Anyone else know The Office better than the way around your own refrigerator? Well, there are dingoes, but Kevin was incorrect since there are crocodiles, not alligators.
Crocodiles are just one of the many dangerous species that roam the world’s largest island and its surrounding waters. My friends and family reminded me of this constantly before I headed out to cross off another continent from my list!
Saltwater crocodiles can be up to 7 meters long (23 Feet). Sharks like the Great White are copious, along with the Bull shark which can adapt to FRESH WATER. Yeah – no swimming in rivers while here. Brown snakes are vicious and poisonous; funnel web spider bites can take your life in 15 minutes whereas box jellyfish can kill you in as little as two minutes with excessive contact. Portuguese Man-Of-Wars (referred to as bluebottles by Aussies) enjoy their days floating around waiting for something to sting. Blue-ringed octopuses discreetly make your heart stop, while cone shells harpoon you with poison. The list goes on and on when thinking about the plethora of creatures that can and will ruin you. I consider myself one lucky lady since I did not come across any of these (let us pray it stays this way for future visits)!
My time in the land down unda was spent traversing through various parts of New South Wales (NSW) from the city center of Sydney and the Blue Mountains near Katoomba to the coastal areas of Palm Beach and Coogee beach.
NSW is just one of Australia’s seven, large states making up the size of this massive country that can fit the entire continent of Europe inside its boundaries! Along with NSW, there’s Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia. The capital of Australia, Canberra, is located within NSW, but the capital of NSW is the most well-known city of the entire country, Sydney.
Before you even set foot in Australia, you HAVE TO order your tourist visa. It’s super easy to do, cheap, and it’s all online. Also, you don’t have to put any documentation in your passport! The website I use is this one. Your visa needs to be renewed every 12 months from the date of issue.
One thing to be sure to remember is if you will need WiFi. I personally don’t like using my cellular provider since the price is your first born child for 5 GB of data, so I tend to use a pocket WiFi when traveling. If you didn’t have time to purchase one beforehand (I recommend Skyroam if you have time), then there are many booths right outside of customs in Sydney where you can purchase or rent a basic pocket WiFi. Many restaurants and pubs DON’T have WiFi, so don’t rely on that to get around if you need internet assistance.
To get into the City from the airport, it’s about a 20 minute train ride and about $17AUD. You can purchase your opal card (which will be your ticket to public transportation) at the airport train stop. Just turn right out of customs, go to the end of the hall, and make your way down on the elevator or escalator to the trains. I stayed for about 2 weeks and ended up spending around $130 AUD on buses and trains.
- REMEMBER: Always alway always tap on AND off the trains and buses with your card. Otherwise you’re screwing yourself, friend. I maaaay know from experience.
- Opal.com.au – to top up your opal card. Oh, and of course, like every good 21st century business, there’s an app, too!
- If you forget to top up your card, you can even just use your credit card that has a chip! As long as you can “tap” your card, you can use it as your transport pass.
- Fare is capped off on Sundays! Use this to your advantage as you can’t pay more than $2.70AUD for the whole day.
- When waiting at a bus stop, wave down your bus when you see it. I mean, really wave it down, like you’re landing a damn plane, otherwise the driver may not see you or may not know you need the bus or may know you skipped your morning workout, thus you will try to catch it by sprinting down the street only to fail. I maaaaay also know this from experience.
- If you’re not sure at which bus stop you need to disembark, just ask your fellow bus mates. Aussies are kind and willing to help, and it’s better to ask than miss your stop and end up going the wrong direction.
- If you’re riding a bike, but want to take a break by hopping on a train, it is acceptable to bring your bike on the train.
- If you’re taking a bus at rush hour, there will be a line, wait in it and pay attention for your bus. It may look chaotic, but there is a system and usually there’s a public transport employee shouting out bus numbers and making sure you get on your bus first if you’ve been waiting longest since they do fill up fast!
- Just a heads up for you rebels out there: not tapping on with your opal card can be a $200 fee.
- Uber is f****** expensive here, so fuhgetaboutit.
- I didn’t take any taxis, so don’t ask me about them; I don’t even remember seeing them, but I bet you all the Brie in the world that they are even more pricey than an Uber!
- Everyone jaywalks. If you decide to join the crowd, just remember to look right, first, before crossing the street since cars drive on the left side of the road (also, keep left when walking and using escalators; people pass right – public courtesy)
Side note: If you are going to Brisbane, you will need a different type of metro card. It’s called the Go Card and you can read about it here.
I explored much of Sydney. Walking in, up, down and all around hunting for the best coffee and any beer that wasn’t a pale ale for this is, I’ve come to find, the main style that is produced, at least in NSW. Surprisingly, my palate decided they’re actually not too bad, the majority isn’t at all hoppy and bitter like in the states which is why I don’t drink them there (unless you give me a Dogfish Head 120 minute to which I cannot decline).
- The drinking age is 18.
- Alcohol isn’t typically served until after 10 AM – this is for all my mimosa and bloody mary morning goers (no judgement)
- If you see a Hotel, it may be just a Hotel, but sometimes they’re actually bars (the reason for this can be found here if you like learning fun facts)
- A bottle-o is a shop where you can buy your own beer, wine and spirits.
- Drinking in public is not exactly legal, so I’m not saying I had a 6 pack in a park with a friend.
- Many bars, at least in the Central Business District, close at 0100; I’ll let you form your own opinion about that one.
- Young Henrys Brewery in Newtown is where I discovered I like Australian Pale Ales; it’s a fun place where you can bring your pups and meet chill people. Newtown is a very nice, seemingly-hipster district. I recommend checking it out if you have time.
If you’re a coffee lover, you will be walking on air and shaking the whole way as you will be so buzzed on caffeine. The coffee game in Sydney is strong, literally, and I saw only one Starbucks! Yay! I was infinitesimally happy to make a habit of stumbling into and prancing out of local coffee shops on every corner.
- The Flat White is a very common and very tasty order and was supposedly invented here, although, there’s an ongoing debate between Aussies and Kiwis (folks from New Zealand) on the origination of this beverage, but there is no solid evidence, so neither will win this battle. The Flat White is like a latte you would get in the states, and I honestly don’t know the difference between the two.
- I liked the Long Black – a big cup of strong, black coffee.
- The Short Black is even stronger if you want to grow some hair on your chest.
- If you’re heading out west and will be passing Summer Hill, Heritage coffee right next to the train station makes one killer cappuccino.
The Royal botanic garden is quite beautiful and provides a stupendous view of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor. It’s free to enter and is close Hyde Park which is smaller and sprinkled with lunch goers and teeming with bin chickens (A.K.A. The Australian White Ibis)(A.K.A. the most hated bird in Australia).
I took a tour of the opera house compliments of my friend, Pat, who is part of the choir. One fun fact I learned is the superstition for good luck to kiss the sideboards on the way up to the main stage for your performance. You can even see old lipstick stained lip prints (say that 5 times fast) on the wooden planks that make up the wall right off the stage. Gross or cool or both? You decide!
Soooo… Taronga Zoo. Australians, I am sorry, but I did not like this zoo. Maaaaybe because the last zoo I saw was the San Diego zoo (which is some rough competition in terms of… well, everything), maybe it’s because much of the zoo was under construction, maybe zoos just make me sad, but I did not enjoy it. However, the area around the Taronga zoo was very nice, not to mention the ferry ride to it via Circular Quay (pronounced Kee) which you can pay for with your opal card.
The serene walk over to Curlew Camp and Sirius Cove Beach was quite enjoyable. On a scale from 0 to list your most peaceful place here it was a 9 (as some noisy tourists found their way near here) with its perfect view of the Sydney skyline and all the fresh breeze the harbor has to muster under green, leafy trees.
If you’re a fan of delicious food, the restaurant called Bodhi is right next to Hyde Park, and is super scrumptious. There is more awesome food than you could ever desire in Sydney as it is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Happy eating!
- Tipping is not expected or required. If you so please, round up to the nearest dollar, and be on your way.
- Chinatown (located on Dixon street) has amazing food if you’re craving some delectable dumplings and sugar cane juice (whhaaaaa? Yeah.)
- No eating on public transportation.
- If you spend your days gorging on your faves, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to work it off. My first day in the city I walked 13 miles (21 km)! Work those legs, baby!
Whale, whale, whale… talk about big ass mammals. After buying a $30 ticket for whale-watching on groupon out of Darling Harbor, I listened to the captains briefing of “this will not be a smooth trip on the waters” and made some friends onboard. We stood on the upper deck; we swayed with the waves; we powered over our stomachs (unlike some poor souls on the lower deck – bring dramamine if this is an issue for yourself so you don’t spend the whole trip with your head in a bag); we shook as the cold overcame us; we narrowed our eyes to find the spout from a blowhole or full breach of one of those beautiful creatures.
We waited and waited and became impatient as our cold, achy hands grasped the handrails and waited some more until… ALAS! Being the show off that humpback whales are known to be, we found him as he breached acrobatically out of the deep! We named him Wilfred. We loved him. We lost him, found him, again, followed him with our earnest eyes, and as the minutes rolled by, we were not 100% sure it was Wilfred the whole time, or if Wilfred was a male or female! After hours of determination and shaking from the bite of the wind and chill of the oceanic waters splashing upon us, we were rewarded with the most breathtaking sunset mother nature could create on a cool November night.
(Pro tip: If going in a colder month with choppy waters as I did, please bring either waterproof shoes or a cover for your shoes because they’ll get wet thus making you shiver constantly. Also, bring a poncho or something else waterproof to put over your clothing. My jeans were soaked, but I know I was warmer than those girls wearing shorts. Thank you sweet baby Jesus for the waterproof jacket I brought last minute.)
I know what y’all are thinking… but what about the koalas?! No worries, mates! I’m pretty positive that 101% of humans think “koala” or “kangaroo” when Australia is mentioned. Why wouldn’t you? They’re adorable! Although, the Koala is probably one of the only helpless animals still in existence (barely, poor little babies) in Australia. With all of the predators out there on that big island, it’s hard for them to live with no self-defense. Even a platypus has poisonous spurs on its feet!
No matter how much you crave it, most places will not allow you to hold or even pet a koala bear as it is illegal in certain areas, but fear not! There are some locations that will allow you to live your lifelong dream of cuddling a koala. I heard from a traveling couple that you can hold them on Hamilton Island off the coast of northern Queensland! Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, also, let’s you get in some cuddles! Happy holding 🐨
The Koala Park Sanctuary Sydney is where I went. They allow you to take pictures with koalas, but that’s it. However, you can pet AND feed kangaroos, and see a host of other critters such as penguins, wombats, dingoes, wallabies, emus, and cassowaries (big, dinosaur-like birds that can be incredibly dangerous).
Are you ready to get out of the city and stretch your muscles? How about the Blue Mountains? Trails are in abundance, beauty is expansive and nature is waiting to encompass you as you trek through the Eucalyptus trees, breath in the moist earth and hear a sound so silent you forget all the evil the world has done to you.
- Take the train straight out to Katoomba. It takes a few hours, but bring a book or
talk to your neighbors (didn’t I mention how friendly Aussies are?). I purchased a relatively inexpensive ticket with a bus tour which drives you through the quaint, adorable city of Katoomba and around the mountains whilst providing a light appetizer of history to prepare you for the main dish of glorious views which can end with your choice of an actual dessert of Mountain chocolate (Yes, they have free samples which are a nasty trick to force you into purchasing a morsel or two. Or ten).
- I bought my ticket on Groupon (where many activities can be found for the Sydney area – sailing, cooking classes, Sydney harbour bridge climb, etc). The bus office is located just outside the train station of Katoomba, easy to find 🙂
- Don’t feel like making the long trip to the mountains? Or don’t have the time? There are plenty of hiking opportunities just outside of the city. Google is all you need (well, that and love, obviously).
Ready to buuuuurn? That Australian sun is waitin’ for ya. There are plenty of supremely beatific beaches to let you soak up that Vitamin D! Don’t forget sunscreen because that sun with scorch you like a hungry, tired, scorned woman as the ozone layer here has been rather depleted and will give you melanoma before you can say Quidditch.
- Palm Beach – Parking is expensive and there’s only one restaurant that is rather overpriced, even for Sydney standards, but the views to be seen from the cliffs of the lighthouse are worth the price of parking.
- Umina Beach – A photographic, shallow beach where I first experienced surfing courtesy of my wonderful boyfriend!
- Patonga Beach – Bring your own tent, truck, etc, and purchase a spot in the caravan park just off the beach with grills and room to play (or just sleep on the beach… it’s not allowed if you get caught). The Boathouse restaurant for dinner is very nice, and there is what seems like miles of driftwood for beach fires (or buy some wood in town from the gas station). PLEASE do remember to practice fire safety, you guys; it’s important everywhere you go!
- Manly Beach – Cute town, plenty of restaurants, lots of surfing, rentals for bodyboards and surf boards
- Shelly Beach (Favorite) – It’s a small beach about a 10 minute walk south from Manly with great snorkeling as the beach drops off quite suddenly. Trees provide great shade around the edges of the shelly sand. Grills for BBQing can be found along with a pretty decent restaurant. There are public restrooms, and some friendly lizards and curious turkeys roaming around.
- Bondi Beach (pronounced Bawn-dih) – This is a popular surfing spot with a convenient bus stop right across the street and a beautiful display of mossy, rock pools off to the side. You can start the 2 hour long coastal walk here. It is lovely!
- Coogee Beach (pronounced kuh-jee) – The southernmost beach I visited in NSW, a nice town, beach volleyball and depending on where you start, it is the beginning or ending of the coastal walk (reaching from Bondi to Coogee)
Want any souvenirs from Australia? Here are some good ones:
- Honey – Aussies are very proud of their healthy bees that collect nectar from a variety nature’s greatest such as eucalyptus and tea tree. Read more about why the honey is so amazing here.
- Emu lotion – Good for the skin
- Taxidermic kangaroo balls – Yep.
- Boomerang – You know; the hunting weapon
- Tim Tams – Meant to be consumed with coffee, it’s a chocolatey cookie with a variety of flavors from red velvet to cappuccino. Yum!
- Vegemite – A healthy, savory spread fo yo bread that’s so salty you’ll wish you were dead
- Australian wine – There are many wineries in this nation, mostly in the southern states, and the varietal I saw most was Shiraz.
- Jellyfish sting – Just kidding! Be careful, though.
Educate yourself with some Aussie terminology:
- Swimmers – bathing suit
- Joggers – athletic shoes
- Brekky – breakfast
- Avo – avocado (aka. The most expensive produce)
- Bush – woods
- Pushbike – bicycle
- Sunnies – sunglasses
- Arvo – afternoon
- Bloody oath(?) – It’s true(?)
- Maccas – McDonalds
- Thongs – flip flops
The land of awe-inspiring nature and possibly the home of the flat white is a place I hope to visit more often as more places are waiting for me… Melbourne, Perth, Tasmania and the outback. I don’t expect Hugh Jackman in his birthday suit, but it wouldn’t upset me.
To all of you Aussies, thank you for keeping your country pristine and your attitudes pleasant; please give me any recommendations.
To all else, if you haven’t already, it’s time to visit the true blue.
To delve into this experience more, click here to go to my vlog that goes along with this article!