Iris’s Whirlwind Tour (Climbing Sydney)

So my friend Iris decided it was time to take a vacation and it just so happened she knew someone (me) living in Australia, so she decided to fly out and see how things were down-under. I’ve been holding off doing some exploring because I knew I had friends visiting while I was over here and it’s a lot more fun sharing experiences.

For sanity’s sake, I am chopping this up into four separate posts:

  1. Welcome To The Gold Coast
  2. Climbing Sydney
  3. Swimming Through The Forest
  4. Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

Warning, these are long posts, but I have included photos 🙂 click the “Read the rest of this entry” to venture forth…

Climbing Sydney

From May 30th to June 2nd

Day Eight:


Ugh, a really early morning wake up. We crawled out of bed some 430amitstoodamnearlyish, got all of our stuff together, double checked the room, and shuffled out the door. Packed up the car, made our way south to the Coolangatta airport (OOL), gassed up the car, and then dropped it off at the rental car lot. (I had to leave a message with the agency because I noticed I left the dome light on, after dropping the key in the lock box, guh!). As we walked to the terminal, the morning twilight was just starting, I tried to grab a few pics of the sky and terminal. We checked in, discovered we were only allowed one carry-on for domestic flights, so we checked our tote bags and then headed to the gate (and hopefully some coffee). Someone up there took pity, because a coffee/breakfast station was right at our gate (yay). I caffeinated myself, Iris charged up on sugar, life was getting better (or at least more lucid).

We boarded the plane on foot (haven’t done that in a while), and took off to Sydney. It was a pretty quick flight (think SF to LA). We read through our Lonely Planet Book on Sydney and were choosing possible places to stay, things to see, etc. Our seat neighbor started giving us tips on the areas since she was a local. We finally decided on staying close to the city center (close to transportation). On the decent we grabbed some great shots of the Sydney suburbs/harbor (it’s HUGE, the last number I heard was that there were about 800 suburbs, and they stretch as far as the eye could see).

We landed relatively quickly, disembarked and made our way to the baggage claim. One of the first things to hit us was the temperature, it was noticeably colder than Southport, once I got my bag I quickly pulled out my fleece jacket (and just think, the day before we were in shorts and tee-shirts). The other thing that hit us was an ad in the baggage claim area, you can’t miss it, its a big bright red sign with gi-normous black letters saying, “GO AWAY”, and then in teeny-tiny writing it talks about vacations. (not an ideal ad for incoming flights in my opinion)

After we gathered our stuff, it was time to find a way into the city. The obvious choice was the train but we were also looking at different transit passes that gave full access to the (ferry, bus, train) system. We decided on the SydneyPass that included some hop-on hop-off tour lines (3 days for $110), it allowed you to use your three days anytime interspersed within 3 weeks. It also included two separate trips to and from the airport on the train (perfect).

We hopped on the train and took a quick (20 min) ride into the city. As we got off we were introduced to a new companion for our stay in downtown, a somewhat strong acidic smell, it turns out the air quality laws are more lax in Australia than the Bay Area. Then (much to Iris’s enjoyment) it started to rain. Now this seemed much more British: cold, wet, and industrial. Luckily the rain petered off as we made our way up the street to our place of residence for the next 4 days.

Big Hostel” had a nice write up in Lonely Planet, was central to most of the city, close to all sorts of transportation, and rubbed shoulders with Sydney’s Chinatown. This seemed like a perfect base to venture out from. We checked in, dropped our bags off in the private double room (which was a bit small, but that only encouraged us to get out and do stuff), and then decided it was time for food. We read about a nice Spanish tapas place in our book and decided it was worth a try.

As we wandered around, I couldn’t help noticing how much this felt like San Francisco (but much nicer), and being next to chinatown only encouraged those thoughts. We made our way past many tempting restaurants but we had a goal so we could only take note of them (like the $5 porterhouse steak meal with peppercorn sauce and homemade mash potatoes). Iris noticed a pub with three monkey statues above the door in the speak-see-hear-no-evil pose. It turned out that our restaurant was closed until dinner so we had to pick one of the places that we passed (oh, poor us). Iris wanted to see what the food was like at the three monkey pub so we headed in. We both ordered the dish-of-the-day which turned out to be “Curry Chicken” I was expecting your basic pub food fare and was blown away! The curry was this homemade, mouth watering mix of spices, meat and potatoes. It came with a generous mound of rice on the side and a yogurt/cucumber dip to ease the burn if you needed it. It was so good! I would have easily come here for the rest of our meals, but I wanted to try different things so we agreed to never have the same meal twice.

Back on the street, we made our way up toward Chinatown. On the way I happened to notice a shop that had “Cairns Vacations” in large lettering across the street and since that was our next step (Cairns, Townsville, or one of the islands) we figured it would be good to check out what options they had. Here is where we met Debs, she was a great travel agent, she answered all of our questions, gave lots of info on options, helped us choose our main destination (and so far we hadn’t even purchased anything), we decided to get the plane tickets to and from Cairns and then decide on any packages later.

More walking around chinatown and then over to our hostel. Iris headed downstairs to see if she could get on the internet while I started working on the budget and travel plans. When she came back we decided to go back to Debs and get some final pricing and possibly finish buying our final big ticket items. Since we dropped Uluru, we upgraded our BridgeClimb to the twilight option (which doubled the cost). We also decided on the 2 day trip the Cape Tribulation above Cairns, with the rainforest and river tour. We worked out all the costs and paid with credit cards. (DONE! no more worries, most of the vacation was now set.)

We thanked Debs and decided to wander some more, we were starting to get hungry so we headed into that place advertising the “$5 porterhouse steak with mash”. We shared that and a greek salad, and it was great. We then decided to have a drink and went out to find a pub that might have “Johnny Walker Gold” (a 18 year old scotch my friend Erik got me hooked on). We found our way back to the pub with the three monkeys (For the life of me, I can’t remember its name 🙂 ) and had a drink. Unfortunately they didn’t have gold, so I settled for a “Glenfiddich 12 Year”, I wanted to find a pub/bar that had Johnny Walker Gold, but as we hopped around we found that many places didn’t have anything older than 12 years. We finally called it a night and headed off to bed.

Day Nine:


Out of the hostel by 10am’ish, and decided we could walk down to the harbor, we stopped by a cafe and had breakfast, and then continued down the street. I was marveling at the architecture of the old churches, new high rises, and the recently built Sydney Tower. Once we were at the wharf we hopped a ferry over to Manley, which is a suburb on the other side of the harbor. We enjoyed a pleasant ride past the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Bridge, and into a bay in the north right-hand corner of the harbor.

Manley is a quiet and peaceful suburb which has one border in the Sydney harbor and another border on the Australian Coastline (heading out to New Zealand). We wandered the streets, visiting the shops, noting possible places to have lunch before heading back. We then reached the beach facing the Pacific ocean, and it was a beautiful pristine cove with few people playing on the beach and surfers in the waves (remember, it is now winter here). We decided to head along the edge of the cove and check out some of the rock pools. Iris had never done any shoreline rock climbing and this was a fun/nervous experience for her. We both marveled at the ocean breaking over the boulders and washing into small tidal pools. After sitting for a while and enjoying the view we decided it was time to start heading back. I took a few artsy photos and then we clambered off the rocks.

On the way back we passed by a photo exhibit that depicted some of the sand sculptures that had been done at the site (some amazing work). Then I ended up doing some hat shopping (since we were going to the Great Barrier Reef, I needed some sun protection) and eventually bought my first baseball style cap.

We made our way back to the ferry terminal and were feeling a bit peckish. We opted for a german beer garden and sat down to beer, fresh homemade pretzels, sourdough bread, butter and mustard. We missed our initial ferry but decided to not stress, relax and take the next one. (we originally planned to be back at the Opera House for sunset (per Debs) for a drink at the Opera House Bar). We caught the next one and were treated to a spectacular sunset over the harbor. Almost everyone on the outside decks were snapping photos left and right (myself included).

After disembarking, we were feeling pretty lazy and opted for a movie, so we headed to a theater we had passed earlier on the way to the harbor, grabbed some tickets to X-Men 3, and then a coffee/cider to burned some time before the next showing. It was an entertaining movie, and I was happy to see an number of things I recognized from the comics (like Colossus and Wolverines “Fastball Special”), I was caught off guard by some of the deaths, and look forward to see how they resolve those (because there is no way they can stay dead).

Day Ten:


Today we were heading out to “Darling Harbor” to see if I could find the Sydney office of my old employers OpenTV, so we first grabbed some breakfast at a local coffee shop and rode a bus over to the central station area. From there, we talked to a information booth and hopped onto a (suggested) bus. It was a pretty short ride, but since the bus driver was not sure of the street we were looking for, we jumped off somewhere in the middle of Pyrmont (think of districts in SF, like North Beach).

As we walked around, we noticed a number of the 2 story buildings all had iron lattice work for their balconies, for some reason I thought of New Orleans (not that I’ve ever been there, I think it was the French influence that was coming to mind). Iris had to find a restroom and while I waited, someone on the street approached me with a microphone and tape recorder. He was from a local news station and wanted to get a quote on my thoughts of the new Poseidon movie that was just released. I had seen the original, but I hadn’t seen the new one yet. I felt that it was just rehash of another 70’s movie and that I didn’t plan on going out of my way to catch it (I’d watch it if a friend rented the DVD).

We found our way to the OpenTV building, but as we entered there were a group of people standing around cake. The person I was there to see was on a conference call at the time so they asked me to return in 1 hour. Iris and I continued down the street which dead-ended at the Maritime Museum along Darling Harbor. We took some pictures of the area (an old battleship and submarine) and then headed into the museum for the free Viking exhibit. We also passed through a large exhibit on Australia’s role in WWII which was quite fascinating. After about an hour, we headed back out to see if I could catch my old coworker at OpenTV.

Mike and I hooked up, he showed me around the Sydney office, the server rooms, etc. It was nice to finally see the place that I had supported for a number years (via computers and phone). He was quite busy so he headed back to his office while Iris and I chatted up a new employee (Murray?) who had a wonderful Scottish accent. He gave us numerous tips of places to eat and things to do. One suggestion was to visit the Chinese Gardens at the base of Darling Harbor. Since we both still had time to kill before our BridgeClimb, we decided to go for it.

We made our way through the harbor, taking pictures, checking out shops and restaurants, and (oddly enough) running into more school groups than we could remember. (throughout the day we hit all sorts of school groups, everything from kindergarden to high school, it seems like a national outing day or something).

We reached the Tea Gardens and paid the $6 admission. The garden was a gift from a provence in China to the city of Sydney. They both worked for 3 years to create this absolutely serene and beautiful garden, with waterfalls, ponds, mini-hills/mountains, bridges, etc. It truly felt like a different world in there. Again with the lots of picture taking and then settling down to a lunch of tea, dim sum. I think anyone visiting the area should put this on their todo list.

As time ticked on, we noticed it was time to start heading back to the main Sydney harbor because we had an appointment with the BridgeClimb outfit. So we headed out on foot (which may have not been the best idea considering what was instore for us). We finally found our way to the entrance and checked in. Once it was our time, they took us into a changing room, where we took off all loose articles (hair scrunchies, clips, necklaces, change, keys, etc), and then donned a jumpsuit. We then put on a harness and then they explained that we could not even take our own cameras (GRRR!!!). Everything going up had to be attached to us, EVERYTHING! They attached special eye-ware holders, raincoats, fleece jackets, headlamps, gloves, handkerchiefs, head-warmers, radios, etc. Everything had a clip and attached somewhere to our body. This was all due to the fact that we were climbing hundreds of feet above a major bridge and anything dropping could cause an accident below us. The radios were pretty amazing, they use induction/vibration via your skull bones to get a signal to your eardrum. That means nothing goes in your ears at all, it sits just in-front of your ears on your temples. You can fully hear everything around you and still hear the group lead/guide without a problem. They told us that they are the first/only non-military operation using this technology right now (it was pretty cool). They then attached our harness to this safety cable for the entire climb, it would slide along with us as we climbed, walked, etc, not once was it disconnected so it was impossible for us to fall off (without the harness giving way or apart of the bridge coming with us). The climb was fun, we stopped at multiple points to look around (and make sure everyone was alright), took pictures (the guide had a camera), got history, etc. We had chosen to do the twilight climb, so we got the best of all worlds. The sun was almost setting as we climbed so we got to see most of the harbor in daylight, we got to see the Opera House during sunset as we reached the top, and then the entire city lit up at night as we descended. It was a wonderfully unique experience (remember the todo list I mentioned earlier, put this at the TOP). After we made our way back and changed our of our clothes, we were given the opportunity to see the digital pictures the guide had taken of us on our climb, and purchase any we wanted. We all were given one (free) group photo, but any of the personal pictures were charged (I thought this part was kinda a rip-off, digital pictures cost almost nothing, and to burn to a cdrom might cost $2-5, but they charged us about $50 for a cdrom with 3 pictures burned to it, GRRR). Overall it was a fun experience.

One of the climbers had mentioned a place for Iris and I to have dinner at so we headed there afterwards. Nicks Seafood has got to be one of the best places I’ve ever eaten at (the food was simply … orgasmic). Originally we were told (by the climber) to try the Seafood platter for two, since neither of us were generally keen on seafood we though this might be a good opportunity to have a wide selection and see if there was anything we liked. But after looking at the menu, and getting a full description of the platter from a waiter, we went another direction. I got the Charcoal Grilled Grainfed Sirloin with Port Jus, Roast Garlic and Gratin Potato, while Iris got the Chicken Breast and Truffle Mash with Asparagus and Grain Mustard Sauce. (did I mention omg earlier?, if not let me reiterate: OH MY GOD!) This was culinary heaven. We immediately discarded the rule of not eating the same thing twice and vowed to return tomorrow night. To wrap up dessert, I had a Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and Iris had the Mango and Coconut Creme Brulee with Pistachio Biscotti Tasmanian Lavender. (thinking about this almost makes me plan another trip to Sydney before I leave 🙂 )

What a wonderful end to the day.

Day Eleven:


Being the last day in Sydney, we wanted to take things easy (and we were sore from the walking and climbing) so we opted for one of the tour rides on our SydneyPass. We grabbed coffee, juice, croissant and quiche at our hostel, and then set out on the “Bondi Explorer“. We made our way around the different suburbs, stopping at different points for skyline photographs, local area history, etc. When we reached “Bondi Beach” we hopped off and decided to explore some. Since it was the winter season, there were only a few diehard surfers in the ocean. We strolled the beach and then decided to make our way along a cliff path to the next stop of the “Bondi Explorer” so we can hop back on when another one comes around. The walk was beautiful, with expansive ocean views, waves crashing against the rocks, dark storm clouds filling the horizon, and fisherman on the rocks getting their catch for the day. It was very picturesque, the only downside was the strong (wet) wind that was hitting us (and turning my umbrella inside out. At one point I ended up holding it perpendicular to the ground like an ancient shield fighting off the rain). We continued along the cliffs, down to a cove and back up again until we got to the stop. We had just missed the bus so we killed the next 30 minutes watching 2-3 surfers out braving the waves while we were huddled into a protective picnic shelter. At this point I had gotten quite cold and the rain had soaked through my shoes so I was looking forward to the bus ride back. We were picked up and whisked away, back to downtown Sydney.

Once back, we headed over to the main harbor to see if we could catch the sunset at the Sydney Opera House but unfortunately the storm persisted and it showed no signs of breaking up so that idea was dropped in favor of making our way back to Nicks for dinner. Through a bit of creative maneuvering I was able to get back to the ferry terminal while staying out of the rain the whole time. We hopped onto a ferry and took a leisurely tour over to Darling Harbor.

We still had some time so we decided to visit the “Sydney Aquarium“. Inside, we got to see live platypus, turtles, fish, jelly fish, crocodiles, seals, sharks, rays, etc. They had even recreated a sample of the Great Barrier Reef. Both the seal and shark exhibits are the type that you walk underneath in a clear tube so you have a full view of the environment.

It was now dinner time and we made our way over to Nicks. I was still frozen to the bone so we sat inside (not that there was anyone else deciding to sit outside, the cold rain was quite persistent). We enjoyed another decadent dinner, with both of us opting for the Chicken Breast this time. I didn’t wish to stray from the same dessert, but Iris ventured off to try the Warm Apple and Blackberry Crumble with White Calvados Ice Cream. (oh so good)

I would say that it was another perfect end to the night but when we got back to the hostel, we needed to do laundry. Iris crashed hard, and I spent the majority of the night sleeping for 1-2 hour periods, going downstairs to check availability of the washer and driers. I eventually got it all done by 4am and passed out.

I have to say, if I had to choose a city to live in, between Sydney or San Francisco, Sydney wins hands down. It has the night life, the astounding (24h) food, the perfect transportation, friendly people, healthy mix of buildings and nature (trees were everywhere), no slums (I think I saw one or two pan handlers), strong diversity, the list goes on. The only negative point I can even muster was the acidic air in the downtown area. Needless to say, I wouldn’t mind moving here.

…to be continued in “Swimming Through The Forest

2 Responses to “Iris’s Whirlwind Tour (Climbing Sydney)”

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