I started a travel writing course late last year, one of the first assignments was to identify some potential ‘hooks’. Hooks are stories, events, key dates – something you can hang a story on to increase its relevance at the time of publishing. As I was scratching my head for some hooks I was also planning the trip to Australia.
While Melbourne became the main destination, Sydney had always captured my imagination and particularly Sydney’s Opera House. Thinking back as to why, firstly I remember watching NYE celebrations on the TV, Sydney always being one of the first countries to ring in the new year and so seeing all the fireworks go off with the Opera House in the foreground. Always leading the celebrations and a distinctive setting. Then, secondly, that distinctive setting, distinctive design, more so than a tower, a clock or a bridge and an existing part of the landscape – unlike a ball.
And so, my searching for a hook led me to the Sydney Opera House and the finding that earlier the next year (now this year, April 8th) it would have been the original architects 100th birthday. Although I did a tour of the Opera House, I enjoyed more the public light show which was happening every sunset. Celebrating the traditional people who owned the land the Opera House is now built on. Subsequently after the event it was enjoyable to stick around and experiment with my camera and the light and shadows of the Opera House.
Prior to the tour I had kicked off Sydney (excluding the pub on the first night) with a local bus to Coogee Beach, the start of a recommended walk to Bondi. Unlike NYC and London where while you can mix the nightlife with culture/history and nature/outdoor sports (besides running and urban walking), it’s hard to do it in one day. Sydney, in slight irony compared to the size of Australia, offers all of that in what felt more accessible – you could feasibly go surfing/hiking, then a museum and then a bar all in the same day and not feel like you were racing from A to B or cutting time short anywhere.
As the 374 bus drew into its final stop at Coogee I was one of the few left on the bus. Getting off you felt as though you were in a small seaside village, one of those which mostly sleeps till summer. Stepping off the bus it was clear we were not quite in summer yet with the quaint seaside cafes not exactly competing for custom.
A short saunter across the beach took you to a staircase built into the cliff which formed the start of the walk. Despite grey skies and wind perhaps prohibiting the sales of ice cream, it made for atmospheric conditions along the coast with the continual breaking of waves against the cliff. Probably my favourite walking conditions and location.
Near the end of the walk I stumbled on an art installation, ‘Sculptures by the Sea’, culture and nature converging in the same location.
The sculptures were dotted across a stretch of the walk near Bondi and while some looked they could, at a stretch (in some cases literally), fit in with the surrounding environment, others were very abstract.
The variation and creativity was particularly capturing, along with the discovery of art as you followed the coastal path up, over and around.
A little further from central Sydney were the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves. I had hoped to get to both in one day on a tour similar to those I did in Melbourne, however the distance between the two meant one or both would have been rushed.
With that I decided to do them semi-DIY, with regular trains from Sydney to the local station of Katoomba where there is a once a day bus to the caves or a regular hop-on-hop-off bus to go around the Blue Mountains. The caves were impressive, my tour encompassing the River Cave and inadvertently a glimpse at a second cave as we changed our exits due to a large thunderstorm which had affected the caves electricity earlier that day. I luckily experienced the Blue Mountains in perfect weather conditions though I definitely could have done with an extra rest day prior to it to fully experience everything that was there to see. Never-the-less some great walks, waterfalls and a peek (or should that be peak?) at the Three Sisters.
My final day in Sydney I had planned to try and do a final check for all in one day of culture, nature and some dining. The plan was to take an iconic ferry to Watsons Bay, walk around to a lighthouse and onto Bondi (connecting the walk I did on my first day) and then to Manly for a recommended Fish n Chip restaurant.
Watsons Bay was serene and felt like a small English village by the sea. In typical fashion I walked a bit longer than I probably should have and had to curb my idea to walk all the way round to Bondi Beach in favor of a bus and some shelter from the sun.
Reaching Bondi I decided it wouldn’t be right to leave without taking a dip in either the wave splashed swimming pool or the sea. The latter won out and a couple of key acquisitions later (shorts, towel; check) and I was in the sea for the first time that year. I may not have reached Manly but it was a good relaxing end to my time in Sydney, subsequently capped off by Fish n Chips and a beer in a bar overlooking the beach.