I had just landed in Sydney, Australia and it’s safe to say, I was absolutely exhausted. I took a taxi to my hostel and was delighted to be greeted by an empty room. I relaxed, had a much needed shower and somehow managed to head out that evening to meet three of the lovely Australian friends I had made in Africa.
How delightful it was to see familiar faces in this brand new country. Though I was jet lagged, it was a wonderful opportunity to visit some of Sydney’s infamous underground bars.
It was crazy to walk through a barber shop, open an unassuming door and find yourself in an actual speakeasy. Or go downstairs in a pub, think you’re in a barrel store and then come out in yet another cool location. I felt like I was in a scene from Bugsy Malone (Fat Sam’s Grand Slam was a hidden bar in the musical, during America’s Prohibition period)!
I really enjoyed the chance to explore Sydney by night with real Sydneysiders and the following morning (after a much deserved lie in), I had the opportunity to explore Sydney by day with one of these lovely Aussies.
We started with a walk on Bondi Beach, a popular surf spot known for its pristine white sand and hipster vibe.
We then headed to Gap Park, an ocean cliff in eastern Sydney with spectacular views, where a former resident was known as its guardian angel. Over his 45 years living there, Don Ritchie saved the lives of 160 people who contemplated jumping from the high, jutting peninsula.
Next, we drove to a viewpoint of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, as of course no visit to the capital of New South Wales is complete without catching a glimpse of these landmarks.
I noted a lot of place names that were similar to London, such as King’s Cross and Oxford Street, and Christmas decorations comprising of beach ball baubles – the concept of a hot, summertime Christmas seemed alien to me!
Our next stop was to Bunning’s Hardware Store, because supposedly I had to try the Australian delicacy known as the Sausage Sizzle; a hot dog one can find in the store’s car park, being sold to raise money for various charities. This is such an important cuisine to the Aussies, that there was even a controversial news story about the placement of the onions.
Similarly, we found ourselves at a Woolworths (though sadly not related to the now-defunct British Woolies, it is one of Australia’s two main rival supermarkets), so that I could sample some essential Australian foods, such as Tim Tams (which aren’t dissimilar to our Penguin chocolate bars), Lamingtons (delicious chocolate, coconut and sponge cakes) and Vegemite (which is basically Marmite, but never say that to an Aussie!)
I then visited my friend’s house and met her family and her dog. I felt lucky to be made so welcome and this was a great way to begin my Australian journey, before meeting my tour group later that evening.
I met my travel buddies and my tour leader, Jill at the hostel’s bar and it was certainly a shock to find out that there were almost fifty of us. Jill laid out the ground rules and informed us that we would receive an information sheet each day, letting us know what tomorrow had in store. I liked the fact that we were informed in advance but could also truly go with the flow, as all of the organising was being done for us!
My African travel experience had been with G Adventures, so I was excited to find out what this Contiki tour had in store. Though some people joined and departed at different times, I was taking the 25-day trip from Sydney to Darwin. And I was ready to get started…
The following morning began with a surprisingly tasty hostel breakfast before meeting our driver, Gaz and taking a two hour journey to the Blue Mountains.
En route, Jill explained that each day would begin with a set song, and this was “Paradise” by George Ezra, intended to ready us for a new day in an upbeat fashion, in the place she calls home, the paradisiacal Australia.
As we neared the Blue Mountains she also informed us that there would be a loud wake up song when we reached each destination, for those coach sleepers amongst us, (judging by the number of unflattering snoozing photos taken during the trip, this was most of us!) and today’s wake up song (which I proudly guessed in advance) was the apt “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.
The Blue Mountains are a World Heritage Area, which stretches out over 140 kilometres and is surrounded by a plenitude of native Australian eucalyptus trees as far as meets the eye. We took one of the walking tracks which boasted sights of Wentworth Falls, a three-tiered waterfall that stands at 187 metres high, as well as stunning rock formations and grand valley views far below.
Our second stop of the day was to the Three Sisters Rock Formation in Jamison Valley. Though technically shaped by land erosion, the unusual rocks are told in Aboriginal Legend to have started as three sisters living in the valley, who were members of the Katoomba Tribe. The three sisters fell in love with three brothers from the neighbouring Nepean Tribe, yet their marriages were forbidden by tribal law. The brothers did not want to accept this prohibition though and instead captured the sisters, resulting in a battle between the two tribes. A tribal elder turned the sisters into stone to protect them, but was then killed in the fight and nobody else was able to turn them back; thus the three sisters stayed as stone forever more.
After stopping for lunch in the quaint suburb of Leura, we ventured back to our hostel and got ready for our first group meal in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.
The jet lag must have really hit me the following day, as I felt pretty under the weather and decided to stay in bed whilst my group explored Sydney. I was upset to miss the adventures, but I was glad that I had at least seen parts of the city upon arrival. And that which I missed gives me even more of an excuse to return to Sydney one day!
The following day began at 5:30 and today we were leaving Sydney and heading on an eight hour journey to Coffs Harbour.
The drive was filled with a mix of sleep and introductory activities such as hot seating, which made the time pass really quickly. We stopped off for lunch in Port Macquarie, founded in 1821 as a penal settlement, for convicts who had committed secondary crimes and were treated very poorly. The local aboriginals worked in conjunction with the law enforcement to help find any runaway prisoners in return for amenities such as tobacco and blankets. Since the late 1830s Port Macquarie has been a free settlement and it is now a popular spot for retirees coming from Sydney and desiring a quieter life.
Tonight we were staying in a surf camp, and our tour group got to know each other better over drinks and games. The following morning we would be learning to surf. I was excited to try, though I just knew in advance I would be hopeless. And sure enough, the morning came and I was as terrible as I predicted!