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Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Four days in Sydney

Four days in Sydney

The first of the four was short, and shorter still thanks to air traffic control at Kingsford Smith, Sydney's airport, and interminable shuttle-bussing. Having quickly checked in to our hotel in York Street, we taxi-ed to Surry Hills, arriving at twilight, which, on a clear, sliver-of-a-moon evening, was lovely, but not long enough to photograph this up-and-come part of town south of Darlinghurst. Crown Street was thronged with people, including rugby fans making their way home from a Wallabies-Wales clash. We walked up and down, admiring smart pubs, stylish homeware and vintage shops, delis and wine bars, stopping for a glass in Mille Vini. For dinner, we were headed to Bodega Tapas Restaurant, a five-minute walk away on Commonwealth Street. The queue outside waiting for the 6pm opening was an indication of the quality food to come, including the best home-made chorizo and a remarkable yet scarily expensive Argentinian Malbec.

Next morning, the battle for bus tickets began. You can't buy a ticket on some Sydney buses, you see, but visitors struggle to identify which. So, it's as well to buy in advance, from a Bus TransitShop (few in number) or convenience stores. Unfortunately, early on a Sunday morning, the latter were inconveniently closed and the TransitShops in the wrong direction from the bus stop we needed. We bought some tickets from a machine in St James station but they turned out to be for trains only. We therefore had to take a train that crawled north to Circular Quay then south to Town Hall before heading east to Bondi Junction, where we waited a while for a bus to the Beach. Lonely Planet East Coast Australia also warns:

'Sydney buses run to most places but not frequently... Bus routes starting with an X indicate limited-stop express routes: those with an L have limited stops... Many bus stops lack basic route and schedule information.'

Bondi looks better these days, I think; greener. On a wonderful winter's Sunday morning in Bondi Beach, we were fortunate to bag a table at Trio Cafe on Campbell Parade: their Breakfast Sundae (strawberries, banana and toasted muesli swirled with honey yoghurt) went down a treat. We were in Bondi for the Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk to Coogee Beach – about five kilometres. It starts at the southern end of Australia's most famous beach by the Bondi Icebergs swimming club. What used to be called Bondi Baths became the Icebergs' home in 1929: their name comes from the tradition of placing a tonne of ice in the pool at the start of their season – winter! Membership demands dedication. Fitness generally is taken especially seriously in Bondi, and the coastal path was crowded with runners. I'd say they were a pain at times on the narrow path, but Brisbanites may well feel the same about me down by the riverside on a Sunday morning.  

The sandstone cliffs provided stunning banding, colours and jagged sculptures along the walk. From Mackenzies Point you can look back to Bondi and ahead to the southern beaches. First up, Tamarama, a small beach with a reputation for glamour, although why you would want to bare all when so overlooked by walkers is bemusing, but perhaps I'm missing the point. I couldn't fail to notice the extensive list of rules on many of these beaches: 'killjoys' was the word that sprang to mind. We continued on to beautiful Bronte, which I've always preferred to Bondi.

Another favourite with surfers, Bronte's beach is backed by just as big a green sward, in contrast to Bondi's concrete. Stop for a coffee or lunch at the cafes on the south side. Beyond Bronte there followed stunning water colours, rock formations and views to die for. I have read that famous Australians, from poets to pollies, are buried in Waverley Cemetery. If you'd rather be buried than burned, then the 'location, location and location' factors make this pretty unbeatable.

The rest of the walk revealed more stunning sandstone, lots of steps, picturesque boats and coastal heath remnants in the aptly named Clovelly, but not-quite-so-charming beaches at Gordons Bay or Coogee, where we hopped on a bus (we had return tickets!) back to the city, for more walking, around rather different Rocks.

The next day was a Habour day, and the fulfilment of a long-held wish to visit Rose Bay, an eastern harbourside suburb some seven kilometres from the CBD. I caught a ferry from Circular Quay – something that always thrills me. I snapped away like a newbie to Sydney – just can't resist the same-old. 

The ferry went as far as Watsons Bay, almost at The Heads, before bringing me back to Rose Bay, named after a British Treasury official in the 1780s rather than beautiful blooms. I walked round the Bay from the ferry terminal towards the marina, where I sat in warm sunshine, enjoying a flat white, observing a tame Lorikeet entertaining his audience and working out how best to capture this pretty bay with its far-from-the-madding feel.

I continued along the busy New South Head Road to Double Bay. I kept catching glimpses of the Harbour and secluded little baysides. I talked to an elderly lady who used to swim here (below) when she was younger and allowed to take her dog into the park, now frequented by yummy mummies and offspring. The building to the right is a library: imagine working in the corner office with its beautiful aspect.

Settlement at Double Bay goes back to the 1780s: fishermen used to shelter here. There are two bays, separated by Point Piper, and they're pleasant enough, but I didn't linger as the girls and boys came out to play. I climbed steeply up and over Darling Point into Rushcutters Bay, originally a swamp covered with rushes that early settlers cut for thatching. Now it's a highly desirable part of town, with glistening water, myriad bobbing boats (it's Sydney's yachting centre), bayside parks and covetable houses. I sat in Yarranabe Park and ate my lunch before trying to reach Darling Point ferry terminal by walking round the tip of the Point. Posh waterfront pads barred my way; so I walked back through Rushcutters Bay Park and climbed up to Elizabeth Bay to catch a bus back into the city, where I shopped until I very nearly dropped in the QVB. That evening we ate splendid homemade pasta and shared the most delicious puddings* in a long while at Uccello at on-trend Ivy on George Street. Save your pennies and go there next time you're in Sydney.

On my last day I returned to Paddington. The weather was not as it should have been. I trudged along Oxford Street's north side, dashing from awning to awning – I had packed in Brisbane four days before for cold, not rain. I sought refuge in the Max Brenner Chocolate Bar, but a dark hot chocolate doesn't last long on a cold, wet miserable morning. The owner took pity and gave me an umbrella left behind weeks ago. I must have cut an eccentric figure, its several broken spokes protruding at angles. But at least I could head out for Five Ways, a shopping hub at the heart of Paddington's Victorian terraces (see also Sydney rocks 2: Paddington, June 2011). I balanced the umbrella on my head as I held the camera, trying to keep water droplets off the lens. I took shelter in The Corner Shop in William Street – a good excuse, eh? There is nothing to add that the photographs cannot.

Heavy rain again stopped play, and it was somewhat of a relief to catch a bus from Oxford Street back to David Jones. Weirdly, I couldn't face the sales racks and collapsed in the ladies rest rooms with my book until it was time to head back to Kingsford Smith and Brisbane.

*Chocolate hazelnut slice with a marsala chocolate glaze and caramel ice cream, and rhubarb strawberry tiramisu with almond praline

This post was last updated on 8 July 2012

G20 in Brisbane

G20 in Brisbane

Boo, this unsporting nation