Thursday, August 27, 2015

For the past month, I had envisioned seeing a stunning sunset along the Great Ocean Road.

I’d been following hashtags such as #12apostles, #greatoceanroad, #seegor and more on my Instagram feed. I wanted to capture those same brilliant shades of pinks, oranges and violets in my photos, but unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans for us.

August is still the middle of winter here in Australia, and in the Victoria region that often means a lot of overcast skies and gray days. We still had a wonderful time along the Great Ocean Road as we stared in awe at the rugged, windswept coastline every time we stopped.

Probably the most popular stop along the Great Ocean Road is the Twelve Apostles, majestic limestone pillars rising out of the Southern Ocean, located about 4 hours west of Melbourne. We planned our road trip so we would end up at this location about an hour before sunset, which was around 6 p.m. at the time.

First we hiked down 86 steps at Gibsons Steps, named after a local settler in 1869, to the beach. This is one of the few places along the Port Campbell National Park where you can actually access the beach. The two limestone formations here called Gog and MaGog, for some reason, actually aren’t considered part of the 12 Apostles.

The warm light right before sunset reflected off the steep limestone cliffs that line the beach.
The ocean waves were some of the most intense and ferocious we’ve ever seen in our lifetime! You would NOT want to attempt swimming in this powerful section of the ocean!
Quickly, we hopped into our rental car and drove over to the nearby lookout point for the official 12 Apostles. Though the name says 12, the signs state there were nine limestone stacks at most, and since the last collapse in 2005 there are currently eight. Until 1922, this site was known as the Sow and Piglets after which it was renamed to The Apostles for tourism purposes. (I’d have to guess there may have been some religious influence for the name change as well.)
Looking back east toward the Gog and MaGog formations.
Be forewarned as you’ll share this magical sunset moment with hundreds of other tourists. If you want to stake out a good spot with your tripod, I’d recommend arriving at least an hour earlier. I didn’t get the best photos as the Apostles were already dark on the eastern-facing fronts, but we still enjoyed a rosy glow along the horizon. Pretty, don’t you think?
The next day, after staying in Port Campbell for the night, we rose early again so we could catch sunrise at the 12 Apostles and Gibsons Steps. Despite the early hour, brisk morning and howling winds, perhaps about 50 other tourists had the same idea as we did.

Luckily, we saw some pretty pinks in the sky, but the morning was quite overcast.

After the sunrise colors began to fade, we drove back over to Gibsons Steps to see how the rocks looked during the golden morning light instead of evening. Technically, the steps were locked because of a high tide warning, but we climbed over the gate anyway and walked down the slippery steps. We stayed close to the cliffs and walked along the beach for awhile and set up our own photo shoot here.
This coastline is an amazing site to see and should be on every traveler’s bucket list. No matter what the weather may be like, the 12 Apostles are still a photographer’s dream to shoot!

By the way, today’s post marks my 600th blog post I’ve written since I started this blog in 2010. Thanks so much for joining my journey!

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

List posts always seem to be popular, so here’s my take on some of the top things to do and where to eat in beautiful Sydney.

Of course, my recommendations may vary on what you like to do when you travel. However, I think overall this list will give you a pretty good idea on how you could spend your time here and many of my suggestions are FREE. Sydney is such a perfect city simply to wander around and enjoy the historic buildings and harbor views.

Walk across Harbour Bridge

Not only can you admire the Sydney Harbour Bridge from afar, you can also walk across it! When the bridge opened in 1932, it was the longest, single-span steel arch bridge in the world. The bridge measures 1,149 m (3,770 feet) long. The walk is a little over 2km and allows you to explore a bit of North Sydney for free.

Take a Ferry Boat Ride

Many tourist activities revolve around Sydney’s harbor. It’s easy to hop on one of the ferries from Circular Quay and go to either Watsons Bay or Manly Beach and other destinations as well. I love ferry boat rides and it’s a relaxing way to see many sites.

Walk from Manly Beach to the Spit Bridge

Well, I took a bit of long detour when I attempted to do this walk as you can see in this post where I walked 20+km. However, if you follow the posted signs properly, it’s only a 10km walk that will take you 3-4 hours to complete.

Walk Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach

We took one of the city’s numerous buses to Coogee Beach and started our 6km walk from there. You can also continue on from Bondi Beach and walk to Watsons Bay, which is a long trek, but the sea views are spectacular.

Stroll Through the Royal Botanic Gardens

Even during the winter months, there’s plenty to seee Royal Botanic Gardens. Not much is blooming during winter, but the grounds, which cover 74 acres, are still pretty and quite green. Note: there are free guided walks at 10:30 a.m. daily.

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Luckily, admission is free for the general exhibits at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which opened in 1874. The museum displays aboriginal and contemporary Australian, European and Asian art. Definitely worth at least an hour of your time.

Darling Harbour and National Maritime Museum

If you like old ships and military boats, take a stroll through the Darling Harbour, which is also home to the IMAX Theatre, Sydney Aquarium and the Maritime Museum. I didn’t have enough time to visit the museum, but I’m sure children would enjoy this!

Visit St. Mary’s Cathedral

I couldn’t resist stopping in the St. Mary’s Cathedral because my mother-in-law’s name is Mary, and it is quite pretty inside as well. This Gothic-style cathedral, first constructed in 1821, is laid out in the heart of Sydney’s CBD district.

Australian Museum

If you like dinosaurs and other natural history, then you should definitely stop in the Australian Museum, which is the oldest museum in Oz. Don’t miss the stuffed Diprotodon, which is the largest-known marsupial ever to have lived, and existed from approximately 1.6 million to some 30,000 years ago.

Observatory Hill at Sunset

Climb up this small hill in The Rocks for good views of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Harbour.

Eat Local Oysters

Grab  a seat at the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar near the Opera House and you’ll have fabulous views of Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge. We also ordered a bottle of Australian sparkling wine to enjoy with our oysters. Reasonably priced for oysters and bubbly!

DIY Pub Crawl

There are tons of pubs, and in particular historic ones, located in the CBD and The Rocks area of Sydney. Our two favorites were Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel and Harts Pub because both offered locally made pale ales and India pale ales. Try the 3 Sheets Australian Pale Ale. We also enjoyed some good craft brews at the popular Australian Heritage Hotel and ordered a "Coat of Arms" pizza which is half emu/kangaroo. Go for the beer, but skip the cardboard-like pizza here.

Rooftop Drinks

If you want a glimpse of Sydney’s stunning harbor, head upstairs to one of the many rooftop bars. We popped into the uber-crowded Glenmore Hotel down in the Rocks which does offer a panoramic view, but crap beer, unfortunately. For a fancy cocktail, we tried the Blu Bar on 36, which is set on the 36th floor of the Shangri-La . Cocktails don’t come cheap at 20-24aud (about $15-$18usd), but the views are worth the once-in-awhile splurge.
Another rooftop bar we hope to try next time is the Bristol Arms Hotel located near King Street Wharf. 

Indulge in Gelato

My husband is a bigger gelato fan than I am. I also happen to be far pickier than he is. Finally, we found a place in Australia that serves to-die-for gelato at Messina in the Darlinghurst neighborhood. Why didn’t I ever think to create gingerbread cookies with peanut butter? You’ll find funky and traditional flavors here.

Get Spicy with Asian Food

Just like Melbourne, Sydney has heaps of restaurants selling everything from Korean and Thai to Malaysian and Asian-fusion. We love our Asian food so we tried super spicy Singapore noodles at Spice I am in Darlinghurst, awesome Korean BBQ at Madang Restaurant, Chinese dumplings at Johnny Wong’s Dumpling Bar and Jade Dumpling House and soup dumplings at Fu Manchu.

Explore a Neighborhood

For two nights, we stayed at an Airbnb apartment located between the neighborhoods of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. We wanted to get a different taste of Sydney, and I’m so glad we did. Both these neighborhoods are filled with darling, pastel-hued Victorian-era houses and bustling cafés and have a complete different feel from the CBD. Put down your map and just explore!

Go for Brunch

Aussies love brekkie (breakfast), and so do we! We had our favorite brunch with poached eggs at The Goodwill Society and wish we would have returned. We also tried the much-hyped about Bill’s and really liked the ricotta pancakes, but overall we found the menu kinda pricey.
As you can see there’s heaps to do in Sydney. Enjoy!

What things to do in Sydney would you add to my list?
My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Two days after walking 20km in Sydney with my husband, I decided to tackle another long walk, but solo this time.

My plan was to start at Manly Beach, weave through nearby Shelly Beach and Sydney Harbour National Park, wander along the coast and finish at the Spit Bridge. I had good intentions, but the walk took much, much longer than I anticipated. At the end of the day, I ended up walking about 10km more than I had planned – a total of 36,000 steps on my Fitbit. Good exercise, but man, my body was worn out!

From Circular Quay, I caught the 9 a.m. Manly Fast Ferry which features a relaxing 20-minute ride through the harbor and over to Manly Cove. I enjoyed sitting outside on the deck watching the world whiz by and reminiscing about all my previous ferry boat rides in Istanbul. I love taking ferries and wonder why anyone would want to drive a car instead!

Manly Beach

From the Manly pier, it’s about a 5-minute walk through the pedestrian-only stretch of The Corso, which is lined with beachwear shops and small cafés. On the other side is Manly Beach, a beautiful, long stretch of sand occupied by surfers, seagulls and some walkers like myself during the winter months. I walked along the sand here and enjoyed taking photos of the surfers who braved the freezing water, at least it felt like cold to me!
From here, I kept on walking along the coast past Shelly Beach and then following a path up into the Sydney Harbour National Park. This dirt path took me through trees, shrubbery and essentially what I would call “the Bush” even though I haven’t actually been to the middle of Australia yet. I clambered over large boulders so I could get close to the coastal cliffs for some amazing views back Manly Beach.
Back on the path, it was just me and the Bush. I started to freak out a little bit because I was on this trail all by myself in what seemed like the middle of nowhere and signs were posted everywhere for fox traps. I had plenty of water and snacks in my backpack, but I was more worried about what else might be sharing the park with me.
So I hurried along the trail until I finally came across a paved road which led me past the Manly Hospital and through a residential area for a bit. I ended up back where I had started when my ferry had docked at Manly Cove. In the park along the Esplanade, I found a large flock of Australian cockatoos with bright yellow crests (Sulphur-crested Cockatoos). These fellas were just strutting along the ground and cracking open fallen pine cones/acorns using their feet and beaks.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in Sydney
Does anyone know what kind of Aussie bird this is?

Manly to Spit Bridge

I’m guessing I had covered about 4-5 km at this point. The real Manly to Spit Bridge Coastal Walk starts here (10km) and takes about 3-4 hours to complete. The walk is well sign-posted but definitely isn’t easy as you go from nicely paved walkways to uneven, rocky paths and through another bushland park along the coast.
Most of this walk hugs the coast so you pass several beaches, small bays and marinas. The sea water is stunningly clear and you can literally see the bottom of the sea! If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the Little Penguins near Manly, but they mainly appear at sunrise and sunset.
After you clamber through the bush, which is another section of the Sydney Harbour National Park (Dobroyd Head), you’ll be greeted with impressive views of the harbor and the bushland you just hiked through.
I was definitely getting tired by this point and the temperatures were warmer than originally forecasted (about 18C/64F). I was hot and I was supposed to meet an American friend from Istanbul who just moved to Sydney for a late lunch. I had no idea how much longer the walk would take.

By the time I reached the end of the coastal walk, the ugly Spit Bridge was a big disappointment. After walking through such lovely parks, I guess I was expecting a bit more. The marina is full of fancy boats and there are a few cafés here. In general, there are very few places to buy any food or drink along the walk so I would definitely recommend that you have enough water and snacks especially on hot summer days.

From North Sydney to Sydney Harbour Bridge

My friend picked me up from the Spit Bridge and drove me to North Sydney where I consumed a giant American-like bacon cheeseburger from Five Points. Delicious! After some good conversation and a bit of rest, I decided to walk back to the CBD and then our hotel. At this point, I was feeling a bit like actor Tom Hanks in the Forrest Gump movie when I decided to just keep on walking.

“For no particular reason I just kept on goin'. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on goin'. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on goin'.” - Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, 1994

When the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932, it was the longest, single-span steel arch bridge in the world. The bridge measures 1,149 m (3,770 feet) long. Comparatively, the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883 as the first steel-wire suspension bridge, is nearly double in length at 1,825.4 m (5,989 feet). The Sydney bridge does offer wonderful views over the busy harbor as well as the Sydney Opera and the skyscrapers that make up the CBD area. However, I was a little put off by all the evil-looking barbed wire fencing that covers the bridge’s entire walkway.
Admittedly, I’m still a sucker for those Manhattan skylines as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge in my beloved NYC.

Observatory Hill Park

After figuring out how to get off the bridge and where I wanted to go, I set off for the Sydney Observatory. The observatory, originally built in 1858, and the surrounding park is the perfect place to watch the sunset in Sydney. Or go during the daytime for gorgeous views of the Sydney Harbour and Bridge, a tip I learned from popular Australian bloggers, Caz and Craig at ytravelblog.
By this point, I could have easily taken a lil nap on one of the nearby park benches. Instead, I kept on walking another 1.2km back to our hotel.

After a long day of walking in Sydney, my biggest lesson learned is to remember to review my map better. MUCH better!

My Traveling Joys
If you need more walking inspiration, check out these suggested Sydney walks by Destination NSW (New South Wales).