We both woke up about half an hour from entering Sydney, which was lucky as we got to see the fantastic bridge in the horizon and marvel as we crossed the bridge into the city which would become our home for the next 10 days over Christmas and New Year. It would also be the city where we were joined by Jackie's mum who we will refer to as Mummy T as she became known throughout our stay.
On arrival we went straight to Mummy T's hotel just round the corner from Hyde Park in Sydney. We were early so we could not check into our youth hostel just yet, so dumped our bags off and went for breakfast up near Darling Harbour.
Both Jackie and I were so excited to be in Sydney. The East Coast of Australia was fantastic but we were both looking forward to hitting a city where we could really explore and especially one which is so iconic.Following breakfast, we checked Mummy T out of her hotel and trekked back to YHA Central hostel, which we booked back in May 2008. Due to it being Christmas time, all hostels were rammed at the seams and we were very lucky to get into this hostel, which should be called a 'hotel'.
Clean, friendly, with fantastic facilities including a tour desk, cinema, roof top terrace and swimming pool, Sydney Central was really spoiling us over Christmas and why not eh!The three of us checked into our four sharing dorm, so we always knew that we would be joined by a random but who, we did not know. An hour later, a German guy called 'Manfred' who in honesty was very sweet, if not a little odd checked in and he would be our roommate for Christmas Day for both him (celebrated on the evening of the 24th) and for us the following day.
We immediately went out to explore. Mummy T had already been there for a day, so knew the way to get to see the sights. Off we went, through the magical botanical gardens and round the corner which is when we first saw it!! The Opera house and Harbour Bridge are stunning. So iconic, so well known but they leave you gazing in awe, not only when you first see them, but every time you see them.Along with Ayres rock, these two magical pieces of architecture rise through the skyline and amaze you with their glory. The camera's came straight out. Before we knew it almost 100 pictures dedicated to them.We kept snapping every step we took nearer to them - we will need to take time deciding what we will put on our blog.
After an ice-cream and a cold drink we headed back to the hostel for dinner and an early night we were all shattered from travelling and traipsing half the way round Sydney.
The following day we were up early as we had all booked on a tour of the Blue Mountains. This mountain range are based about an hour North West of Sydney and we enjoyed a three hour trek through rugged terrain and through really interesting scenery.Mummy T coped admirably with the walk despite putting her foot in a stream of water instead of on one of the stepping stones.
That evening we left Mummy T behind as we were meeting with one of our ex work colleagues - Stevo - who was now living in Sydney.It was amazing to see a friend from home and we spent the evening catching up over a few drinks with him, and arranging our plans for Christmas Day when again we would meet up with him.
We woke up on Christmas Eve, despite it not feeling like it at all. We ventured down to breakfast and through the hostels speakers they were playing all hosts of Christmas songs. Everyone was sitting round eating their breakfast in santa hats, all trying to get into the spirit. We had booked to do the harbour bridge climb today - a three hour climb over the arch of the most famous bridge in the world. The climb was not until 5pm so we spent the day preparing for the next day, buying food and drink for our picnic we were due to have. The bridge climb soon came round and we found ourselves hoisted up and scaling up a bridge. The history of the bridge is fascinating. Thousands of people worked on creating the bridge during the deep depression of the 30's, working up a bridge so high without harnesses does not bear to think of, but only four people lost their life during the whole construction. From the top the view was fantastic, you could see as far as the site of the Sydney 2000 Olympics and through to the Manly heads. As we walked up various points of interest were pointed out including where Nicole Kidman apparently lives and also where Russell Crowe has an apartment.We are not sure that it is worth the $195 dollars that it cost to go across the bridge but it is one of the things thatyou need to tick on the check list and we have done it.
We had an early night that night in order to be ready for Christmas Day. We woke up early; Steve treated us both to Eggs on Toast - makes a change from cereal!!We packed up the picnic and made a swift exit as we were meeting Stevo and heading for a typical Australian Christmas - the beach followed by a BBQ.
We were planning on heading to Bondi, which is notorious for English people to visit on Christmas Day, yet many people on the east coast told us that it was full of drunken idiots and that we would not have a relaxing day. Instead we went to Bronte, a beach town just around the headland from Bondi.The beach had a fantastic atmosphere with families and friends-a-like playing games and relaxing in the grassland that backed onto the beach.After our picnic we headed around the coastal walk that lead us to Bondi, so at least we could say that we had been.Guess what? The beach was practically empty. OK that may be a Steve exaggeration, but it was nowhere as busy as we were told it would be, and there was a really friendly atmosphere around the place.
Maybe, just maybe this was because there was a complete 'no tolerance' policy to alcohol anywhere near the beach. The beach was gated off and tough security guards searched bags, and even smelt water bottles to ensure no one would be drinking on Bondi. It kind of makes sense.Not everyone realises the power of the sea in Australia. A few beers to the worse the sea will whisk you off in a rip and you will either drown, become shark bait or both! Which actually links nicely, as the sea at Bondi was closed Boxing day following a shark sighting!!
We caught a taxi back to Stevo's apartment late in the afternoon. Stevo spent Christmas Eve at the butchers by the looks of things and treated us to a BBQ feast including steak on Christmas Day! How will Steve ever better this?We spent the evening eating and drinking before sticking on a movie and then heading off to bed.We are sure that we will never experience a Christmas Day quite like this again and it will never fade from the memories. It was tough not seeing the families back home though but the sun, steak and six cold beers helped.
On Boxing Day, Mum and Dad Marks, and Steve's sisters family had sent a voucher allowing us to go on a cruise that set off from Circular Quay, right next to the opera house and spent 1.5 hours cruising up the river. It was a fantastic setting and a really nice way to spend an afternoon. Thanks for that guys.
On the 27th we left the hostel we were staying in and headed north across the Harbour Bridge to a little coastal resort called Collaroy. This was our base until the New Year.Again Mummy T was with us and we stayed in a four shared room with a new roommate, this time a girl called Vanessa.We spent lunch time on the beach which was right opposite the hostel but it turned cold so we ventured back to make use of the free bikes that the hostel offered.What we did not realise was that the only bikes they had were girls bikes. Steve looked like an absolute joke as he peddled his way up the high street away from the hostel, but Mummy T and Jackie did not tell him so.We decided to head to a place called Narrabeen Lakes,which were about 20 minutes away. We cycled around the lake as far as we could and when we could not go any further Steve decided that we took to the road to find the quickest way to the supermarket - our ultimate destination.
Sadly, Steve is not usually bad with directions, but on this occasion we ended up well out of our way. We had to come back the same way and the heavens decided to open - we got absolutely soaked, Mummy T and all. Finally we made it back to the hostel via the supermarket, and cooked tea.
Steve has an old work friend that he has not seen for 10 years who goes by the name of Peter Bounsall. Peter moved out to Oz 5 years ago and on the 28th we invited ourselves over to his house for dinner. They live in the suburb of Berowra, an hours train journey from Sydney. It was a beautiful spot, near to the HawkesburyRiver and Wine Valley.Both Peter and Julia (his wife) were the most fantastic hosts putting on a lovely dinner for us, thankfully not Pasta. It was a scorcher of a day and we enjoyed wine, beer and fantastic company in their garden as the sun gently topped up the tan ahead of new year.
Just above Collaroy is the setting for the soap Home and Away - a tiny seaside resort of Palm Beach.We decided that the three of us would catch the bus and see what all the fuss was about. It was a wash out. It started off nice enough, we laid our towels down and the heavens opened. We spent the afternoon in an overpriced cafe waiting for the rain to stop. By the time it did, we were back on the bus. It did not rain in Collaroy - thanks.
In the evening we ate and then played cards. Steve taught Mummy T how to play 's***head' and did not even rename it and she beat him, he was gutted.
We ventured to the renowned town of Manly just north of Sydney on the 30th. Manly is beautiful, a real charm of Sydney. Waves were enormous and the surf was fantastic.It was here that a few of our friends who were also travelling met us ahead of New years Eve. Ben and Cat (Jackie's friends) had come up from Melbourne where they were living and Charlie and Nadine (also Jackie's friends) had flown over from the UK and were here for New Year and then for 3 weeks adventure of their own after.
After an afternoon on the beach, having made plans for New Years Eve, we headed back to the hostel and treated ourselves to Fishfingers, Beans and Mash, expertly cooked by the chef in Steve.
It was a relatively early night tonight as we were getting ready for the big one the following day.
All the way down the East Coast we had stressed about what to do for New Years? We knew we wanted to watch the fireworks on the bridge as they were meant to be mindblowing,but where from? What are the restrictions? How do we ensure we can see? What happens if it is too busy?
So many questions. Luckily one answer...
The hostel we were staying in, being that bit out of Sydney central itself, had plans. They were putting on buses to take you to and from a 'secret' site. We were a little sceptical at first. If this site was so good to watch the fireworks from, how come it was not overrun? After much debate, we put our trust in our hosts. If nothing else we would be able to get the bus back from Sydney after midnight which was a result in itself.
We were booked on the first bus into town, the 11am bus. Yes we were going to be there for the long haul. We arranged where we would meet the gang from the previous day and headed off.
When we arrived and as you will see from the photo's we were so VERY LUCKY. Even Aussies who were at the same site and had lived in Sydney all their life, could not believe their luck. Our view point was north of the bridge, bridge to our right, looking out across the river, Sydney Opera House to our left and the sun would eventually set over the bridge and on our far horizon - magical.
Staff at the hostel had camped out overnight and had roped off a great section for us to laze away the day, eating, drinking and playing games and enjoying the baking hot heat. It was the hottest day that we had had in weeks and that was saying something.
Our two Dutch friends, Jim and Chris, also came and joined us on our recommendation and with so many friends around us we were grateful that the location could not have been better and also extremely happy to celebrate New Year with such a good group of people.
We had all prepared a big picnic to keep us going for the day, and had beers and wine on ice to help.
Angela, Steve's friend from the UK, popped over to see us for an hour before she headed off to her own New Year spot, as we awaited the much anticipated fireworks.
At 9pm we saw a glimpse of what we could expect at midnight, with the family fireworks. This was still bigger than any firework display that we had seen in the UK and was met with lots of oohhs and ahhs from the 600 people that we were sharing this viewing site with.
We are not sure if it is the alcohol or the excitement but the 3 hours between 9 and midnight absolutely flew past and now the big fireworks were among us.
Now some of you may have experienced this before, so you know what we are trying to explain here, but it really is hard putting into words how amazing this display is. It is rumoured that over5 million AUS dollars are spent on this display, including lighting up dozens of boats on the river and illuminations on the bridge itself. A lot of money but what an impact.
The fireworks were so powerful and they surrounded you to the extent that it felt that the display was put on just for you. You forget that you are sharing this with approx 1.5m watching live around the harbour, not to mention the millions at home on TV.They lasted for 15 minutes and made every hair on the back of your neck stand up on end.The finale was ear piercing and left you with a big smile on your face and optimistic for what 2009 would have in store for you.
Drunk, tired from lazing in the sun all day and still buzzing, the three of us went to meet our shuttle bus to take us back to the hostel in one piece.It was a celebration that will live with us forever and the pinnacle of our journey so far.
After a good sleep, we all woke up feeling rather fresh for New Years Day. We stayed around the hostel, exploring local beaches and generally taking it easy. Steve cooked a New Years Day fry up for the three of us and we generally chilled out.
The next day we spent back at Manly beach - we loved it there and then came back in the evening to meet up with Stevo (from Christmas Day) a bunch of his mates, Jackie's mates from home who we spent New Year with and Steve's mate from home Dave Wheatley. Canadian Mitch also joined us for what became a drunken affair, with copious amounts of whisky drunken by the boys. This would be the last time we would see Stevo. It is strange knowing that you live on the other side of the world from a good friend - thanks for everything Stevo and we will see you again soon, we promise.
Mummy T has an uncle that Jackie had not met in her life who lived in a suburb close to Sydney.The three of us were picked up by uncle Colin who took us to his lovely home for a good roast dinner and family reunion. It was a lovely day and nice to meet Jackie's granddads brothers family for the day.
Colin drove us back in to Sydney where we would say a sad farewell to Mummy T. We had been a family of three for 10 days but now we were off to Melbourne. We were both very sad to leave Sydney our memories and friends behind us, but there was exploring to be done and nothing could have added to our experience in Sydney to make it any better than it was - probably one of the best places in the world that either of us had ever been to.