Australia Part One: Sydney

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:59 pm

It turns out that a 14-hour flight with Qantas is a lot like wasting an entire day lying around on your couch watching movies. Except that an airplane seat isn’t nearly as comfortable as your couch.

Two movies, two meals, many snacks, and six episodes of Buffy (watched on our laptops) later, we arrived in Sydney shortly before midnight on Sunday. After collecting our gazillion pounds of luggage and waiting in several different lines, we emerged into a Sydney summer night: humid, but cool and breezy. We managed to flag down a cab with enough trunk space for all our dive and camera gear, and headed towards our hotel.

We were both immediately struck by all the large, expensive-looking billboards. For some reason, I imagined Australia (even Sydney) would be LESS commercial than the US. But the density and size of these things dwarfed any signage in Los Angeles; all the sleek billboards lining the sharp curves in the road actually reminded us of playing the game Grand Theft Auto.

Driving on the left side of the road wasn’t too weird – but having the driver be on the right side of the car WAS. Go figure.

After a (fairly) good night’s sleep at the Darling Harbour Holiday Inn, we nabbed a city map from the concierge and headed out to explore the area. Our first stop was a 20 minute walk northeast to Sydney Tower, in hopes of getting some pretty aerial views of the city. $15 buys you the right to stand inside a glassed-in observatory and look at the city. It was very pretty. Kind of hard to photograph in the stark morning light, though. We got bored quickly, and headed on towards the opera house.



We killed time waiting for the next Opera House tour by wandering around outside, photographing the House and some random birds (ibis) in the nearby park. You know, trying to get as sweaty and smelly as possible. (Did I mention the cloudless sky and 90 degree temperatures? Thank goodness for the breeze.)

The Opera House was pretty impressive, both inside and out, but the only real highlight of the tour for me was stepping inside the main concert hall to watch the Sydney Symphony practicing for a few minutes. The acoustics really were something else in there.

We opted to cross the harbor and check out Taronga Zoo for the afternoon. The ferry terminal is just a short walk from the Opera House, and then it was just a 10 minute ride across to Taronga’s little aerial cable cars that zip you up to the top of the zoo.

Of course our first stop, once we learned of it, had to be at the giraffe enclosure to get a picture of us feeding carrots to the creatures. Jeff was alarmingly uninterested in feeding giraffes, but videotaped me getting slobbered on and then joined me for a very un-flattering (if accurate) posed photo.



After that, we mostly wandered around aimlessly. We caught part of a seal show, which included quite a performance by a California sea lion. It was nice to see one of our “buddies” up there, but a little sad to see him doing such undignified things as balancing a ball on his nose. (Also, the trainer referred to him constantly as a “seal”, which is a big enough pet peeve of mine that my head just about exploded).

Across from the show was a series of tanks for the zoo’s seals and sea lions, which housed an enormous leopard seal. You know, the ones that cruise around Antarctica eating penguins? It was a beautiful creature, although I was disappointed we didn’t get a look at its gaping jaws.

The two saltwater crocodiles did put on a bit of a show. One was in the back of the enclosure, perfectly still but with its mouth wide open. The other was crammed up against the glass at the very front of the enclosure, where you could get within an inch of it (or however thick the glass is). He was snoozing in the sun with his eyes closed – mostly. Jeff got a bit of a scare when he looked up from taking a picture into a pair of now-wide-open crocodile eyes.


After all the walking we did on Monday, we decided to make Tuesday more of a sitting-around kind of day. We found a pair of hop-on/hop-off bus services, Sydney and Bondi Explorers, that make loops through the city and outlying beaches. We boarded right across the street from our hotel, and made a loop through the western part of the city before switching over to the Bondi Explorer to go find some beaches to lie around on.

The traffic in the city was pretty nightmarish, and we soon discovered why: the Queen Mary 2 was docked in Sydney for a couple of days, and would be joined tonight by the QE2. Apparently it was quite an event, and besides all the cruise ship tourists flooding the city, plenty of locals were driving in to check out the boats. I have to admit, the Queen Mary was impressive – the darn thing just goes up and up and UP.

We hopped off the bus at the stop we figured was closest to Shark Bay in Nielsen Park, and quickly discovered that it wasn’t, really. After a bit of a hot, sweaty hike through an upscale residential district (covered with enormous spiderwebs and matching spiders), we finally found the entrance to Nielsen Park, at least. We just kept following whatever road we were on, until at last we discovered what apparently only USED to be called Shark Bay. It’s a pretty little cove with cliffs at either end, shark nets to keep swimmers from getting munched, a lovely view of the harbor, and no surf to speak of. And, thank goodness, a shop that sold water. We were pretty dried out by this point.


I went for a quick swim, and then we decided to go find the next “hop-on” point for the bus. With a little help from various locals, we managed to find it after only a 10 minute walk. Guess we should have gotten OFF at that one.

I was just starting to feel cool and hydrated again when we hit our next stop: Bondi Beach. We nabbed lunch on the boardwalk, and then headed over to work on our tans and bodysurfing. The waves were just big enough to be fun without being too scary; the water, though shockingly cold at first, was comfortable once you started leaping and ducking under and over the waves! And if you got cold, it didn’t take long to warm up again lying out on the hot sand.

Several hours and a good case of sunburn later, we caught the bus again back into town. We didn’t want to spend another hour and a half on the Sydney Explorer part of the loop, even though it would drop us off back at the hotel, so instead we jumped off at the Bondi Explorer stop that was closest to our hotel – still a 20 minute walk, a little more since my sweaty, rubbing-together thighs were totally killing me by this time! Always reason #1 on my list for losing weight…

Our tour bus driver had mentioned that there would be fireworks that night over the opera house, to celebrate the two cruise ships being in town together, so we decided to brave the crowds and head back into Circular Quay for dinner. We found a restaurant close to the harbor bridge that was only MOSTLY booked, but still had room for us. Our leisurely (and delicious) dinner was broken up by occasional trips outside to watch and photograph the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth 2 into Circular Quay, with an escort of fire boats (spraying water), police boats, and about a dozen helicopters. We polished off dessert and paid our bill just in time to join the crowd outside to watch fireworks.


I’m not normally a big fireworks person, but I have to say: soundtrack-free Sydney fireworks over the Opera House are something else. The fireworks themselves were impressive and diverse, but I think the backdrop was a big part of the experience. It was only a five or ten minute show, but I enjoyed it more than any fireworks I’ve seen – and Jeff even got pictures!


We sneaked out the backside of the quay and up a hill back into the Rocks district in hopes of catching a cab away from all the crowds, and – luckily for my poor legs – succeeded. And so ended our Sydney visit – the next morning we were off to Cairns for the diving portion of the trip!

1 Comment

  1. that gallery is awesome. i especially like the little fishes! will view in full res when we get home. good job, guys. beautiful work.

    Comment by Jen Yu — 3/11/2007 @ 4:44 pm

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