I did too much in Sydney to capture well in a blog post, but I really enjoyed the city. The weather was just gorgeous the entire time I was there, made even better by the fact that it was snowing back home. But I figured I’d provide some highlights of the city itself, and its Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade and Party, which was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
As a city, Sydney very much reminded me of Toronto and Vancouver, but with better weather. It was spotless, with mostly 20th century architecture but a smattering of lovely colonial buildings. The central business district, where I spent most of time, emptied out a fair bit in the evenings, though there were some areas like “The Rocks” that had more vibrant nightlife. All told, it was one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever been to.
When I first arrived at my hotel, the Radisson Blu Plaza (to be reviewed in a separate post), my room wasn’t ready. I ended up spending about an hour trying to find a Vodafone shop, as I was having trouble activating my sim card, only to find that it was already activated. But over the course of my search, I got to see the central business district during a busy weekday, with lots of businessmen at food courts, people shopping, street performers, the works. I picked up some food for breakfast at Coles, and some wine at Liquorland, and headed back to the hotel for a proper check-in.
Once checked in, I went back out to walk along Circular Quay on the harborfront, just blocks away from the hotel. From here, you get lots of the money shots of Sydney. The Opera House is perched on one end of the Quay (and uglier up close), and the Harbour Bridge on the other, rising above an older area of Sydney referred to as “The Rocks”, which is basically now a yuppie/hipster place with cute bars and restaurants in historic buildings. Public ferries were coming and going to areas all over the metro area, and hawkers were selling and playing Didgeridoos. It was a great vibe, though hot.
For dinner that night, I met up with a friend of a friend who took me to one of the many small shopping centers with Asian fast food- reminding me of New York or L.A.’s Koreatown. From there we walked down to Darlinghurst, the traditionally gay area of Sydney. Although the Mardi Gras parade was still not for a few nights, bars on Oxford Street were definitely getting more crowded than your standard Wednesday night. I hit one of the parties before a slice of pizza and a taxi back to the Radisson Blu.
I had met a local online who had offered to show me some of the natural sights outside of Sydney, so he drove me out about 65 kilometres outside the city to Dharawal National Park, where we took one of the many trails down to O’Hare’s Creek, one of the many tributaries of the Georges River. The hike down was a bit steep, but the swimming hole area was quiet and relaxing, and a great way to spend a day outside after so many hours in metal tubes. After that, I met another friend of a friend for some pub food in the Rocks, before a quiet evening at the hotel, taking advantage of the tub in my room at the Radisson.
On day three, I took a harbor cruise run by Tribal Warrior, an Aboriginal-owned and operated company. It was a beautiful day to be on the water, and the cruise included some narration of the history of the harbor, ending on Clark Island. We had some time to walk around the small island, before a small performance of Aboriginal dance by our trip leader and his brother. We then had lunch on the boat, and a long cruise all around the harbor, getting a closer view of some of the inlets and nooks on the north side of harbor, including Mosman Bay and Luna Park. It was a pretty relaxing, sunny day on the water.
For my final day in Sydney, I took the ferry over to Manly, which is probably the second most-visited beach in Sydney behind Bondi. There is both the public ferry, which takes about 30 minutes and costs about $12 roundtrip, and the private “fast ferry” which is a few dollars more. The public ferry was just fine, and had wifi and a little snack bar.
Manly was one of the highlights of my time in Australia. From the ferry, on the harbor side, I walked down the Corso, an arcade-type street connecting the harbor side to the ocean side of Manly. I stopped in Coles and picked up some sandwich fixings for the beach. The beach isn’t that deep, but was still beautiful- as were the surfers — and I really enjoyed just sitting and taking it all in, and then taking a long walk from one end of the beach to the other. From there, I explored the peninsula a bit on foot, including a great trail along the harbor in Manly’s Esplanade Park, including some dips into the quiet, rocky beach at Federation Point. I ended my time in Manly with lunch at one of the mediocre food, awesome location, spots on Steyne, the street that runs along the beach.
That night was the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, which runs down Oxford Street. I’ve been to many gay pride parades, and this was unlike any other. First of all, it’s at night. Second, it is just wall to wall crowds watching. I had arranged to meet some folks I had met earlier in the trip at a viewing location. Due to street closures it was tricky to get there, but I made it, and realized that if I wanted to see anything over the crowds of Asian tourists, I’d need to buy a milk crate or step stool for about $5. It was worth it, though, as I’ve never seen quite so many extravagant floats and choreographed dance routines from groups including the gay Qantas employee group. I learned the next day that the parade was actually televised, with color commentators and personal interest stories, kind of like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I can’t imagine that ever happening here.
I snuck away from the parade as it was winding down and grabbed some dinner at a fine Italian restaurant on a side street. After that, I headed back up to Oxford Street and followed the crowds walking to the Entertainment Quarter, where the big Mardi Gras party is held.
I had no idea what to expect from the Mardi Gras Party. I knew the ticket was expensive – over $100, with increasing prices as the event got nearer. I imagined it would be one stage and massive crowds of shirtless ridiculously goodlooking people dancing. I was totally wrong. The Entertainment Quarter was basically five or six different venues. Two were big club like spaces, one was a smaller club, one was a cabaret lounge, and I didn’t get to the rest. The massive dancefloors were not my cup of tea, especially since I had forgotten my earplugs. On those stages, Nick Jonas and Danni Minogue were scheduled to perform, but the exact time of their performances was unannounced, so I didn’t stick around waiting. At the beginning of the evening, though, RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Bianca Del Rio hosted a costume contest outside on the main plaza, which was fun. I then watched almost an entire cabaret show, featuring Calpernia Addams, Murray Hill, and Rufus Wainwright, which was pretty awesome. I wandered amongst the different venues for a bit, and took it all in, before deciding to call it a night around 2am, catching an Uber back to my hotel for my last night of sleep in Sydney before heading up North. I’m glad I went, although my initial thought was that it wouldn’t be my “thing.”
There was so much of Sydney I did not see, and in some ways Mardi Gras probably kept me from exploring a lot. But it was a great way to kick off the vacation, and lead to some of the more relaxing parts of the trip that would follow.