IMAX, some museums, the Aquarium and a lot of expensive looking yachts. In fact it's quite a modern renovation. It was run down warehouses until 1988 when it was totally renovated as a bi-centennial present to the city.

From here I walked through Chinatown which looked really good, full of the usual restaurants from around Asia and any other business in which the Chinese can make money. I stopped of for some food, a better Chinese than any I had in China. I got back to the hostel at about 8pm, totally knackered!

10th December - Sydney

Weather a lot better so I jumped on the ferry to Manley. About 45 minutes out to the mouth of the harbour and then into the next bay up. I'd heard from a few others at the hostel that Manley was nice and I wasn't disappointed. A few bars and restaurants around the ferry port area and a nice little beach which was netted off either to stop dangerous stuff getting in or kids getting out. The town part is pretty, and will look a lot better when the rejuvenation project is finished. But I was here for just 2 things, the beach and a walk up to North Head.

The beach is on the Pacific side of the narrow strip of land that is Manley. The beach is very long, but a lot thinner than Bondi, and being the weekend it was quite crowded. There was the usual swim between the flags areas and surfing areas (although the surf was choppy at best) but also an area along the beach where there was some pretty serious beach volleyball going on.

I found a spot and lazed in the sun for a few hours, watching the fit scantily clad young ladies and reading my book, mainly reading my book of course ;-)

After more than enough time lying under the blazing sun I set off for North Head, the Northern Headland at the entrance to Sydney Harbours. I set off along the coastal path and then cut up over in the general direction of the Head. The were no signposts but there was a decent path it involved clambering up some rocky bits now and again but it seemed like I was getting somewhere. At a couple of points the path broke off to a little viewpoint back along the coast. After half an hour or so I hit a road and met a guy coming back the other way who said that around the corner was a dead end. He had clambered up the same route as me. So we headed down the road in search of the right route. When we found it, it was a decent road all the way out to North Head, still I enjoyed the bit of a bush walk that I did anyway.

North Head was fantastic. A huge cliff right on the corner of the harbour where it opens out into the Pacific. You can see back into the 3 harbours, North Harbour where Manley is, Middle Harbour and The Main Sydney Harbour. The picture below shows South Head in the foreground and the entrance to the Man Sydney Harbour. On the right you can see the top of the Harbour Bridge. What a view it would be if it wasn't so hazy. On the right is a sign that was on the light house tower on the North Head. The Aussies do like to label everything with warnings that state the bleeding obvious. Do we really need to be told to not take the light-house tower home as a souvenir?

11th December - Sydney

A bit if a back to reality day day after about 7 weeks on the road. I'd arranged to meet up with an agent to see if I can organise some work for the New Year. Just sticking my toe in the water really, I wanted to know what's out there and whether I can get a work visa or not. The agent she turned out to be a scouser and very easy to talk to, she knew where I was coming from when I gave her a really vague brief. I want to start sometime in the New Year, I want to work somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere (preferably SE Asia), I don't care what the job description is or what industry it's in. She reckons that the market in Sydney is really good and getting a visa won't be a problem (although to money isn't great, about 60 AUD / hour) and she'd pass my CV on to the Hong Kong and Melbourne offices to see what sort of feedback they give. Then she started talking about Tax File Numbers, Superannuation, Medicare, Bank Accounts etc. Aghhhhhhhh, I want my easy back-packer life back.

As a bit of therapy I went and sorted out my plans for the next week and a half. Wednesday I'm doing a trip up to the Northern Beaches including Palm Beach where they film Home and Away. Then Thursday I'm heading up to Port Stephens 2 1/2 hours north, bus and hostel booked, the area sounds great. Then next Monday till Saturday I've booked into a different Sydney hostel that Anna recommended. She said she stayed in the Wake up! when she came over first and she found it a bit too teen-age too and she reckons the Big Hostel was much better so I'm gonna give it a go.

Weather report. Today it's hot, mid-30s Plenty hot enough. But this evening a storm is forecast and tomorrow a cool 22 degrees and rain. But don't worry too much about me, from Wednesday on it looks set fine again. In the arvo I went to the Maritime Museum. Big place covering loadsa stuff from the discovery of Australia right up to present day. Well worth the free entrance fee. Outside there was a replica of the Endeavour as well as a warship and submarine. It was about 10AUD to look around each one so I passed on that. I think I'm starting to think like a back-packer now, 10AUD that's nearly £4 I can live for almost a whole day on that!

12th December - Sydney (on a cold and damp day!)

Last night we had a big storm come through Sydney, wind, rain, thunder and lightning the full works. And today, as forecast it was pretty damp and dismal. I even wore my coat as I set off from the hostel. I'd decided to go somewhere for lunch and get some decent sea food. On the recommendation of the woman at the hostel I headed off for the Fish Market. It was great. It's the wholesale and retail fish market and obviously the place to get fish. On the retail side there's some very cheap fresh fish, oysters at $12, barramundi $16.95, Atlantic salmon $14.99, salmon fillets $21.95 and all of those prices are per kilo, with about $2.50 to the £.

There's a wine shop, bread shop, a place doing sushi and places selling fresh raw fish (salmon, tuna) ready to eat (sashimi). So when you get your fish for lunch you can build your own meal around it and go outside and sit on the wharf to eat your feast.

So for lunch there are 2 options. Go to one of the BBQ grill places and buy your lunch or buy your own fresh fish and get it cooked for you. $1 per 100g to get your own fish cooked or $5.50 for a lobster. Or you can go the conventional route and buy fish and chips ($7.95) or a fish platter from the BBQ grill. I had a massive grilled fish platter containing and huge bit of grilled salmon, prawns, sweet chilli calamari, spicy octopus, mussels, oyster mornay and oyster kilpatrick with chips and salad. $20, bargain and fantastic. Obviously it's all completely fresh and I guess the restaurants at the fish market know how to cook their fish.

After lunch I decided to head to the casino at Star City on the Darling Harbour. Massive place, about half of it seems to be dedicated to the Aussie addiction, slots or pokkies as they call them over here. Then there were the usual roulette, craps, baccarat, Caribbean poker, black jack etc and a poker area. I stood on the rail watching the poker for a while. The cheapest games were $1/$2 no-limit ($80 buy-in) and $5/$10 fixed limit. I decided not to join in but the play looked quite loose and passive to me. As the day was still pretty crap I went to the IMAX in the evening. I love the really, really big screen and great sound systems at these places. Watch Open Season 3D, which was an OK full length cartoon. The 3Deffects were pretty good but nothing like as good as the show at DisneyWorld Hong Kong.

13th December - Sydney (Northern Beaches)

Today I took an organised trip up to the Northern Beaches. For about 30kms north of Sydney up to Broken Bay there is beach after beach after beach. Most of them are surf beaches and this is where the locals hang-out. We set off to see a few of them. Curl curl, Dee Why, Collaroy (where we stopped at a fantastic pie shop, tandorri lamb pie, delicious), Narrabeen, Avalon (where an episode of Bay Watch was filmed, they wanted to film a whole series there but the locals wouldn't let them because they didn't wany to encourage tourists) and finally Palm Beach the most exclusive and expensive address in Australia. Palm Beach is also where to beach shots are filmed for Home and Away, Alf's Surf Lifesaving Club and all.

The picture shows the view from the light-house at the end of the Palm Beach headland. On the left the Pacific and the right Pitwater Bay.

After a picnic lunch on the beach and some photos at the the Home and Away set we headed back to the most southerly of the Northern Beaches, Manley where we lay on the beach and watched the local wildlife (birds mainly!) of a few hours then headed back. Amazingly we drove back into Sydney and across the Harbour Bridge at about 5pm with little or no hold-ups at all, you couldn't do that in London.

14th December - To Port Stephens

Decided to get away from Sydney for the long weekend, so I booked myself on the bus up to Port Stephens. It's about 3 hours up the coast from Sydney and is described as a Blue Water Paradise. It covers almost 166 square kilometres of water and is approximately 2 1/2 times bigger than Sydney Harbour. It's described as the Dolphin Capital of Australia with over 160 Bottlenose Dolphins in permanent residence. The humpback whales also migrate through the area but not at this time of year.

Sea kayaking and parasailing, quad-biking and sand-boarding on the dunes and seeing koalas in the wild. It sounds idyllic. All it needs is for the weather to stay good.

15th December - Port Stephens

OK, so the weather is and I think this the official term in these parts, shitty. About 20 degrees and drizzly, misty rain all morning. Once you get here you find out something that the brochures do not tell you, it rains at some time most weeks in Port Stephens! I decided to head down to Nelson Bay which is the main town on the area and booked myself on to a dolphin watch trip. It was good. We cruised around the harbour area for about 40 minutes until we found some dolphins. First there were 3 or 4 in the distance, but when we got closer we ended up with about 20 around the boat. Most stayed about 20 or 30 yards away but a couple came right up under the boat. Always good to see dolphins so graceful and playful. What a life just swimming around, playing and eating in a secluded bay with no predators and plenty of fish.

After hanging around to dolphins for 20 minutes (the maximum time allowed) we cruised the bay some more and then they dropped the boom net. The idea is the net hangs down into the water and you ride along in it as the boat cruises on. Only 3 of us jumped in and it was a bit chilly. On the boat about 90% of the people were Asian (Japanese and Korean mainly) and we were heroes in their eyes for jumping in.

We then headed back to the quay and I went back to the backpackers hostel to see how the cricket was going. It was even worse than I expected, and expectations weren't high.

I'm staying at Melaleuca Surfside Backpackers down near One Mile Beach. It's a bit away from the main areas but is nice and quiet and set in 6 acres of natural bushland. It's an ideal getaway from Sydney. Quite small and not busy a lovely place to laze around. And being the sort of place it is the other backpackers here are far better than at the Wake Up! in Sydney. Laze around on the sofas, watch the TV, have a beer, throw some meat on the BBQ, a home from home.

Pity about the bloody weather!

16th December - Port Stephens

Weather still not great, but not letting that get in the way of having a good time. Headed down to Stockton Bight Sand Dunes. 'The almost surreal dune system which is up to 1km wide and 32km long, covering an area of 2,500 hectares.' It's the largest set of 'moving' sand dunes in the southern hemisphere. It's said they are moving in land at a rate of 1m per year. Some places you can see the remnants of the bushland that has been enveloped by the sand. We were in a 4x4 and drove right across the dunes and headed down to Tin City, a small collection of fishing shacks made of corrugated iron right in the middle of the 'desert'. In fact the area has been use in many films as a desert back drop. Mad Max (which included Tin City) and Sahara were both filmed here as well as a lot of adverts.

As you can see in the piccies we went sand-boarding which was great fun going down but bloody hard work climbing back up again.

Sand-boarding Video

On the way back we stopped of at the beach and went digging for Pipis which are a shell fish a bit like cockles I think. Just dig your feet into the sand on the tide-line until you hit something hard, dig and pull out the shell. The fun part was digging them out and then watching them burrow themselves back into the sand.

Pipi burrowing its way back into the sand.

17th December - Port Stephens

Woke up expecting the worse, but bloody hell the sun was out, so I popped down to the beach for an hour before breakfast. This is the life. At 8:30 it was pretty much empty except for a few surfers. One mile of beautiful empty beach. Bit of a swim, bit of a lie-down then headed back for some bacon sandwiches. My first real bacon in 8 weeks, throughout Asia any bacon is like the rubbish they serve in America. In the afternoon I set off on my quest to find koalas. The whole Port Stephens area has koalas and I'd been told there's a lot of them around. I headed down to Nelson Bay and then walked back to One Mile Beach through the Tomaree National Park. A nice walk, took about 2 hours and didn't see another person on the whole walk. Plenty of wildlife, but mainly birds and bloody flies. I did see a 2 foot long lizard, but no koalas. I think they knew I wanted to see them and were being deliberately evasive.

I even saw the sign saying that there had been 35 koala fatalities on the roads in the last year, but still I didn't see any. I got all the way back to One Mile Beach and hit completely failed on my quest. But it's not all bad, went for a swim and lay on the beach and studied the view (not as good as Bondi, about on a par with Manley I'd say.) I headed back up the road to the hostel only about a 5 minute walk, and there they were, a family of koalas. Well I assume it was a family, 2 adults and an infant. The picture below is the best one I got because they were quite high up. The were in their 20 hours of sleeping phase that they have everyday, the most action I saw was one of them scratching itself.

18th December - To Sydney

Not a lot to report today. Got up, go the bus back to Sydney, got something to eat, got to bed.

19th December - Blue Mountains

Up very early for a full day trip to the Blue Mountains. I couldn't get on to tours run by the first few companies I rang and eventually got a place on a bus with a new company run by a couple of guys from the Blue Mountains region. The pick-up was at 7:20am and it turned out there were only 3 people on the tour today. We headed out of Sydney inland for an hour or so before our first stop. Soon after entering the Blue Mountains National Park we headed off into the wilderness, but soon came to a clearing that Shane our local driver 'dude' knew and on it was a mob (the official word according to Shane) of kangaroos.

I think kangaroos are great and we spent about half an hour watching them. They're obviously used to tourists hanging around them taking photos as they pretty much ignored us and carried on grazing. A couple of mothers had pretty big joeys hanging out of their pouches.

Skippy, Skippy, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo from YouTube.

The Blue Mountains are not really a range of mountains but rather a series of cliffs surrounding a plateau with cliffs and rugged eroded gorges of up to 760 metres depth. It covers a massive area and is predominantly covered with trees, mainly eucalyptus and banksias. The name derives from the bluish tinge the range takes on when viewed at a distance, which is caused by the release of volatile oils from eucalyptus forests.

We stopped a couple of times and did a few bush walks along paths cut into the rocks. Shane told us about stuff he used to get up to with his friends when he was a kid, abseiling of the cliffs, camping in the caves and generally anything that would give today's nanny-state health and safety officers kittens.

I was so lucky to pick a fine day amongst the shitty ones forecast, it was a little hazy but the views were spectacular.

After a good old fashioned Aussie Pie for lunch we headed on to the Scenic World near Katoomba. First stop was a view point looking out over the valleys and hills and most importantly towards the Three Sisters the most famous view in the Blue Mountains. They were less impressive than I had expected, but at least it gives them something to put on all their postcards!

Scenic World is the most incredibility tacky name for an area of the Blue Mountains which can be quite easily explored. The area was mined for coal from 1878 to 1895 and the railway was built. When the mine reopened in 1928, they found tourists would 'beg' to use the coal skips to transport them to the top. After a year they decided the tourists were more profitable than the coal and stopped mining. There are now three ways of getting up and down the cliffs, in addition to a very steep walk.

There is also a rollercoaster built into the sandstone cliff. It's called the Orphan Rocker and it's never opened to the public. The test dummies went missing during test runs!

I chose to walk down and get the Railway back to the top. The walk was good, it took in a couple of waterfalls, a few caves and rock overhangs and descended into the rain forest below. The railway up was definitely steep. When you first sit down the train is on the level and the seat is lying right back but as soon as the train starts to head upwards you are soon upright. The train cuts through the cliff following a natural cutting and going through an 80ft cave. It was a great ride.

On the way back we stopped off at the Olympic Park in Sydney. Very impressive, if London can make anything as good for 2012 then they will have exceeded my expectations ;-)

20th December - Damp Sydney

Another damp day in Sydney, the weather since I've arrived has really been up and down. We've had one day of 35 degrees and a couple around 20 degrees. Blazing sun and damp and overcast. I hope the forecast of a good day for Friday is true. Just checked the forecast for Melbourne and surprise, surprise it's currently 35 degrees and sunny apart from the smoke haze from all the bush fires. But it's turning wet over the weekend when I arrive. I should hire myself out to the drought regions I can make the most barren of areas wet ;-) Anyway, today. I went down to the Sydney Wildlife World in Darling Harbour. The all-Australian wildlife experience in the heart of Darling Harbour!

I wouldn't have went but it comes as a part of a discount package with the Aquarium and OzTower (which I plan to visit tomorrow) so I got in for practically nothing.

It's good but not as much stuff there as I expected. But it is located right in the middle of town so it's hardly going to be a full scale zoo.

Spiders (Sydney Funnel Web the most deadly in the world), snakes (the 3 most deadly in the world are found in Australia), bird-house (Cassoway the most deadly bird in the world) do you see a theme here? My favourite 3 bits were the nocturnal area where they obviously turn the lights on at night and off during the day to make the creatures run around. Possums, Greater Bilby, Potoroo and Quolls things you'd rarely get to see in the wild. Then the wallaby areas, one arid red sand area for the usual wallabies and another set outs as a set of cliffs for the rock wallabies.

But the number one was the koala sanctuary. Two big areas and about a dozen koalas. Most of them just lazing around in the trees but two of them were 'singing' sounded more like grunting at each other. They were getting quite animated, sounded like a real husband and wife argument.

21st December - Dry Sydney

Thank God the weather is better, really didn't want my last two days in Sydney to be wasted indoors. The first plan for the day was make the most of the clear day and to head up Sydney Tower and check out the views. 305 metres tall, the tallest building in Sydney it gave great views but it's a pity that there are quite a few other big buildings between it and the harbour and that you can not get outside so all the photos include the dirty windows and often some reflections.

Got plenty of photos of the harbour, the view both inside the Harbour Bridge and outside towards North and South Head. We could see Botany Bay, Olympic Park, the SCG, Darling Harbour and out to the airport.

When you get a ticket for the Sydney Tower you also get OzTrek thrown in for free. It was easy to see why its free. It's a cinema 'experience with a wrap around screen and seats which are on hydraulics. I idea is that you fly around Australia, the seat moves etc. It was OK but the commentary spoilt it a bit by being so cheesy.

After lunch I headed over to The Rocks. This is the area on the CBD end of the Harbour Bridge. It was the first area settled by the Europeans and until quite recently was the main docks area and so pretty rough. But now it's been spruced up and is playing up to its historic past, full of touristy stuff and loadsa bars.

I decided to walk across the Harbour Bridge to get yet another angle on the Harbour. It's actually quite a long way across and all the way you are fenced in on both sides. There just a small gap through which to take photos.

When I got back to The Rocks I decided I deserved a drink and found my first Magners since I left Heathrow 2 months ago. I was a very happy man!

In the evening I headed down to Sydney Aquarium to use the final part of my 3-in-1 pass. I love aquariums and Sydney's is pretty good. Loadsa stuff, fish of all shapes and sizes, cuttlefish, squid, jellyfish, reptiles, turtles and even penguins, crocodiles and some seals. The best part as with all these kinds of places was the big tank with a walkway running through it. Rays, various types of sharks and lots of other big fish. The sharks are all so graceful and the rays just wrong! One ray was about 4 ft across, flying through the water casting a huge shadow as it went.

The big disappointment was that the Duck-billed Platypus was sleeping would've liked to have seen that.

22nd December - Sydney (Coogee to Bondi)

Weather fantastic so I decided to spend my last full day in Sydney the same way that I spent my first, walking from Coogee to Bondi, hanging around the beaches and admiring the scenery. Don't want to make you guys too jealous but there was a clear blue sky, a clear blue sea and mile after mile of golden sands covered in scantily clad bathing beauties. Marvellous. On the right is a picture of Bronte Beach.

Am I missing the UK. No!

Link to Travel Diary (Melbourne).