Adventures in Oz: Sydney has something for every traveler

Photo: John Jones
Skip the bridge climb and make your way up to the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout for stunning and inexpensive panoramic views overlooking the harbor.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

“Oh, beautiful!”

That’s the response we got every single time we told Sydneysiders where we were staying. The location inspiring such awe is Mount Kuring-gai, a small suburb located just about 20 miles northwest of Sydney. With the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park on one side of town and the Berowra Valley Regional Park on the other, it truly is a wondrous place. It also happens to be where my brother and sister-in-law live—lucky me!

Naturally, that is the reason that my husband and I decided to endure the 16-some hours of flights to experience life on the other side of the globe for two weeks last autumn—or should I say spring?

While most tourists to Australia will spend their time traveling around the country, we decided to stick to the Sydney area, enjoying spending time with our hosts and taking advantage of our budget-friendly (read free) accommodations. Not everyone is as fortunate as us in this matter, of course, but I do suggest taking several days in Sydney if you ever find yourself down under—and definitely venturing out to Mount Kuring-gai for a bush walk or two.

Exploring Sydney’s icons
You simply cannot visit Sydney without wandering around Circular Quay as you snap several dozen pictures of the Opera House—at least that’s my experience! The thing that I find most intriguing about the iconic structure—besides the fact that it was designed by a Danish architect, Jørn Utzon—is how different it looks from various distances and perspectives. While the standard view seems to depict a single building with smooth, white shells, from close up you will discover that it is composed of three separate structures with over a million tiny tiles.

Photo: John Jones
Visitors to the Hunter Valley can delight in some tasty beer flights and classic Aussie potato wedges at Hope Estate.

From the Opera House, you will look out at another Sydney icon—the Harbour Bridge, also known as The Coathanger. While you’ve probably seen photos of tourists climbing the bridge in their gray jumpsuits, this experience doesn’t come cheaply—it will set you back a couple hundred dollars in fact. Instead, I recommend climbing the 200 stairs to the top of the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout for a much more reasonable cost of AUD $13 (currently just under USD $10). You’ll still get the incredible views and you’ll actually be allowed to capture those views on your camera. For a completely free option, look over Sydney Harbour as you walk across the bridge, just under three-quarters of a mile.

Going back in time in The Rocks
Adjacent to Circular Quay you’ll find The Rocks, the site of the country’s first European settlement and definitely one of my favorite areas of the city. This neighborhood has fought over many decades to preserve its history and keep the original buildings intact, providing a stark contrast to the plethora of skyscrapers hovering in the background. The streets are lined with historic pubs where you’re sure to find a schooner of something good, served alongside the Aussie pub favorite of potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce.

We stopped at the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, which claims to be Sydney’s oldest surviving pub. While that statistic is up for debate, the Lord Nelson can confirm that it is the city’s oldest continually licensed hotel with its liquor license dating back to 1831. I can also confirm that the beer is great and the experience worthwhile!

Wandering on the beaches
It’s no secret that Australia is known for its beaches. And the most famous of those is Bondi Beach, located just a bus ride away from the city center.

If you are researching free things to do in Sydney, you will undoubtedly come across the Bondi to Coogee walk—and for good reason. This incredible trail leads you right along the coast as you overlook a series of gorgeous beaches, bays, and coves. It is just under four miles and will take you about two hours, and there are several benches right along the coastline if you wish to take a rest. If you forgot to bring your walking shoes to the beach (which seems perfectly reasonable to me), you can make it a shorter trek and stop at Tamarama, Bronte, or Clovelly beaches.

To get to the famed Manly Beach, you can take a 30-minute ferry from Circular Quay through the Sydney Harbour. Once you’ve arrived, enjoy some fish & chips and a walk along the sandy beach. (Whether or not you choose to embrace your manliness is up to you.)

Photo: John Jones
When one beach just won’t cut it, follow four miles of Sydney’s vibrant turquoise coastline along the Bondi to Coogee walk.

Wine tasting in the Hunter Valley
For all of the oenophiles visiting Sydney, the Hunter Valley is the place to be. It is located just over two hours by car north of the city, but you can also get there by bus, train, or plane.

We started with a wine tasting and a cheese plate at McGuigan Wines, one of the most awarded wineries in the world having won International Winemaker of the Year three times. If you’re going to the Hunter, you won’t want to miss this one. Spend the rest of the day exploring the many wineries in the region to your liking. And if you keep an eye on the vineyards, you may just see a wallaby or two hopping around—we did!

We also checked out Hope Estate, a winery and a brewery that is sure to have something for everyone.

Bush walking in the Blue Mountains
Another popular excursion from Sydney is venturing out to Katoomba to see the Blue Mountains, which takes about two hours by train.

It’s true that when you look over the mountains, the distant mountains do in fact look blue. It is believed that this blue haze is caused by the dispersed oil droplets from the eucalyptus trees combining with dust particles and water vapor—strange, huh?

The biggest tourist attraction here is the Three Sisters, a unique sandstone rock formation formed by land erosion. You can view the Three Sisters from an easily accessible lookout point, but for better views of the region, take some time to hike around the various trails.

And there’s so much more to consider, depending on your interests. There’s the footy for sports fans, opportunities for animal lovers to interact with kangaroos and pelicans, and a multitude of museums and historical buildings for history buffs and art enthusiasts alike. Or you can always follow my lead, giving yourself a couple weeks in Sydney and enjoying it all!

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.