City Travels - Sydney
I started my trip in Sydney. While I mostly wanted to spend my time in New Zealand, I wanted to see at least a little of Australia while I was down here, and it seemed like the place to go was Sydney.
I was there from May 27th to June 1st, although my flight left May 25th. It just takes that long to get there.
All prices given in Australian dollars, with the exception of my flight.
I booked my trip to Sydney as a multi-city trip, with a flight to Sydney in May and returning from Auckland, New Zealand in August. Both flights were with United Airlines. I flew from Minneapolis to San Francisco on a four-hour flight, and then had a five-hour layover. The San Francisco airport isn't bad, but don't buy dinner in the international terminal: there was huge lines because people didn't want to leave the area. You don't need to mess with that: just take a 5 minute walk down the hallway to the nearest domestic terminal.
The plane to Sydney was very nice, and had a video display in the back of the seat. There were lots of movies to choose from, and there was a different selection movies of movies to watch on your personal mobile device. There were even chargers in the seats!
The cost of my multi-city flight was $1,299.00 (US Dollars) as purchased through Student Universe. Your price may be different without multi-city drama or student discounts.
The plane arrived 15 hours later in the international terminal of the Sydney Airport. Customs went smoothly, although I was a little slow grabbing my bag as I was waiting at the wrong baggage carousel. That was a bit nerve-wracking. I do think that airport could use a bit more labeling of which flight's luggage is being unloaded. There's only one sign right as you come into the general baggage area and it's easy to miss.
From the Sydney Airport, I took the Airport Link. The Airport Link runs from the airport to several major stops in the core of Sydney. Before I boarded the train, I picked up an Opal card and put 30 dollars onto it. There is a impossible to miss area to get your card right before you get on the train. I then immediately used half of that money to leave the airport. The airport train is really expensive: a little over 17 dollars. However, I figured now that I had my Opal card, it would make transportation easier later, and the train also stopped right at Central Station, which is where my hostel was located.
A Place to Stay
I spent my entire time in Sydney at Big Hostel. The hostel was about 25 minutes from Central Quay. The hostel provided toast, jelly and peanut butter, muesli, cornflakes and Not-Quite Rice Crispies. Their breakfast provided me the opportunity to try Vegimite - it's salty. They also had free wi-fi in the lobby of the hostel, but not in the rooms. There is an elevator and laundry on site. They also had a big screen TV and several couches and books in the common area. The common area got near full of seating several times.
The common area is directly across from the kitchen, which is huge. The kitchen is clean, and has lots of room for storage. There was a little competition for cooking utensils, but nothing to complain about. I am still confused about how they wanted you to dry dishes. They had no drying rags, one tiny, tiny drying shelf and nothing more. But, not that big of a deal.
If you want to see what the common room and kitchen look like, there's actually a Google street view of the inside of the hostel.
I had a six-bed all-girl dorm. The bed was comfy, but rickety and would wiggle whenever someone moved. The hostel was mostly clean, but somewhat noisy. The room doors locked automatically, which I prefer, and the keys were provided on a lanyard. We had a vanity in our room, which really surprised me, but otherwise the room (and honestly the entire hostel) is sparely decorated. Bedding is provided.
There were good size lockers available in the dorm rooms, for you to provide your own lock for. I fit my entire suitcase in the locker. But, when I say I fit my suitcase in my locker, I mean a squeezed and pushed my suitcase into my locker. It was probably the maximum size you could possibly fit in there. I also almost knocked over the lockers trying to get it out once.
Now, I fit my entire suitcase in my locker because they had a written requirement that you needed to fit everything in your locker or a shelf, or put it in their paid storage. They charge to hold your luggage overnight. I avoided seeing if they enforced that. I would have been quite pissed if they made me pay to store my suitcase. I left my backpack on the shelf they had in the room, since there wasn't room for both that and my suitcase in the locker.
There were three showers and three toilets per floor, but my floor's bathroom was specifically for women, while the other floors were mixed-gender restrooms. I don't think there were any men on my floor at all, but I'm not sure; I would not want to have to ride the elevator just to pee. The shower doors were just normal stall doors, which I wouldn't like in a mixed bathroom, but I didn't end up having to deal with that. There was a changing area in the shower stall, and a curtain between the actual shower and the changing area.
I would stay here again, but I would also explore other options. My hostel cost $170 for 5 nights.
My first day in Sydney, I first walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens, which spit me right out at the Opera House. I later walked across the Harbor Bridge and walked to Luna Park. There is a very pretty looking walk along the coastline from Luna Park, but it was very, very windy when I was down there. I don't know if it's always like that, but I didn't stay over there long.
My first day in Sydney was also the day Vivid Sydney was starting. This is a free event with lots of lights, including several animated video animations on buildings. Buildings such as the infamous opera house. This is well worth seeing. I didn't go to any of the music events, but the lights are amazing.
The next day, I decided to go to the Taronga Zoo. While it is an expensive ticket ($41.40), you can save money buying your ticket online, otherwise it cost more. You'll also need to pay to take the ferry to the zoo, which cost about $15 dollars there and back. I will say, the price is almost worth it, though still a little high. There are many animals you can't see elsewhere, and their enclosures look clean and lovely. It took me about 5 hours to see all there was to see, and I was moving at a decent pace.
I also took a tour of the Blue Mountains. The blue mountains are basically the up-north of Sydney. There are some pretty views and lengthy hikes. It's mostly looking at interesting rock formations, and small towns.
I ended up going with a tour group, as my hostel had a special discount on the tour that made it cheaper than paying your own way. If you do not have a car, I recommend going with a tour group. The attractions are wide spread and I personally wouldn't have known what to see. I took my tour through Barefoot Downunder, who I'd recommend if you're physically fit. It is a hiking heavy tour, and most of us were quite worn out after we climbed halfway down a canyon to see a waterfall, and that was only the start of the tour.
I didn't shop around for tours, so I don't know what else is out there. I paid $50 dollars for the tour, but that was with a special discount. When I was considering going on my own, it would have cost $50 just to take the train to one city.
After all that hiking, I just wanted a day at the beach. When choosing between Bondi and Manly beaches, I ended up choosing Manly as people said it was more scenic and better walking. The ferry ride to Manly cost around 15 dollars there and back, but the beach is free! It was totally worth it; Manly was honestly the prettiest beach I've been to, and I've been all around Oahu, HI and California. The town is beautiful, and there is nice hiking trail around the beach.
What you probably don't want to do is walk from Shelly Beach to North Head Sanctuary. The trail between Shelly Beach and The Barracks isn't super well marked, although it's also the first time in my life I've had to crawl through a gate in a wall to stay on the trail. I felt lost the whole time, and only kept going because there was another hiker walking right in front of me. Eventually you hit a road and there's a metal track that spits you out into the middle of an open dirt field on a military base. Because you didn't feel lost enough. There are at least signs at that point telling you which way to walk on the invisible trail, but it's still confusing as heck. Don't do it.
I ended up not doing the more recommended walk from Manly to Spit Bridge because I was too tired from the Shelly walk. But you should still go to Manly Beach!
My last day I walked around Darling Harbor and Chinatown. I don't mind tourist traps, but that's really all Darling Harbor seemed to be, and I couldn't afford (or really would have cared to do) the things they had there. An aquarium. An Imax. Restaurants. Meh.
Chinatown was slightly more interesting, but just for a quick walkthrough. I did find a few good shops inside Market City, which is like a giant asian-centric mall. I'll write more about that in the eating section below.
I took a tour bus to the Blue Mountains, so all the transportation drama there was taken care of.
As previously stated, I took two ferries: one to the zoo and one to Manly beach. These ferries ended up being quite expensive, about $15 round trip.
I also took a train to and from the airport at around $17 for a one-way trip.
My conclusion from these trips was that Sydney's transportation is DAMN expensive, and I walked everywhere else, even though I was staying a half-an-hour from most sites. This decision was enforced by knowing there are no free transfers between transportation methods. If you ride a train, and need to transfer to the bus or ferry, there's absolutely no discount. The city is considering fixing this; I recommend they do.
I consistently ate breakfast at my hostel, and sometimes ate second breakfast....
Eating in Sydney restaurants was far out of my budget. Most prices I saw started at $10 and went up from there.
At the zoo, I bought a small egg salad sandwich and a soda and it still cost me 12 dollars. And that was the cheapest thing they had. (To be fair, I shouldn't have bought the soda). They let you bring your own food-- do it.
At Manly Beach, I bought a good-sized takeaway burger for $8.50 and was evil and bought some gelato for $5.50.
In the Blue Mountains, we had a lunch break in a small town. I paid $9.50 for a fish and chips lunch, but you could bring your own food or go to the local store for a cheaper meal. If you went to a restaurant, it would have cost $15-18 for an entree.
Otherwise, I bought my groceries at a store very close to Central Station. I believe the grocery store is a compact version of Countdown, but the outside of the store just says 'Metro.' While I am very familiar with Countdown now, I wasn't at the time, and now I can't recall. I usually could get a meal there for under 3 dollars (Couscous, Soup, Ramen), if I shopped what was on sale. I usually bought individual meals since I was all over the place rather than near the hostel, rather than buying bulk meal supplies (such as a loaf of bread or other things that would need to be stored).
My last day, I went to Chinatown and to an Asian-centric mall called Market City. There is a grocery store in there. I wish I went grocery shopping there more often. It's Asian-focused, but they had good prices on everything and a far better selection than the Metro Countdown.
There was a food court in Market Station where you could buy a small quiche for 5 dollars. Otherwise, it was hard to find five-dollar meals.
I regret missing the Friday Foodie Market at The Rocks. I didn't 'miss' it per say, but I wandered through it (not knowing it was there) after I ate lunch. I could have gotten more food for cheaper if I had planned on going to the market.
I missed the fireworks they set off at Darling Harbor on Saturdays. That would have been a fun evening activity, but I didn't realize they were going on.
I regret only seeing Sydney. I wish I had spent more time in Australia, and at least seen one more city. I do hope to make it back to Australia sometime in the summer, even if it's only so I can dive the Great Barrier Reef. Winter didn't seem like a good time to try that, though. Wet suits only help so much. Hopefully someday.