Australia had been on our bucket list for a long time and when our nephew who lives in Sydney announced his wedding date, it was a done deal! We spent two weeks in Australia, a little over a week in Sydney exploring the city, taking a couple of day trips and enjoying the wedding festivities, and several days in Port Douglas in Queensland on the northern coast.
It's not hard to imagine why Sydney's nickname is the Harbour City. The beautiful Harbour Bridge is almost as iconic as the Opera House.
Sydney's population of 5 million makes it the largest city in Australia and it's easy to understand why it's been voted one of the most livable cities in the world. We found Australians charming, gracious and extremely welcoming, and we love "Sydneysiders", the nickname they've given themselves.
The jacaranda trees were in full bloom!
From our home in Upstate NY, the trip halfway around the world takes about 24 hours. The flight from Los Angeles to Sydney is about 15 hours.
We arrived in Sydney at about 8:00 a.m. Our hotel room wasn't yet available, so we headed out to explore - and to stay awake! Our hotel was just around the corner from Circular Quay (pronounced "key"), a bustling area of restaurants, shops and condos along the wharf. Ferries, cruise ships and other boats dock at the Quay so it's always busy with commuters and tourists.
In addition to its proximity to Circular Quay, our lovely hotel, the Sir Stamford is located across from the botanical gardens.
Each day the hotel staff changed the placement of the fluffy, stuffed wombats - Katie and I wanted that job!
We hopped on a ferry for the trip across the bay to Manly, a suburb with a Southern California/Beach Boys vibe.
Manly beach is popular with locals and tourists alike.
The beautiful scenery as we crossed the bay.
What a beautiful view of the CBD (Central Business District), the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge!
Featherdale Wildlife Park
Located about 25 miles west of downtown Sydney, Featherdale is a zoo that specializes in wildlife indigenous to Australia. It was well laid-out and the animals seemed to be very content. We took a modern and comfortable train from the CBD, at a cost of only about $3.00 then boarded a bus which took us to the entrance of the park.
These adorable fairy penguins stand only about 20 inches tall.
Koalas are very shy. These guys were taking their afternoon nap.
We enjoyed saying hi to Victor as he was eating a snack!
Cassowaries are native to this part of the world. They're a flightless bird that can grow up to 5 ft. or more.
This hungry wombat was enjoying his lunch.
Imagine our surprise when this ibis joined us for lunch!
Lunchtime for kangaroos.
The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are about 65 miles west of Sydney and can be easily reached by train. Katoomba is a good jumping-off point to take in the beautiful scenery. We chose a hop-on hop-off tour of the area which allowed a lot of flexibility to choose what we wanted to see.
You can see why they're called blue!
We took a hike on a pretty trail.
And lunch in the treetops! It was an easy and fun day trip, but if you have the time, spend a night or two in the area.
The suburb of Bondi (pronounced "bond eye") is only about 5 miles southeast of central Sydney. Bondi Beach is a popular destination for Sydneysiders. Every year for three weeks in the fall the coastal walk transforms into a 2km. sculpture exhibition with the Pacific Ocean as the stunning backdrop. We were fortunate to be able to experience it on a gorgeous Sunday.
These are a few of the more than 100 sculptures by Australian and international artists.
Some of the houses along the walking path at Bondi Beach.
Located adjacent to Circular Quay and in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge, The Rocks is a historic neighborhood dating to 1788 when the original colony of New South Wales was founded. Its name comes from the sandstone from which many of the buildings are made. In the late 18th century it was home to aboriginals and to prisoners who arrived by boat from England. Living conditions were difficult and became worse in 1900 when the bubonic plaque swept over the area. As upscale as it is now, it was easy to imagine during my walking tour how difficult and basic the living conditions were in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This is Biggles. He was a beloved resident in the 1980's and was often seen strolling the narrow lanes and jumping off balconies in pursuit of cats. The statue stands outside the house of his owner.
Examples of the upscale neighborhood The Rocks is today.
Sydney Opera House
If you travel you no doubt remember the first time you saw an iconic building or monument in person. I still remember my breath being taken away many years ago when I saw the Eiffel Tower in person for the first time. The Sydney Opera house was another pinch-me experience and the pièce de résistance of our trip. When we walked down to Circular Quay for the first time and turned the corner, my breath was taken away to see this sight.
What I wasn't prepared for was how different it appears from different vantage points - so interesting!
The photo below was taken from our hotel room. The passengers on the Celebrity Solstice were treated to quite a view as they came into port early one morning!
On our last day in Sydney I took a guided tour of the Opera House. It's also stunning on the inside.
Construction began in 1958 after an international design competition. Danish architect Jørn Utzon won the competition and oversaw the initial construction, but he resigned after multiple cost and timing overruns, and the Australian government took over to complete the project.
It's home to the Sydney Theatre Company, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Opera Australia, The 1,500 performances per year are attended by over one million people.
Another beautiful view of the Harbour Bridge from inside the Opera House.
The outside "shell" appears to be made of gleaming white tiles, but...
Upon closer examination, our docent told us that the precast concrete panels whose more than one million tiles appear white from a distance are actually interspersed with cream-colored tiles.
We were told that the reason for the cream-colored tiles is so as not to blind airline pilots as they take off and land in Sydney!
Some more photos from beautiful Sydney.
It's possible to book a climb of the Harbour Bridge, but we opted to just walk across it.
A cruise ship entering Sydney harbor. The CBD (Central Business District) stands out clearly.
The ibis isn't afraid of humans!
If you eat outdoors at the Opera House, your meal may come covered so you won't have to compete with the seagulls who are definitely not shy!
The CBD is also impressive at night.
Take a stroll through Sydney's botanical gardens; they're beautiful.
I think Paul started going native!
Just before our nephew's wedding which brought us to Australia in the first place.
Sydney was a trip of a lifetime. Two weeks in Australia barely let us scratch the surface but we were thrilled to have been able to see what we did, and we hope to return one day to explore more of this amazing country.
➜ Top Tips
If possible, try to stay within walking distance of Circular Quay. The rate may be higher than in other parts of Sydney, but it's worth it.
Walk over the Harbour Bridge (and climb it if you're so inclined)!
Take a boat ride in the harbor.
Take a walking tour of The Rocks and go to Bondi Beach.
Sydney is a huge city. The hop-on/hop-off bus was full of good information and oriented us well to the area.
Have a meal at one of the many restaurants on Circular Quay while you watch the activity at the wharf.