New Year Celebrations in Sydney, Australia

Walking in The Rocks – first glimpse of Sydney Harbour Bridge

When my friends announced plans to fly to Australia to see the New Year in in style, I couldn’t resist joining them. Here’s how we got on spending 6 days in Sydney over New Year.

Having decided to extend my trip to a 7-week, mainly solo travelling adventure in Australia and New Zealand, I was on a bit more of a budget than my friends who were spending 2 weeks split across Sydney and Melbourne so rather than joining them on their outbound flights from the UK to Sydney with Emirates, I opted for significantly cheaper return flights with Air China. I had flown solo to Australia before so this side of it didn’t bother me and my flight was due to arrive into Sydney within an hour of my friends arriving.

The only downside really was a 5 hour stop in Beijing on the outbound flight and an 8 hour layover there on the inbound flight but I figured it was worth it for the £500 saving!

Sydney Opera House across the harbour

As it turned out, by the time I had got through security (and a rather scary experience where I was repeatedly shouted out in Chinese, unsure of what was going on, only to have a portable phone charger yanked out of my hand luggage and thrown into a bin!), grabbed some food (I had brought a small amount of Chinese Yen with me purely for this reason) and had a nap on the airport benches, the 5 hours had flown by and it was time to board my Sydney bound flight. I even ended up landing in Australia slightly ahead of my friends after their Emirates flight was delayed in Dubai!

A busy Circular Quay

After our early morning airport reunion at Sydney International arrivals, the 5 of us hopped into a ‘maxi taxi’ to set off for our city centre accommodation. Normally, I’d use public transport from the airport but as there was a group of us, a taxi worked out around the same price.

With accommodation prices being sky high over the Christmas and New Year period (we had left the UK on December 28th and arrived in Sydney on December 29th), we had decided to split our stay between 2 places, one that was cheaper over New Year, one that was cheaper in the days after.

For New Year itself, we would be taking up 2 studio apartment rooms at the Mantra 2 Bond Street for 5 nights. The hotel was in an extremely convenient location being walking distance from Sydney Harbour which is, of course, at the centre of the New Year celebrations each year. The apartments had full kitchens allowing us to keep spending down by eating in for the most part.

Crowd enjoying the sunshine outside the Opera Bar

Arriving so early meant our rooms were not yet available but the staff went out of their way to get one of the rooms ready as soon as possible so we could use that to freshen up in. Once we’d done that, we decided the best way to get over the jetlag would be to get out into the city. It was a beautiful, warm summer’s day so we walked towards The Rocks area of the harbour and found a pub to sit out and grab some food at – my first of many chicken parmas of the trip!

Then we strolled around The Rocks area and walked around Circular Quay towards the iconic Opera House and its Opera Bar – the site of the New Year’s Eve party we had booked to attend a few days later! The area was busier than I had ever seen it on previous visits to the city but we managed to find a gap on the sea wall benches to sit and relax for a while until it reached check in time back at our hotel.

Once checked in, we walked to the local Coles supermarket to grab some essentials for our stay before having lazy evening and an early night catching up on lost sleep.

View from the Manly Ferry
Christmas Tree in Manly

Our first full day in Sydney, and New Year’s Eve’s Eve, was another gloriously sunny and hot day. After breakfast we made some sandwiches for lunch and walked to Circular Quay to catch the ferry to Manly Harbour. The ferry ride was a really enjoyable experience in itself, offering beautiful views of Sydney Harbour with its bridge and opera house and also views of the city skyline. Once in Manly, we strolled down the busy Corsa, stopping to take photos with the huge Christmas tree still standing proud, and found our way to the main beach.

Manly Corso

The day was mainly spent sunbathing and relaxing. Being someone who can’t sit still for long, I took a walk with one of the others along the sea front towards the lido at the far end of the beach.

Coastal walk from Manly

Later, after we all cooled off a bit in the ocean, I took a solo walk in the opposite direction along the coast path. Passing an area signposted as Cabbage Tree Bay, I met a few water dragons basking in the sunshine along the way and eventually came to a small but busy cove before turning back and heading back to meet my friends.

Catching the ferry back at sunset

Leaving the beach early evening, we sat out at one of the restaurants on the Corso for a fish and chip supper before catching the ferry back to Sydney Harbour.

We timed this perfectly to see the sunset, reaching Sydney as night fell and the city lit up.

View from the hotel rooftop and below, at Sydney Wildlife Park

Still not completely over the jet lag and knowing we had a busy day and late night the following day, we spent another evening in at the hotel, making use of the hot tub and pool on the hotel roof!

The next day was New Year’s Eve. After a lazy morning, my friends were planning on spending most of the day getting ready for our big night out.

At the New Year’s Eve party at the Opera Bar

Not being one for spending ages getting dressed up or indulging in pre-party drinking, instead, I met up with a friend who happened to be in the city and we took a walk to Darling Harbour and visited Sydney Wildlife Park. The wildlife park was a bit disappointing as, maybe because of the heat, many of the animals were not out and we didn’t see a single kangaroo our whole visit!

Getting back to the hotel early afternoon, I quickly got ready for the evening and we made our way to the Opera Bar party.

Taking our position along the sea wall at the Opera Bar party

We had done a lot of research into where to watch the evening’s celebrations from. There were many places to go to watch for free – in parks, for example, but here, drinking was either not allowed or you couldn’t take in your own alcohol so my friends worried about long queues at vendors.

A perfect view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Opera Bar

We considered a boat party out on the harbour but read some reviews that it could be difficult to get a good place on the boat to see the bridge and watch the light and firework displays.

Our research threw up nothing but good reviews for the Opera Bar party so we settled on this, buying tickets well in advance on the day they went on sale in September.

Enjoying the party

The theme for the party was ‘Long Hot Summer’. Our tickets gave us entry into the cordoned off grounds of the Opera House where there would be included entertainment and snacks, drinks would be at our own expense. We arrived early with the intention of grabbing a good place to watch the fireworks from and we found the perfect spot right on the sea wall settling in there for the evening.

Looking towards the city at dusk

From here we could take it in turns to go and get drinks or nibbles and the entertainment – stilt walkers, jugglers and dancers in various costumes came to us as they made there way through the party.

Party time at the Opera Bar

The atmosphere was great and they had let enough people in to make it feel like a real party atmosphere without it ever getting rowdy or feeling too packed.

From our space, we were able to perch on the sea wall to watch the jet boat displays in the harbour or get up and dance in front of it to the tunes being played by the party DJ later into the evening.

One of the boats in the light parade

At 9 o’clock we got a taste of what was to come as the countdown began to the ‘family fireworks’ – a pre-New Year display aimed at those who wouldn’t be staying up for the main event – and this was followed by a parade of boats lit up in bright white lights, sailing around the harbour before docking for their passengers to watch the midnight celebrations.

An impressive firework display to welcome in the New Year

Midnight itself was an emotional experience. Having seen the Sydney celebrations so many times on new reports back home in the UK over the years, it was a surreal experience actually being there with a group of my best friends seeing the New Year in and we all shed a few tears of happy emotion as we toasted the New Year in and watched the spectacular pyrotechnics on Sydney Harbour Bridge and the accompanying dizzying firework display.

Ready to toast the New Year

Following that, the party continued into the early hours as the DJ cranked up the music and we finally left our spot for the evening to hit the dancefloor.

The post-midnight disco

With the music becoming a bit too ‘dancey’ for my tastes after the singalong commercial pop preceding it, and with late nights never being something I particularly cope well with, I retired well before 2am, making my way back to the hotel by myself through the throngs of revellers still out on Sydney’s streets, my friends lasting another hour or so longer! It had certainly been a night we wouldn’t forget in a hurry, a once in a lifetime experience and worth every penny.

The day after the night before! Taking a stroll back to Circular Quay

Feeling surprisingly fresh the next morning, we awoke late, made breakfast and, with it being another perfect summer’s day, made plans to walk through the Botanic Gardens for a chill out day. As we walked through Circular Quay towards the Opera House, we spotted the jetboats touting for customers along the harbour and decided it might be a fun New Year’s Day activity so we booked a spur of the moment trip out for later that afternoon.

Then we walked past the scene of last night’s party at the Opera House and followed the path around into Sydney’s Botanic Garden, sauntering along the sea wall path until we reached Macquarie Point.

Not a bad place to sit and eat our lunch!

Here, we found the perfect spot to sit, overlooking the water’s edge with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the distance. After eating our picnic lunch, we relaxed in the sunshine until it was time to make our way back to the harbour to check in for our jetboat ride.

Our jetboat awaits…

Despite being a bit of a spur of the moment decision to ride, the jetboat was one of the best parts of our trip and made for a great start to the new year!

We got absolutely soaked as we cruised through the harbour, spinning through crazy turns, nosediving into the water, the boat feeling like it was going to overturn each time.

Soaked to the skin!

It was exhilarating, hilarious fun and a great way to cool down on such a hot day.

Soaked to the skin, we returned to our hotel abandoning our plans to go back out later and instead stayed in taking to the hotel’s rooftop pool and hot tub to once again toast the new year.

View over Palm Beach from the lighthouse

The following day, we caught the bus out of the city to Sydney’s North Beach area, visiting Palm Beach, otherwise known as Summer Bay in Australian soap opera Home and Away.

The lighthouse at Palm Beach

The show wasn’t currently filming but we took a walk up to the lighthouse for beautiful views of the peninsula location then spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach. Just before we left, warning signs had to be put up to prevent people swimming or surfing as there’d been a shark sighting off the coast! We had dinner at the golf club across the road before catching the bus back to Sydney.

No swimming following a shark sighting

The view from our World Tower apartment

We were checking out of our hotel the next day, moving to the World Tower apartments near Darling Harbour for our last 2 nights in the city. A couple of our group had been up early to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb so after meeting them at the Harbour Bridge, we went to retrieve our luggage and move to our new accommodation.

Torrential rain as we arrive at Bondi and, below, walking from Bondi to Bronte

I had stayed at World Tower on a previous visit and been very impressed with its apartments. It was no different this time and our mouths were all open as we took in our huge, 76th floor plush apartment space with breathtaking views over the city. Unfortunately, the weather had started to take a turn for the worse and rain clouds were moving in.

While some of the group decided to abandon our plan to go to Bondi Beach that afternoon and instead enjoy our new apartment, a few of us decided to go anyway – and we arrived to a torrential downpour!

Above and below, off to hit the bars of Darling Harbour

We headed to the nearest bar and once the rain had eased off a bit, I decided to take a walk along the coastal path to neighbouring Bronte Beach. It was a really beautiful walk despite the overcast weather with lots of dramatic coastal scenery along the way. The skies started to clear slightly as I walked back to Bondi and I found my friends waiting for me sunbathing on the beach.

Darling Harbour lit up at night and below, walking to the Sydney observatory and across Sydney Harbour Bridge

Back in Sydney, we finally made it on a night out deciding on a visit to Darling Harbour where we had drinks in some of the bars overlooking the harbour, ending up in a nice cocktail bar.

A deserted Luna Park in the rain

My last day in the city was spent getting caught in torrential downpours walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Luna Park and catching the ferry back to Circular Quay. The weather dried up in the evening allowing us to head back to Darling Harbour for more drinks out before I set off on the rest of my trip the next day.

Back at our World Tower apartment, heavy rain obscuring the view

It had been a fantastic experience spending the week over New Year in Sydney and I’d advise anyone who ever has the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve celebrating in Sydney at least once in their lifetime.

Adelaide and Kangaroo Island

Needing to justify another trip to an already much-visited Melbourne for a concert, I decided to spend a couple of weeks beforehand exploring parts of Australasia I’d not been to before. Travelling alone until I reached Melbourne, I eventually settled on a one-week tour of New Zealand’s South Island followed by a few days in one of only 2 Australian states I hadn’t visited before, South Australia. I’d be spending just 2 nights in the city of Adelaide giving me just one full day and most of the following day with a late evening flight to Melbourne.

Arriving in the evening after a rather bumpy flight from Christchurch via Sydney, I checked into my city centre Ibis hotel accommodation and headed straight to bed ready for an early start the next day.

Upon the advice of an Australian friend back in the UK who once lived in Adelaide, I had decided to spend my full day on a trip out of the city to Kangaroo Island. I had booked myself on a full day escorted tour and just needed to be waiting across the road from my hotel for the coach to pick me up early the next morning.

Seals along the path down to the beach and, below, seal spotting at Seal Bay

Once on board and the rest of the passengers picked up, we were taken on a rather long drive to the ferry terminal to catch the boat across the sea to Kangaroo Island. It was a cool autumn day and with the sea being rather choppy, I mainly stayed inside on the ferry, grabbing some breakfast from the on-board cafe and settling in for the 45 minute ride. Once there, we were met by our drivers for the day and invited on board our assigned minibus to begin our tour.

A seal lazing under the boardwalk

Stop number one was at Seal Bay where we battled our way through the rain and strong winds along the boardwalk and down to the beach for a bit of seal spotting. The seals were everywhere – along the path, under the boardwalk, on the beach and in the sea and despite the weather, I loved spending time on the beach watching the seals clambering out of the sea and waddling up the beach to find shelter under the boardwalk!

Our second stop of the day was Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

A koala high up in the eucalyptus tree and, below, kangaroos on Kangaroo Island!

The weather had thankfully started to improve and we followed the sanctuary’s Koala Walk trail , soon spotting the cute koalas tucked high up in the eucalyptus trees as well as kangaroos lazing in the grounds.

We continued our journey across the island and into Flinders Chase National Park where we stopped at the visitors center and then at Bunker Hill Lookout before continuing down to the coast and the Remarkable Rocks.

Here, we followed the short path down to the strange rock formations and spent some time exploring and taking photos.

Admiral’s Arch and, below, following the boardwalk to Admirals Arch and back

Our final stop of the day was at the nearby Admiral’s arch, also part of Flinders Chase National Park. Here we followed the boardwalk past Cape du Couedic Lighthouse and down to view the naturally created rock arch.

The views of the coast from the boardwalk were really beautiful and we spotted more seals, this time lazing on the rocks as the sea crashed in around them.

At the South Australia Museum in Adelaide

After a busy day, it was time to be dropped off back at the ferry terminal to catch the boat back across to the mainland where we were met by a coach to take us back to Adelaide. Back at the hotel, I was exhausted after a fun but long day.

I’d enjoyed seeing some of the highlights of Kangaroo Island but wish I’d had time to make it a longer, overnight stay there to spend more time exploring what it had to offer.

Autumn at the Botanic Gardens

The next day, I checked out of my hotel and headed off to spend the day exploring the city before catching my flight to Melbourne that evening. After grabbing some breakfast from a nearby cafe, I walked to Adelaide’s North Terrace to visit the South Australian Museum. The museum was free to enter and housed a variety of Natural History exhibitions including a huge collection of Aboriginal Australian artefacts.

The museum is situated right on the edge of Adelaide’s Parklands and after my visit I wandered along to the nearby Botanic Gardens to explore. The park looked really beautiful with the autumn colours of the trees.

The River Torrens and, below, wandering along the river in Elder Park

Next up, I walked to Rundle Mall, Adelaide’s shopping district to browse the stores, pick up some last minute souvenirs and find somewhere to have lunch at then down to Victoria Square with its fountains where I was surprised to see a variety of lawn games including swing ball and skittles set up on the lawn for passers by to play with!

From here, I took a walk up to Adelaide’s Elder Park, taking a stroll along the River Torrens, across the bridge and looping back into the city. Then it was time to head back to the hotel to retrieve my luggage and catch the bus to the airport in time for my flight. I’d enjoyed my day strolling through the city getting a glimpse of what it had to offer and I’d like to return to Adelaide in the future maybe as a base to explore the region further.

Sydney

One of my favourite cities to visit in Australia; so what are my tips for what to do and see in Sydney?

Sydney Harbour

Looking across to Sydney Opera House

Pretty much the first place I always head to on a visit to Sydney is Circular Quay, the area surrounding Sydney’s famous harbour. From here, you can walk to its famous Opera House on the one side of the Harbour or around to The Rocks area by the Harbour Bridge on the other side of the harbour.

The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

On the Opera House side, the sea wall doubles as a seating area where you can relax in the Sydney sunshine taking in the stunning views or grab a drink at the Opera Bar sitting out at one of its tables overlooking the harbour watching the local ferries roll in and out and the occasional huge ship dock across at the Sydney Cruise Terminal.

A busy Opera House Bar

Circular Quay and The Rocks area are full of a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants although they are mainly in the more expensive price range due to their location but if you can afford it, its a great place to sit and watch the World go by.

Taking a ride on the Sydney Jet Boat

Its also the place to go to catch one of the many commuter ferries or to take a cruise on Sydney harbour. We took an exhilarating ride on the Sydney Jet Boat which is great fun if you don’t mind getting drenched!

Sydney Opera House

Touring the Opera House

While I have never seen a performance at the Opera House, no visit to Sydney is complete without a photo outside the iconic building. On my first visit to the city, I took a guided tour of the building to learn more about the building’s design. While the tour was quite short, it was really interesting to go inside the building to see and hear about where the performances take place.

The Opera House ‘sails’

Outside the building is the Opera Bar where you can get a drink and enjoy the views of the Opera House and across the harbour. If you are lucky enough to ever spend New Year’s Eve in the city then a highly recommend the Opera Bar’s new Year’s Eve Party right in the thick of the action!

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The harbour bridge dominates the views around Circular Quay and there’s a multitude of places to get the perfect photo of the structure. But it’s also possible to get a lot closer to the bridge. Cruises sailing both past and under the bridge can be booked leaving from both Circular Quay and Darling Harbour. I taken ferries heading back into Sydney at dusk to see the bridge under the red glow of the sky as the sun sets behind it.

Walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge

To get closer still, it’s free for pedestrians to walk across the bridge. I took a route through The Rocks area and up to the Sydney Observatory before crossing the bridge to Milsons Point and visiting Luna Park, a small amusement park on the Northern shore of Sydney Harbour before catching the ferry back to Circular Quay from Milsons Point ferry terminal. There are some great views of Sydney Harbour looking across to the Opera House from the Bridge but unfortunately, for safety reasons there’s a mesh fence up along the walkway stopping you from really taking a photo in front of this view. It is possible to hold the lens of your camera against a gap in the fence to take photos of the view though.

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and have the money to splash out, the most exciting way to see the bridge is from the top of it. On my first trip to the city, I took part in a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb in which small groups of people are taken on a guided walk up to the highest point of the bridge.

At the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge on the bridge climb experience

We were given a special suit to wear and equipped with all the gear we’d need to attach ourselves safely to the bridge and move along it before being give a quick training session on a practise ‘bridge’ inside the bridge climb terminus before setting out on our adventure. The hardest part was climbing the vertical ladders onto the bridge but after this it was more like a walk up a hill than a climb and was a lot easier than I expected it to be.

As you’re not allowed to take your own cameras, our guide took pictures of us when we reached the top and we were provided with the group picture for free on our return. Copies of individual photos taken were available to purchase upon our return to the centre after our climb. This was a really fantastic experience and I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Sydney!

As part of our Bridge climb experience, we were given free tickets to visit the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. As the name suggests, this allowed us to enter the Pylon on the south side of the bridge where a small museum is located detailing how the iconic bridge was built. After looking around the museum, we made our way to a viewing deck on top of the pylon which offered stunning views across Sydney Harbour and – unlike during our bridge climb – allowed us to take our own photos of and with the view. You don’t have to have participated in a bridge climb to access the Pylon Lookout, anyone can buy a ticket and visit.

Darling Harbour

Spotting Dugong at the Sydney Aquarium

The other well-known harbour in Sydney is Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is home to a range of tourist attractions including Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife Park, the Chinese Garden of Friendship and the World’s largest IMAX screen.

Darling Harbour at night

Darling Harbour is a great place to head for an evening out. It’s Cockle Bay Wharf area houses a variety of restaurants, and bars and clubs line both sides of the harbour.

Botanical Gardens

A bird on a palm tree and, above, exploring the Sydney Botanic Gardens

Lying to the rear of the Opera House, Sydney’s pretty Botanic Gardens are the perfect place for a stroll or to sit relaxing in the sunshine.

I like to follow the sea wall along the harbour to Mrs Macquaries Chair for great views and the perfect place to get a photo with both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the same shot!

Beaches and coastal walks

A surfer at Bondi and, above, visiting Bondi Beach

The most famous of Sydney’s beaches is, of course, Bondi Beach. Bondi is in a suburb of Sydney and I’ve always caught the public bus out of the city to get there and back.

Bondi Baths, an ocean swimming pool

Whenever I’ve been in the sunshine, the beach has been busy with tourists and locals sunbathing, surfing or soaking up the atmosphere but on my last visit, I arrived to torrential rain, finding the area unsurprisingly, almost deserted!

Not sunbathing weather and, below, views walking from Bondi to Bronte

As sunbathing wasn’t an option, I instead took the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, following the coast path from next to the Bondi lido. It was a really pretty walk and if I had time, I would have continued to follow the path to the beach at Coogee, catching the bus back to Sydney city centre from there but instead, I turned around once I reached Bronte and returned to Bondi to meet my friends.

Walking from Manly to Shelly Beach

Manly Beach is another beach easily accessible from the city. We took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, walking down its Corso, lined with shops and restaurants, to reach the main beach.

We spent a fun day sunbathing and swimming in the ocean but again, if, like me, you can’t stay in one place for long, you can take a coastal walk past the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve to Shelly Beach.

The lighthouse at Palm Beach

Fans of Australian soap Home & Away might want to head to Palm Beach in Sydney’s North Beach district. Palm Beach doubles as Summer Bay in the soap and is instantly recognisable to fans of the soap with its lighthouse and golden sands. The first time I visited, we took a guided tour of the North Beaches which had Palm Beach as its main stop and were lucky enough to find filming was going ahead that day.

Peninsula views from the lighthouse walk

The cast were more than happy to chat and take photos with fans between takes. Since then, I have returned taking a long bus ride out of Sydney to get there and while no filming was happening that day, I still had a great day walking up to the lighthouse for beautiful views across the peninsula before relaxing on the golden sands.

On my last visit to the city, upon the recommendation of a Sydney-sider friend, I took the ferry out to Watsons Bay.

The Gap at Watsons Bay

While the beaches there were not the best Sydney has to offer, I followed the South Head Heritage Trail, a pretty walking track that loops round past the Hornby Lighthouse and back.

From here, I walked up to The Gap viewing area on top to watch the ocean crashing into the rocks below the cliffs, continuing on along the coast to Macquarie Lighthouse. From Watsons Bay, I caught the bus back to the city, hopping off at Rose Bay for a stroll down to Rose Bay Beach.

Day trips out

Apart from heading to one of the many beaches, its possible to take a range of organised tours out of the city.

On a cable car across the Blue Mountains and, above, stopping to say hello to the wildlife at Featherdale

I took a fun day trip out to see the highlights of the the Blue Mountains. Leaving Sydney, we stopped off at Featherstone Wildlife Park to meet some friendly kangaroos and wallabies before driving through some of the pretty Blue Mountain villages and stopping off at some stunning viewpoints.

About to ride the World’s steepest railway and, below, beautiful views of the Blue Mountains

We spent the main part of the bay at the Scenic World attraction where we rode on the glass-bottomed scenic skyway, the World’s steepest railway and the scenic cable car for more beautiful views. Our tour stopped at Sydney’s Olympic Park on the way back before we took a sunset ferry ride back to Sydney.

Other tours you can take from Sydney include day trips to Jervis Bay and to Canberra, the country’s capital city, both of which I plan on doing on my next visit!

Getting Around

Walking is the best way to see Sydney!

While I’ve never stayed any further south than the Museum/Hyde Park area of the city, from here at least, Sydney is a pretty walkable city with both Circular Quay and Darling Harbour in easy reach. On one of my first visits to the city, I made use of the city’s hop on off bus but while the commentary was occasionally interesting, I didn’t feel that it took me to anywhere I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get to. I have also made use of the city’s efficient rail service with trains running regularly to Circular Quay from Central Station. From here you can connect to the city’s airport service too. Sydney Opal cards can be purchased from convenience stores and used on public transport including local rail services and the buses out to Bondi Beach. It’s even possible to venture out to the Blue Mountains on public transport rather than driving or using an organised tour if you are so inclined!

Sydney is definitely a great city to explore with plenty of things to see and do. Let me know if you’ve been by sharing your tips in the comments!

Find my other posts on Australia here!

Why does it always rain on me… in Brisbane?

How I made the most of my visits despite the weather

No sign of any blue skies – down on the South Bank of Brisbane
En route to Brisbane, realising that my second visit to the city will be similar to my first!

Brisbane, the largest city in Queensland and sandwiched between the Sunshine coast to the north and the Gold Coast to the south, famously receives an average of almost 300 days of sunshine a year. Yet typically, on both of my visits, one in early Autumn and one at the height of the Australian summer, I got to experience some of those 60 rare overcast, rainy days instead!

Brisbane River

The weather can really impact how I end up feeling about a place. I think the reason I don’t look back too fondly on my visit to Toronto, Canada was because it mainly rained while I was there and that’s what I always think of now when I’m asked about that city and it was the same with Brisbane after my first visit.

By the Nepal Peace Pagoda in Brisbane’s South Bank Parklands

But after my friends had visited and shared their photos of the sunshine drenched city and of themselves lazing on Streets Beach – the man made city beach and lagoon – I decided to give the city another chance and include a 2- night stop there while on a solo trip travelling down Australia’s east coast.

For most of my stay, it rained once again but I did decide I’d been too harsh on the city and rain or shine, it’s actually a great place to visit. So what is there to do in the River City?

The Wheel of Brisbane

On both of my visits to Brisbane, the first place I have headed each time has been the South Bank. A walk along the Brisbane River, with its views of the city skyline, is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. We took a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane to get a better look over the city.

Following the path along the South Bank will lead to the South Bank Parklands and the aforementioned Streets Beach. On both of my visits, it hasn’t really been the weather for staying very long but on a hot, sunny day, it would be the perfect place to relax and cool off.

Koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

On my first visit to Brisbane, we made plans to get out of the city on our 2 full days there, spending one day visiting the nearby Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and the other taking a trip out to the Gold Coast and Springbrook Rainforest.

An emu wandering through the grounds of Lone Pine.

We organised our own visit to the koala sanctuary using a local bus to get there. We had planned on getting a boat back to the city but changed our minds when the rain started to come down pretty heavy. The sanctuary itself was definitely worth a visit with plenty of land to explore and mingle with a range of Australian critters.

No matter how many times I visit Australia, getting to hang out with kangaroos, wallabies and emus never gets old!

Sculpture in Brisbane City

With a few hours to spare late afternoon, we took a walk in Brisbane city centre for some shopping before strolling back to the river, this time, the North side where the Brisbane Botanic Gardens lie.

Story Bridge

We walked as far as a Story Bridge view point. Like Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is possible to do a guided bridge climb of Story Bridge. We stopped to see if we could see any groups climbing across then continued back towards the city, the gardens looking a bit sorry for themselves in the continuing rainfall.

A rainy day at the beach in Surfers Paradise

For our Gold Coast and Rainforest day trip, we used a company offering small group organised tours. We were picked up by minibus from a prearranged meeting point in Brisbane city and driven out to Surfers Paradise, a city of skyscrapers, shops, clubs, bars and tourist attractions lying on a seemingly never ending stretch of a golden, sandy beach.

Gold Coast view from the Skypoint Observation Deck in Surfers Paradise, and below, exploring Surfers Paradise

We were given a couple of hours of free time in the city and, as it wasn’t really the weather for spending that time lounging on the beach or swimming in the ocean, instead, I went exploring in the town and then caught the lift up to the Skypoint observation deck in one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers. The views up and down the coast from the top were stunning, especially as the weather started to clear up a bit. By the time I got down again, the sun had come out a bit so I spent the last few minutes of our visit on the beach.

Viewpoint at Springbrook Rainforest and below, a heavy downpour while hiking
through the rainforest.

After leaving Surfers Paradise, we were taken to the nearby Springbrook Rainforest. As we got there, it once again started to pour down but as we were hiking through a rainforest, this only added to the experience.

View of the South Bank crossing Victoria Bridge

On my return trip to Brisbane a few years later, I was hoping for some sunshine, especially as I would be arriving on Australia Day and my hostel were running an afternoon rooftop BBQ.

Another gloomy day at Streets Beach on my return trip to the city

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The BBQ was rained off so I spent the taking a walk down to the South Bank before a spot of shopping in the city.

A busy South Bank on Australia Day despite the earlier weather

Luckily the weather had dried up when I returned to the South Bank in time for the evening’s Australia Day firework display.

View of Brisbane City in the distance from New Farm Park

I had been hoping to spend a full day in the city taking a bike tour in the morning and hiking up to Mount Coot-Tha Summit Lookout in the afternoon. Unfortunately, when I went to book the bike tour, it turned out it wasn’t running on that particular day so instead, I took a boat down the Brisbane River to New Farm Park.

Taking a stroll through New Farm Park

The park itself is nothing special but it was nice to take the boat along the river and once there, I took a walk along the riverside path and had a look around the old tram power station there, now interestingly converted into a theatre and art space called Brisbane Powerhouse. The park also offered good views of the Brisbane skyline in the distance.

Disappointed at the Brisbane weather on the boat back to the city centre

With the rain getting heavier and heavier, I didn’t stay too long and was soon under cover back on the boat to the city.

Dinosaurs outside the Queensland Museum

From the South Bank, I took a umbrella covered walk into Brisbane’s trendy West End district, sheltering in a cafe while grabbing some lunch then, with no sign of the weather letting up, decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring some of Brisbane’s free museums.

Above and below, contemporary art at GoMA and Queensland Art Gallery

I started with the Queensland Museum situated just off the South Bank with its exhibits on the state’s past then continued to the nearby Gallery of Modern Art, or GoMA, and Queensland Art Gallery where I found more contemporary art.

The oldest building in Brisbane – the Old Windmill

On the way back to the hostel, I took a detour past the Old Windmill, the oldest building in Brisbane. While not quite the day I had in mind, I enjoyed my dose of culture in Brisbane city and it was the perfect way to spend a rainy day in the city by myself.

Gloomy weather over Australia Zoo

The following day, I took a trip north from Brisbane to Australia Zoo. I had looked into a variety of ways of getting there without a car and decided that using the Greyhound bus service would be the most convenient. I booked a ticket that included my return travel and a ticket into the zoo and just had to be at the bus station on time in the morning then back outside the zoo at the end of the day in time for the departure back to Brisbane.

The zoo was definitely worth the visit and despite visiting alone and the overcast and often drizzly weather, I had a great day.

Despite the unfortunate weather, I definitely came away from my second trip to the city with a newfound appreciation for it. Not only is there plenty to see and do in the city itself, its a convenient gateway for trips out towards the Sunshine coast in the north and the Gold Coast in the south.

I hope to return one day and maybe this time the sun will finally shine on me in Brisbane.

4 days in Perth, WA

Waiting to board our flight to Australia

The most isolated city in Australia and often more expensive for Australian’s to get to than destinations in Asia and the South Pacific Islands but being the closest Australian city to the UK, it is often the cheapest place for Britons to fly to in Australia. Deciding to make it our first stop on a 2-week trip to the country, we had just 4 nights in the city. So what was there to do?

Down by Elizabeth Quay

Arriving early afternoon on our first day, we were jetlagged from the long flight and didn’t feel like doing any real sight-seeing. After checking into our pretty central Travelodge hotel, we made the effort to take the short walk to the main shopping area of the city to get our bearings a bit and grab a bite to eat at the first cafe we came to before walking back via a quick stop at a supermarket to stock up on a few essentials.

Perth CBD
On the Hop On/Off Bus

After a long overdue extended sleep, we were awake bright and early for our first full day in the city. We wandered down to Elizabeth Quay at Perth’s waterfront and decided to use the hop on/off tourist bus to see as much of the city as we could. We bought a combination bus ticket which included entrance to the Swan Bell Tower and the ferry to Fremantle then jumped onto the first bus of the day and set off.

The bus took us out towards Perth’s zoo, its stadium and a huge casino complex before returning to the CBD and stopping back at Elizabeth Quay for an extended break. We used that time to go up the Swan Bell Tower which offered views across the city and luckily, we’d conveniently timed our visit to coincide with the bells ringing out!

In Kings Park & Botanical Gardens
Tree top walk in Kings Park

Back on the bus, we headed to the huge Kings Park and Botanic Gardens and spent the afternoon wandering through its grounds. The park’s treetop walk was a real highlight and there were beautiful views of the CBD area from many points around the park.

Back on the bus again, we were taken back into the CBD where we hopped off one last time for some late afternoon shopping in the city before walking back down to the river front for some pub grub and drinks in the evening.

For day 2 of our stay in Perth, we had booked a day trip to the Pinnacles Desert with Grayline Tours. Up early to board our coach, the first stop of the day was at Caversham Animal Sanctuary where we got to hang out with the kangaroos, wombats and koalas – always a fun way to spend an hour in Australia!

Cervantes

Then it was back on the coach to make our way to the fishing town of Cervantes where we toured a lobster farm – not something I particularly enjoyed , I wanted to set all the poor lobsters free – and had our provided picnic lunch overlooking the Indian Ocean, finding a bit of time to wander down to it’s white sand beach before it was time to depart.

The long coach journey then continued with our bus driver keeping us entertained by telling us stories and singing us traditional Australian songs until we finally reached the Pinnacles Desert.

The Pinnacles

The Pinnacles, part of Namburg National Park, are quite a bizarre sight. Thousands of pillars of limestone rising out of a bed of orange sand! Our guide led us around, pointing out some of the formations which had been named as they seemingly resemble people or animals and telling us some of the Indigenous stories about the area. We were then given free time to wander around ourselves which we chose to spend taking photos of each other popping out behind the stones!

Lancelin Dunes

Our final stop of the day was at the impressive white sand dunes of Lancelin. Here, we were provided with a wooden sand board and took it in turns to clamber to the top of the huge dunes – a task way more difficult and tiring than it looked but worth it for the views – and sand board down. Then we boarded a 4×4 vehicle for a fun ride across the dunes.

It was a long drive back to Perth and most of us slept on the coach but it had been a fun day and a good way to see a bit more of Western Australia than the city of Perth itself.

On the boat to Fremantle

On our final full day in Perth, we walked back to Elizabeth Quay and boarded a ferry down Swan River to the town of Fremantle. The boat ride itself was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and we even saw dolphins swim alongside the boat. Once there, we spent a bit of time exploring the town before having fish and chips on the sea front. Instead of catching the boat back to Perth, we opted to catch a train to Cottesloe. Cottlesloe Station is just a short walk from its beautiful beach and we spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine from the golden sands and taking a dip in the Indian Ocean before catching the train back to Perth that evening.

Nearing Fremantle

We didn’t have much time in the city the next day as we had to make our way to the airport to catch a flight to Uluru so we took another walk down to Elizabeth Quay to walk along the riverfront then made our way back into the CBD for some last minute shopping. We had enjoyed our stay in the city of Perth and had ticked off most of the things on our to do list but we both wished we had one more day there so we could have visited the nearby Rottnest Island. Just another reason to return one day…

Watch my adventures in Perth here:

Spending time in Melbourne, Australia

I’ve been lucky enough to make a few visits ‘down under’ and 4 of my 5 trips to Australia have included a stop in the city of Melbourne, Victoria. Partly because a good friend of mine moved to the suburbs of the city 10 years ago so whenever I’m in Australia, I like to try and visit but also because, it’s a great city and a good base to explore the surrounding area.

Flinder Street Station

The city of Melbourne and the surrounding area certainly has plenty to offer visitors.

If it’s shopping you’re after then Melbourne won’t disappoint. As well as department stores and shopping malls aplenty, you’ll find great souvenir shopping at Victoria Market, outlet stores at the relatively new Dockside area and boutique stores hidden down narrow lanes. In need of a coffee after? Melbourne is famous for its cafe culture and you’ll find independent coffee shops around every corner!

Flinders Street

Melbourne’s CBD area is easy to get around, it’s layout borrowing heavily from the American grid system. The city offers a free trolley service which loops around the outside of the CBD, passing Federation Square, the Dockside area, Victoria Market and Melbourne Museum amongst other places of interest and even includes a recorded commentary for tourists! Another free bus service runs along the river Yarra towards Melbourne’s Cricket Ground and back. These services are mainly used by tourists and can get busy, especially the circle line trolley.

Federation Square is a good place to start exploring Melbourne from. The Square is a busy meeting place in the city with large open spaces often hosting events and exhibitions and here, you’ll find the city’s tourist information centre.

The Crown Casino Complex

One of my favourite places to stroll in Melbourne is its Southbank area. From here you’ll find great views of the city looking across to Flinders Street Station across the River Yarra. Street entertainers often line the pavement and there’s the huge Crown Casino complex alongside the Southbank with its many shops and restaurants to explore too. Boat trips are offered along the River Yarra from various companies along the riverside, some offering roundtrips with a commentary, others taking you out at sunset or ferrying you to nearby Williamstown.

Eureka Tower and, below, views from the top

Looming over the Southbank, you can’t help but notice the Eureka Tower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. The tower has an observation deck at the top with 360 degree views across the city and Victoria state.

The Shrine of Remembrance

A short walk off the Southbank you’ll find Alexandra Park and the neighbouring Royal Botanic Gardens. The parks are definitely worth a stroll through and you can walk down to the Shine of Remembrance at the south end of the park.

View of Melbourne skyline from St Kilda Pier

Just outside of Melbourne city, and easily reachable by tram, is the beach suburb of St Kilda. St Kilda is a lovely place to stroll around, grab a coffee and cake on Acland Street, walk along the pier from which you can make out Melbourne City skyline on a clear day, visit it’s Sunday flea market or for a bit more excitement, visit Luna Park, it’s amusement park with its huge clown-face gates!

On ‘Ramsay Street’

Fans of the long-running Australian soap opera Neighbours can pay a visit to ‘Ramsay Street’ or Pinot Court as it’s actually called in the suburbs of Melbourne. While it is possible to drive out to the street yourself, tours are available daily from the Neighbours store in Melbourne’s CBD. These tours are great fun with clips from the show being played on the bus as you drive out and locations such as the school being pointed out along the way. On weekends, tours of the set are also offered so you can have photos with the exteriors of Lassiters, Harold’s General Store etc as well as the houses on Ramsay Street. While the infamous ‘Neighbours Night’ (a weekly club night attended by various cast members) is no longer offered, sometimes cast members do pop along to greet tour buses and have photos!

At the Nobbies, Phillip Island and, below, photos from a day tour to Phillip Island

Like I mentioned before, Melbourne is a great base for exploring more of Victoria from. If you don’t have access to a car, there are plenty of companies offering day tours out of the city. My favourite tour to take is to Phillip Island to see the Little Penguins.

This tour can be done as a full day trip or as a half day afternoon trip, depending on how much you want to see along the way and at Phillip Island itself. Most tour companies offer a stop at a wildlife park along the way where you can hang out with the kangaroos and other Australian animals before crossing into the beautiful Phillip Island. Full day tours will usually give you time to explore beaches and coastal walks at various parts of the island while even afternoon-only tours will usually stop at the Nobbies where you can follow the boardwalk for amazing coastal views. Whichever tour you take, the final stop will be at the Penguin Parade where you will sit on the beach and watch as the Little Penguins swim in and run across the sand to their burrows. It really is incredible to watch!

The Twelve Apostles

Another popular trip out from Melbourne is Great Ocean Road. Running along the coast all the way from Melbourne to Adelaide, the distance is too far for one day but you can at least make it as far as the famous Twelve Apostles rock formations and back although it’s a long day!!!

Apollo Bay

I first travelled Great Ocean Road using public transport, catching a train to Geelong then picking up a bus which stopped at Apollo Bay then at the Twelve Apostles and other rock formations, giving us enough time at each stop to get off and take photos before dropping us at a station to catch a train all the way back to Melbourne. It was a cheap way of doing it and we saw what we wanted to see but without a tour guide to provide a commentary or the social aspect of a small group tour, the day felt even longer than it was.

I have since taken a guided small group one day tour of Great Ocean Road and while this was also a long trip, especially the drive back to Melbourne at the end of the day, and we didn’t make it to as many of the rock formations as on the independent trip, I found this to be a much more enjoyable option. We made many stops along the way to break up the journey at pretty bays and towns, at a rainforest boardwalk, a lighthouse and even somewhere to see koalas in their natural habitat before stopping at the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge rock formations.

Trips to Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley wineries are other popular options for easily reachable days out from the city.

Overall, Melbourne is a great place to visit but make sure you take the opportunity to get out of the city itself as Victoria has a lot more than Melbourne city to offer!