Arriving in Oz – Sydney

Arriving at Sydney International was an immediate wake-up call to the difference between NZ and Aus. After weeks of cloud, rain, and temperatures that demanded at least two if not three layers, I was met with blazing sunshine and heat which made me want to change into swimmers. A friend that I had made in Christchurch who was travelling on the same flight as me was less shy, and she stripped down right outside the terminal doors! I waited until I’d arrived at my hostel before changing, which seemed to cause the clouds to roll in – never mind!
My hostel in Sydney was the Sydney Railway Square YHA, chosen primarily because it was attached to the railway station and would thus be easy to find. It was significantly closer to the station than I had actually anticipated, as my dorm was a converted railway carriage sited on an old siding – lovely in some ways, but morning train departures and the sounds of people chatting on the platform outside was a little peculiar on occasion.
Hostel dorms
I spent my first day in Sydney following the rough path of the Lonely Planet’s walking tour, which was described as a 3-4 hour walk. Popping in to a convenience store to get some drinks gave me my first experience of the cost of Sydney (and as I was later to discover, Australia) – a small bag of crisps cost 2.50AUD (1.60GBP) and two bottles of Coke in a special deal was 6AUD (4GBP). After recovering from this shock (and vowing not to buy crisps or Coke in Australia), I started the walk proper at the Anzac Memorial. This large memorial, whose ceiling is dotted with stars representing fallen soldiers, was quite moving. It also housed a small museum documenting the involvement of Australian (and New Zealand) soldiers in the World Wars, which was unexpected and insightful. Moving on towards the harbour was an interesting walk, after tree-lined colonnades the road was bordered on one side by modern high-rises, and on the right by some of Sydney’s oldest buildings. The Botanic Gardens were stunning, with multi-coloured parakeets and kookaburras flying around the trees and shrubs.

Botanic Gardens 1 Parrakeet
Botanic Gardens 2

The gardens led on to one of Sydney’s big ticket items – the view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. This was a spectacular vista, familiar to millions, yet seeing it for yourself makes it feel fresh and new. The sun didn’t want to come out, but I still spent around an hour wandering around this area which also has great views of the other end of the harbour.

Harbour Bridge and Opera House 1 Internet thieves

I continued the walk around the Opera House itself, which looked very different close up, and where there was a particular curiosity – large groups on predominantly Indians sat outside pinching the free wifi. Carrying an SLR and changing lenses in public clearly made me appear to be a professional photographer, as several people asked me to take pictures of them (with their cameras) – though apparently the resulting pictures weren’t up to scratch for some, as I saw one couple immediately ask someone else to take another! I quickly exited, and went up through a market in The Rocks – an old area of the city rising from Circular Quay, the main ferry port, towards the Harbour Bridge. More fantastic views on the bridge, including the people on their way up the Bridge Climb. I checked out the price of doing this, and decided to put it on the ‘maybe later’ list, as at 200AUD it would be very expensive and you can’t take your own pictures. I instead continued over the bridge to Luna Park, which is an old-fashioned amusement park with a truly terrifying giant face as its entrance. Unfortunately the park itself reminded me a little too much of Blackpool – tacky and overpriced – so I began the long journey back to base. By the time I reached the hostel, I had been gone for eight hours – whether I was dawdling or deviated a lot I can’t decide, but the original 3-4 hour estimate was wide of the mark.

Luna Park Harbour Bridge and Opera House 2

After the previous day’s epic stroll, I decided to take a day unwinding – a gentle walk to the local market (Paddy’s Market – a veritable tat-fest, but fun all the same), and cheap food round the hostel watching some Aussie TV. I also took a serious review of my initial travel plans, and decided that buying/renting a car or van would be out of the question with the incredibly bad exchange rate (and distances driving solo). Instead I bought a flight to Cairns at the top of the east coast for the following day, hopefully to escape the clouds and find a beach to relax on.

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