We had really high hopes for our time in Sydney and were really excited to be spending Christmas and New Years there.
Our first Airbnb was in a place called North Balgowlah, which is in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney. It was a spectacular area filled with many million dollar houses and beautiful streets. The house we were staying in was no exception to this. It was a huge open plan house with five bedrooms. We loved it and we stayed in a great travel inspired room, with private bathroom and use of all the shared areas of the house. Our host Rob was such a lovely person who gave us so many great tips for the area, showed us around, took us snorkelling, and was really interesting to talk to and spend time with. She lived there with her daughter who was equally as lovely. We really felt we would miss them when we left.
The second place we stayed in was in Annandale, which was a short 15-20 minute bus ride into the city. It was a studio flat, which seemed pretty small after being in a big house, and on the hotter days which were between 32 and 35 degrees it wasn’t very comfortable without aircon!
For our first day we headed to the centre, without really having a plan, except to sightsee, which was rare for us normally knowing what we wanted to see and do in a day, or at least having a vague idea.
We did know that we wanted to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House and once we did later on that day, we both had a real sense of, ‘Wow, we’re in Sydney, Australia’.
We first went to St Mary’s Cathedral and walked inside, it was very impressive.
Then we spotted Hyde Park, where we went for a walk and were very excited to hear a local musician playing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer on keyboard. We were determined to get into the Christmas spirit as much as we could, trying to look past the fact that it felt like the middle of summer!
Next, we came across The Queen Victoria Building and thought we should have a look inside – I’m sure the Aussies are more passionate about our British royalty than we are… they even have a public holiday (a day off work) for the Queen’s birthday, which we don’t in England. Inside we found lots of shops, a ginormous Christmas tree and a school group singing Christmas carols – we were definitely beginning to get into the Christmas spirit.
Prior to arriving in Sydney, we had heard about Mrs Macquarie Chair as something to go and see, which was a chair built by the Governor at the times’ workers for his wife as she enjoyed looking out to sea from there. A bit of a underwhelming point of interest to visit, but then I don’t know what we were expecting from a chair!
You walked through The Botanical Gardens to get to the chair and through these gardens we got the first views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Truth be told, we were a little underwhelmed by the Sydney Opera House at first glance but once we got closer it was more what we imagined and was pretty spectacular to see and to walk around. We decided to have a drink in the Opera Bar, which was really special and one of those times we really had to stop to take in and where we were and what we were experiencing.
Lastly, we grabbed some Opal cards (similar to Oyster cards) and caught the iconic Sydney to Manly ferry. The views were great and we managed to get a seat right at the top of the ferry. Although, it had turned into quite a windy day by that point and being sat at the top was very blustery.
We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, The Art Gallery of New South Wales and White Rabbit Gallery (a recommendation from our hosts). They were all really interesting and in particular the Masters of Modern Art exhibition at The Art Gallery of New South Wales was a highlight, as it featured many of Lauren’s favourite artists. We also really enjoyed the White Rabbit Gallery, which has the largest collection of Chinese art outside of China. It was contemporary and very thought provoking and we enjoyed the traditional Chinese tea room there.
The Australian National Maritime Museum
We were keen to visit this museum after discovering part of the ticket allowed you to explore some vessels including a submarine and a replica of the famous Endeavour (Captain Cook’s ship he discovered Australia in). Being on board the ships was really fun and we learnt a lot about the conditions living on board from some friendly volunteers and ex submariners.
We were also interested in seeing the James Cameron exhibition and film about his journey to the deepest part of the ocean – Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, which is seven miles below the surface. The exhibition and film were both really interesting.
The Pylon Lookout
After deciding against doing the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, as it was just too expensive for what we thought it was worth, we found out, whilst eavesdropping on a couple in a cafe one afternoon, about the Pylon Lookout. You climbed 200 steps to the top of the pylon, which was part of the bridge, and it gave the same views as the Harbour Bridge over Sydney, just not as high. We thought it was brilliant and well worth the $15 entry fee.
Manly has been one of our favourite areas of Australia so far. It is a wonderful beach town, with lots of great beaches, markets, the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, the harbour with restaurants and bars overlooking the water and just a great feel to it. We enjoyed walking around here many times, relaxing on the beaches, surfing, eating, drinking and snorkelling. Plus the ferry from the city (or to the city) was a fantastic experience.
Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve
On our second morning we were invited out by our host to go snorkelling at a place called Cabbage Tree Bay, where she is a volunteer and snorkels regularly. It was a gorgeous area. The water was a little choppy and murky, and cold (for Lauren), but it was a great experience. We saw a variety of fish including groupers, millets and a catfish. After a refreshing swim we enjoyed a coffee overlooking the water and getting to know our host even more. She also really kindly took us on a scenic drive around the Manly area including North Head, where we stopped to check out one of the best views of Sydney. A perfect way to start the day.
We went back to Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve to go snorkelling on another two afternoons, both times to Shelly Beach. There were so many interesting fish and we went back home and used our hosts guidebook (the first time), which enabled us to identify a Blue Grouper, Maori Wrasse, Silver Bream, Luderick, Goatfish, Black Rock Cod, and then what we’re pretty sure was a young Wobbegong Shark, which is really exciting as you don’t see them very often!
Manly Dam was a 10 minute walk away from where we were staying in North Balgowlah and we set off on a cooler afternoon, with binoculars we’d borrowed from our host, ready to take on the 8km walk around the Dam. As we were leaving we were given advice about the snakes we may encounter, which made us a little wary before heading off. Even though we had walked around quite a few rainforests since being in Australia, this felt like our first proper bush walking experience.
The path felt pretty untraveled with some parts being overgrown and with the knowledge of lots of snakes in the area, it felt like quite a big undertaking. The path was pretty uneven and steep in parts and we were definitely looking everywhere we stepped! We didn’t see any snakes though, just lots of lizards, water dragons, birds and a wallaby. Another good walk in Australia, we were starting to feel like more and more experienced Aussie walkers by the day.
After a failed attempt at hiring bikes, as the only hire shop in Manly just decided not to open one Sunday, we walked around North Head but decided against the walk up opting for a bus, where we then walked around the area and tackled the much easier walk back down via another seemingly untraveled route which required us climbing through a hole in a wall, this route eventually lead to Shelly Beach.
North Head was a gorgeous area and we particularly enjoyed having a drink at the top with a view across the city. Although the day that we did this there was a very strange sea fog across Sydney, which even the locals were surprised by. It was an interesting thing to witness. It was still there when we went snorkelling later that afternoon and made the experience quite eerie.
Surfing at Manly Surf School
We thought that while we were in Australia we should have a go at surfing and decided to book a two hour lesson at Manly Beach. After a pretty quick demonstration we were in the water catching waves laying on our boards and riding them to the shore, which was really fun and I think gave us a bit of a false sense of security as to how easy it would be to ride the waves standing up… a completely different ball game! Although by the end of the lesson and after many failed attempts we both managed to stand up on our boards and ‘surf’ a few times! We had a blast doing this and may give it another go in the future.
Spit Bridge to Manly Scenic Walk
We set off for the scenic walk early one morning. It wasn’t the best morning as it was quite cloudy and grey but this did make it cooler than walking in the sun. It was a tougher walk than we expected. Our walks seemed to be getting further and further – this one being over 9km. It took us just under three hours to walk the coastal route to Manly, where we ended at Manly Wharf feeling pretty accomplished. The coastal route lead us to a number of beaches that were only accessible on foot and despite the grey day still looked amazing. We really enjoyed this hike but were very happy when we reached the end and could enjoy some lunch and a drink.
Christmas in Sydney
Darling Quarter Open Air Cinema
The Darling Quarter in Sydney had a range of Christmas events, which involved four days of Christmas films showings in an outdoor cinema for free. They showed two every evening and we were very surprised to show up to find big bean bags to sit on to watch the films. We first went to try and watch Santa Claus on the 20th December but after a huge thunderstorm started that afternoon, which seemed to be becoming a regular occurrence during our first couple of weeks in Sydney, the event was cancelled. We tried again the following evening, with better luck, and watched The Grinch. We grabbed two comfy bean bags and some Mexican food and sat eating whilst watching the film – it was great!
St Mary’s Cathedral Christmas Story
St Mary’s Cathedral was a stunning building we had visited on our first day and we went back to watch the Christmas light show, which was a Christmas story being told and projected onto the cathedral. It was nice to watch but we were surprised to find that the ten minute story just repeated over and over again for the night from 8:30pm until 12am. We went back another evening, as we were in the area, to see if they did a different story but it was the same one again – we felt sorry for the workers there who had to sit through the same ten minute story for over three hours every evening for 20 days!
Carols in the Domain
We put on our Christmas hats on December 22nd and made our way to The Domain for Australia’s largest Christmas event, which is broadcasted across Australia. It was huge and we couldn’t believe how many people were there when we arrived. It was an entertainment evening featuring lots of music acts performing the classic Christmas hits and carols. The only people on the list we recognised, embarrassingly, were ‘The Wiggles’. We walked around and made the most of all the free goodies being handed out, including cans of Coke and Cadburys chocolates, and then found a spot and made ourselves comfortable for the evening. It was pretty good, a little slow at the beginning, but it was nice to get into the Christmas spirit a bit more.
Coogee to Bondi Beach Coastal Walk
We set off a couple of days before Christmas for one of the top things to do in Sydney, which is the 6km walk along part of Sydney’s coast, either beginning or ending at the iconic Bondi Beach. We chose to end there as we thought we could then spend the rest of the afternoon there. It was a beautiful walk and after lots of rain and thunderstorms we had been having, it was a lovely sunny day. We started at Coogee, then walked through Gordons Bay, Tamarama, Bronte and finally Bondi. We finished in Bondi and enjoyed lunch by the beach and had a wander around the area. We felt really excited to go back there a few days later for our Christmas beach day.
Icebergs Swimming Pool
This was a salt water swimming pool right on Bondi Coast with a view overlooking the sea and beach. It was extremely popular, probably partly due to the fact we went in the school holidays a few days after Christmas and we arrived about 11am. It wasn’t too busy in the pool, we easily had space to swim, we just struggled to find somewhere to lie/sit.
Christmas Day on Bondi Beach
A very strange Christmas Day, waking up without a tree and presents, but instead getting our swimwear and Christmas hats on and heading straight to a beach. We decided on the iconic Bondi Beach for our Christmas and joined thousands of others to soak up the sun and swim in the sea. As we didn’t want to cook the traditional turkey, we instead opted for turkey rolls on the beach. Followed by a BBQ back at our apartment on the balcony. A very different Christmas Day experience!
Boxing Day at North Sydney Olympic Pool
This was something we really wanted to do in Sydney as it was located under/next to the Harbour Bridge – you had a great view! The pool was really big with seating areas in the sun too, we had a great afternoon swimming some laps and it was cool to think of the Olympians that had trained and made records there.
Lentil as Anything
We wanted to go to this restaurant as it was set up as a non-profit organisation where you pay ‘whatever you can’ for your meal. They have a selection of about four meals you chose from and a desert everyday for lunch and dinner and you pay anonymously when you leave. They also promote the option of people volunteering in different ways as a way to pay for the meal. It is completely run by volunteers and a very popular place. There was a queue whilst we were there, which is not uncommon. It was nice to support a place like that and the food was pretty good too.
New Years Eve
After lots of research and discussions we decided to spend our New Years at Luna Park.
We had read that to go anywhere free you needed to be there early morning on the day and we just weren’t prepared to sit/stand for over 12 hours to get a good view of the fireworks. So we decided, especially as we had decided against climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, that we would spend out for a VIP ticket to the Luna Park event, which promised uninterrupted views of the fireworks, Harbour Bridge and Opera House…and it was completely worth it!
We had an amazing night and had incredible views for the fireworks and a clear view of both the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. The fireworks were spectacular and we also had such a fun evening at Luna Park, which is an old style fairground/theme park. There were lots of rides we went on, including a Ferris wheel, dodgems, the tango train, slides and a fun house. The music and atmosphere were great and we felt very lucky to be seeing in 2019 in such an iconic place with each other.
Through some bad planning we ended up wanting to visit the Blue Mountains (one of Sydneys top attractions) at the busiest time of the year- the school holidays and tourist period between Christmas Day and New Years. Subsequently, we ended up having to book tickets on January 2nd, still in the busiest period, and the day we were leaving Sydney to begin our road trip down to Melbourne. This meant a very early start to collect our hire car and to then fit in the day before heading to Kiama, three hours away.
We decided to visit the Blue Mountains via the very popular option of Scenic World, which is made up of three rides that take you to the main areas of the mountains and give you incredible views across the area whilst travelling. On one of the trips we were told that despite being able to see for miles and miles we could actually only see approximately 2% of the national park that makes up the Blue Mountains, which were also compared to the size of 14 Singapores, which gives you an idea just how big the National park is. We arrived for opening time and luckily beat some of the crowds, but hardly as it was extremely busy.
First, we travelled on the Skyway which is a cable car that takes you across Jamison Valley with views of the main star of the Blue Mountains, ‘The Three Sisters’ and on to Echo Point and Katoomba Cascades and Falls. The mountains looked amazing and are called the Blue Mountains because they actually look blue, which is apparently from a mix of the eucalyptus oil from the trees, dust and water vapour and how the light reflects off this combination. The views were simply stunning.
Next, we excitedly climbed aboard the worlds steepest railway (52 degrees), which was really awesome to go on! The seats were also adjustable so you could maximise the incline further to 64 degrees, which we did. As obvious as it may sound, it felt so steep and almost felt like you were going down at 90 degrees and pretty quickly too. This lead us down to Jamison Valley where we walked around the boardwalks, getting pretty hot as the temperature was rising.
Lastly, after being absolutely boiling in now well over 30 degree heat, we took the Cableway back to the main building to desperately grab a cold drink, before making our way to Kiama mid afternoon.
Overall we loved Sydney, it was the first place that had everything, in regards to it being an exciting, busy city and it had the gorgeous coast and lots of beaches and wildlife. The weather wasn’t great for the first couple of weeks with lots of rain and thunderstorms, which did affect our plans. We also experienced the worst hailstorm the city had seen for 20 years. But we did then enjoy just under two weeks of amazingly hot and sunny weather and for Christmas time.
We absolutely loved Manly and the Northern Beaches area and we loved our first stay with Rob and Sophie. It was great in our second place to be so near to the city with frequent buses every few minutes and everywhere being easy and quite quick to get to.
Lauren’s favourite thing – New Year’s Eve at Luna Park
Daniel’s favourite thing – Snorkelling at Cabbage Tree Bay
So that’s it for Sydney and hitting the road for Victoria, Melbourne to catch our flight to Hobart, Tasmania…