(Sydney, Australia – 1 January 2014) At almost five months in, we are far enough through our trip to be having conversations that start like this, “Are there any places that we’ve been to so far that you think you’ll ever come back to?” My answer includes a couple of places- Torres del Paine (in Chile) and Ecuador come to mind first. Jessica has consistently maintained that she is far more inclined to go to new places, instead of returning to any place we’ve already been…at least that’s what she was saying before Sydney.
We were fortunate to be sitting on the left side of the plane as it circled around Sydney Harbor to land. The wide blue skies held just the right number of white clouds to maximize the beauty of the scene.
Our excitement was reaching its peak as we took the metro from the Sydney airport to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”), the odd name of the stop right at Sydney Harbor. Delivered immediately into the thick of it we were. What a brilliant atmosphere. Down at the harbor people moved about in every direction….all happy with their faces and snappy with their cameras. Such an international city, too. Every country in the world sent someone to visit.
Ferry to Manly Beach
Jessica and I were weighted down with our big bags and getting to the apartment in Manly Beach where we’d stay the next five nights (through New Year’s Day) was our direct mission. The port at Circular Quay was bustling with five docks, our ferry to Manly was on #3. We’d purchased a one-week pass for public transport so we easily hopped on board with just a swipe of our card and a little crowd-weaving.
Spending our nights in the heart of Sydney would have been costly, especially because we were there in those prized days between Christmas and New Years. Many, if not all, of the Sydney hostels we researched prior to arriving required a minimum stay of 7 or 10 days. This didn’t work for us. In the end we turned to AirBnB and found a room for rent in an apartment on Manly Beach, 30 minutes north of Sydney by ferry. We knew nothing of Manly Beach before going, but a friend we’d met in New Zealand told us Manly Beach was their favorite place nearby to Sydney… so how could we go wrong?
Once on board the ferry we moved all the way to the back. We did this based on a hot tip we’d received from our host at the apartment. What great advice! We had THE BEST views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House right there from the deck. We bristled with enthusiasm. Cruising through Sydney Harbor on a beautiful day is without equal.
The beach at Manly Beach.
We enjoyed kayaking in the areas all around Manly Beach. Perfect weather, too!
Free Tour of Sydney!
Almost every touristy-type of activity in Sydney (and throughout Australia) is dishearteningly expensive. We managed to find one of the exceptions to this rule, the “free” guided city tour. Of course, free doesn’t always mean free, right? The guides works for tips, which means you would be a real jerk for going on the tour and then not giving up some coin. We love it because it allows us to pay what we feel is a reasonable amount for a city tour of this type.
The tour was rich and colorful with stories of Australia’s wild history- its early use as a prison colony for Mother England, how the architect for the Opera House was chosen, then forced out mid-project due to cost overruns, and how a Japanese mini-sub penetrated Sydney Harbor during WWII and tried to torpedo a docked US Warship. The torpedo missed its intended target and instead sunk an Aussie boat that served as living quarters for Australian naval officers. The story of the mini-sub didn’t end there. The plucky little menace managed to escape the harbor, but then took a wrong turn and failed to reunite with the mothership from whence it came. For more than half a century the ultimate fate of that sub was unknown…until about five years ago when it was found by chance at the bottom of the ocean somewhere off Australia’s northern coast.
One activity we really wanted to do was climb the Sydney Harbor bridge…not like, on our own, mind you. They offer organized tours for it. Look for the people walking across the top arch of the bridge in any of our bridge pics. The cost in US Dollars for the bridge climb was about $250 each. Crap-a-doodle! That’s just too outrageous.
Below are two photos of the QVB (Queen Victoria Building), one of the oldest grand buildings in Sydney. It was originally built to be a “market” for farmers and other vendors to come sell their goods and produce. The building’s purpose has changed about a billion times over the centuries. Today it is a market once more…though an extremely high-end one. The outside looks classic/original, but the inside is pure glitz and glamour.
The Sydney Harbor is always abuzz with activity.
Did you know the Sydney Opera House looks like this close up?
Jessica found a cathedral that was “this big!”
This interesting bird is called an Ibis.
New Year’s Eve in Sydney
New Year’s Eve is a big deal in Sydney. Being that it is not far from the International Date Line, Sydney is always one of the first major cities to celebrate the new year. Invariably, New Year’s Eve highlights from around the world will show a snippet of the Sydney celebration. Jessica and I were excited to be a part of it this year.
There were numerous choices regarding places to be when the clock struck midnight, but each one had a long list of pros and cons. Some sites cost big money (~$200 ea), others required huge commitments of time, (i.e. we’d have to camp out on a spot for up to 10 hours). In the end, we chose a spot overlooking the harbor that was very near the harbor bridge, but on the north side. We got to our targeted site around 8 pm and found a spot of turf. At 9 pm, they shot off a special round of fireworks for the families, many of whom cleared out once it was over allowing us to move to an even better spot further up. Now it was all about waiting for midnight.
An armada of sailboats and yachts slowly circled through the harbor waters, their outlines all lit up with string lights. One of the boats was an old sailing ship, perhaps a holdover from Captain James Cook’s expedition that “discovered” Australia in 1770.
As the clock approached midnight people transitioned from sitting on their blankets to standing next to them. Less than 10 minutes to go, less than five… The excited tension built up to the last 10 seconds when the crowd started shouting out the countdown, “10, 9, 8…” There was no official countdown clock, at least that we could see, but everyone was synched up by looking at the clocks on their phones.
On cue, the first fireworks lit the sky. From the bridge, from the harbor….even from the top sails of the Opera House roof, dazzling fireworks filled up the harbor. The whole outburst lasted only about 12 minutes, but it was so worth being a part of. Once in a lifetime, for sure.
After wrapping up our five spectacular days in Sydney, we continued on up the Aussie coast until we reached Cairns. Check out those haps in the next post.