Discoveries Down Under Part 4 – Sydney And The Blue Mountains

Sydney requires no introductions, boasting some of the most photographed landmarks in the world. With iconic buildings, beaches and impressive city skyline, it is no wonder this great city is on so many people’s wish list. It has been on our bucket list for years, in fact it is unbelievable that it has taken us so many years to visit this place. To finally be here was another “pinch me” moment like so many we had on our Australian trip.

If you have been following our journey you know that we had to catch a ferry back to Hamilton Island, backtracking ourselves for our flight with Qantas to Sydney via Brisbane. We have again used the Qantas “walkabout pass”, which has been very convenient and it has also saved us money. The pass can only be purchased in conjunction with the international flight, in our case we did a London to Perth flight, and flew back (another big advantage of the pass) from a different city, Sydney. The internal flights around Australia are very easy to book using the excellent Qantas  website and all the internal flights were easy to check in using the Quantas phone app, allowing us to board with electronic boarding passes, again saving the faff of checking in at the airport or finding a printer. Isn’t technology great when it works! We have not been sponsored by Qantas to say this, but our experience was excellent, all flights were perfect, comfortable and on time.

Our home in Sydney was conveniently located 2 minutes walking distance from Darling Harbour,. The apartment hotel had a spacious well equipped kitchen/dinning/sitting area, very comfortable bedroom and en-suite shower. The apartment could have done with a bit of a freshen up in places, but was clean and location was spot on….though unfortunately no great views from our window.

Darling Harbour, I can’t imagine what it would cost to moor your boat here?

We had five days to explore this great city, so after leaving our luggage at the apartment we walked the short distance over a pedestrianised bridge to Darling Harbour, Sydney’s hub of entertainment. It is a lively harbour side area with many restaurants, cafes and bars overlooking the beautiful harbour which is surrounded by towering buildings from its nearby Central Business District neighbour. We spent our first evening eating and hanging out at Darling Harbour and we watched this place come to life as the sun was going down over the city skyline. The many street performers kept us well entertained.

Sunset at Darling Harbour

Over the next few days we found our way around by walking everywhere or taking the excellent public transport such as train, buses or ferries. We got hold of a free Opal card (is like the Oyster card in London) and loaded it with money. The maximum fare charge per day is just under AUD 15 and on Sundays just AUD 2.50 to go anywhere and you never pay more than that. We even used the Opal card to visit the Blue Mountains (independently by train, more on that later). We loved that the trains had two levels. We got hold of an Australian sim card for our mobile phones so we could use Google maps to find our way around Sydney, and it was a revelation – what a fantastic app, that even tells you what platform your train will be leaving from, or if catching a bus it will tell you what bus stop to go to, and once on the bus you can follow along all the stops to your destination. Over the week we learned that the public transport combo of bus, train and ferry made it super easy to get about. We managed to pack in a lot of activities – here are some of our favourites:

Cruising The Harbour

Do not leave Sydney without seeing its iconic sights from the water, a cruise around it’s beautiful harbour is a must. There are many companies offering all sorts of cruises, including some that would include a meal or join a kayak tour for some serious paddling around the nooks and crannies of Sydney harbour . We chose to do it like the locals and cruised around by simply using the slow and classic yellow and green commuter ferry that transport hundreds of people every 30 minutes over to Manly from Circular Quay. Crossing during sunset was magical.

Classic yellow and green ferry cruising past the Sydney Opera House

Seeing the sights from the water

Sunset ferry crossing

Visiting Manly and walking to Shelly Beach

Manly is easily accessible by ferry from Circular Quay, we took the classic, slow, big yellow and green doubledecker commuter ferry (using our Opal card) and sailed pass the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens, little harbour islands, Rose Bay, Watson’s Bay. The calm waters of the harbour were busy with other cruise boats, speed boats, yachts racing each other around or the more low-key kayaks, quietly gliding along. We also passed some of the most expensive real state in the world, amazing homes built to make the most of the incredible harbour views. Within about 30 minutes we arrived at Manly Wharf and walked through a pedestrianised, lively promenade area full of surf shops, I had never seen so many. There is a bohemian laid back vibe here. We spent a few happy hours watching the surfers, eating the most delicious fish and chips by the water front, and walking to nearby Shelly Beach.

Manly pedestrian promenade

Manly beach

Manly to Shelley Beach coastal walk

There are many breath taking trails from Manly, but we chose the very easy 20 minute coastal walk to Shelley Beach and we were not disappointed, from the very first bend there are gorgeous views across into the Pacific Ocean, rocky coves, rock pools, palm trees and plenty of wild life to see. There are lots of water activities such as surfing, snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving etc. Manly feels like a small resort town, it was one of our favourite neighbourhoods in Sydney.

Coogee-to-Bondi coastal walk

The Coogee-to-Bondi or vice versa Bondi-to-Coogee is probably the most popular coastal walk in Sydney. We did it on a sunny, but not too hot week day and found it to be lively but not uncomfortably busy. We caught a bus from near our hotel to Coogee Beach, the start of our walk. It was an easy 6 km walk that took us about 3 1/2 hours to complete at a very leisurely pace with plenty of rest and photo stops along the way.

Coogee Beach and the start of our coastal walk

Charming Clovelly Beach

Waverley Cemetery

Waverley Cemetery which opened in 1877 is State Heritage listed due to its many intact Victorian and Edwardian monuments. Located in this iconic location, on a cliff top near Bronte Beach it is an incredible place to visit, the most beautiful graveyard I have ever seen. The Coastal Path used to be down the boardwalk in the photo above, but due to damage from the storms of early 2016 which caused severe erosion to the path, the coastal walk has now been diverted and we walked through the Cemetery for a little while, instead of walking by the coast.

Coastal walk detour through the beautiful Waverley Cemetery

Views out to Bronte Beach

My claim to fame, a cheeky selfie with Anthony Carroll (“Harries” of TV show Bondi Rescue)

My son James was a big fan of the show, Bondi Rescue, a reality TV show which documents lifeguards patrolling and saving the lives of many unfortunate swimmers who end up in trouble on the seductive waters of one of the worlds busiest and most famous beaches….Bondi. I watched the show many times with James, so it was lovely to bump into “Harries” at Bronte and get a selfie with him, he was absolutely lovely and charming.

Icebergs Swimming pool at Bondi

View from Icebergs bar

Film crew at Bondi

Our reward for the long walk was lunch and a very cold drink at Icebergs watching the surfers doing their board tricks on the famous Bondi Beach waves. The film crew were at Bondi filming another episode of the popular Bondi Rescue show. It was fun to watch them in action.

Coastal Walk from Bondi to Watson’s Bay

We returned to Bondi another day to do another coastal walk, this time to charming Watson’s Bay. We found this coastal walk not so well marked and ended up getting a bit lost, spending more time walking on the road and around the neighbourhood houses then by the sea. For this reason we prefer the Coogee-to-Bondi coastal walk we did before, although it was nice to see the Sydney CBD and Sydney Harbour Bridge from a different perspective. We also enjoyed hanging out at Watson’s Bay and had planned to eat dinner of fish and chips at Doyles, the most famous fish and chips there, but we soon learned that the last ferry to Manly was at 4 pm and therefore it would be too early for us to have dinner there. We ended up having dinner at Hemingway’s in Manly instead, a lovely quirky restaurant by the water front.

Rugged coast line to Watson’s Bay

Views of the Central Business District (CBD) and Sydney Harbour Bridge

Watson’s Bay and the famous Doyles

Climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge

Brian and I went our separate ways on this day, since he wanted to do a fishing trip on the harbour and I wanted to fulfil a long time ambition of climbing the Harbour Bridge. One of the most famous bridges in the world, its steel metal frame has become an iconic symbol of the city. Built in 1932 during the great depression, it gave jobs to many metal workers that risked their lives every day to build it. The climbing is a well organised and safe affair.. you are first taken into a small room to fill in forms and sign the paper work, after passing the breathalyser test, climbers are given a pack with the blue and grey suits to wear on the bridge. Underneath the suit you are told to wear only your underwear, the rest of your clothes and belongings are kept safely on your given locker . We were also given a harness belt to which we could clip ourselves to the bridge railings. Other things like a hat, sun glasses, a handkerchief and headsets are clipped to the back of our suits. We were also told what to expect once out on the bridge. Before the climb we were given the opportunity to practice the technique of ascending and descending the ladder by attaching our harness belt  to a practice ladder rail and walking up and down on it. Once ready and all kitted out we are told to slap on some sun cream, which is provided and we were good to go. We closely followed the guide who was super enthusiastic and kept us well entertained with many stories and titbits about the construction of the Harbour Bridge. From the bridge summit the views are fabulous, it was an amazing and unforgettable experience which I will forever treasure.

Bridge Climbing – an experience of a life time

To climb the Sydney Bridge is relatively expensive, but if your budget does not allow it, you can walk over the Harbour Bridge for free, there is a pedestrianised walkway with gorgeous views of the harbour below, it is also possible to visit one of the Pylons to get a birds eye view of the harbour and to learn a lot about Sydney’s history of how it all began. Costs are a lot lower than climbing the bridge and the views are probably just as fabulous. For me the Bridge Climb was not just about the views, but about overcoming a challenge and the pleasure of having an experience that was important to me. I will never watch a New Year’s evening fire works of Sydney Harbour Bridge in the same way again, I will forever remember how it felt to reach the top.

A day trip from Sydney to the Blue Mountains

We researched different ways of visiting the Blue Mountains on a day trip from Sydney. We did not want to hire a car and drive there and we did not want to go on an organised tour. We wanted to do it independently and have the flexibility of doing what we wanted to do. It is also a lot cheaper; with the Opal card the train ticket there costs just under AUD 15. We got the 7:20 am train from Sydney Central Station to the town of Katoomba, again with help from Google maps, and the train journey took about 2 hours from Sydney. The journey is very scenic. We sat upstairs in the quiet carriage on the left side, and enjoyed some fabulous views as we entered the Blue Mountains National Park. It was an enjoyable and relaxing journey. Katoomba is the most visited town in the Blue Mountains, and used to be the centre of the coal mining industry in this area. On arrival at Katoomba Station we walked upstairs to buy our ticket for the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus. The bus ticket is a small booklet with maps and a guide to all the different stops and attractions within the National Park. We also bought the Scenic World Discovery Pass there.

From Katoomba station it is a short walk to the red explorer bus stop, and once on the hop-on hop-off Blue Mountains Explorer Bus the friendly driver gives a running commentary about each attraction and where to hop off. Our first stop was at Scenic World, which  is a bit like the Disney of the Blue Mountains, very touristic but we loved it. The rides are great fun with absolutely stunning views across the valley and gorges. There are 4 main attractions.

Brian and I with the Three Sisters lurking in the background

Scenic Sky-way –  is a cable car that glides between cliff tops, across a gorge above the Katoomba Falls, with amazing views of the Three Sisters in the distance. The cable car, which is the highest in Australia, is suspended 270 metres over the rain forest canopy, and you get a view of the forest below from the glass floor inside the cable car. From the cable car we disembarked at Skyway’s East Station and walked a short distance to various lookout points over the vast forested valley and views over to Echo Point and the Three Sisters. After exploring around here we took the Scenic Sky-way back to the main Scenic World hub where we had lunch with lovely views over the valley.

Scenic Skyway

Glass bottom at Scenic Skyway (my feet tingle at just the memory of it!)

Katoomba Falls from the cable car

Scenic Cable-way – takes you on a journey that descends 545 metres into Jamison Valley, it is the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. From the cable car there are views out to the Three Sisters, Orphan Rock, Mt. Solitary and Katoomba Falls. We disembarked at the bottom station to access the Scenic Walkway.

Scenic Walkway – We exited the cable car into the ancient rain forest boardwalk and walked its 2.4 kilometres. This elevated boardwalk is through a Jurassic rain forest on the Jamison Valley along beautiful towering Eucalyptus. We kept looking out for the wildlife, hoping to spot the elusive Koala or the native Lyre bird, but no luck on that aspect. We also enjoyed learning about the coal mining industry in this area, and along the way we found the entrance to a coal mine, a replica miner’s hut, and scale bronze sculptures of a miner and his pit pony. Eventually we arrive at the bottom of the  Scenic Railway to take us up to Scenic World centre again.

Scenic Cableway

Board walk (2.4 Km) at Scenic Walkway

Giant Eucalyptus tree

Miner’s replica hut

Life size miner and his pit pony bronze sculpture

Scenic Railway – the world’s steepest public passenger train, a 52 degree incline, originally constructed for a coal and oil shale mining operation. Once inside the train there is a way of adjusting your seating position allowing you to choose how you want your seating position to be during the ride, up to 20 degree. The cliff hanger is….well the clue is in the name. The cable-driven funicular railway  descends,  or in our case ascends, 310 metres through a cliff-side tunnel.

Waiting for the steepest train journey

Scenic Railway

Views from Scenic Railway

There are different types of passes for Scenic World, at different prices, and with each pass you are given a different colour wristband to show at each of the attractions entrance point. We chose the Unlimited Discovery pass one that gives unlimited freedom to ride up or down the valley as you please, and we had great fun doing exactly that. If you do not wish to spend the cash visiting Scenic World there are plenty of bush trails and other activities in this area, that will not cost much.

Echo Point

The viewing platform here gives the best views of the Three Sisters which have the Aboriginal names of;  Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. The sisters are the best known attraction of the Blue Mountains – a distinct rock formation of three soft sandstone pinnacles formed by millions of years of erosion. They look magnificent against the blue tinge of the valley, where the oil escaping from the eucalyptus trees creating the blue haze that gives the region its name.. There are many bush trails around here and we walked down to The Giant Stairway via a series of steep steel and stone steps to reach one of the Three Sister’s pinnacles, you can even touch it. We did not go further down into the Valley, but the route follows the Dardanelles Pass to the Leura Forest, along the Federal Pass and then back to Echo Point, about a three hour circular walk that unfortunately we did not have time and energy left to do it.

Giant Stairway leading to the Three Sisters pinnacles

Brian at the Three Sister’s pinnacle

Steep stair way to the Three Sisters pinnacle

Hard work to get down to the pinnacles, but worth it

Interestingly the Blue Mountains are not technically mountains, but a huge sandstone plateau shaped by millions of years of erosion, it has a diverse ecosystem with a variety of wild life not found anywhere else, many different species of eucalyptus trees, fern gullies, beautiful waterfalls and caves with Aboriginal history thrown into the mix. It is a stunning area to explore. We caught our train back to Sydney from the town of Leura. It was a very intense day of exploring, but totally worth it, and we were so glad to have done it independently. It would have been nice and perhaps a lot less tiring to have been able to stay for few days in a hotel in Katoomba or Leura and explore further the many beautiful hiking trails, but unfortunately we just did not have time for that.

Our journey of discoveries Down Under was sadly fast approaching the end. Although we did not feel ready to leave, work and other commitments were waiting for us back home. During our three weeks in this vast country we didn’t even scratch the surface of all that it has to offer, its landscapes as diverse as it’s wildlife. During our stay we explored three very different states; from the up and coming, cosmopolitan Perth in Western Australia to the incredible Great Barrier Reef, vibrant tropical beaches and Islands of Queensland, to Sydney in New South Wales, one of the most amazing and liveable cities in the world, the heartbeat of Australia. It was an epic trip. We are extremely grateful to our Australian cousins, who have made our trip so memorable,  who looked after us so well, meeting them was the absolute highlite of our trip Down Under.

Since being back in the UK we have started the hard process of selling our home, downsizing our lives and starting the count down to financial independence and freedom, on my next post I will give you a taste of how things are developing on that front.

So it was goodbye Australia, for now. We had had fabulous weather wherever we went, and seemed to arrived everywhere just as bad weather turned lovely, and returned to bad again as we left. Apart from one rainy day in the Whitsundays (but warm rain, very novel for us…) we were blessed with warmth and sunshine wherever we went and we loved it. We ended the trip a few thousand down on the bank balance, but with our memory bank immeasurably richer. Thank you Australia, we had a blast.


I hope you have enjoyed this collection of 4 posts as much as I have enjoyed writing it. And if you have been to Australia, I’d love to hear what were the highlights for you.  



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27 Comments on “Discoveries Down Under Part 4 – Sydney And The Blue Mountains

  1. I really enjoyed visiting Sydney with my best friend like 20 years ago and this brought back good memories of Bondi beach and the red light district which my friend had to show us on the way to the delightful 360 degree view revolving restaurant. Nothing better than taking the ferry into the city. Glad you were able to tick this one off. I agree it is epic😀.

    • Kemkem, it must have been great to visit Sydney with your best friend? I wonder how much it would have changed from 20 years ago, maybe you have to go back one day to find out? It is a great city, seeing it by ferry from the water was very special. We were lucky to have such great weather, the temperature was a perfect 27 degrees every day. We would like to go back to Australia in the future to explore it further…. such a huge country 🙂

  2. I loved all four posts. This last one is the icing on the cake! Pretty impressive how much you did in Sydney in such a short time. All the posts were very informative, fun and I could really be close to your experience due to your passion for travelling which shines through your writing. The photos are just beautiful…. I have a feeling you are not yet finished with this vibrant and vast part of the world.

    • Val, we did pack a lot of activities on our 5 days in Sydney, but we felt that there was a lot more we wanted to do and just lacked time, we would love to go back to Australia and visit the North. My photos have improved a little hahaha..but still have so much to learn. I am so glad you enjoyed the blog posts, as always your support means a lot to me 🙂

  3. Gilda, it’s been great reading about your Oz adventure. I was in two minds about visiting Sydney as there are so many places we want to see, but it looks lovely in your photos. Helpful to know about the travel card too. Cheers, Dan

    • Dan, I am glad you are have enjoyed the Oz adventure, it was amazing and I would recommend it, The Opal travel card does make sense if you are using the public transport system, we loved using it on the ferries also and going to the Blue Mountains. I am loving following your RTW adventure, sounds like you are having a great time in NZ. Where to go next is always a dilemma…such a big world. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  4. Australia has long been on my bucket list and it was fun to visit it vicariously through you, Gilda. I enjoyed all 4 parts of your series and you’ve given me plenty of ideas and tips for when (not if) we make it there. Such an amazing country and it seems to me that you packed in tons of things during your stay. What fun! Looking forward to reading about your downsizing process and your next plans. Anita

  5. Anita, Australia was for a long time in our wish list, I am glad that we did finally get to see and experience some of its wonders. I am so pleased you have enjoyed all the 4 blog posts and it has given you few tips and ideas. I hope you will get to experience it for yourselves very soon. Since returning home we have been working hard to downsize our lives. It is a painful but exciting process, as you know it well, having done it yourself. Many ups and downs Anita, but we are getting there 🙂

  6. I have always thought of ourselves as having a packed itinerary when traveling Gilda but this Australia trip you have left us in the dust. wow you did so much with your time in Sydney. I am just tickled to see you atop of the Harbour Bridge. So happy that worked out for you. We did not get out to the Blue Mountains so it is wonderful to see your photos and hear your descriptions. Congratulations on beginning a new chapter in your lives. I look forward to hearing more about it!

    • Sue, first of all apologies for your comment ending up on my spam box, not sure why, very sorry. Visiting Sydney was amazing, climbing the Harbour Bridge the icing on the cake for me, I remember reading your post about the climb and feeling very inspired to do it myself 🙂 The Blue Mountains was a full on day, but totally worth it. Big life changes ahead 🙂

  7. Gosh you certainly did a lot in a short amount of time!! Looks amazing! My best friend from high school lives there so I would like to plan a visit sometime. Wow that glass bottom cable car is something else!!


  8. Peta, it did feel like we had 3 months there rather than 3 weeks. But although it was packed full of action, we did get time to relax with our Australian cousins and spend time just hanging out. Visiting Australia and catching up with your best friend from high school will be great fun and I hope you will get to do that very soon. The Scenic World and the glass bottom cable car was great fun, stunning views all round 🙂

  9. Good for you for climbing the bridge! I have a wicked fear of heights (unfortunately) so I kept my feet planted on the ground but Abi and our son made the climb and enjoyed a spectacular time of it. We had a blast in Sydney, we didn’t get to stay very long but we sure loved it. We hired a private guide to take us by car to see the highlights and some of your photos brought back nice memories. Isn’t the opera house amazing! We saw a play in one of the 3 theaters, but it was in French and we were all so tired we all fell asleep at various points in the performance but we were there! 🙂

    • Patti, climbing the bridge was amazing, I don’t mind heights if I feel it is safe enough. I am glad you enjoyed Sydney, it is a beautiful city. We didn’t get to see inside the Opera House, such a shame. I think we have to go back there again one day 🙂

  10. What a totally wonderful read, Gilda! You had me entranced and if ever I wanted to visit Sydney it was reading this post. My good friend Jude did some of this stuff and I’m sure the post will bring back fabulous memories for her too. While not strictly a walk, you include so many that I’m going to ‘steal’ it for my next Monday walks, if you don’t mind? I’m always surprised that you don’t use social media so I can’t tweet or whatever but you certainly deserve a slot in the walks. Thank you so much for richly entertaining me over my breakfast coffee. 🙂 🙂

  11. Gilda, your photos on top of the Harbour Bridge are excellent. We stopped in Sydney for a week on or last RTW, but unfortunately, I was recovering from Dengue fever and didn’t get around as much as I wanted (and certainly didn’t climb the bridge). It certainly looks like you took full advantage of all the area has to offer, which is a great idea since Australia isn’t one of those places you just drop by. ~James

    • James, Dengue Fever is not nice. It can totally wipe you out..climbing the bridge would not be a good thing. We did pack a lot of activities and made the most of our time there. The weather was so perfect we felt very lucky. I hope you and Terry are having a great time in Europe? I am enjoying your posts on Spain 🙂

  12. Wow! I’ve loved reading all the posts and how well you’ve done in just 3 weeks! I’ve always thought that to “do” Australia you’d need at least 6 weeks, if not 3 months which, with a school-aged child, I just don’t have! But you’ve proved me wrong. It can be done!
    p.s. I didn’t know that you were down-sizing. Perhaps I missed that bit, but with grown-children (is that right), you’ve earned it.:D

    • Victoria, I am so pleased you have enjoyed the posts. Australia in 3 weeks is very doable. I would recommend the Qantas Walkabout Pass for all the internal flights. Yes we are downsizing and our kids are moving out…big life changes:)

  13. Brilliant post Gilda, so many wonderful highlights here. You’ve done Sydney and the whole area justice. Beautiful.

    • Miriam, thank you so much 🙂 we absolutely loved Sydney and wished we could have spent more time exploring this great city. Thank you for your visit to the blog 🙂

  14. Breathalyser to climb the bridge? Wow. I get through most of my hikes only after having a couple of drinks 🙂
    I would for sure love to do that though.
    Lots of pretty photos, Australia always reminds me of South Africa.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Frank, I was also surprised with being breathalysed before the climb, but I guess safety is their number one priority. I think you would enjoy the bridge climb…minus the couple of drinks hahaha. Although with your fitness level you would probably think it is easy peasy and not challenging at all, and you would be absolutely right as it not very demanding. The views are spectacular. Interesting that Australia reminds you of South Africa? I would definitely want to visit SA in the near future:)

    • Agness, so sorry that your comment ended up in my spam box…but I managed to rescue it 🙂 Sydney was AMAZING, we had great weather every day the sun was shining. There were so many highlights…I loved climbing the Harbour Bridge, the walk from Coogee to Bondi, cruising around Sydney Harbour., people watching at Darling Harbour…and so much more. We are not done with Sydney yet and will most definitely visit it again 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

I would love to hear from you, leave a reply.


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