Queen Victoria Market, Sydney Australia.
Decorated for Christmas
What to do on a rainy day in Sydney? I visited the Sydney Opera House and took the Sydney Opera House Tour. Tours are a bit pricey, just like everything else in Australia, and last about a hour.
My tour guide was great and seemed to love the facility and the story about it. The tour primarily keeps you in the common areas of the opera house, but when they can, you are brought into some of the different the theatres. We were able to see rehearsals in 3 of the theatres. We also had Hugh Jackman’s wife walk by us, apparently their daughter was rehearsing in one of the theatres.
But the story of the building is interesting in its own right. Jorn Utzon didn’t exactly have a plan for how to build his ship sail designed building, but it impressed the committee choosing designs. The 14 year building process didn’t go quite as well and eventually Jorn returned to Denmark and never returned to see his design completed. The story is amazing, as well as the history of all the great actors who have performed on the stages of the Sydney Opera House.
Of course you could also see a show at the Opera House, it’s not just operas, but concerts, plays, ballets and we saw a rehearsal for an awards show.
The tour was interesting and informative. It’s great on a rainy day or as a break from the summer heat. If you’re on a budget, try to book in advance with their online discounts.
While I was in Sydney I met up with a friend, we spend the day going to see Bondi Beach and the fireworks at Darling Harbor. While in Darling Harbor she pointed out “Pancakes On The Rocks” a popular Sydney restaurant, as noted by the long line out the door.
Nellie suggested that I try and eat at the one near my hostel, the one that’s actually in The Rocks. So, on a rainy morning when I was hoping the weather would clear up I figured I would enjoy a leisurely breakfast there. The rain didn’t clear as fast as I had hoped it would, but at least I had a nice breakfast.
As you might expect they specialize in pancakes and they were quite good. As I found during most of my trip the menu was a bit odd, not because it was odd but because Aussies even do breakfast different than we do in the US. As much as this picky eater pretends to appreciate different menus, it is stressful, but at least at a pancake place, you can find something in your comfort zone.
The only thing that really surprised me was that it was empty. Granted, it was during the week when most people were starting their day at work, but it was dead inside. The lesson there is, go during the week when people are at work, not on a Saturday night in Darling Harbor.
I often find myself posting about the different places I see on this blog, occasionally an experience will jump out at me, but too often I’m posting about regular touristy stuff. Today I thought I would post a funny experience from my time in Sydney.
Picture it, a warm, sunny day in Sydney… Ok, the weather was actually clearing after some morning rain. I had a few minutes before tracking down a walking tour of the city and thought I would grab some Hungry Jack’s. I got two mini burgers and ate them as I walked over.
Well, I took a bite out of one and then a bird swooped in and stole it out of my hand. It was impressive really, he didn’t touch me at all! It was one of those moments when you look from your hand to the bird, to your hand, to the bird to your hand, to the bird. You get the idea…
It’s pretty funny in retrospect. But my hiding as I ate the other burger and my fries, not so funny. Nor was the fact that I was scared of the birds the rest of my time in Sydney, and there were a lot of them.
Word to the wise, in the ferry area of Circular Quay, eat INSIDE.
While reviewing possible activities in Sydney, I saw a tour that visited both the Blue Mountains and the Jenolan Caves. While I knew it would be better if I did both separately, I also knew that I didn’t have that much free time and so decided to do both in one tour. The good thing was that it was so cloudy that day that we couldn’t see the Blue Mountains and if my tour only did that then the day would have been a bust. But there is no fog issue in caves. But as is often the case with me, I wasn’t happy to just go to the Lucas Cave (the common cave that tourists visit). Nope, I booked The Plughole. And to add to the adventure (or my freaking out), I was the only person on my tour to do that.
I knew something was amiss when I found out how long my plughole adventure was going to take compared to the rest of my bus (1 hours vs 2 hours). Then when I joined my new group we had to sign out lives away and store our valuables in a safe. Next stop we had to suit up, in blue suits with helmets and rappelling gear. Seriously? What the heck did I get myself into. The people in the pictures in the office looked happy, they also looked like they were climbing through a cave – probably because they were.
Despite my compulsion to abandon the plughole before I even got to it, I didn’t and I was rewarded for my bravery.
The adventure really starts by abseiling into a sink hole. What the heck is abseiling? It’s the same as rappelling, you drop down a hole of off a building or whatever by rope. I had never done this and it freaked the shit out of me. I did manage to make it down, but I did bang my knee into a rock. It wasn’t bad so I figured I was ok to keep going. In the end I was fine, but it did hurt a lot the two times I had to kneel down. Tip – don’t do that! Once inside the cave we squeezed through little holes, contorted our bodies through other holes, and in general did what you would think you would do in something called a “plughole.” I have to give props to our guides. We only had 8 or 9 people in our group but we had 3 guides. Two of the guides were the sweetest guys and I swear they were in their 70s. I hope I can get around like that when I’m that old. Our other guide was a young woman, I liked her too but she wasn’t a 70 year old guy climbing around underground. The 3 worked well together and I felt totally safe and highly recommend it. Well, unless you’re a larger person or over 6 Feet tall – in those cases you’ll want to talk to the staff there, it is very tight in a few places, even for me who is 5 feet tall and slim.
I’m going to steal a little bit from the Sydney.com.au site, I like their description of The Rocks:
The Rocks is one of the most-visited parts of Sydney. It is not hard to see why. Nestled at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and on the western shores of Sydney Cove, The Rocks is the foundation place of Sydney and Australia, and of enormous historical significance. It is often described as “Sydney’s outdoors museum”.
When I was in Sydney, this is the neighborhood I stayed in and I loved it. Although it is a touristy area, it has a certain atmosphere, you can feel the history seeping out of the old (or new, but built to look old) buildings. As one of the first areas of Sydney to be developed, it is rich in history, every street you go down could bring a new surprise.
I may be overdramatizing it. But, when you walk through a fake doorway, down some stairs and through a weird tunnel in a building and find an oompah band/pair outside the german restaurant, you know you’re somewhere interesting. The old hotels, restaurants, shops and markets all make this place a great place to walk around when visiting. I always felt safe walking the streets of this area. This is a bit ironic given the areas reputation in its early days.
The area is also prime for visitors because it is very central in the city – Circular Quay, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Downtown, Cruise Terminal, Botanical Gardens, and Darling Harbor are all an easy walking distance away. Ok, assuming you’re in decent shape, they are all in walking distance. Either way, it’s not far from a majority of the sites in Sydney, and being near the Circular Quay transportation hub, everything else is nearby too.
I did have one issue with The Rocks… It’s VERY hilly and you’ll often find yourself climbing stairs in weird locations. I don’t mind some stairs, but after 6 days of climbing the stairs every time I went to my hostel, my legs were TIRED. In spite of my poor legs, I would absolutely stay in this area again!
Anyone who visits Sydney will quickly become aware of the Sydney Ferry System, or whatever they call it, since it’s such a popular way to get around the city. Due to the strange lay out of Sydney, it seems to have been developed on both sides of the harbor. I guess it makes sense if you want to maximize views, but it’s really a pain if you’re trying to get around the city.
Of course there is the Sydney Harbor Bridge to get around, but you need a car for that. So if you’re a tourist, without a car, or don’t like traffic, the Sydney Ferries are a great option.
When I was planning my visit, friends suggested I skip the harbor cruise and just ride one of the ferries. While still cheaper then the harbor cruise, the ferries are not cheap. I believe I paid $15 round trip to Manly Beach. That trip included some breathtaking views of the harbor and the Opera House.
As for doing a ferry trip instead of a harbor cruise? I guess this is the same as saying skip going to see the Statue of Liberty and take the Staten Island Ferry for free. Ok, maybe not exactly the same. But it’s the same logic. The harbor cruises are expensive and if you’re already taking a ferry trip and are focused on just seeing the harbor or taking a few pictures. Then yes, save your money and just take the ferry. However, if you enjoy the relaxing views and hearing lots of information about a city, then a harbor cruise, although expensive, may be a better value. Either way, hop on a boat and see the city from the water.
Before you go, check the schedules and get there early if you want a good seat. Seats with views can be taken quickly.
While I was in Sydney I met up with some old friends I had met on a pervious Contiki Tour. When they suggested visiting Q Station, or Quarantine Station, I was intrigued.
We started our visit at the Boilerhouse for dinner. The menu was a bit fancy for my taste, but the food was delicious. The setting was very nice, I’m just sorry we missed the sunset while we were eating. The only issue we had was that although the dinner was booked as a package with a ghost tour, they didn’t seem to be worried about time and we were a few minutes late for the tour.
Our ghost tour started with the distribution of ghost meters. Don’t be too surprised, but mine did not work. Didn’t even have a fake reading. But the tour was fun anyway.
Our guide had obviously been around for a while and knew the place well and had lots of stories to tell, much of it was history based about Q Station, and some of it was about ghosts people had seen there.
I enjoyed the history the best, how they quarantined everyone coming in, and sadly how many died there before seeing any of Australia. I felt bad for the families that were separated with little or no word about family members. Interesting to think of that happening so recently.
As for the ghost tour element, it was a bit cheesy at times, but still fun. And even by the end of the tour I was getting a little nervous. But, I am afraid of ghosts, even though I never saw one.
Q Station is a bit hard to get to for tourists, it’s not too far from Manly Beach, but off the beaten track. I did enjoy the meal there and the history. If you’re into history and visiting Sydney, this is a good option to get a different view of Australia.
One of the most commonly talked about things to do in Sydney is the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb, enjoying a great view of a city and loving a challenge of course I did this!
After much debate and wallet searching, I booked a twilight/sunset bridge climb a month or two before I went to Australia. I asked several friends and they all suggested doing twilight if I could afford the extra $100 for that time slot. I figured I would probably only do it once so I better do it now.
The twilight climb starts when it is fully light out, and ended in the dark. Made a great setting for the city. I did this by myself and thought it was a great activity for solo travelers. You are “attached” to your guide and your group and will have plenty of time to chat with the people around you. I had locals next to me and learned a bit about the city, very handy since it was my first night in the city.
The climb itself was not “hard,” the average healthy person can do this with little or no trouble. You do climb pretty high so it’s not “easy,” but it is certainly doable. There is plenty of time to climb too if you’re not in the best shape. I NEVER felt like we were rushed and had frequent breaks along the climb while groups ahead of us were doing photos. I will say though that my legs were shaking at the end, a bit like they do at the end of a Jillian Michael’s workout.
I feel I should mention the set up of the climb as there is quite a bit that needs to be done to get ready. But, it’s not the most interesting part of the climb. So what do you do? After the Breathalyzer test you put on jumpsuits. After that everything you bring has to be attached to the suit. Sunglasses, hats, handkerchief, climbing gear (you are attached to the bridge during the climb), extra jacket, radios (mostly so the guide can communicate with the group). You go from station to station as a group and get your gear. There is also a section where you get to practice climbing the ladders that are on the bridge. Overall, I felt very safe after all the training and gearing up we did.
The tour includes admission to climb the Pylon, I had stopped in the office before my climb and they gave me my voucher early so I could climb the pylon that day. That was really nice since it was a beautiful day. Though it was quite windy. Between the tour and they pylon I thought I got a great feeling for the work that went into building the bridge.
Is it worth it? I thought it absolutely was, it was a great adventure for me. But I understand it is expensive and some people are afraid of heights. I can’t help if you’re afraid of heights. But if money is a concern, I do think just doing the pylon is a good experience, I’ll have a post about that next week.
I did pre-purchase the photo package, and thought it was a good value, especially since they have a legitimate reason for not allowing you to bring cameras up with you. My guide knew I had the package and took extra photos of me. When the climb was over I was forced to choose only the allotted number of photos from the package (8, I think). When I returned home I sent a letter about that complaining, because frankly, it didn’t cost them any money to give me those extra photos. The letter I got back was wonderful – starting the following day they were allowing anyone who purchased the photo package to have all their photos and they looked up and sent me all of my photos. Before that I was on the fence about the photo packages; but I loved my photos and the experience so much that I highly recommend the photo packages.
If you want to climb during twilight but don’t want to pay the $100 extra, book a tour right before or after the twilight tours and you’ll have twilight during part of your climb.
Leave you’re stuff at home or in the hotel if you can. If not, lockers are provided.
Dump all of your stuff from your pockets into your bag before your group is called, makes it easier when you have to change clothes.
Wear comfortable clothes, you can wear them under the nifty jumpsuit so keep that in mind when dressing.
Book early in your visit to Sydney, weather (hot, cold, wind, thunder) can cause the cancelation of tours. One girl in my group was on her 3rd attempt to climb.
They will give you a hat for the climb, so wait to buy a baseball cap from the shop.
Don’t drink before, they do give a breathalyzer test before you climb.
Drink water before the climb, use the bathroom too. There are a few water fountains on the climb, but you can dehydrate on the climb, and there are no bathrooms – keep this all in mind!
If you want to climb a pylon, wait until after you climb the bridge, a voucher is included.