Sunday: Christchurch to Sydney
It was an early morning as we were out the door at 7am and headed to the airport for a 9:30 flight. The drive in was quiet and uneventful as most of Christchurch was still asleep for an early Sunday morning. As we dropped our rental car off, we made our way inside without delay to begin our check in at Air New Zealand for our trans Tasman service to Sydney. With the exception of one minor hitch with the spelling of Natalie’s name on her ticket vs. her passport (their glitch, not ours), we made our way to our gate and had about 45 minutes before boarding.
The flight was fine, and our aircraft had those headrest tvs again so we enjoyed free tv and music that helped to pass the time as we made our way west and north to Sydney International Airport. We arrived about 3 hours later, made our way onto the Airport Link train and arrived into downtown Sydney and to the waterfront (Circular Quay) just about noon.
Our first impression was one of slight overwhelm as we realized that there were more people in the city of Sydney than there were in the entire country of New Zealand! In addition it was a Sunday afternoon (and Father’s Day in Australia) on a gorgeous sunny day and the waterfront was packed. Once the initial shock wore off, we made our way to the YHA Sydney Harbor at the Rocks and checked into our place for the next 3 nights.
At first, we were a bit skeptical about how this place could have the amazing reviews given its location and relatively inexpensive pricing (for perspective, the Shangri-La and Four Seasohs Hotels are on the same block and runs ~$600 a night), but once we checked in, we knew we were right at home.
YHA, if you aren’t familar, provides low cost, value accommodation to travelers of all ages, young and old, to make travel attainable to anyone that is interested. In addition to a choice of accommodations (you can have a single bed in a shared room with 3-5 other people right up to an individual king ensuite or a family room for 5, with a king and a set of bunk beds for kids), all YHAs include some other great amenities.
Generally, there are no tvs in the individual rooms, but instead, large social spaces are offered to meet and hang out with others, or if you just want to curl up with a good book, there are comfy chairs and places to do that too! You can watch large screen TVs in the lounges or check out a DVD from the extensive library and have your own movie night.
In addition, YHAs include a large, industrial type kitchen, with commericial fridges, food store pantries, and (in the case of our place) 8 kitchen “bays”, each consistenting of a gas stovetop, a microwave, a sink, and all of the pots, pans, dishes, glasses, and utensils one would need.
Finally, the staff onsite arrange great activities that are optional, but keep the budget minded traveler in consideration, as well as allow for folks to get to know one another, if you so choose. While we were there, the staff had a BBQ on the 2nd floor outdoor terrace on Monday nights with burgers and drinks for A$5 a person (quite a bargain in downtown Sydney). Tuesday night was a Steak and Chip Dinner at a nearby restaurant or a delivered pizza to the YHA for A$10 (again, a huge bargain when you compare). Wednesday morning was Free DIY Pancake breakfast, where they supplied pancake batter, syrup, brown sugar, etc. and the residents could build their own pancake stacks using the kitchen bays. In addition, these folks are very knowledgable on the local area, so they serve as concierges to all of the residents providing tour options, bookings, and travel advice for the region.
Our room was on the top floor of the place, overlooking Circular Quay, and Sydney downtown. It was spacious, clean, and we had our own bathroom and shower. Just a short walk down the hall was the rooftop terrace that we first took in the amazing views of the waterfront, and got our first pictures of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is also a popular hangout spot amongst the residents for anything from sunbathing to lunches or BBQs on the patio. On this afternoon, the sun was bright, the winds were light, and we just enjoyed the view with 1-2 other people who were out reading a book or chatting.
Another neat sidebar for the Sydney Harbour YHA is that it is actually built on an archaelogical site, and active work is going on (quiet artifact work, not bulldozer work) to unearth more than 1,000,000 artifacts from early 20th century Sydney, as this area of the city was quickly demolished to combat the bubonic plague, burying tons of homes, personal items, and the city’s history to combat the disease. Families were hastily evicted from their homes and the buildings destroyed and buried to try (unsuccessfully) to stop the spread. Many years went by, and in the 1980s the site of the YHA was nothing more than a parking lot. Then it was selected to become the home of the Youth Hostel and in exchange for a very low price of land ownership, the YHA council developed the concept to support the historical dig (known as the “Big Dig”) and agreed to maintain the dig and to develop a local education center on the property, and thus, the dual use of the building was born.
The combination of the two (Hostel and Museum) is fascinating and must be seen to truly understand it, but I would certainly welcome the opportunity to visit and stay here again. It was a great experience and certainly has opened our eyes to the opportunity to stay with YHA as we continue our journey.
Monday: Bridges, Opera, and Botanicals, Oh My!
With the additonal time change from New Zealand to Australia (we gained another two hours), we were up early this morning and decided to make the most of the extra daylight by heading out to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The entrance to the bridge is just a block or so from our YHA, so we made our way up to the pedestrian walkway, and in just under an hour or so, we had walked over and back across the span. Known as “The Coat Hanger” by some locals, it has the metal internal structure that reminds of the Bay Bridge, in a much darker, almost black color, uses a variable lane system (lanes can be used for both directions of traffic, dependent on the commute) like the Golden Gate, and also supports two city rail lines on the span (and why can’t we do this at home?). All the while crossing the bridge, we were afforded many amazing vantage points of the Sydney Harbour as well as the Northern Suburbs and the City Central waterfront as we went along. It was also pretty amazing to see so many commuters walking across the bridge to reach downtown from the northern suburbs! Hundreds of business people in suits and dresses, walking along with a pair of tennis shoes that clashed significantly with their formal business attire, but given the masses seemed perfectly acceptable on this busy footpath to work.
After walking both ends of the bridge, we reached the southern end (back near our accommodation) and choose a new path, the Cahill Walk, which is a pedestrian walkway on an elevated motorway in downtown, that allowed us unobstructed access (no stopping, no signal lights) to the Sydney Opera House, as we were walking on a safe and defined path 3 stories above the hustle and bustle of the local traffic below. It also provided additional amazing viewpoints of the waterfront and Circular Quay as dozens of ferries made their way into and out of the harbour transporting thousands of commuters into centrla Sydney for their day’s work.
We arrived at the Sydney Opera House, shortly before 10, and purchased our tour tickets, where Jeanette, our guide would be taking us through the amazing facility for the next 75 minutes. Over the course of that time, we learned the history of the site, how it came to be an Opera House, the unique story of the design and building of the place, and got to visit many of the performance spaces within the complex (there can be up to 7 events taking place at one time here) It is no longer just an opera house, but has different venues with the goal of encouraging all types of people, ages, and interest to come to the Opera House with events ranging from Pavarotti and La Boheme to Indoor Skateboarding and Sumo Wrestling, Coldplay recording a live album to a comedy festival. The options are truly endless given the inherit flexibility of the building and it design in our book deserves the ranking of one of the most interesting and recognizable buildings on the planet.
From here, we continued east, along the waterfront and arrived at the Royal Botanical Garden, a huge 450 hectacre (about 170 acre) park that had huge expanses of green grass, flowers of all shapes, sizes, and color, ponds, fountains, and trees of many different origins and plenty of birds too! And then Natalie found the bats…
As we were walking through this amazing place (with some of the coolest rules ever for a botanical garden), we were admiring all that the park had to offer, and noticed that how even for a Monday morning, so many people were enjoying this place (families, seniors, business people were exercising and running, etc.) that we almost missed one significant and defining detail of the park. High above in some of the trees in the central garden of the park, it looked like several of the trees had large brown pods, which given the unique aspects of this region, wasn’t at all out of the ordinary, until one or two of the pods yawned and huge wings were spread. Amazing as the realization was, these trees had hundreds of bats in each of them, and the tranquil, leisurely walk we were taking through the Botanical Garden, suddenly had a new goal — get as far away from the bats as possible, by any means necessary. Natalie learned in that moment that as much as she loved the city of Sydney, that she was no longer interested in the central gardens of the Royal Botanical Gardens.
We made a quick change in path and moved north and (away from the bat sanctuary) arrived at Government House on the Northwestern border of the park. This is a beautiful stone building that serves in an official government capacity when required and on this day, there was some sort of event taking place involving local school students. We admired the building and its grounds and slowly made our way out of the park and back into the hustle and bustle of the Sydney city center.
We made our way back to our place and had lunch followed by a short walk through the area closest to our accommodation, The Rocks, an area filled with history and many beautiful old homes that were created in a style called terraces, went by the old Garrison Church and took a stroll down George Street, an old style street, now home to a large number of Sydney’s boutiques and high end merchants.
From here, we headed back home and prepared an excellent Mexican dinner and called it a day.
Tuesday: Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk and Sydney Observatory
Today, we took off on the local bus and made our way out to the eastern beaches, with our first destination being one of Sydney’s most noted beach locations, Bondi. When we arrived, we got to see a huge half circle stretch of sand, and there were many folks already in the water trying to catch a wave or running along the shoreline. Found it a little funny that there was a bulldozer “combing” the sand, but when you are one of the most noted beaches on the planet, I guess you get a little extra pampering.
Along the coastline near Bondi, the government has installed a fully public accessible walkway, boardwalk, and set of walking trails called the Eastern Beaches Coastal walk that traverses 6kms of spectacular shoreline as you work your way south from Bondi to Coogee. Along the way, we were treated to no less than 6 different beaches and bays, along with local parks, and a number of Surf Life Saving chapters. These locations are the training facilities and homes for local lifeguards that have been protecting the local beaches of Sydney and Australia for more than 100 years.
All along our walk, we encountered tons of joggers and people exercising as the weather was just screaming to be outside and to enjoy the sun. We made our way down the walk, and there were plenty of places to stop and enjoy the view, sit on a bench, or pick up filtered water at Culligan water stations along the route. These simple touches along with the incredible scenery provide anyone with the needed motivation to exercise every day along this stretch of coastline.
We enjoyed the walk and took our time reaching Coogee, and once complete, picked up another local bus back to the city center. This provided us with a chance to have lunch and take a nap in the afternoon as we would be attending the evening tour at the Sydney Observatory, just a couple blocks from the YHA.
It was also time to start packing, as tomorrow, we will be boarding our ship for the next leg of our journey.
After dinner, we walked over to the Observatory, where we met our guide for the evening, Jeff, as he took us into the two observation domes at the site, and we were able to utilize two very different telescopes. One of them, is an original scope from when the site was opened over 150 years ago. It was an amazing piece of history and still worked as well today as the day it was installed. In the opposite side of the building, we entered the other dome where a new technology computerized telescope, 1/10th its size was able to pick up and view the same aspects of the night sky. Two very different extremes, but both very neat to be able to see, use, and experience.
In addition to using the scopes, we were also outside for a short period to see some of the key stars of the Southern night sky, including the Southern Cross, Orion (upside down), Alpha Centauri, and a couple of binary star clusters. Once these viewings were completed, we headed into the 3D theater, where we were able to see a few short films in 3D (funky glasses and all) on the size and enormity of the universe and how scientists are attempting to somehow put their arms (and minds) around it all.
From here, we walked home and called it a night.
Wednesday: Packing Up, The Sydney Cafe, and Boarding the Ship
Wednesday morning was free DIY Pancake Day, so we enjoyed breakfast leisurely down in the community kitchen, and then it was time to pack up and check out by 10am to head down to Darling Harbour to board our ship, the Dawn Princess.
Unfortunately, the ship had arrived somewhat late to port this morning, and as such, things were a little chaotic on the pier. Thankfully, there wasn’t too much of a wait to speak of, so we dropped off our bags, and completed check-in in just over 45 minutes and then headed out to George Street.
Darin grabbed a quick haircut at Wynyard Station and then we headed to 400 George Street to meet up with a former MBA professor of Natalie’s from UC Davis. We travelled back down to Circular Quay, met up with her husband, another professor, and we enjoyed a most excellent meal together at the Sydney Cafe, on the top level of Sydney’s Customs House along the waterfront. Along with the amazing meal, we enjoyed another fantastic view of the harbour as we ate and they caught up on the last 4 years.
It was a great time, and once complete, we headed back down to the ship to get ready for sailaway. It was a particularly happy time for both of us as this would be the first chance we have had to actually unpack in over a month! Living out of a suitcase was not a problem for the last 30 days, but to be able to fully unpack and know that everything has its place will be a welcome addition to the next leg of the journey.
Due to the late arrival of the ship this morning, we left one hour later than planned at 5pm, but this made for an epic sailaway with a brilliant sunset, as the ship passed below the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the colors of the sunset were bouncing off of the Opera House as we passed by in close proximity. Even the Aussies were impressed.
We are now on board the Dawn Princess, a ship of approximately 1800 passengers and will be travelling onboard as we visit 12 ports in Australia, 1 port in Indonesia, 4 ports in Fiji, 2 in New Caledonia, 1 in Vanuatu, and 8 ports in New Zealand. We will continue to update the travel log with individual updates from each of our ports of call (sometimes they will be bundled, if we have several ports in close proximity), and will also provide some occasional updates on the ship and the experience onboard as well.
We hope that you have enjoyed the travel log thus far as much as we have enjoyed putting it together and hope that the next chapters continue to provide insight and detail into the many wonderful places that we have been able to see, visit, and experience along the way.
The journey continues… Glad to have you along for the ride!