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One thing's for sure. Australia is a long way from North America no matter how you get there. And in our case we cashed in a ton of miles to make the trip in business class. On this trip we worked with Delta and Sky Team partner Korean Air, the only Sky Team member that flies to Sydney. So our journey started with the compulsory 1 1/2 hour hop from Detroit to Atlanta. After two hours on the ground there it was a 14 hour Boeing 747-400 flight to Seoul. We flew on aircraft HL 7493. After 2 1/2 hours on the ground in Seoul, the final segment took 10 hours from Seoul to Sydney aboard an A330-300 Airbus tail number HL 7587. We were pretty much zombies upon arrival!
One thing that immediately struck me about Australia right off the bat was the friendliness of the people. Sometimes immigration and customs agents can be a little bit grumpy. But here, we were met with sincere smiles and well wishes by everybody at the airport from immigration and customs officers to the guy at the taxi stand who hooked us up with a cab.
In trying to describe Sydney to you I would have to say it reminds me much of a city where we used to live in the U.S. -- San Francisco. Both have impressive skylines, hills, and a wonderful waterfront area. Sydney also reminded me a little bit of Vancouver, B.C.
While I've seen a lot better, Sydney has a pretty good mass transit system. Sydney Ferries will take you to many interesting points. CityRail offers good service, depending upon where you're going. Some of the trains are old and somewhat dirty. Others are seemingly brand new, bright and cheery. We took an hour's trip to the McArthur stop on a double-decker CityRail train and passed through some very interesting countryside. The city also has Metro Light Rail which covers a limited distance and Metro Monorail (more on this below) that covers a limited area. Another way to get around town is by water taxi. But they are quite expensive and for the frail, getting in and out at little docks with varying tides might be a challenge. One company, Yellow Water Taxis, operates a fleet of cute little yellow and black checkered boats. You see them everywhere.
Our stay, initially in Sydney, came at the Park Hyatt Hotel in an area of Sydney known as The Rocks. The hotel is ideally situated with most rooms affording balconies and many have views of the famous Sydney Opera House which is located just across the harbor from the hotel.
The Sydney Park Hyatt doesn't offer the luxury or amenities of some other sister properties like the Park Hyatt Tokyo but it is a really nice place to stay. The rates are pretty high but it's the location that you're paying for here. Rooms are fairly large but nothing out of the ordinary although the bathrooms were huge with lots of marble.
After arriving at the hotel and getting a little nap we ventured out to check out the grounds despite a light rain and cold temps in the 50s. A guy caught our attention on a third floor balcony at our hotel. He was being filmed and we instantly recognized him. It was chef Jamie Oliver who got his start on the Food Network in the U.S. initially with a show called "The Naked Chef." Since then he has branched out and has opened a small chain of upscale restaurants called "15." He was in Australia to film a series of shows about the opening of his first Australian "15" in Melbourne. The show is called Jamie's Kitchen and he seemed like a likeable chap.
The Rocks is an ideal location in Sydney for shopping, visits to the Opera House, and fine dining. It is also home to the world's second busiest ferry port called Circular Quay (pronounced "key"). There Sydney Ferries operates a number of interesting runs. It's much easier to take a ferry than to use a cab to get around when you have a choice between the two. For instance, if you want to get from the Rocks at Circular Quay to Darling Harbor, a taxi would probably take 20 minutes or longer and cost you $15-20 Australian Dollars. You can hop on a ferry and accomplish the same journey in about 6 minutes and at a cost of just $5A.
Our advice is to invest in an all day ferry pass. They're only about ten bucks and you can get a lot of mileage out of them. Even if you don't know where you're going just hop on one and see where it takes you. One very memorable run we took was on a River Cat to the suburb of Paramatta. It's about an hour journey from Circular Quay and it is a beautiful ride. I highly suggest that you check it out with your all day pass.
History buffs will enjoy some of Sydney's oldest buildings in The Rocks area. Thrill seekers might want to take a jet boat ride after visiting the Opera House. Oz Jet Boats will fix you up just down the way from the Opera House.
The Park Hyatt was located, literally, under the big Sydney Harbour Bridge. And from very early in the morning until late in the afternoon if you look at the very top of this bridge on the superstructure, you'll see trekkers walking over it in small groups. This is one of Sydney's most popular attractions.
Back at Circular Quay you're likely to see some local Aborigine people in full costume playing one of the world's oldest musical instruments, the didgeridoo. They play on the sidewalk near the ferry wharfs in the hopes that you'll buy one of their CDs. We did! And they do make nice gifts. We found these people to be very friendly.
Click on the arrow start button to hear this guy play. At the end, his buddy takes over and starts playing.
What they do is fire up a boom box as background and then play along with it.
One interesting area of Sydney that we didn't have time to take in is Kings Cross or, as the locals refer to it, "the Cross." It's the naughty side of town with hootchie-cootchie shows but it also affords some great dining opportunities, I'm told.
I thought I knew quite a bit about Sydney before heading there but was shocked to see flocks of wild cockatoos flying around everywhere! While they're cute they're also very loud and very destructive. A hotel worker told us that they gnaw away at palm tress often killing the tree. Just outside our hotel they were busy chomping on decorative wood and doing serious damage. They apparently sharpen their beaks by munching on wood. The species that is familiar to Sydneysiders (as locals are called) are the yellow crested cockatoos.
Click on the arrow start button to see the movie.
We also observed a whole bunch of parrots buzzing overhead. They were absolutely beautiful!
You'll find numerous dining opportunities in The Rocks area and I'll give you some suggestions on Sydney dining below.
Another really nice area of the city is a place called Darling Harbour. It's packed with restaurants and things to do including the famous Sydney Aquarium. You'll also find the Australian National Maritime Museum here. Just walking by it or sailing by it on a ferry is interesting because they've got several old replica tall ships on display outside.
While visiting Darling Harbour I suggest doing what we did and that's to hop on the modern Sydney Metro Monorail and take the short circuit tour of the area. Some locals think this thing is nothing more than a white elephant but it will give you a narrated perspective on the neighborhood. It really reminded us of the monorails used at the big "Mouse House" in Orlando, Florida---Walt Disney World.
You may have heard about the famous thrill ride jet boats in Australia. You can pick up one here. And there is great shopping all around including some interesting Aboriginal shops offering genuine items with profits going back to the indigenous people.
If you're curious about the amazing array of fish and shellfish that is found in this part of the world, we highly recommend a visit to the vast Sydney Fish Market. As you arrive you're likely to see big, white pelicans hanging around hoping for a hand out. And they are huge birds! Inside the various seafood shops you'll find an unbelievable selection of prawns, lobsters, "bugs" which is another type of Australian lobster, mud crabs, barramundi fish, blue eye cod, and on and on.
Sydney is not an economical place for dining. But at the Fish Market you can get the freshest fish and chips at one of several stores for $5A to $7A. Or, you can shop for your favorite fish at a seafood retail store and then head to a restaurant and have them cook it for you. Most restaurants offer fish and chips for $25A or more. So that $5-7A fish and chips lunch is a great deal at the Fish Market.
A thirty minute ferry ride from Circular Quay gets you to the seaside village of Manly. Get off the ferry and follow "the Corso" to the beach. Along the way you'll find some pretty good bargains at various stores and some nice little cafes and bistros. If you do nothing more than have a nice luncheon and bask in the sun while watching surfers do their thing it's worth a visit. One thing we found odd here was the aggressive nature of the seagulls with bright red beaks and tootsies. One poor lad was hoisting a French fry to his mouth when a gutsy gull swooped down and grabbed it. A family trying to eat a meal at a nearby picnic bench was driven into a protected area by the aggressive birds. Personally we had no problem with them but they were bold!
Coogee Beach is another coastal town with a nice beach. We actually spent a couple of nights here at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and it was a pleasant experience. While we didn't go into the water, dozens were paddling around. Somebody told us the water temp was about 18C degrees (about 64 1/2 F) which is pretty chilly to the human body. Another woman told us that there is a shark net in place to discourage the large fish from hanging around. Don't know if that's true or not but she seemed convinced. I do know that some beaches in Australia do use shark nets and they kill a large number of animals.
The Crowne Plaza is a lovely and large hotel but a word of caution. The balconies are really, really close together. The first time I went out on our balcony to check out the view---I got an unexpected view! A young woman on the balcony to our left darted out semi-naked after taking a shower and we were both shocked to see each other!
On our last night in Coogee Beach my wife and I were sitting out on the balcony of the hotel looking at the blue Pacific at Coogee Beach and I remarked that we hadn't seen one, single fish in the water anywhere during our trip. Then I saw little puffs of what looked like smoke on the water. I knew exactly what it meant--whales. When they clear their air holes upon surfacing a puff of water is shot into the air. There were at least five whales in this pod although I have no idea of what kind of whales they were. I also watched a large chain of dolphins making their way up the coast from left to right. Unlike many dolphin pods that stay together in big groups, these guys were pretty much in a straight line.
Just a couple of miles down the coastline you'll find a bigger and more famous beach--Bondi Beach. It's pronounced "Bond-eye." They've got some good "take-away" fish & chips places here. Just place your order and head for the beach to enjoy your food.
It was during our visit that the public send off was held for Croc Hunter Steve Irwin who died from a stingray barb while filming a piece for his daughter. The send off came with the world watching on TV from the zoo that Steve founded, the Australian Zoo.
As much attention as Steve's funeral drew, there was an Australian State funeral the day before for race driver Peter Brock, killed in an accident, and it may have been even bigger with the locals. His funeral was a much bigger deal in Australia than NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt's send-off was in the United States.
When traveling to Australia remember that the climate is the exact opposite of what we have in North America. When it's winter here it's summer in Australia. And while Sydney is packed with exotic plants like birds of paradise and has many palm trees, it can be raw and rainy in the winter and spring. I was sure glad I packed a jacket. The temps were in the low to mid 50s(F) for the first couple of days with a lot of wind and rain. Most restaurants have gas torches for outside dining which warms things up. Restaurants are so popular in Sydney that if you don't make a reservation early enough, you may be forced to sit at an outside table even if it's cold and raw.
One big surprise for me was the seemingly total lack of buzz for Foster's beer! I figured the Foster's logo would be just about everywhere as we find the Bud logo everywhere in the U.S. But I saw it nowhere! In fact in checking to see if I could find any exotic brews to bring home, I didn't even see a single can or bottle of Foster's. Then again I didn't go into any full fledged booze stores, just small touristy stores. But don't you think it's odd that Foster's was so low key in its home country? We did see a lot of Steinlager logos in New Zealand, the home of that beer.
Unfortunately we did not have the time (as usual) to do much
more than cover the greater Sydney area but it was a great place and we highly
suggest that you visit when you have the time and the money. Both are an issue
when planning a trip to "the Land Down Under."
SOME SYDNEY DINING RECOMMENDATIONS BASED ON OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Waterfront Restaurant---The Rocks
Manly Fish Cafe---Manly
Italian Village---The Rocks
Jordans Seafood Restaurant---Darling Harbour
Doyles---Circular Quay (The Rocks)
Hard Rock Cafe--Sydney
Ribs & Rumps---Manly
Deep Blue---Coogee Beach
Bondi Surf Seafoods---Bondi Beach
FOR AVIATION ENTHUSIASTS
On the return from Seoul to Atlanta our Boeing 747-400 flew over the East Sea to Japan, directly over Tokyo, crossed the Pacific directly to Seattle and then it was down to Denver, Tulsa and on into Atlanta.
The route from Seoul to Sydney in the A330-300 Airbus took us over the Philippine Sea, over the western tip of Papua, New Guinea, right over Jayapura in Papua, Indonesia, over a brief stretch of water possibly the western edge of the Coral Sea, across the Western portion of Australia (flying near but not over Cairns) and then on into Sydney flying just inland from the Coral Sea. The reverse route followed nearly the exact pattern until we got close to Korea and then it varied slightly.
You'll need a passport and a VISA to enter Australia from most other countries including the U.S. But getting the VISA is easy because you can do it over the internet before leaving the U.S. This is an electronic VISA called an ETA and there is no physical paperwork involved. To get an ETA, go to this web site. Be forewarned that your bags will be placed through a scanning device before you leave the airport. They're serous about keeping unwanted pests out of the country so don't try to bring any meats (including jerky), cheese or other fresh foods into the country. Driving is on the left as it is in the U.K. and I would not suggest renting a car in Sydney unless you are fearless and/or experienced or just stupid! Currency is the Australian Dollar.