16 PLACES TO VISIT
NEW SOUTH WALES
Gateway to Australia. One of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a magnificent harbour and incredible skyline featuring two of the most identifiable landmarks in the world, the Sydney harbour bridge and one of the world's most astonishing architectural wonders, the Sydney opera house. Below are what I regard as the highlights of the city.
Sydney Harbour bridge
The harbour bridge is worth a stroll, and if you're feeling energetic and adventurous enough you can take part in a tour that will actually let you climb up the span for one of the most incredible views you'll ever see--but it isn't for the faint-hearted, especially for those inclined to vertigo!
Sydney Opera house
The Sydney Opera house is a short stroll from Circular Quay, the transport hub of the harbour, and you can walk around it to your heart's content, marveling at the structure's beauty from every conceivable angle. The view of the harbor is wonderful, particularly as you can sit and watch all the ferries depart the Quay and head off to all points of the harbour. If you take the opposite exit as you leave you can stroll through the botanical gardens to Lady Macquarie's chair, another great vantage point for harbour views and also a perfect site for taking pictures of the Opera house with the Harbour bridge in the background.
Taronga park zoo
Most people probably wouldn't rate a visit to a zoo as a high priority on a visit to Australia, but I promise you, a visit to Taronga park zoo is one of the most rewarding experiences you could have during a stay in the city. Part of the appeal isn't just the zoo itself, but the manner in which you can get there and the views it affords you of the harbour and city skyline during your visit--no other zoo in the world could have a finer setting!
The ideal way to see it is this: The NSW public transport authority has had a deal going since time immemorial whereby you can go up to any train station and buy a day ticket to the zoo which entitles you to a return journey from your point of origin, using any of the transport systems available (train, bus, ferry) and (I think) includes your entrance fee. I don't know what the price of the ticket is these days, but they used to represent great value. Forget about all those expensive scenic tours aboard luxury yachts--for a few dollars, just make your way down to Circular Quay, hop on the ferry to the zoo, and sit back and relax for the beautiful journey out past the bridge, the Opera house and Fort Denison to the zoo terminus on the north shore. Awaiting you will be a string of buses which will whisk you away for the short journey up the hill to the zoo entrance.
Note: The slope that the zoo is situated on is quite pronounced, and if you want to save yourself a great deal of effort do what Sydneysiders do, which is to zigzag backwards and forwards across the zoo, gently making your way down the slope until you eventually reach the rear exit by the harbour, from where you can take the short and picturesque stroll down to the ferry terminal.
You probably won't find this spot recommended on any tourist guides, but if you want one of the most breath-taking views of Sydney's magnificent skyline, take the time to get a cab (or drive) to this small park on the north shore overlooking the harbour, preferably in the evening. On my last night in Australia my brother and I went down here with a few drinks and just sat back on a bench seat and relaxed, staring out across the harbour at the stunning view of the city by night, with boats cruising by, the Harbour bridge looming high above to our left, and the Opera house visible underneath the span. When you grow up in Sydney you take so much of the city for granted but that last evening, sitting there with my brother, I realized just how beautiful the city really is, and how much I was going to miss it. If you can, find the time pay the point a visit. It costs nothing, yet will leave you with memories of Sydney that are priceless.
Kings Cross - the red light district and the place to go for late night drinks.
The beaches - North to places like Palm beach, or south to Wanda/ Cronulla
Centrepoint tower - if you want an eagles-eye view of the city.
Darling harbour - A little antiseptic, but a great deal to offer--museums, etc.
The rocks - The original settlement of Sydney. Nicely preserved, artsy.
Gay Mardi Gras - If you're there at the right time of year- November- spectacular!
Festival of Sydney - plenty to see and enjoy in the early part of the year.
Oxford street - Gay capitol of Sydney. Interesting bars, alternative fashions,
colourful. Not for the homophobe-inclined!
Train ride to Gosford -Between Hornsby and Gosford lies one of the most scenic
coastal routes anywhere in the world.
For a spectacular buffet lunch - try the rooftop restaurant at the Boulvarde hotel in
William st. The view across the botanical gardens to the opera
house and harbour are worth the price of the lunch alone!
Paddington - Chic, trendy area, nice boutiques and restaurants, with a very nice
flea market on weekends.
Paddy's market - The market to go to on weekends. Colorful, crowded, and noisy,
where you can buy anything and everything. Fun for a morning.
Located down near Haymarket, close to Central station.
Harbour cruises - Dinner, dancing, sightseeing. You name it, the harbour has it.
The Blue mountains
Imagine a shallower and wider version of the grand canyon, with grand escarpments and a dense forest coverage of Eucalyptus trees. This incredible region proved a virtually insurmountable barrier to early explorers, and when you see it you'll appreciate why. When I was a kid a journey to the Blue mountains seemed a real adventure and was best accomplished over a weekend. These days it takes little more than 2 hours via express trains, and it's well worth the journey.
Most tourists take the usual step of going to Katoomba and visiting the Three sisters, a rock formation overlooking the grand valley below. It's a bit of a tourist trap, with coach loads of tourists milling everywhere, but in all honesty it's worth the visit just for the view. There's a cable car trip which affords spectacular views on the out and back journey, and a near vertical railway journey to the bottom of the valley which is also worth the effort.
For lunch, try the Hydro majestic hotel which is not too far from Katoomba. The 'Hydro' is an old art-deco building that served as a health sanitarium of sorts in days gone by and until recently had fallen on hard times. But it has been beautifully restored, and there is probably no other place in the mountains that provides more spectacular views while you dine - absolutely breathtaking!
If you really want to take get away from it all and see how beautiful the Blue mountains can be, take a tip. By all means see Katoomba, but the best kept secret in the Blue mountains is Wentworth falls, a few miles back towards Sydney. Follow the signs along Falls road for a couple of miles until you reach the reserve at the end. If you're in a hurry just stop for a quick lunch at the picnic tables, taking in the magnificent backdrop of the valley below, but if you're really feeling energetic then put your walking shoes on and take your choice of a couple of scenic walks. For a casual stroll take the walk up to weeping rock, which is a lovely little outcrop with a veil of water cascading gently over it. Follow the stream down to the main fall, from where you can either return to the reserve or embark on the more arduous trek down the cliffs to the under-cliff walk. To do this you have to walk across the top of the main falls to the far cliffs, where a very steep and precipitous path has been carved out of the rock face and leads you down below to the base of the waterfall - the view along here is spectacular. At the bottom you'll find a well-marked pathway which will lead you on a picturesque walk for the next hour or so, with magnificent views of the valley stretched out below you and tall cliffs leaning out above. On any given day, especially during the week, you'd be fortunate to come across any other walkers so the sense of serenity and beauty is overwhelming. The walk is not particularly arduous but make sure you take a bottle of water with you, as well as a camera of course. Once you reach the end make your way back up to the top of the path where you'll find a little park office offering refreshments and a few exhibits. From there it's not far at all back to the reserve and your vehicle.
Regarded as amongst the most beautiful limestone caves in the world, Jenolan offers the visitor 9 spectacular cave systems to explore in a setting that almost seems like a Swiss mountain resort, no doubt thanks to the dated architecture of the hotel, which looks like an old fashioned chalet. In the old days Jenolan was a favoured destination for honeymooning couples. The perfect way to see the caves is to arrive during the early part of the day and stay overnight, giving you the time to see the better cave systems (most of which take a couple of hours to walk through) as well as allowing you the time to stroll around at night. If memory serves me correctly, the park even has special cave walks reserved exclusively for hotel guests in the evening.
By reputation the first European to discover the caves was a bushranger (outlaw) who used the caves as a refuge and hideout. Not all the scenery is underground, in fact there are a couple of spectacular pieces of scenery above ground that are easily accessible to the visitor, one being the huge archway/chamber through which you enter, and the other the nearby devil's coach house, a partially collapsed cave that you can stroll through. The Chifley and Lucas caves are the two most recommended to first-timers, but my personal favourites are the temple of Baal and the river cave.
Jenolan is not easily accessible from Sydney as it's something like a 3 hour drive, but it's well worth the visit, especially if you incorporate the caves with other activates in the region. The drive to get there is also very scenic.
For the more adventurous, I couldn't recommend abseiling (rappelling) Kanangra walls highly enough, it's a wonderful experience of the Australian bush at its best.
Kanangra walls are a set of huge cliffs overlooking the Blue mountain region that offers a set of something like 9 abseils to reach the valley floor below. It's a very deceptive wall as you often think you must be nearing the valley floor, only to discover yet another descent.
The first time I ever abseiled Kanangra walls I had only one other abseiling experience behind me, but because three of the other four members of our group were complete novices I was given the 'welcome' task of leading off, meaning I had to hang precariously at various points with one hand whilst clearing the rope off trees and acting as anchor for the others when they began their descent. But oh was the trip worth it! Practically every descent took place next to a cascade, and once you had a bit of rope length above you the opportunity presented itself to pendulum backwards and forwards, skipping across the falls--lots of fun. And almost without fail you'd find a nice cool pool of water at the waterfall's base to swim in and refresh yourself after all the others had descended.
The only downside to the experience is the climb back up - it's murder! You've got to figure that after such a lengthy descent (about 1,000 in total) there's a hell of a long way to go to get back up, and much of it is along the stony bed of an old cascade. But it's worth it, believe me.