Australia: Peace at Last

After a trying few months, it was finally time to get back on the road again and hit a country which had eluded me for a while. Ever since I first moved to Hong Kong, I’d be saying I’d visit Australia, due to its relative closeness (still 8 hours!) to the Orient compared to the UK. However, after Asia kept luring me in trip after trip after trip, here I was 4 years later finally boarding a plane to Sydney.

The punishment for my procrastination was for my flight to be delayed, meaning I missed my connection. My airline was able to book me on the next flight but that meant a gruelling 9 hour wait in Kuala Lumpur airport. Only free Wi-Fi and WH Smith got me through it. Eventually I was on my way and after enduring 8 hours next to a man with Obsessive Nudging Disorder, I touched down in Sydney, enjoying the easiest immigration I’d ever experienced landing in a country, including my own.

Sydney’s airport is very close to the city and is connected by one of their super smart, clean, double decker(!) trains. I grabbed myself an Opal card (their equivalent of an Oyster or Octopus) from the airport station and headed for Kings Cross station where my hostel, Summer House Backpackers, was situated. The fare was around A$16 I think, which is just over £8. The train was really fast and comfortable and whilst there are cheaper options if you walk + bus or train + bus, the convenience of just taking the train straight to the centre was worth the expense.

By the time I reached the hostel it was late so I just grabbed some food (at the ubiquitous Pie Face) and crashed, waking up the next morning expecting, as was forecast, an overcast day. Instead, it seems a cloudy day in Sydney is not at all like a cloudy day in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, it means apocolyptic. In Sydney, it means, a couple of clouds and lots of blue sky. I wolfed down the free hostel breakfast and headed out to explore.

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Sydney CBD, as seen from the Botanical Gardens

The best thing about the hostel was definitely its location. After a 15 minute stroll, I was at the Sydney Botanical Gardens right on the harbour and next to the iconic Sydney Opera House. The Botanical Gardens (free to enter) were amazingly peaceful. I sat there for a while, slap bang in the middle of Sydney’s main tourist area and there was only the sound of the birds. There were people milling about – tourists, locals, joggers and school trips, but even though it was bustling, there was still no sound. Truly a world away from Hong Kong.

From the Botanical Gardens I turned right and walked along the promenade to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, a stone chair carved out for a former governor’s wife because she liked the view so much. I daresay the view has now changed but it’s still spectacular. At the viewpoint here you get a great view of the harbour, Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge in all their glory. After admiring these, I walked back along towards the Opera House itself. I never realised you could get right up close to it. It’s surrounded by benches and cafes where you can soak up one of the world’s most recognisable buildings. It’s fantastic and, again, bustling without being crowded. I should add of course that I was here in winter – I can imagine it’s much more crowded in summer, though even then I doubt it could reach Mong Kok levels.

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No need to caption this…

The promenade continues past Circular Quay station which, apart from being a public transport hub, has a range of eateries or takeaway places. I was surprised that most of them weren’t too expensive. I did of course have to stretch my backpacker budget in Sydney but it still felt cheaper than most other affluent metropolises. Food was more expensive than Hong Kong (but the portion sizes and comfort choices made up for that) but drinks were much cheaper in bars and pubs than back home (no surprise given Hong Kong has been ranked the third most expensive city in the world for a pint).

Past Circular Quay, you can walk under the impressive Harbour Bridge. You can even picnic on the green space directly below it. It was here that I looped round back towards the Opera House since it was now becoming ‘proper’ cloudy and rain had been forecast for the evening. Luckily, my trusty chauffeur was on hand to rescue me from the rain. A friend from Hong Kong is from Sydney and she gave me a lift to the charming seaside area of Coogee just as the rain hit.

Coogee was great (though I was pleased to experience it in sunnier weather the next day) and reminded me of a UK seaside town. It has a small, lovely beach with a park next to it as well as lots of summery cafes and bars. One such bar/restaurant/social space was Coogee Pavilion, situated just behind the beach, which I absolutely loved. It was split into various bars and restaurants, complete with sofas and ping pong tables. During summer, the upstairs outdoor terrace is also opened which would give you a fantastic view of Coogee Beach. They also have Happy Hour from 5-7 during weekdays where pints are A$7 and slightly smaller schooners (which confused me no end when the barwoman offered me one) are A$6. I took a particular liking to Tooheys lager. I ended up here a couple of times and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in the Coogee area. Their pizzas are fantastic too if you don’t fancy trying one of the many other Coogee eateries on the high street.

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Coogee Beach

Obviously Sydney and its surrounds are easier to traverse with a car but I was surprised at how good the public transport was. It was more extensive than I expected. Coogee is accessible by bus from the city centre.

And that was my first chilled day in Sydney! I was already falling in love with the place. The next couple of days would see me explore the more natural side of Sydney and its surroundings (and eat more pies)…

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