Four Days in Sydney

O.K. I confess. I have been a slack-arse. I have completely neglected my duties as a scribe. Some of you have cared, some apparantly have not, but I will press on regardless. The only explanation I can offer is that I have been doing OTHER THINGS! Since you tuned in last I have spent a gloriously radiant month (read sunny) in the land of my birth, over-indulged during the silly season with the most delicious Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners ever (thank-you friends) and dealt with a canine obsessed daughter in her quest to find the perfect puppy before her capricious mother changed her mind.

poop.jpgThe Perfect puppy!

The silly season led to the even sillier season with near blizzard conditions and I have been completely snowed under (or over) for weeks. It cast me into the doldrums.The only upside is that we have the “hog”. The “hog” is the politically incorrect, shameful gas guzzler of a car that our kids learnt to drive on. After a certain number of minor scrapes and dings we just stopped having the bloody thing fixed so it is covered with road rash and the interior smells like a combination of stale cigarette and spilt milk! It was awaiting an ignominious end but is now enjoying a glorious resurrection. Shame has turned to gloat as it grips the road in dogged defiance of the driving conditions. I looked down my nose as I drove past the busses pulled over in the interests of public safety and the little hybrid taxis sliding back down the slippery slopes on my way to rescue a friend who had to abandon her fruity little BMW miles from her house. 

Back to the glorious month spent in my homeland. My friend Heather and her husband are off to spend time on her antipodean shores and I have promised her some tips. She has warned me that hubby has little tolerance for shopping and they may not share my passion for Art but I know they are both fit and active and love to get off the beaten path. They will be spending time in Cronulla as well as 4 days in Sydney. We may as well all share in the adventure, so Heather, this one’s for you.

Cronulla is Sydney’s most southern beach and is a small peninsular of land almost completely surrounded by water. Botany Bay, the site of Captain Cook’s historic “discovery” in 1770, is close by. Botany Bay National Park is a popular tourist destination which may be fun to visit, but I cannot say, as I never have. Whatever influence the good Captain may have had in creating this brush with greatness, it didn’t last. The place is, to the naked eye a cultural backwater and the scene of some vicious race riots in 2005 – a free-for-all of “leb” (Lebanese) and “wog” (Italian) bashing by “Aussies”- early immigrant vs recent immigrant? Hmmm! I don’t mean to alarm but it’s always good to know what simmers beneath the surface of picture postcard perfection. Don’t worry, Cronulla has a couple of glorious surf beaches and I recommend you spend as many hours there as possible. But remember, it will be February and most Aussies avoid the scorching noonday sun, preferring to swim in the morning and late afternoons. Added bonus, the Port Hacking River and Royal National Park lie immediately to the south and offer calm tranquil waters, spectacular unspoiled scenery and a plethora of activities such as hiking, mountain biking, (explore the possibilities of rentals) kayaking and calm water swimming.  Nature over human nature any day!


You can walk to the ferry just behind Cronulla beach and for the princely sum of five dollars and fifty cents catch a little wooden ferry down Gunnamatta Bay, (the same journey I took many times as a child) across Pt Hacking to the quaint little village of Bundeena and from there to any of the 160 km of hiking trails through the park. If you’re feeling energetic you can hook onto a portion of the 26 km Coastal Trail that follows the edge of spectacular sandstone cliffs to the wild and woolly beauty of the Marley beaches and on to the famous lagoon of Wattamolla – BUT remember the sunscreen and bug repellant! Australia is “godzone” country but the devil gave us the bushfly!

australia-sydney.jpgSydney is home to one of the most outrageous, flamboyant events in the world, the gay and lesbain Mardi Gras, and if you are in Sydney on Feb 15th I strongly recommend you check it out. For me, Sydney is all about its unparalleled physical setting and its beautiful residential architecture, but the city is so vast it is best to combine driving with walks of discovery. You have already been south. Now I will send you north, east and west. These are all half day trips. 

 One of my favorite Sydney drives is to the far reaches of the Northern beaches, or Palm Beach, Sydney’s Monaco! You get to cross the world famous Harbour Bridge, head up the Spit Rd and across the Spit Bridge – where you could deke off to the right and check out Manly Beach (if you really want to) – continue up Pittwater Rd to Barrenjoey Rd and follow the signs to Palm Beach. The Northern Beaches are also located on a narrow peninsular surrounded by both spectacular surf beaches on one side and the calm boaters paradise of Pittwater on the other. The residential roads are narrow and windy but reveal stunning homes surrounded by massive gum trees. Barrenjoey Rd at the very tip hosts a charming little stretch of shops (if you’re allowed) and some great beach restaurants. There are some famous hotspots like Barrenjoey House, The Dunes and Jonah’s that cater to the glamorous crowd but we like the hipper, laid back fifties funk of the Beach Road especially for lunch on a sunny day. Earn your lunch by crossing the road to the Ku-ring-gai Chase National park and walk to the lighthouse at the very tip of Barrenjoey Head. Look out onto a scene that makes us both wish we were born in Sydney.(Oh! Thats right, I was!) 

The lighthouse in the park at the northern tip of Palm Beach.


Next I will send you west to Hunters Hill where I grew up. It too is a tiny peninsular jutting into Sydney Harbour about 9km from the CBD, completely surrounded by water. The very best way to get there is by ferry from Circular Quay to the Woolwich Jetty. The upside of getting there by ferry is that it is a quintessential Sydney experience and one not to be missed. The downside is, that without a car, you cannot tour into all the fascinating little streets full of remarkable heritage homes, however there are usually a few cabs sitting by the ferry dock that you could catch to the nub of HH – a gorgeous little French village, with a cafe and some delightful little shops, at the junction of Alexandra St and Woolwich Rd (a hark-back to the original settlers of Hunters Hill many of whom were of French extraction). Hunters Hill is famous for its many mansions built out of massive sandstone blocks, their beautiful gardens and the fact that residents have always been adamant conservationists. Over 400 buildings of heritage significance (including the house I grew up in) have been lovingly preserved. Once you get to the village head down Ferry Rd, turn right onto Toocooya Rd and follow it down to the left to number 10, Blen Cathra, built in 1907, a beautiful example of Australian Federation architecture, and the house I grew up in. You can now continue down Ferry Rd and walk back to the Ferry, an hour and a half – down the famous hill – and well worth the effort. There are some excellent restaurants and pubs in HH but I don’t know them – I always eat at my friends houses.


The eastern suburbs are really Sydney’s jewels and are home to the best shops, galleries, restaurants, harbour bays and toney residential areas. Grab your car and head east; you will end up at The Gap, a spectacular cliff on the southern entrance to Sydney harbour. You can design your drive to pass through Kings Cross (I wouldn’t tarry) and continue to hug the roads that wind around the series of bays – Elizabeth Bay, Rushcutters Bay, Double Bay, Rose Bay, Vaucluse Bay and Watsons Bay. If you want to see the MOST expensive real estate in Sydney ($50 – $60 mill – but BEFORE the crash) deke off New South Head Rd and wind around Wolseley Rd at Pt. Piper. 

point_piper_wideweb__470x3120.jpgSydney’s Pt Piper

When you get to the Gap there are of course a number of short walks to soak up the mind-blowing scenery. Head back home down Military Rd to Bondi Beach. The strip at Bondi is pretty touristy but nearby Tamarama and Bronte both have great little cafes on the beach that serve good grub! Head back to town via Bondi Rd and Oxford Street. Paddington and Woollahra are along the way home and worth a gander – they are the King and Queen of Sydney cool! If you’re there on a Saturday, Oxford St Paddo hosts a fabulous market. From Oxford, turn onto Queen to it’s junction with Ocean St and pull into Bill’s in a charming courtyard for a light lunch or glass of wine – it’s a very “locals” thing to do. It is worth taking a moment to meander through some of the narrow, rabbit warren of leafy residential streets in Woollahra and Paddo. Here you will find glorious little Victorian terrace houses, trimmed with metal lace, once the homes of Sydney’s working class, (now worth big bucks) and many of the best Pubs in Sydney.

For some miscellanea, your hotel is very close to The Rocks, the heart of Sydney’s historic origins, and you should wander down every morning to sit in one of the many leafy, courtyard cafes for your morning toast. There is a great little market that springs up in the Rocks every weekend. From your hotel you can head down to Circular Quay and over to the Opera House – there is a great run (or walk) from the Opera House, around the Point to Wooloomooloo (if Sydney’s names seem unpronounceable, they ARE – they are mostly of Aboriginal origin). On the way you will pass the famous Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a chair carved into a sandstone ledge especially for the wife of then Governor Macquarie (1810-1821) so she could lollygag under the shade of a giant fig tree and enjoy the harbour view. 


You can then return through the Botanical Gardens. Whichever city in the world I find myself in, I always make it a priority to check out their botanical gardens. Sydney’s, while not as sumptuous as Melbourne’s, tell you much about where you are.


You must also eat at one of the restaurants on the Wooloomooloo Wharf – an old 19th shipyard that has been transformed into a marina, upscale apartments (Nicole Kidman) and some of the most expensive eateries in Sydney. We ate at Otto’s and can highly recommend it but make sure to get a table outside! Within walking distance from your hotel we can also recommend Pony (The Rocks) and the ultra trendy Steel (Carrington St) – stunning, stunning, stunning – so stunning in fact that I didn’t notice the food (advance res definitely required). You also MUST check out the totally OTT (over the top) Ivy complex of nightclubs and bars at (330 George). If you don’t catch the ferry to Hunters Hill you MUST catch it somewhere – Sydney is best enjoyed from the Harbour but a harbour cruise is touristy and annoying and for far less you can just tool around on the ferries on a sunny day. I also highly recommend the climb of the harbour bridge (book in advance) which takes about 3 hours.

So bon voyage mon ami and remember DON’T come back and ask me why I ever left!         

ist2_1073879-woolloomooloo-wharf1.jpg The Wooloomooloo Wharf  Istockphoto 

thegap1.jpg  The Gap at Watsons Bay

6a00e54ee984f1883400e54f8d46c48833-800wi.jpg Happy Harbour Bridge climbers.


11 Responses

  1. James Curtis Says:

    What a great piece on Sydney. So great in fact that my kids and I can’t wait to fly over and check it out for ourselves.
    Your notes serve as a brilliant guide to the city, and a great place to start.
    Thanks, safe travels..

  2. uncle dooney Says:

    very well written i must say. when gloria sees it she will be even more determined to move there.

  3. janice noble Says:

    Hi Peg,
    Happy New Year to you and yours. I loved this. I am sending it off to my brother and sister-in-law who are leaving for Australia in Feb for a month.
    Hope to see you soon. Can the puppy run with us yet?

  4. Margaret Garnett Says:

    Excellent travel guide for Sydney, brought back lots of good memories plus ideas for next visit. Nephew David lives on Manley Beach so good excuse to visit.

    Thanks again.

  5. To The Max Says:


    Was so busy the last half of the year that I didn’t get a chance to keep current on your Blog…BUT…just spent the last hour going abck and reading what I have been missing!! All as I can say is that…you are a gifted writer, have the most marvellous sense of humor..and that your experiences are hugely motivating and inspirational….keep at it my friend…AND…thank you!

    By the way…Happy New Year!

    Jane B

  6. A. Friend Says:

    My car is not fruity!

  7. Heather B Says:

    We are very lucky to have such a wonderful travel guide and are looking forward to experiencing it all!!!

    Thank you Peg

  8. Anonymous Says:

    peg, I am so glad you left as are all your other fans, I am sure.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Peg,

    Thank you for the wonderful info on Sydney. We have not been there yet but are planning a trip in your direction in the near future. China is next in September. Your writing is so inspiring…..feel like going upstairs and drawing!!!!!! Missed the Xmas weather, and after seeing your photos wonder too WHY YOU ARE HERE???? Look forward to your next installment. Thank you again.


  10. dudeguy Says:

    It’s ok to have a comment.

  11. Rachel & Arn Says:

    Hey Peg
    We are sitting on the 32nd floor of the Four Seasons overlooking Sydney Harbour and studying this posting and deciding how to spend the next couple of days. Thanks for the great tips. Hope you had a very merry Christmas.
    R & A xox

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