Monday, 25 April 2016

# 1 - Sydney Harbour

Well, here we are.  The pinnacle of the TripAdvisor list of things to do in Sydney.  When it comes to doing things in Sydney, the combined wisdom of the TripAdivisor community has decreed that Sydney Harbour is the best.  They think that Sydney Harbour is the boss, the head man, the top dog, the big cheese, the head honcho, number one...

Balmoral Beach - technically Middle Harbour, rather than Sydney Harbour, but I'm counting it
Some of the boats moored in Mosman Bay
But is the TripAdvisor community right?  Does Sydney Harbour deserve to be number one?  Well, it's kind of hard to argue with it.  Sydney Harbour is unbelievably scenic, and about half of the other attractions in the top 100 involve experiencing the harbour in some form.  However, rating Sydney Harbour as the best thing to do in Sydney is a bit like rating the food as the best thing about your favourite restaurant. Of course it's the best thing, but would it really hurt to be a bit more specific?

I think this is Balmoral Beach again, this time from a distance

Sydney Tower, casting its Eye over the harbour
In any case, Sydney Harbour is certainly an incredible thing to 'do', and quite simply can't be missed if you're visiting Sydney.  It would be physically quite difficult to miss, given the fact that it covers a large proportion of the city, but nonetheless, it is a truly outstanding attraction.  If you have any time in Sydney, then the harbour is the first place that should be on your list.  There are countless ways that you can experience the harbour, many of which have already been reviewed in this blog.

Sydney Harbour in all its glory

The sun setting over the harbour
I couldn't really write a review if Sydney Harbour without highlighting some of the breathtaking attractions contained within it.  The headline acts are undoubtedly the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and the multitude of viewing points to enjoy these incredible sights.  Mrs Macquarie's Chair, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Pylon Lookout, Milson's Point, Cockatoo Island and Observatory Hill are just a few of the plots of land that make the most of a vista that includes one or both of these iconic, eh, icons.

Clark Island, Shark Island, Rose  Bay and Point Piper from above

Those waves look pretty fierce
In addition to this, attractions like the Sydney Tower Eye, Sydney Ferries, City Tours and the totally unambiguous Sightseeing Tours all include the headline acts, along with the rest of the supporting cast of Sydney Harbour as their main selling point.  Meanwhile, Sydney Harbour National Park is actually a subset of Sydney Harbour, despite being ranked 74 places below it.  The sheer volume of outstanding attractions that lie within it are the reason it has been rated so highly.

Fort Denison, Mrs Macquarie's Chair and Woolloomooloo Bay

Should the cannons not be pointing away from the city?
Technically speaking, Sydney Harbour is just one area of Port Jackson, with Middle Harbour and North Harbour being the other two.  However, I tend to think of the whole of the Port Jackson area as Sydney Harbour.  Regardless of where the boundaries start and finish, Sydney Harbour certainly has enough about it to deserve its status in its own right.  Including Middle Harbour and North Harbour is just adding icing to the cake.

The view from South Head back towards Sydney Harbour

The view from somewhere around the Gap Park, back to the city.  Pretty nice.
There are many more magnificent attractions within Sydney Harbour that didn't even merit a mention in the top 100.  There are the many islands inside the harbour area, from the relatively large Goat Island to smaller islands like Clark Island and Shark Island.  The harbour meanders in and out as it spreads away from the centre of Sydney, leaving almost endless glorious points and bays.  Whether you explore these on foot, by boat, by brightly coloured unicycle, or by any other means, there are simply far too many attractions to list.

A lot of blue in this view from the North Head back towards Sydney Harbour

Us on our rental boat, shortly before realising we were drifting straight towards that expensive boat behind us
This is what makes Sydney Harbour deserving of its status as a world famous travel destination. Whether you take it in its entirety, or narrow it down to a tiny spot that barely anyone else even knows about, Sydney Harbour is just an absolute pleasure to experience.  I doubt it is physically possible to cover every inch of Sydney Harbour, but giving it your best shot sure would be a nice way to spend some time.

The view of Sydney Harbour from our old flat in St Leonards
Are there any better looking cities in the world?  I would love to see them if there are
Is Sydney Harbour the best thing to do in Sydney?  Or do you think they should just go the whole hog and crown Sydney as the best thing to do in Sydney?  It it pleases you, then leave a comment or question in the space below.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

# 2 - Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach Coastal Walk

So, we finally get to number 2.  The runner up.  The second best thing to do in Sydney, according to the TripAdvisor community.  It's painfully close to being named the best thing to do in Sydney, but the Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach Coastal Walk just falls short.  In fairness, it has finished ahead of both the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  That's not a bad recommendation. It's also the top rated walk in Sydney on TripAdvisor.

Bondi Beach on a sunny day - get rid of the people and it is paradise

The home of the Bondi Rescue lifeguards - they have their own awesome reality TV show
Now, it's very difficult to compare different walks.  They all have different highlights.  They go through different terrain and offer different types of views.  There are so many different variables that it is very hard to compare.  Especially in Sydney, where there are so many quality walks.  In fact only an absolute imbecile would make any attempt to compare the different walks available in Sydney.

The waves smashing into the rocks
In my view, the Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach Coastal walk is deserving of its place as the highest rated walk in Sydney.  It doesn't contain my favourite views in Sydney.  I prefer the views from North Head, which is part of the Manly Scenic Walkway, and from the Gap Park, near the South Head.  However, the key reason I rate this walk as the best walk, is that there are open views for the majority of the walk.  Many of the other walks involve large portions in thick bush, with no real views.  The Bondi to Coogee walk however, has open ocean views for the majority of the route.

Tamarama Beach - complete with some random artworks for 'Sculptures by the Sea'

Yes, that's a giant frying pan.  What about it?
The walk can be started at either Bondi or Coogee, but when we did it, we started at Bondi.  You walk around a well maintained coastal path to Tamarama Beach.  It takes about 25 minutes for this section, which includes lots of cliffside views of waves crashing into the rocks below.  There are some steep steps in this section.  From Tamarama, it is just another 5 minutes on to Bronte Beach.  Both are excellent beaches and have areas to stop and have a picnic.  Tamarama has a kiosk for food and drinks, while Bronte has a number of cafes and restaurants nearby, should you find that half an hour is too long to walk without a refreshment.

Going wild at Clovelly Beach
Once you've topped up with some snacks, you are ready to take on the longest individual section on the walk.  From Bronte to Clovelly Beach is about a 50 minute walk.  It's more of the same really on this section, but assuming you like clifftop views of the ocean and coastline, then this is no bad thing. Again, there are some steep steps along this section, as well as a boardwalk section.  Clovelly Beach itself is an interesting and relatively unique beach.  You can read a full review by clicking on the link above.

Gordon's Bay - the water looks good for snorkeling, even from a distance
The next section is only slightly shorter, and takes you from Clovelly to Coogee in about 45 minutes. There are more steep inclines and steps along this segment.  I really could have saved a bit of time by just saying that there are steep inclines and steps throughout the walk.  It's because of shoddy writing like this that I am writing this on a personal blog, instead of a feature length article for a best selling travel guide... Anyway, the walk takes you past the picturesque Gordon's Bay, which is a popular snorkeling spot, before finishing off at Coogee Beach.

The view back along the cliffs towards Bondi

Coogee Beach, a fine stretch of sand
Coogee is a great spot to finish the walk, with a big, wide expanse of sand, lots of grass areas, and all the facilities and amenities you might need after the two hour walk.  There is an option to continue on to Maroubra Beach, which we did not take up.  This would add approximately another 70 minutes on to the walk.

I really wish they would stop following me around with that sign
There are many great walks in Sydney, but this walk is really fantastic.  It takes in 6 great beaches, and endless clifftop views along the spectacular coastline.  There are some steep sections, and some parts with steps, but the quality of underfoot conditions is generally very good.  It can be split into smaller sections, and you are rarely too far away from civilisation if you get tired and want to stop for a refreshment.

One of the many beachside pools, great for kids

So many rules
There is plenty of entertainment at both ends, and along the way.  In addition, there is an annual 'Sculpture by the Sea' event along the first part of the walk, for those who like to add a bit of surreal art to their coastal walks (who doesn't?).  This is a fun and interesting event, but be aware that it can get extremely busy during this event.

Giant faceless babies crawling away from Bondi Beach?  That would be 'Sculptures by the Sea'
How do you think the Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach walk compares to the other walks in Sydney? Have you done the extension to Maroubra Beach?  Please make use of the comments box, and ask any questions or share any thoughts of your own.

# 3 - Sydney Harbour Bridge

I'm going to start this review with a shocking revelation.  You may want to be seated before reading any further.  The revelation is this:  I don't actually think the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a particularly nice bridge.  Feel free to take a break at this point to allow the enormity of that statement to sink in.

Take out the sea, the Opera House, the city skyline, and it's just a hunk of grey metal

Now, before I start getting hate mail, I should stress that I love the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  It's just that I love it in the way that Adrian loves Rocky in the Rocky films.  You know, it's more about its personality, its heart, and what it stands for.  I just don't find it particularly aesthetically pleasing.  It's big and chunky and metal.  The pylons help make it look a bit nicer, but I actually think the Anzac Bridge is a much nicer looking bridge.

I suppose it has its appeal though
Of course, regardless of my views regarding its beauty, it is not the job of a bridge to be beautiful. The job of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is to get people from one side of the harbour to the other, without getting wet.  It does this job very effectively.

Let's never speak of this picture
There are a number of ways that the bridge carries out this functionality too.  There are 6 lanes of roads, to allow you to drive across the bridge.  It can and does get very busy at peak times, but it is good fun to drive across just for the experience.  It also has a walking path on the right hand side if  you are coming from Circular Quay, or the left hand side of you are coming from the North side of the harbour.  Hopefully you could have figured that second part out on your own.  It also has a cycling track on the West side, which is the side furthest away from Sydney Opera House.  Finally, there is also a rail track wedged in between the cycle path and road.

The closest you will ever get to swimming under the bridge.  All things going well...

Probably not the greatest shot of the bridge, but included because this was the view from our flat in St Leonards
There are many ways that you can 'do' the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  You can view it, from a huge number of vantage points around Sydney.  Although I've been a bit harsh on judging the prettiness of the bridge, I should add that it fits really well into its surroundings.  On its own, I don't think it is hugely attractive, but it provides both a frame and a viewing platform for many of Sydney's greatest sights.  It may not be individually beautiful, but I think it makes the overall picture that bit more attractive.

If you do the Bridge Climb, you walk up the right staircase to the flags, then cross over and come down the left stairs

A group of people on their way up the Bridge Climb
In addition to viewing the bridge, you can actually go over it.  I've already mentioned the roads, rail line, walking path and cycling path.  The roads don't tend to have the best views, as they are in the middle of the bridge, but you do get an up close view of the bridge.  The rail line isn't on the outside, but is close enough that you get a decent view from the top deck of the train.  It is less obstructed towards the West, away from the Opera House though.

A nice grass area at Milson's Point - nice place for a picnic, if you don't mind the noise from the trains

The bridge looking particularly patriotic at night
Likewise, the cycling path offers reasonable views, but again, these are best towards the West.  Also worth noting that you cannot stop on the cycle path to admire the views.  There is generally a steady stream of cycling traffic so they understandably don't want the lane getting blocked up with people stopping for pictures.  Yes, I know there is a picture of us on bikes on the cycle path.  This was wrong, and not just because of the way we look.

The bridge has no doubt seen some sights down the years, but few as horrifying as this picture
Meanwhile, the walking path does offer some nice views to the Sydney Opera House and over the harbour, albeit through a mesh fence.  It also gets busy, but in this case you are quite welcome to stroll slowly, take your time and stop to get pictures.  Preferably don't block the whole path though.  The walking path also contains the entry to the Pylon Lookout, which is one of the best views over Sydney Harbour.

The traditional 'standing in a bath in front of the Harbour Bridge' photo

What better way to admire the bridge than with a glass of prosecco?
In addition to the more traditional methods of crossing the bridge, there is also the more unique option of climbing up to the top of the arch, via the Bridge Climb.  You can see a full review of this by clicking the link, but it really is a great experience and offers some awesome views.

Something about the bridge just brings out our cheesy poses

Not quite sure what I was doing with my trousers - trying to get a breeze I think.  It gets really hot...
As well as going across the bridge, you can also go under it.  Any of the ferries leaving Circular Quay for any destinations towards the west of Sydney will pass underneath the bridge.  This gives you the opportunity to see it up close, and from some unusual angles.  You also get the great scene of the Opera House being framed by the Harbour Bridge as you sail West away from the bridge.

Yet another angle

For those that always wanted to know what the underside of the bridge looks like
One final way to see the bridge is to fly over it.  Commercial flights do often give you the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the bridge if you are lucky enough to be in the right seat, but you can also take a helicopter tour over the bridge.  This is unsurprisingly expensive, but an incredible experience, and you can read a review under #38 Helicopter Tour.

Sydney - not bad

The silhouette of the bridge as the sun sets
The bridge is striking during the day, and can actually look quite nice at night.  The pylons are lit up, and some clever lighting does make it look a bit prettier, in my view.  During the Vivid festival, the decorations are taken a step further, and you can expect to see the bridge clad in a variety of bright and colourful fluorescent lights.

From the Opera House at dusk, with Luna Park in the background

A bit blurry, but you get the idea

I feel like I started this review by being a little bit harsh on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so let me wrap up by being a bit nicer.  The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the great icons, not just of Sydney, but in the world.  It dominates the skyline and, along with the Opera House, creates one of the best known and loved city scenes anywhere.  Whether you go under it, over it, or on it, it is definitely one of the best things to do in Sydney.

Still pretty nice from a distance

Last one - I promise...
Want to have a go at me for daring to question the beauty of the Sydney Harbour Bridge?  The words pot, kettle and black do spring to mind...  Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the appropriately titled comments box.