Sun, Sea & Sydney

Why do we love Sydney?

Mostly because son Joe and his wife Emily live there!

(This post is from our visit in October)

Joe and Emily’s place

We stayed with with them in their apartment in Manly in the northern beaches area of the city and quickly realized  what a great lifestyle Manly / Sydney provides –  fantastic beaches literally on the doorstep, great food, amazing craft beers and the added bonus of superb scenery and hiking just few miles away. No wonder they love it!

The trip also gave us the opportunity to meet Lynn and Paul, Emily’s parents, for the first time, who live close by at another beach town, Collaroy.

Everything in Sydney was easily reached from Manly.  We had some great day trips out from here and spent a few days in the Blue Mountains.  It was a whirlwind visit in the space of a few weeks – thoroughly enjoying the family time together, absorbing the Manly lifestyle and packing in some sightseeing.  There were many great moments.   Here is a quick round up of some of our “Highlights of Sydney” that should be on any visitors “Sydney must-do” list.

For ease, we have divided our highlights of Sydney into three sections Manly, Sydney and Around Sydney.


– Manly Ferry

Getting here is part of the fun. The famous Manly ferry makes the 30 minute/15km trip from Sydney to Manly very regularly. It’s a fraction of the cost of a tourist boat tour and the views are the same – i.e. incredible – the Harbour Bridge, The Opera House, the Prime Ministers residence and many more (check out this link for a full list). Both the daytime view and the night views are equally spectacular. Commuters on their way home, use the bars / restaurants by Manly Wharf so there is often a lively atmosphere.  We loved arriving there every single time.


Tip –  If you want a great view, the famous Yacht Club clubhouse is the place to go.  Trestaurant and bar overlooks the marina, wharf and beach.  Take your passport for a guest membership and enjoy the views.

-Manly Beaches

Manly is  all about the Beach Life.  Rather than feeling like a resort, Manly is very much part of the Sydney Beach scene.  There is a choice of beaches depending on your beach activity, paddle boarding one one, swimming and sunbathing on another etc. . It is a very busy place in the early mornings with Manly residents getting in their beach fix before heading off to work and busy at weekends with Sydney residents  visiting. Nearby the  cafe culture thrives.

Tip – Shelly beach, a short picturesque walk away, has a fabulous restaurant. Book ahead!

– Manly Morning Swimming

With the water temperature around 16-18c, we could but stand and watch as Joe and Emily and the other club members kicked off their morning swim at 07.00am.  The swim from  Manly Beach to Shelly Beach and back again is about 1.5km.  We shivered just watching! Whales and big fish are a regular sight on this swim.  At times there can be up to 100 swimmers. The fluorescent pink swim hats  are a condition of membership apparently!


Interesting Fact : Admiral Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales named Manly after meeting the indigenous population stating that “their confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place”.     ………..#Pinkswimmingcaps!

– Yoga on the beach

If the swim does not appeal, there is always the morning Yoga on the beach.  Working long hours, the “kids” kicked off every day with either a swim or early morning yoga. We watched a couple of times but didn’t participate (I’m just not that bendy anymore!).  There are also masses of early morning joggers, cyclists and other energetic types out early.

– Manly Jazz Festival

Purely by accident, our stay in October coincided with the Manly Jazz  festival. Being a lifelong jazz and blues fan, this was major bonus for me. A number of stages were set up and huge variety of acts were playing a very diverse range of music. The artists ranges from world famous professionals through to school jazz bands (Jonny, the son of some Aussie friends we met in Vietnam was playing with one).

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Particular favourites were The Sweet Jelly Rolls, a sort of country, bluegrass, jazz, blues fusion band. Not something I would normally like. But these guys were fantastic!

Tip : If you don’t get here for the Jazz Festival, we are told there are other great festivals, especially the great Manly Food and Wine Festival in May.


 Sydney  Harbour Ferry

I am not cheating by putting the ferry in twice on this list of highlights as the Harbour Ferries depart to different points ; a great way to explore. We didn’t have time to try all 7 different routes (Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour and some of the pretty bays are all popular journeys) . If only we had another week…..

Having spent much of my working life commuting two hours each way in and out of Londont, I  was so envious of Joe and Emily’s daily commute from home to work on the Manly ferry.  Passing close to two of the most impressive man-made sights in the world, the  Harbour Bridge and the Opera House is some way to start and finish the day.

Sydney Opera House

Surely the most iconic sight in Australia, if not the world. Allegedly, Rupert Murdoch thought it a bad idea, but what does he know?  Great from the outside and equally impressive on inside. Sadly, neither Springsteen, nor Santana were playing at the time as I am sure would have enjoyed the acoustics.

Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Rocks

Competing with the Opera House is, of course, the most famous bridge in the world. Tempting though it was, my vertigo prevented me from climbing to the top. The best place for photos are from the water, but for an alternative perspective the area known as The Rocks is the place to go.

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The Rocks is the original birthplace of Sydney and still has cobblestone lanes to wander around and to explore Sydney’s past whilst enjoying the views.  The oldest pubs in Australia are to be found here, as is  historic  Cadmans Cottage. Some of the cutting edge museums and galleries are also here , it is a lovely vibrant mix.   The Contemporay Art Museum is worth a visit and we also looked around the Observatory.  I we spent time with friends from England  in one of the oldest, if not the oldest pub in Australia, a British style pub called The Lord Nelson. We could have been in London!

Tip – Free guided tours or self guided walking tours will help explain the interesting story of The Rocks and the founding history of Sydney.

Sydney – All the Craft beers!

It seems as though every bar and pub in Sydney has either its own micro-brewery or a range of craft beers or ciders.  Almost up to the standards of English beer in taste and quality, we tried quite a few. In addition to the range of beers, the variety of containers in which it is served is mind boggling – schooner, middy, pot, pint. The choice seems endless. Always ice cold though!

Tip – Find The Sweet Jelly Rolls  in a “secret” bar and enjoy a craft beer.  It’s deliberately hard to find with an unmarked door and  a real gem of a place with live  music on some nights, stuffed animals on the walls and generally, well,  a little eccentric .  It’s called the Shady Pines Saloon Bar. 

Sydney – Shopping (and the Ubiquitous Uggs)

There are no shortage of shops in Sydney! Our favourite arcade was the Strand Shopping arcade, it’s in the gorgeous Queen Victorian Building, known locally as QVB. Inside they often have “stop and stare” quality displays under the glass dome at the centre of the arcade. (When we were there there were the ballet costumes Swan Lake and we heard the Christmas display is breathtaking)

Why Australia sheepskin Ugg boots flourish in the heat of Australia I’m not sure, but they are everywhere. Maybe it is the abundance of raw materials in the form of sheep? Carolyn really wanted a pair of slippers to take home, but they were too big to pack.  Instead upon hearing the first grandchild was to be a boy, it seemed the perfect excuse to rush out and buy a mini pair of boots for our soon to arrive grandson.

Tip – Tours of the QVB are available which are worth doing even if you hate shopping.  Details are available here

Sydney – Art Galleries and Museums

One of the most memorable museums we visited was the first one Joe took us to – The Art Gallery of New South Wales.  It is huge and we only saw part of it including a  terrific collection of Aboriginal art.  A whole day would be needed to see it all.

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Especially poignant was a huge display of bones (made of resin) and formed into words. The Indian artist (Jitish Kallat) used the bones to write out the entire “Salt March” speech of Mahatma Gandhi from 1930. It took up two walls, floor to ceiling, each about 100m long.

Carolyn stood and read the whole thing and found it quite mesmerizing, a testament to the artist who designed it for the words to “stare back at us like discarded relics,”

Tip –  Entrance to the museum is free and you can easily walk here from the city centre/ harbourside.   As it is right next to the Botancial Gardens, take a picnic and make a day of it.  There’s plenty to see.

Sydney – Food, food and more food!

This was our second visit to Sydney and the food scene has exploded. It is now very much an Asian, rather than western, metropolis with a massive variety of cuisines from Korean to Japanese to Vietnamese and just about everything in between. Chinatown is a good place for everything noodle.  There is also as a thriving fusion cuisine the city being awash with talented chefs, all making the most of the huge array of stunningly fresh ingredients. Not the cheapest place in the world to eat, but great value and quality.

Tip – Frozen yoghurt and veggie “Buddha” bowls abound for the health conscious. For a special treat, we headed to uber cool Surrey Hills restaurant Firedoor restaurant  for a belated birthday celebration. Everything is cooked over wood. The type of wood being as important as the food itself.

Sydney Markets

We love wandering around markets and Sydney has some of the best fresh markets going. The array and variety of raw materials on offer is breathtaking.  We visted a few just to look. For some actual shopping we stopped off at a fish market on route to Em’s parents for a BBQ. The range and quality of the fish and seafood was simply mind blowing . It must be really hard to be a bad cook here!


– Bush walks and Beach Walks in National Parks

I can’t recall the names of all the places that Joe and Emily drove us to.  Mostly up to an hour or so drive from their home and we would arrive at another impressive, but different,  National Park with absolutely stunning scenery. Bush, beach, forest, waterfalls, it had it all.  Walking tracks are well marked. 100s of photos taken!

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Most of the places mentioned in this article sound familiar to us as places we visited and walked in.  We need Joe and Emily’s help to identify where is where for our vast collection of photographs.   I particularly enjoyed the wide variety of scenery and will need to go back to see more next time.

Around Sydney – The Blue Mountains

Famous around the world,  The Blue Mountains are part of a huge National Park area, just an hour and a half from Sydney. The “blue” haze is apparently caused by the vapour produced by the abundance of eucalyptus trees. Joe had rented a wonderful house for a long  weekend. Amazing views over the valleys and mountains. An added bonus was the family of kangaroos which joined us each morning and evening in the gardens.

Blue Mountains
The house and gardens


Our evening visitors

Our first hike in the Blue Mountains took us through some stunning scenery. Beautiful views in all directions, vertiginous cliffs, waterfalls, rivers, you name it. A few days and a few more hikes.  All different, all brilliant!

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The Snake Man

On our way back to Sydney from the Blue Mountains, a building a bit like a White Castle  (now a fancy hotel)  drew us in.   The car park outside was full of Ferraris (including one owned, we think, by Baz Luhrman – the director of Moulin Rouge). Also outside, with a fabulous panoramic view of the Blue Mountains was a small fabric fenced area containing  “snake man” Neville Burns and sackfuls of snakes!  A little weird to find this combination, but Neville kept us enthralled,  and a little horrified as we watched and listened to his true life changing stories about snakes living in the Blue Mountains. So very glad we saw him on our way home and not on the way there!
Neville Burns Snake Man

It was only afterwards we found out more about Neville and realized how lucky we were.  Not only is he known throughout Australia as the snake expert, he provided a croc for the film Crocodile Dundee, handled animals for TVs Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, and has appeared many times on TV and radio.  He lectures at several leading universities on reptiles and venomous  bites and has been declared clinically dead three times when in a coma after being bitten by snakes.  Luckily he loves snakes and will always find time to relocate one should you find yourself with a deadly snake in your house.

Around Sydney  –   More beaches

You could spend a year here and still not visit all the beaches near Sydney. There seems to be one around every corner.  We explored a number of the “Northern Beaches” from little coves with boats bobbing in the glistening waves, to sweeps of sand, rocky coves and those with a viewpoint walk at the end of the bay.  All were delightful and a great day out.

Looking back, whilst we did and saw a lot during our time in Sydney, I feel we really only scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. Looking forward to our next visit already.

Getting Around

On Joe’s advice, on arrival at the airport from New Zealand we purchased Opal Travel Cards and loaded them with a few Aussie $$$. This enabled us to travel from the airport to the city by train and all over the city on buses, trains and ferries. Great value and saves a lot of hassle with ticket machines etc.

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