My original plan for Australia was to spend a few days in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney followed by a week in the Great Barrier Reef area. But with my stay coinciding with Valentine’s weekend, I never could quite get the hotels worked out in the Blue Mountains (a popular weekend getaway from Sydney and therefore quite busy over Valentine’s weekend).
So after meeting such a great group of Aussies from the Sydney area on my Antarctica cruise, I decided to spend my first two nights in Sydney so we could all get together for a BYOP (Bring Your Own Penguin) reunion to rehash our Antarctic adventures and catch up. Luckily, my new best bud from the cruise, Angela, was able to take the day off from work on Friday and drove down Thursday night from Newcastle (about 2 hours from Sydney) to join me for my two-night stay in the city.
I arrived bleary-eyed at 7am in Sydney after back-to-back redeyes and a full day layover in Seoul on the way from Phuket. Thank God for the Four Points Sheraton Darling Harbour (2017 update, this hotel is now a Hyatt Regency) where the front desk was kind enough to check me in at that ridiculously early hour. The Four Points occupies a prime location on Darling Harbour and I’d spent a very enjoyable stay there on RTW #2 over Australia Day weekend where I had a magnificent view of the fireworks over the harbour.
The hotel is not just the largest in Sydney it’s the largest in all of Australia. Though I thought it was perfectly lovely on my last visit, they’d actually recently completed a renovation and I was upgraded to a beautiful newly-renovated suite – a nice perk since Angela was joining me and we’d be happy to have the extra space.
After dropping my bags and catching up on e-mail since it was still business hours in the States, I should have taken a nap but decided instead to power through and take a walk over to Sydney Harbour. I just can’t be in the city for long without getting a look at the Opera House and Harbour Bridge view…it’s one of the best views in the world.
After a little quality time at the Harbour, I had some lunch and did a little “provisioning” for my upcoming stay in the Whitsundays Islands. From what I’d read online, the food and drinks would be expensive at the resorts so it was advised to bring a few supplies along. I picked up some wine (obviously essential) and a few snacks before heading back to the hotel to await Angela’s arrival.
She arrived around 6pm and we had a glass of champagne to celebrate (something we’d had a LOT of on the ship) and enjoyed the Darling Harbour view for a bit before hopping the train out to the suburbs to meet up with the rest of the gang.
Since it was Valentine’s Day, the restaurant situation for a group of 9 people was not promising so we’d decided to meet up at a German pub in the Madden’s neighborhood. Steve and Kate Madden and daughters Ella and Ruby had been my next door neighbors on the Sea Spirit a few weeks before I was so excited to see them again. We were also happily joined by the ever-delightful John and Aileen (who followed reunion protocol by bringing penguin photos if not actual feathered friends).
Also by happy coincidence, my friend Robin from Seattle was in Sydney on business and came out to join us as well! Robin and I met while I was in Taipei on RTW #5. We were both wandering around outside a train station looking for Taipei 101 (until recently, the world’s tallest building and seemingly not hard to find but on a cloudy day, harder than you’d think). Robin and I don’t get to see each other often but thanks to Facebook we’ve kept in touch regularly over the past few years.
We caught up over drinks and dinner and spent hours laughing and reliving our Antarctic experience. By the end of the night we had dubbed Robin an honorary member of the penguin club. It was such a fantastic evening marred only by the fact that Kate wasn’t feeling well and hadn’t been able to join us. I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to see her on my way back through Sydney next week. Absolutely one of the best Valentine’s Days I’ve had in years!
The Blue Mountains
Since my original plan had been to spend a few days in the Blue Mountains, the next morning Angela suggested we drive up there for the day. It was only about 90-minutes from Sydney and I thought that sounded like a genius idea. She had her car and – after a bit of a late start thanks to the revelry the night before – we headed out to the town of Katoomba around noon.
Before arriving in the mountains, we made a brief stop in the charming town of Leura for lunch and some window shopping. Next we made our way into the town of Katoomba and to the main lookout point for the Blue Mountains valley and the three defined rocky outcrops known as the Three Sisters.
By the time we left the lookout point, it was almost 4pm and the weather was looking a little iffy so we decided to head back to the city. Though it rained for part of the drive back, miraculously the skies over Sydney were cloud-free and all the signs for a marvelous impending sunset were there.
We changed and headed down to Sydney Harbour to join the lively happy hour crowd at Opera Bar, just outside the Sydney Opera House. Live music was playing, cocktails were flowing and the sky morphed from pink to deep blue as the city lights glowed in the distance. We gazed around enjoying a cool night breeze just awed by our surroundings. I can’t believe people who live in Sydney get to do this for happy hour every Friday night. What a way to end a work week.
After the sun set, we headed into the Rocks for dinner before calling it a relatively early night (for us). Since we’d been up until 3am the night before and I had an early flight the next morning, a little sleep was definitely called for.
It was a terrific two days in Sydney and I’m so thrilled I got to reunite with my Antarctica family and Robin. And, of course, big thanks to Angela who was a terrific Sydney and Blue Mountains tour guide! Something tells me I’m going to have to start working Sydney into more of my future itineraries. But now, it’s time to explore a little farther afield in Australia with my first ever trip out to the Great Barrier Reef and 5 nights in the Whitsundays!