For weeks I was agonizing about what to do with my free week between Fraser Island and Tasmania. The Little Penguin Parade south of Melbourne was a must-do. So was the Outback. But no matter what I tried, it was too far to drive or too expensive to get to the Outback in only a few days. I finally realized that trying to see all of Australia in three weeks equaled trying to see all of the States in three weeks. Not going to happen.
Then my Sydney friends back home couldn’t believe I was visiting Brisbane and Melbourne and not Sydney. So long story short, after realizing my Outback dreams were squashed (and Virgin Blue had really good airline rates), Sydney became a stop-over on the way from the Great Barrier to the Little Penguins. A 38-hour stop-over to be exact. And Sydney rallied to the occasion.
Before I’d even left the airport, a guy flying back to Melbourne offered me his rail/ferry/bus pass for free. Fantastic luck and I got to work putting it to good use. I checked in at the Edgecliff studio apartment I rented on AirBnB, dropped my bag, and immediately grabbed the train to the heart of Sydney. Barely an hour after landing at the airport, I was strolling amongst the crowds at the Opera House. Two lessons learned already: #1) Sydney has a great public transportation network that no one seems to use; #2) The Melbourne Cup is the only other event besides a Royal Wedding that warrants such ridiculous hats! It was like a wildlife tour of hats.
On advice from a few friends, I hopped on the 30-min ferry sailing to Manly, a beach-side community seven miles from Sydney with the slogan “Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.” I only wish that laid-back attitude applied to the ferry crossing as well. The Tasman Sea puts up quite a fight and there were several moments after leaving Manly on the return trip that our ferry was quite literally in freefall.
Now is a good time to mention my tendency to suffer from sea sickness. Luckily I survived on easily the roughest boat ride I’ve ever had. But my timing was impeccable. The setting sun on the return trip was the perfect backdrop for the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. Sydney reminded me of a larger version of Seattle. It was beautiful.
I returned to my studio apartment and dined at an Italian restaurant conveniently located downstairs: Bei Amici. The food was amazing and the owners were even better. We talked about wine and food for much too long. I now have an affinity for Australian Pinot Noir, the only Pinot in the world I’ve found that rivals Willamette Valley.
After having done the sunset ferry ride through the Sydney Harbor, I contemplated a day trip to the Blue Mountains. The restaurant staff said it would be a great contrast to the city, especially with the good weather forecast. From Sydney you can hop a train straight to Katoomba, a 2 hour trip that lands you within 2km of Echo Point, a famous Blue Mountains viewpoint. There are several shuttle and trolley services that will transport you between all of the major attractions in the mountains. I decided to save the budget and just walk.
From Echo Point you have a fantastic panorama of the mountains and The Three Sisters, famous sandstone formations towering over the Jamison Valley. Sunlight filtering through the oil of eucalyptus trees gives the mountains their beautiful blue hue. I sat down at the little restaurant on the corner to enjoy some breakfast and also their fabulous views of the valley. After breakfast I escaped the light crowds by hitting a few walking paths around the visitors center. About 1km from the visitor center was a sign for the Grand Staircase, 900 stairs leading to the bottom of the Jamison Valley.
I wanted to check out the valley, but I was on a bit of a tight schedule with the return train trip and 900 stairs seemed a little time consuming. So instead I walked the Prince Henry Cliff Walk to the town of Leura, where there is another train station heading back to Sydney. There were some nice viewpoints along the way and once in Leura, there are several waterfalls and a picnic area filled with wild cockatoos. The town itself is a bit more quaint and inviting than Katoomba and has several small bakeries and shops.
My timing again was impeccable, I showed up at the train station just as the train was leaving. All total, I probably walked at least 6 km from the Katoomba train station to Echo Point and then back to Leura. A short little day hike. I left on the 7am train, spent a few hours in the Blue Mountains, then returned to Sydney by 3pm. I was back in time to enjoy a late outdoor lunch near the Opera House, bask in the sunshine, and take in the fabulous views one last time before leaving.
I barely scratched the surface of what to see in Sydney, but overall I was thoroughly impressed with the city. Lots to offer, great food, great scenery, and friendly people. I only wish the prices were cheaper, but you can’t have everything. My before-mentioned lunch was good, but not exceptional. Ok, I had two glasses of wine, but it still cost me over $60. I wonder how anyone gets anything done in Sydney. I was thoroughly content sitting by the harbor, drinking wine, and eating fabulous food!
I seem to be barely dodging the rain, which moved in just as I was leaving. The rain is done now in Melbourne and it should be bright and sunny by the time I land! Next up is the Little Penguin Parade on Phillip Island and I can’t wait!