I love Australia. Kangaroos, koalas, beaches, mountains, reefs; and to top it off, friendly locals with adorable accents. Oh right, and more things that can kill you than any other country and/or continent in the world…but who’s counting? Pythons swallowing crocodiles, dingoes eating sharks (I kid you not, I saw an actual photo of this), yes it’s a virtual predator free-for-all Down Under.
What’s not to love? Everyone likes an adventure.
The magnificent city of Sydney is the shining jewel of the southern hemisphere (and noticeably absent of predators) so I never miss a chance to stop by, even if it’s just for a few days. But since my darling husband had yet to venture to the Land of Oz it was an absolute must-do on our Round-the-World honeymoon journey.
And, as if I needed any more reasons to visit Australia, since my mind-blowing trip to Antarctica a few years ago, I now have a lovely assortment of friends in the greater Sydney area that I adore visiting whenever possible. Most notably, my good friend and regular travel buddy, Angela, who lives about 2 hours from Sydney and is always eager to play Aussie tour guide.
Angela had made the long journey to Italy for our wedding 2 months ago and we were both looking forward to seeing her again. I was also excited to meet up with the rest of the Antarctica gang for dinner and finally introduce Dave to my polar buddies. But with just 48 hours in Sydney, we knew we had to make the most of every minute.
With an awesome week in South Korea behind us, we landed in Sydney at 8:30am Wednesday morning. After a rush-hour ride through the city, we arrived at my favorite Sydney hotel, the Four Points Sheraton Darling Harbour. Not only is this hotel the largest in Sydney, it’s the largest in all of Australia and is well known for its spectacular views of Darling Harbour. (Book a harbor view room here on Australia Day for a postcard perfect view of the fireworks!) We checked in, dropped our bags, freshened up and headed out to enjoy the day.
For Day #1 we had a pretty relaxed schedule planned…I would treat my new husband to my own personal walking tour of Sydney. We began in Darling Harbour and then headed along Pitt Street through the city’s main pedestrian shopping zone eventually working our way to Sydney Harbour. We stopped for lunch in the harbor, admiring the view of the city’s most iconic sights, the dazzling Opera House and soaring Harbour Bridge.
It was a brisk day but luckily Sydney’s winters are relatively mild and our light jackets were sufficient. After lunch we took a walk through the nearby botanical gardens and stopped for a happy hour drink in The Rocks before heading back to the harbor for the main event of the day.
Sydney Harbor by Tall Ship
It had always been a dream of Dave’s to sail on a pirate ship. Unfortunately, (much to his chagrin) he is not, in fact, a pirate. Details. But when I came across a Sydney Groupon for a tall ship dinner cruise around Sydney Harbour, I couldn’t pass up the chance to make his swashbuckling dreams come true (score another one for Groupon).
The ship was scheduled to leave Campbell’s Cove at the base of the Harbour Bridge at 5:00pm and when it made its dramatic entrance under the Harbour Bridge and docked next to us, my 50-year-old husband turned into a 5-year-old before my very eyes. In his defense, it was pretty cool. Definitely pirate-ship-worthy.
We boarded along with 30 or so others and set sail toward the Opera House as the setting sun slipped below the horizon. As we cruised – cocktails in hand – our captain provided fascinating commentary about the history of the harbor and many of the landmarks along the way. But perhaps the most interesting history was that of the tall ship itself.
Our ship sailed from Europe into Sydney Harbour in 1988 as part of the Australian Bicentenary. The bicentennial year was celebrated with great pomp and ceremony but the highlight was an Australia Day reenactment of the 11 ships of the First Fleet of British convict ships that founded the city of Sydney and the colony of New South Wales in 1788.
After the celebration, the ship remained in Australia and now gives visitors a chance to experience Sydney Harbour aboard an authentic wooden tall ship adorned with billowing sails. It was a magnificent way to see the harbor and the views of the bridge and the Opera House were spectacular. Unfortunately, once night fell the temperature quickly followed suit and we spent much of the latter part of the cruise below deck. Still, a thoroughly enjoyable night and “Pirate Ship Ride” has now been officially checked off my husband’s Bucket List.
The Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk
The next morning Angela arrived in town and picked us up for a ride out to Bondi Beach. The weather had improved since the day before and the sun shone brightly as we scored a parking space just a few steps from the expansive sands of Australia’s most famous beach.
Though you can easily pass an entire afternoon just soaking up the sun on Bondi, Angela suggested we check out the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. Stretching a little over 2 miles along the coastline from Bondi to Bronte Beach, the wooden boardwalk trail passes Tamarama Beach, dramatic rock formations, parks, spectacular views and even more spectacular real estate.
It was a gorgeous day for a walk but since we were a little short on time we turned back near Tamarama and made our way back to Bondi to find a good spot for lunch.
Featherdale Wildlife Park
After a relaxing seaside lunch, we deferred to Ang’s next suggestion and decided to check out a little Aussie wildlife at the Featherdale Wildlife Park. Because when you’re visiting the country with the highest concentration of things that will kill you it’s perfectly logical to go to the place where they keep all of those things conveniently under one roof.
The award-winning park is home to the world’s largest collection of native Australian animals (more than 2,200!) and seemed like the perfect place to get in some quality time with koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, etc. After all, you can’t come to Australian and not meet a koala (or apparently any number of more lethal, but less cuddly creatures).
It turned out to be a good thing we had a local driving us around because the park was a good bit outside the city and not so easy to find. But it was definitely worth the 40-minute trip. Most of the animals are kept in open enclosures and we were able to get lots of one-on-one time with some of Australia’s furriest residents. We saw wombats, emus, countless indigenous birds and fed kangaroos and wallabies. And yes, a few of those dreaded deadly creatures like crocodiles, snakes and Tasmanian devils. But, of course, the highlight was getting our photo with a (sleeping) koala.
By the time we finished at Featherdale it was time to head back to Sydney and get ready to meet the rest of the Antarctica gang for dinner. We re-convened at the Opera Bar and it was wonderful to see so many great friends from the ship. (Sidebar: it’s crazy how a trip to Antarctica can so tightly bond complete strangers in a little over a week.) They were all excited to meet Dave and we had a ball catching up over good food and a few adult beverages.
It was a fantastic two days in Sydney and I wish we’d had more time to spend in Australia (I really want to get to Uluru one of these days!). But, of course, there’s no doubt we’ll be back. I’m not sure you ever get enough of Australia. But for now, it’s time to move on to another country I have yet to get enough of…the tropical islands of Fiji!