Sydney: A Trip Down Under - Days One and Two

Julie Royce's picture

I love traveling and I love sharing my stories.  Back when I worked in the real world, and survived with a meager four weeks’ vacation a year, I parceled the time sparingly between travel adventures, visiting my parents and my children’s field trips. I still managed to spend some treasured days soaking up the allure of China, Japan, Italy, Greece and Egypt.

Early retirement brought time for longer trips and my husband and I penned Australia and New Zealand at the top of our list of dream vacations.  We naively believed a month was adequate for this extended holiday.  Australia is one big country and we missed the entire western half of the continent.  The good news is that our mistake gives us incentive to return.

In a similar vein, one column is not enough to describe our journey.  Over the next few months I hope to give you the flavor of Sydney, Cairns and Alice Springs, Australia, as well as Fiordland National Park, Dunedin, Napier, Bay of Islands, Auckland and Christchurch, New Zealand.  I may even laud and lambast the cruising experience since part of our trip was on the Dawn Princess. Cruising can be the ultimate hedonistic experience. The service was amazing, but there are a few things to know in advance.


Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House


I’ll start where we started: Sydney, Australia.

I wish I could say we arrived at 7:50 am, after 14 ½ hours and losing a day, ready to step out in the brilliant sunshine and absorb the adventure, charm and mystique of Sydney.  After sitting in seats clearly meant for child-sized humans and walking aisles that even skinny people traverse sideways, we felt bedraggled, disheveled and too exhausted to notice much of anything.  My husband, Bob, planted himself in front of the carousel to await our luggage. A few steps behind him I slouched under the weight of our overstuffed carry-ons, oblivious to anything around me.

A customs agent walked over.  “Any food?” she asked.

“No.”  I was too tired for additional polite conversation.

“How about a half-eaten granola bar or bag of chips?” she persisted. She was either hoping to trip me up or she had seen me on prior flights.

“Nope. Not even those.”

She asked for my declaration card.  Out of guilt to our answer about drugs, (Bob and I checked 'no') I blurted, “I didn't mention his Plavix or my transderm scop for motion sickness.”

The agent looked at me with eyes that seemed to ask if I was serious. She said, “I'm putting a green stamp on your cards – go to the far exit when you get your luggage.  We don't need to go through your suitcases.”

While the masses stood in god-awful lines for an hour, we just eased out to a bunch of dirty looks that implied we were taking cuts.  I'm politically opposed to profiling, but in my sleep deprived, politically-incorrect mood, I just smiled. I wasn't about to insist some customs agent rifle through my underwear or neatly stacked piles of slacks and sweaters.

On the limousine ride to the hotel I felt that Australia seemed a bit less exotic than other places we had visited. Then it hit me - all of the signs were in English.  I decided it was worth giving up a bit of exotic to be able to make myself understood when I asked for the nearest ladies’ room.  

The most exciting aspect of our arrival was walking into the Menzies to find our room was ready at 9:30 am.  The bright, white, starched and pressed sheets were a sight for barely open eyes.  There are too many lovely hotels in Sydney to count, but the Menzies brags a superb location, helpful staff, gracious lobby, fine food (both casual and upscale), small, but well-appointed rooms, and luxurious bathrooms.  And, in Sydney where rooms are not inexpensive, we got the third night free by booking on Side Step.

Most of day one remains a blur. We tried to sleep, but our jet-lagged bodies couldn’t understand what was happening. We wandered aimlessly, got a lay of the land and tried to adjust to local time.  Even with eyes half shut, we saw that Sydney is a world class city, clean, friendly, safe, architecturally interesting, and with enough amusements and diversions to keep visitors happy for weeks.  

By day two we were ready to venture out and get better acquainted with this lovely harbor town. We hopped aboard the Sydney Explorer – a bus that took us to 27 stops near the most frequently visited attractions, and would let us off at a spot convenient to grabbing the Bondi Explorer destined for another 19 hot spots. You can jump on and off these coaches at any location, spend as much time as you like, and then pick up the next bus to continue the trip. It is the perfect way to get your bearings and an overview of Sydney.  

The guide gave us the scoop on restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, theatres, and week-end markets.  From the windows we scoped out the Jewish Museum, Central Station, Powerhouse Museum, the Sydney Opera House, the Australian Museum. the Sydney Fish Market, the National Maritime Museum, Woolloomooloo Bay (I just like the way that rolls off my tongue), views of Sydney Harbor and its famous bridge (spectacular), Circular Quay, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Queen Victoria Shopping Building (fabulous shopping), the Sydney Tower, the Sydney Aquarium, the Rocks (home of the first European settlement), and another dozen or so places to consider spending some of our limited time during the next couple of days.

The Bondi Explorer took us along Sydney’s most picturesque coastline, harbors and surfing beaches. Walking Bondi Beach I discreetly pointed out a topless sunbather to Bob thinking it might enliven his day. He was wistfully watching the surfers and wishing he was 25-years-old with a surfboard in hand, waiting for the next big wave.  Our photos capture waves (the surfers had already crashed by the time the camera clicked) but no topless sunbathers.  The afternoon was pleasantly chilly, maybe creeping towards 70 degrees and the beach was already the American Academy of Dermatology's worst nightmare – or job security.  


Sydney Bondi Beach

Popular swimming and surfing beach 7 kilometers from the Sydney Business District


As we rambled past lush parks, I wondered if the pedestrians I saw were all reacting to the same weather stimulus.  Women dressed in shorts (really short shorts) wedge heels and sleeveless tank tops walked within steps of others wearing winter coats, boots and long pants. Some fashionistas walked to the beat of a clearly different design drummer:  One very emaciated woman, with alabaster skin and the blackest hair I had ever seen, sported Goth garb and reminded me of Abby on NCIS.  A young man walked a few paces behind her sporting army fatigues and combat boots, paired with a neon green tee-shirt. Pink hair fringed his baseball cap. Too many signals for me to understand his fashion statement - assuming there was one.


Sydney Bondi Beach

Sydney residents flock to the popular Bondi Beach


Along our way the driver told us about his beautiful city with its population of over 4,000,000. Although a vibrant, upscale and enticing metropolitan city, it got its start as a penal colony.  England sent its petty criminals to Sydney because it was considered too far away for them to swim or sail home.    

By the time the day ended I began entertaining daydreams of staying on for a year or two, something I planned to discuss with Bob over dinner, and after he'd had a beer.


Don't miss the other articles in this series:

Syndey: Day Three

Sydney: Morning, Day Four

Sydney: Day Four, Afternoon 




Julie Albrecht Royce, Travel Adventures Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for Wandering Educators.


Feature photo:

Beautiful cliffs near Bondi Beach


All photos courtesy and copyright Robert Royce