Katy had managed to not use any of her six weeks of vacation during our first five months in New Zealand, and despite that we have managed to travel extensively around New Zealand. We decided that March was a good time to head to Australia for two weeks, so Katy took her first two weeks of real vacation for a Sydney and Cairns trip.
Eight days after we got back to New Plymouth (after each of us had been traveling for 15 days) we headed back to the airport to head to Australia. Our shuttle driver commented that since there was a police office at the airport, the prime minister was probably flying in for a local music festival. A single police officer. This highlights just one of the differences in flying domestic in New Zealand, not to count the fact there is no security or ID check in the entire airport. Shortly after we arrived the prime minister with her baby and husband in tow came off the Wellington flight after flying domestic economy and headed to their waiting car. Very casual.
We then took our puddle jumper to Auckland, and this time we lucked out with the “larger” and newer 68 seat plane instead of the old 50ish seater we normally fly. Our next leg was flying to Sydney, and we had decided to bid an effective $55 USD for premium economy for the 3 hour flight and got the upgrade. I was pleasantly surprised with premium economy, which was nicer than US domestic first class, and they were serving alcohol from the business class cabin for a good portion of the flight. One lame thing about flying in New Zealand is that we can’t get around checking our backpacks that we usually carry-on in the States. They have a 7 kg limit on carry-ons which is often enforced. Especially since we take a small plane from New Plymouth, they have a scale and weigh each bag that needs to be gate checked.
We arrived in Sydney after a short delay, and of course my passport did not like the automatic eGate, and so I was ushered to the line with a human. My passport has only worked once out of the last seven eGates I have tried with it, so I am getting accustomed to having a friendly chat with the border agents as everyone else bypasses them.
After we collected our bags, we headed through the airport and saw a sign for SIM cards for $20 with 27 gigabytes of data on the most extensive network, which caught my eye. It was literally a 60 second transaction, and we had a SIM card we could tether from our WiFi egg for our trip. It is amazing how easy it is to get SIM cards now.
We then took the train downtown and checked into our hotel/hostel. It was a reasonable $75 USD/night for downtown Sydney. It did have shared bathrooms, but the room was large, and there was a kitchen and laundry on each floor. This allowed us to stock up on food and avoid going out for breakfast. We then went out to explore Darling Harbour and grab a beer at a brewery. Sydney is two hours behind New Zealand, so it was not a super late night.
The next day we started off exploring the area. Katy’s number one priority in Sydney was to see Sphengic, a king penguin at the aquarium that was raised by the gay penguin pair Sphen and Magic who were given an egg from young irresponsible parents who built a subpar nest. We visited the aquarium and then headed for a walk around the harbor and the area. We saw a giant line of people outside of the rice yoghurt stand so we got one. We saw them making Asian cream puffs on an automated machine for $0.25 USD so we got a few. We then swung back by our place and grabbed Settlers of Catan and went out for some happy hours. It then started to rain for the first time that day, even though it was rather cloudy all throughout.
After dinner we wandered back to the area near our hotel and enjoyed the weekly Saturday night fireworks show on Darling Harbour. The fireworks were surprisingly good for being a weekly, non special event show.
Our second full day in Sydney it was raining for real. Like lots of rain. Since it was St Patrick’s day, and Sydney has the second largest St Patrick’s day parade in the world we (read Katy) decided that was a must for the day. Let’s just say it rained a lot, but if anything that emboldened the Irish spirit that was present.
After experiencing the Irish festivities, we were solidly saturated and gradually made our way back to our lodging. We were feeling a little waterlogged and headed back to desaturate. After a a little indecision, we decided to wander around and find some dinner in China town. The first place we sussed out was a loaded fries place, but we discovered that it was actually a vegan restaurant that tried to ruin your fries with a bunch or fake meats and fake cheese (Katy: would have been delicious probably). If I am getting loaded fries, the last thing I want on them is cashew based cheese.
Our third day in Sydney was suppose to be a “good” weather day, so we figured it would be a good day to go to Bondi Beach. We grabbed a train and then a bus and arrived in time for Katy to grab an açaí bowl for breakfast. I don’t really know what an açaí bowl is, but I think a prerequisite to selling them is to also sell turmeric lattes. Bondi Beach has a real beach town feel and definitely a different vibe than the rest of the city. We explored the area, and then we started on the coastal walk to Coogee, a town a couple miles down the coast. The weather decided to start to sprinkle, and the sun disappeared. The walk was rather dramatic, and I can see how the entire area would be very appealing on a nicer weather day.
We then grabbed another bus and headed up towards the opera house. It is amazing how Google has made traveling easier, especially taking public transportation. I remember on my first trip looking at the bus schedules listed in Lonely Planet and not really being able to take local buses except by asking locals what bus to take. Often I had a phrase and destination written out with where I wanted to go in the local language.
We made our way to the opera house, which is truly a unique building on a really prized piece of land. They had some foresight when they decided to build it. We then decided to take a ferry to Manly and grab some lunch there. We decided that spending two hours on ferries for $10 USD was a little more palatable than a harbor cruise for $25 each. When we got to Manly, which is an outer neighborhood of the city on the same harbor (which is the largest natural harbor in the world, which means it is massive), and we stumbled upon an international surf competition. It was very pleasant to watch good surfers and what they are able to do on a board. After watching many surfers along the Taranaki coast, it was easy to recognize that these ones were really good. When we went to board the ferry for the ride back, we missed it by a solid 90 seconds. That meant that we needed to go to happy hour on the ocean front bar next to the ferry terminal until the next one, thirty minutes later. Our Settlers game and $3.50 USD beers made us decided to wait two ferries before we headed back to Sydney proper.
Our last day in Sydney turned out to have way better weather than we were anticipating. We made a plan that focused on indoor activities, but ending up trashing it because it was finally sunny and warm outside. We started by going for a stroll around the botanical gardens, which were better than expected. We then went home the long way, past many of the sites we saw on St Patricks Day when it was down pouring, and they looked way more pleasant in the sun. We made another quick stop at the aquarium, so Katy could ride the the penguin ride one more time and say goodbye to Sphengic. We then went and finished some laundry and packed for the next segment of our trip.