Our 6 month trip through Australia and Asia started in Bondi, Sydney. I’d lived in Bondi for almost a year back when I was ten, but this was a different place – unfailingly charming and friendly as ever, but more self-conscious, and achingly hipster.
Does anyone know of anyone on the wholesale end of avocado/sourdough/big lightbulb retail in Oz because it’s got to be lucrative? I could do with a job. I could be a professional avocado smasher for hire, it sounds therapeutic and I’ve got references.
Bondi was always health and fitness conscious. I remember as a London kid in the nineties wondering why everything here wasn’t slathered in layers of I-can’t-believe-I’m-eating-this margarine, but this current trend seems more about identity than aesthetics. We were asked, in utter seriousness, whether we wanted our coffee in ‘paper or ceramic?’ My embarrassment and confusion must have been as plain as the marble decor – ‘to have in or take away?’ ‘Ceramic please, I want to make the most of my $4.50.’ Ten minutes later we had our Ethiopian-bean coffees, brewed in a contraption that looked like it had come off the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It turns out Ethiopian bean tastes quite bitter; ‘could I get some sugar, please?’.’We don’t serve sugar in this establishment’. The Oompa-Loompas would be horrified.
The food is delicious and so are a lot of the people that make it; I’ve never seen so many good-looking people in such a short space of time. I’m assuming this fact and the sunshine puts everyone in good mood as the friendliness is relentless. I wanted breakfast with some artisanal component but also I was poor – people actually have a good wage and standard of living in Australia so stuff is expensive. I was that annoying person at the front of queue trying to figure out how to cheat the menu and get everything for nothing. Just I was just getting ready to scowl passive-aggressively at the non-existent tut-tutters behind me I was rewarded with a free breakfast and a dazzling, knowing smile. I realised then I wasn’t in London anymore.
Top FREE things to do in Sydney
Sydney is a subtropical city where urban life and nature merge into something really quite beautiful and unique. There aren’t many cities I can think of where you can walk straight onto the sand and into the ocean. Bondi is the most famous and busy of the Sydney beaches but there are countless others (see below). If you want to people-watch however then this is the beach to go to. Ubiquitous sun-kissed surfers, body-builders (I recommend the outdoor pull-up bars), all manner of beautifully tanned beach bums, yogis, picnicking Aussie families – you’ll find them all here. And when you can’t sleep due to jetlag, check Bondi out at sunrise.
Bondi to Coogee coastal walk
A well-trod and stunningly picturesque coastal route that winds past dramatic cliff-faces, rockpools, countless beaches and the beautiful houses of Sydney’s suburbs. Even the historic cemetery (Waverley) with it’s sweeping ocean views is incredible. The start of the walk goes past the legendary Instagram mother of all swimming pools – the Bondi Baths, then upwards to Marks Park, where you’ll find Aboriginal rock carvings and is one of the prime whale-watching spots from May-November. The first major beach is Tamarama (small but stunningly framed by cliffs either side), nicknamed Glamourama because of the trendsetters and wannabe trendsetters that hang out here. Be careful of riptides. Further along is much larger Bronte beach and then tiny, peaceful Clovelly, which is perfect for swimming. Stop half-way at Bronte to have lunch in one of the many cafes and say hello to the most glamorous residents, Mango and Crush – two enormous blue Macaws that sit by the railing near the beach and watch the world go by. They’re very friendly and love to hang out with passers-by.
Sydney Opera House and The Rocks
You’ve seen it in pictures a thousand times, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint when you see it upfront. You can check out the Opera House lobby for free and don’t miss the view of it from the Harbour Bridge. The Rocks is Sydney’s oldest neighbourhood, where European settlers first arrived in the late 1700s. Wander down cobbled paths and narrow alleyways of colonial-era pubs and gothic sandstone churches. The area sits directly underneath the imposing Harbour bridge and is in surreally stark contrast to the modern buildings that surround it. It’s definitely one of my favourite areas of Sydney.
Check out the Australian hotel – knocked down during the plague outbreak in 1900, it was rebuilt during the Edwardian era and retains a lot of the original features. The sloping bathrooms look like they haven’t been changed since. Sit at the window and people-watch as the sun streams through (you might actually have to pay for a drink to do this unless you’re feeling brave). The ‘I’m Free’ Walking tours leave from this area and they’re great. They’ll show you places you might otherwise have missed and are really informative. They’re technically free but you’re encouraged to give what you think the tour was worth at the end.
Manly and Northern Beaches on a Sunday
Use your Opal card (capped at $2.50 on a Sunday) to get the Manly ferry from Sydney Harbour to the golden-sand beaches North of Sydney. It’s also an excellent way to see the harbour cheaply.
Just 2.5 hours North of Sydney by NSW train and you’re at the quirky Blue mountains launchpad town of Katoomba. The vibe here is more chicken-salt scallop and formica diner than smashed avocado and reclaimed wood, or maybe that’s just where we ate. Check out Greco’s for cheap burgers served by bored and friendly teenagers. A free shuttle bus goes from here to the most famous landmark – the Three Sisters at Echo Point – a stunning and unusual sandstone rock formation formed by wind erosion over millennia. Catch them at sunset or under evening floodlight, but be warned – the crowds will be massive.
The blue mountains are so called because of the blue haze that hangs silkily over them, formed due to oil droplets evaporating from hundreds of thousands of eucalyptus trees. From Echo point there are a number of possible hikes – we took the steep and narrow Giant Stairway trail past Katoomba falls and the Scenic Railway. Whichever path you choose you’ll see stunning views of the Jamison valley and the sheer, sandstone rock faces that frame it. We went during a rainstorm and the tropical smell of wet soil and eucalyptus was beautiful. Listen out for hundreds of echoing tropical bird calls. Once at the bottom you have the option of taking the scenic railway to the top or walking the Furber steps back up to Echo point. The railway looks fun but is quite expensive. We chose to take the Furber steps which are amazingly secluded and take you past some magnificent waterfalls. If you happen to be there in the late afternoon you’ll be rewarded with some incredible views where the orange light intermingles with the dark blue hues of the valley.
We stayed in.. The Beach Road Hotel. If you’ve had enough of (but really just can’t afford) the boring pleasantness of boutique hotels try the sticky floors and genuine stale-beer scent of the Beach road Hotel in Bondi. It’s basic and cheap..for Sydney, and they do free gigs on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It’s also perfectly located just off the main drag and the staff is great.
We ate in.. Bonditony’s Burger Joint. Great, big greasy burgers named after rock bands accompanied by some awesome tunes.
Emperor Garden BBQ and noodles. Chinatown in any city is normally our go-to when we want something delicious and inexpensive. Turns out chinatown in Sydney isn’t exactly cheap but it was delicious. The hand-made noodles with duck were thick and chewy and amazing.
Le Paris-Go Cafe’. Our inevitable hipster breakfast was probably one of our best meals of the trip. We shared The smoked salmon/scrambled eggs and avocado on toast/poached eggs and it was fantastic. Simple menu and ingredients and perfectly made. Also has a really nice family and locals-what-brunch atmosphere.