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Songdoc's Long, Wet Trip Report: Rainy Sydney, the Blue Mountains & Central Coast

Songdoc's Long, Wet Trip Report: Rainy Sydney, the Blue Mountains & Central Coast

Jun 22nd, 2008, 03:40 PM
  #1  
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Songdoc's Long, Wet Trip Report: Rainy Sydney, the Blue Mountains & Central Coast

After all the flying we’d done to get to NZ from Nashville, the three hour flight from Christchurch to Sydney on Qantas seemed to take ten minutes. Being used to having to pay $4.00 for a bag a peanuts in the U.S., we were amazed to be served a full luncheon—including wine! Shortly afterwards, the flight attendants offered ice cream bars!

Unfortunately, our incredible run of luck with the weather in NZ ran out by the time we reached Sydney. Thanks to the conference I’d be heading (the Australian Songwriters Conference), we were picked up by limo at the airport, which was certainly nice—but I would have had no complaints with taking a shuttle. We’d booked the Travelodge Wynyard online for $155/night—including full breakfast. The hotel exceeded expectations and was in a whole different league than its namesakes in the U.S.

The conference organizer had booked a dinner harbour cruise with Captain Cook Cruises that was quite nice and relaxing. The lights of the city were beautiful and we enjoyed the meal and music on the cruise. There were some fantastic views and I got my first realization of how enormous Sydney is.

We woke to more rain, but refused to let that stop us. We borrowed umbrellas (with a $100 deposit) from the hotel desk and walked to the Queen Victoria shopping arcade. We’re not big shoppers, but certainly enjoyed the ornate architecture, stained glass, and even the stairwells. It was quite beautiful and unique—and well worth a visit, as was the Strand—a very similar arcade.

Next, we headed toward Darling Harbour. I fear the gray skies and pouring rain did not show it in its best light. But we very much enjoyed the beautiful, serene Chinese Friendship Garden. Their café served only tea and light meals and we were hungry. For some reason, after the Chinese gardens, I was in the mood for Chinese food

We asked one of the employees for a recommendation and she suggested we walk the few blocks to Dixon Street in Chinatown for “Yum Cha” (which I’d call Dim Sum) at the East Ocean restaurant. Wow, what a great suggestion that was. It was both an adventure—AND an exceptionally good meal.

The restaurant was huge and the patrons were almost exclusively Asian—a good sign. Servers wheeled carts filled with pork, shrimp, or chicken dumplings in bamboo baskets; Har Gow (crimped edge prawn dumplings); spinach/shrimp balls in a tender, rice flour wrapper; fantastic green vegetables in soy sauce, and much more. You pointed to whatever caught your eye and were charged per item. There were so many things to choose from, it made it hard—and every choice was outstanding. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! With jasmine tea, our meal for two cost $42 and was a highlight.

Rather than keep belaboring the point, I’ll tell you that out of twelve days in Sydney and environs, it rained, poured, gusted, drizzled, or was dark gray and gloomy for most, or all of ten days. At one point, the wind was so intense that it literally blew our umbrellas apart. When we returned our shattered, limp umbrellas to the hotel, we were informed that we would be charged $100. We asked to discuss this with a manager, feeling that these umbrellas were intended as advertising—with the name of the hotel on them—and it would have been a nice gesture of customer service to waive the fee—or to charge $20 or $30, which was probably the actual cost of the umbrellas.

Upon check-out, we learned that the manager had tried one of their umbrellas himself, and it promptly self-destructed, leading him to wipe the charge from our bill! Although we did our very best to not let the weather put a damper on our plans, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t color things. It sure would have been nice to enjoy (and photograph) some of those beautiful harbour views and stroll the streets if they’d been lit by sunshine.

We enjoyed a very good tour of the inside of the Opera House and would call that a “must-do.” On our one day of glorious sunshine, we enjoyed the Botanic gardens, where we were practically flabbergasted by what seemed like thousands of large bats suspended from the trees, not to mention the ibises, and cockatoos. We were having breakfast at a wonderful little café across from the gardens when an intensely colored, red and green “parrot” landed on the table next to ours. I was so stunned, I blurted out something I won’t repeat! I took countless pix as our feathered friend drank out of coffee mugs, stuck his beak in the sugar container, and basically put on a show in exchange for crumbs. Turned out to be a rainbow lorikeet; quite common there, but “WOW” to me.

Then, we took a short taxi ride (15 – 20 minutes/$22) from the CBD to Bondi Beach. WOW!!! I absolutely loved it. The water was turquoise and the houses perched on cliffs were reminiscent of the Mediterranean.

Being mid-week in winter, Bondi was peaceful, with relatively few tourists enjoying the surfers and views. I understand it would be a very different experience in summer. We lunched on wraps and Greek salad at an ocean front café, just soaking in that beautiful setting and enjoying our first glimpse of sunshine in what seemed like forever. We opted for a bus back ($4.00 pp) and it took almost an hour, but we didn’t mind because we got to see the Paddington, Kings Cross, and other sections of the city.

We enjoyed wandering around the Rocks district, browsing in the shops, but mostly appreciating the architecture. Also enjoyed the Barracks Museum in Hyde Park. It’s a “must” for history buffs, as it gave an in-depth explanation of how Oz came to be populated, initially by convicts. We found it educational and interesting.

Five of my days were spent teaching at the Australian Songwriters Conference at the Mantra Ettalong Beach Club resort, about 90 minutes north of Sydney. Our “deluxe one bedroom” suite included a full kitchenette and a spa bath. But the best part was the enormous balcony with an absolutely gorgeous view of the water. The hotel was exceptional and I’d recommend it highly.

During the one morning when it didn’t rain, I loved walking along that beach, watching the fishermen; the array of pelicans, cockatoos, and other birds; and the locals out for their morning stroll. It was so peaceful and beautiful, I would have enjoyed a longer stay after the conference ended. Our meals were included as part of the conference, so I can’t comment about restaurants. But I did manage to squeeze in a visit to the hotel’s spa for a hot stone massage during a rare hour off. Pure bliss.

The conference organizer had presented each of the faculty with an “adoption certificate” for various animals housed at an animal sanctuary called Walkabout Wildlife Park, and she arranged for me to visit my adopted re-necked wallaby and common wombat, en route back to Sydney. It turned out to be one of the most fun and memorable experiences of the trip. Unlike a zoo, the animals are free to roam in more than 80 acres of their natural habitat. The only animals enclosed were two dingoes that would present a danger to the other animals.

We were greeted by Matilda, an astounding owl-like bird perched on a wooden railing at the entrance. I couldn’t believe I could touch and photograph this incredible creature. At kangaroo feeding time (10 AM) we fed countless ‘roos, pademelons, and wallabys. There were lots of emus, as well, but they didn’t like being touched. Several of the kangaroos loved having their chests scratched—and I’m not sure who was more ecstatic—them or me.

But the best was yet to come … I got to hold my wombat—and I fell in love. It was the sweetest, most affectionate, adorable animal—and my heart melted. I snuggled with her for about twenty minutes before she got squirmy. I could have died a happy man right then. I never even knew what a wombat was. I think they need a publicist, because they’re not nearly as popular as their cousins, the koalas—but I think they would be if word got out.

I got up close for pictures with “Livingston” the koala, and got some great shots, but he didn’t want to be held. While having coffee on a veranda, one of the kangaroos casually wandered up to see if there was anything good to eat—and rested at my feet! In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a big animal lover and I was in heaven.

Walkabout Wildlife Animal Park is situated on land that was populated by Aboriginal people and during an hour-long guided bush walk through the park, we saw lots of Aboriginal carvings and art work. During the walk, we spotted quite a few emus, wallabys, and pademelons in their natural habitat. This was a highlight that would be tough to beat.

When we returned to Sydney after the conference, we went back to the Travelodge Wynyard on York (in the CBD) because it was an excellent value—and a great, central location, within easy walking distance to the harbours, the Rocks, Chinatown, the Botanic Gardens, and more. This time the price on wotif.com was $125/night including free broadband Internet and a take-away fancy coffee for two, each day--but it did not include breakfast. We’re not big breakfast eaters, and it was considerably less expensive to eat in one of the nearby cafes, or have some cereal and fruit in the room, than to spend $25 per person for the breakfast buffet.

On the one day that was supposed to be sunny (it wasn’t), we booked an all-day tour with Oz Trek to the Blue Mountains ($55). It was FANTASTIC. We enjoyed some breathtakingly beautiful views, as well as kookaburras, and kangaroos in the park. We did an hour-long “rainforest” walk in the mountains (and yes, it rained, but we were mostly walking under a thick canopy of ferns, palms, and other vegetation) through absolutely beautiful terrain, with fantastic views of Katoomba Falls and the Three Sisters rock formation. We opted for the train back up—a one-minute, forty-five degree, thrill ride that my legs thanked me for. At the top, there were countless cockatoos and gorgeous parrots in more varieties than I could count. Don’t even ask how many pictures of parrots and cockatoos I have!

We had an hour for lunch in Katoomba and enjoyed some good Asian food. It would have been nice to have additional time and I’ll probably return and stay overnight next time to browse in the antique shops and spend more time enjoying those views. The tour also included a brief stop at the site of the Sydney Olympics. For a nature lover, the Blue Mountains are another “must-see” while in Sydney.

Most of our meals in Sydney were in little Asian cafes that were consistently excellent. The Chinese restaurants in Nashville don’t serve anything that even remotely resembles the dishes we ate—and loved. We especially enjoyed Goshu Japanese Noodle bar on York, just a couple of doors down from our hotel. Fantastic ramen, dumplings, and “teriyaki box sets” at very reasonable prices (under $20 pp).

I prefer scenery and nature to big cities, but I was very impressed with Sydney and had a wonderful time. It seems like it has the best of NYC and London—plus those gorgeous harbours AND Bondi Beach. I’m looking forward to returning next year—and hope we’ll have better luck with the weather next time.

Here's a link to my NZ and OZ pix:

share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=2QctG7hu0ZOXA

Thanks to all who answered my questions and posted their own reports.
Songdoc is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 05:00 PM
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Lovely report Songdoc you must have arrived in Sydney just when the drought decided to break. If you enjoyed it then I am sure that you would enjoy it many times more if the sun was out and the habour in its full glory. I was particularly happy that someone has decided to mention our birds because they are unique and so very plentiful and accessible. Also glad that you enjoyed our wombats - they are lovely little creatures and they don't get too much of a mention, probably because when they grow big they can be a bit temperamental. The little ones though can be very sweet but just be careful of them because they have a habit of eating things like very expensive shoes, handbags or anything they can find. I had one once which waiting around the corner of the room till be were not look before charging into the room and pouncing on anything that was on the floor and devouring it. There eyesight is not that great.
Anyway many thanks for the great report.
LizzyF is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 06:24 PM
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Hi Songdoc!

I loved your report and am glad that you enjoyed the pleasure of being on an non-US based airline! Quite an eye opener isn't it?!

Sorry you didn't have the greatest weather, but it sounds like you made the best of it and enjoyed your time anyway!

Your experience with the umbrellas and the manager with his self-destruction one made me laugh out loud! Hey, that's a good manager, and I bet that policy's undergone some changes!

Lastly, you've fallen under the spell of my favorite Aussie animal, the wombat; I love them too.

Lastly, I was a bit confused upon going to your link for pictures -- first shot - absolutely drop dead gorgeous tropical shot, and I'm thinking "where's all this rain he's talking about?" By the time I got to one named "Princeville" I realized that it was Kauai! Obviously some correction needed there!

Again, thank you for a great trip report!

Regards,

Melodie
Certified Aussie & Kiwi Specialist
wlzmatilida is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 06:30 PM
  #4  
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OOPS. I guess my brain hasn't returned yet

Here's the correct link.

http://share.shutterfly.com/action/w...=2QctG7hu0ZO1A
Songdoc is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 08:05 PM
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I enjoyed your trip report. We are going to Sydney in November. I was glad to hear about the expensive Asian restaurants.
BarbaraS is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 11:19 PM
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Enjoyed your trip report.

We were in Sydney for 4 days beginning of June, and it rained them as well. We bought $ 5.00 umbrellas from Paddys Market which came in very handy. Brought them back to New Zealand with us, not sure why DH wanted me to leave them behind.

Your description of Walkabout Wildlife Park sounds wonderful and we will make a point of visiting next time we are in or around Sydney.

We had brunch in the Queen Victoria Arcade and it is indeed a beautiful building. Brunch was yummy too.

The first 3 days of our trip we spent in Orange and we took the train back from there to Sydney through the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately they were covered by fog both on the way there and the way back.
nelsonian is online now  
Jun 23rd, 2008, 01:52 AM
  #7  
 
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Enjoyed your report Songdoc - it's been ages since I visited Sydney, but you've convinced me that I definitely need to go back!
Melnq8 is online now  
Jun 23rd, 2008, 04:00 PM
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PLEASE don't tell me I could have a pet wombat. Between that -- and the Asian food -- I'll be moving to Australia!!!

FYI, the animals at Walkabout Wildlife Park are mostly ones that have been rescued--so it's likely that my little wombat was raised by humans.
Songdoc is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2008, 08:50 PM
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Hi Songdoc,
It's a pity we couldn't have turned on some sunshine for you, but it seems you made the best of it anyway.

Thanks for your detailed, informative & entertaining report.
I didn't know about the Walkabout Wildlife Park (and I'm a local!) and will definitely put it on our "visitors' tour route".

You won't want to hear that I have kookaburras,lorrikeets and the odd white cockatoo who come for their daily rations on my deck, will you? I think the "owl like" bird you saw might be a Tawny Frogmouth.

Also have brush tail & ringtail possums. They can be a pest, but I like my little tribe and it's interesting to see them coexisting in the one area. The brushtails are bolder than the ringtails, and are very happy to take offerings of fruit from our hands. I'm slightly less thrilled with the offerings they leave us

I can understand your infatuation with the wombat - they really are gorgeous, aren't they? Sort of "reverse cute", I think. Everyone raves about the koalas, which really are a bit dopey (well, they're zonked out on eucalyptus, aren't they?)and wombats hardly rate a mention. Maybe it's because the koalas are more plentiful & accessible in the animal sanctuaries.

Enjoyed your photos too .... now you'll just have to come back again and we'll ensure you have 3 weeks of sunshine. Promise!
Bokhara2 is offline  
Jun 25th, 2008, 06:42 AM
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Jason -

thanks for providing the correct link - are you SURE you're in the music industry and not a professional photographer??

Your pictures are wonderful! I especially like the one out of the plane window from Wellington to Rotorua...some of the others made me smile, as I have the exact same shot from standing on the exact same spot!

Regards,

Melodie
Certified Aussie & Kiwi Specialist
wlzmatilida is offline  
Jun 25th, 2008, 07:10 PM
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Great report, Songdoc!

Come back again - and we'll try for better weather!
margo_oz is offline  
Jun 28th, 2008, 05:29 PM
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Enjoyed both the trip report and the pictures! Thanks for taking the time to post.
Toucan2 is offline  

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