Earlier this month, we combined our last three-day weekend in Australia with our last road trip to Sydney for the 11th annual Vivid – a festival of “light, music and ideas.” Vivid didn’t exist when I lived there as a grad student, and last year we missed it, but I thought it would be fun to see to see the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge lit up, and to check out the light installations at the zoo and Royal Botanic Gardens. We also did a couple of coastal walks, ate delicious food, saw a grad school friend of mine, and visited the Anzac Memorial’s recently completed WWI centenary exhibition.
Although we were only in Sydney for two nights, the trip reminded me of how much I love Sydney and what a beautiful city it is. There is often debate among embassy colleagues about our favorite Australian cities. I cannot fault Melbourne, Brisbane, or anywhere else; I have never been anywhere in Australia that I did not like. But Sydney holds a special place in my heart as my former home. In the intervening years, it has been full of changes. But many delightful old ghosts come back to life for me with each visit, and sharing that with V is terrific for me. It was good to be there one more time, with less than eight weeks remaining at Post.
Sydney is about a 3.5 hour drive from Canberra. When we arrived at our AirBnB, we unpacked and took a look around the Surry Hills neighborhood. The apartment I’d picked was only three streets over from where I lived in grad school, and from the bedroom window I could actually see Hyde Park and the Anzac Memorial. Not a surprising choice, as I am familiar with this area and as a pedestrian can navigate almost everywhere by sight.
We were tired from the long work week and getting up early to pack and drive, but still decided to go out to lunch and then walk over to the memorial.
The last couple of times we have been in Sydney, the memorial was under renovation. But now the centenary exhibition honoring Australia’s participation in WWI was complete, and we had a chance to see it. The curators had even collected soil – every shade of red, orange, brown, and gray you could imagine – from all 1,701 towns in New South Wales that had soldiers enlist.
In the photo of the Anzac Memorial and Pool of Reflection below, the brown building with the balconies on the righthand side is my former apartment building where I lived in 2005 and 2006. We lived on the right side, a half dozen floors or so from the top, so you really can see our windows.
We took a wander through the park, sat for a coffee, and then as it became dark we headed down to the Sydney Opera House for the 18:00 lighting of the sails and bridge.
We also met up for dinner with my dear Australian friend P who I met in my grad program at Macquarie.
After a delicious dinner of ceviche, tacos, and enchiladas at Bar Patron in Circular Quay – where we could see the Sydney Harbour Bridge through the windows – we headed to see the light displays at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
There were a number of cool exhibitions, mostly related to science, nature, and technology, including one about bees that somehow *smelled* like honey. We walked and talked and clapped at the interactive displays in the cool night air – June in the southern hemisphere is equivalent to December.
The next morning, after a public transportation fail in which we learned busses in Sydney haven’t taken coins for “years,” we made our way to Bondi Beach for the famous 3.7 mile Bondi (BON-dai) to Coogee (COO-gee) Coastal Walk. I had almost forgotten that in 2006, I did a shorter version of the walk (Bondi to Bronte) with my dad and stepmom who were visiting. I thought we had just gone walking around Bondi Beach, but when I looked at my photos I saw the signs proving we had made it all the way to Bronte. Unbelievably enough, the walks were just four days shy of being precisely 13 years apart. (I realize that it is not normal to remember this kind of data, LOL! It figures that I would remember the exact week or even day something happened but not *what* happened.)
This is such a beautiful walk at this time of year that it blew me away. It almost felt like I had never seen it before. And of course the sky was a brilliant shade of blue, the temperature in the low 70s, and cool ocean breezes kept us (me) from overheating.
We made our way past Mackenzies Point towards Tamarama Beach. There were tons of stairs, steep hills, twists, and turns, and it occurs to me now that I probably don’t recall much about doing the walk with my family because then I was in great shape, and it wouldn’t have struck me at that time as much of an “endeavor.” This time I had to stop here and there to catch my breath. Ha ha!
All around there were locals and tourists, joggers, impossibly thin and stylish women making form-fitting gym clothes and false eyelashes work, and people generally just sharing the trail and loving the abundant natural beauty. There was a true feeling of community, cooperation, and respect for enjoying the environment in the air. I don’t know if that makes sense, but for me it was palpable. We stopped at the halfway point of Bronte Beach and found a cafe for brunch. For me, that typically means a cappuccino and an Aussie favorite: smashed avo with feta and poached egg on sourdough. Yum!
We carried on past the Bronte Baths and Waverly Cemetery, a heritage site with graves dating back to 1877.
We continued on past the succulent native plants and flowering desert bushes to Clovelly Beach, where I was surprised to see a group of older folks playing Aussie lawn bowls at a cliffside club.
When we hit Gordons Bay, with its lagoon-like greenness, stairs past backyard gardens, and old boats stacked here and there, we knew we were in the home stretch.
We climbed a couple of more hills and rounded a couple of more corners, and – Coogee Beach! We made our way straight to the rooftop of the Coogee Pavilion to soothe our aching bones.
Later that evening – as if we hadn’t walked enough – we went north to the notoriously hilly Taronga Zoo to see Vivid’s “Lights for the Wild” conservation effort. I usually feel terrible after a one-hour power nap and it takes an act of Congress to get me going again. However, this time the nap made all the difference.
Taronga Zoo works tirelessly to restore fragmented habitats and protect the health of native animals.
To date, Taronga has re-homed 50,000 animals to the wild.
So even though the zoo was spectacularly kidtastic on the night, and crowded to the point where you could hardly move, I am still glad we went to support the zoo’s important work. I think it may be the kind of thing you only need to do once, and I also wondered if the *real* animals were freaked and hiding because none were (obviously) on display.
I had wanted to take the ferry back to the city to perhaps get some photos of Luna Park and the Opera House from the water, but because I had asked V to organize that part and for various reasons it fell through the cracks, we ended up just skipping the crowds, Ubering back near our AirBnB, and finding some late night pub dinner which was delicious. According to my FitBit, that day I walked over 8 miles, burned 3,799 calories, and climbed 43 FLOORS. I think that floor climb might be a personal best…
The next morning we checked out of our AirBnB and took one more little jaunt to the coast to see Macquarie Lighthouse, Australia’s first lighthouse which just passed its bicentennial.
Originally we had planned to make the 75-minute roundtrip coastal walk between Macquarie Lighthouse and Hornby Lighthouse, but the lack of public bathrooms nearby, our dead legs, and wanting to make it back to Canberra before dark added up to us just looking around the Macquarie Lighthouse for a little while instead.
We gazed out at the coastline for a little while and V noticed that a variety of boats were zooming towards one area. Upon closer examination of disturbances in the water, we realized we were seeing migrating whales! June and July is peak whale migration season along Australia’s eastern coast, when whales move from Antarctica to the warmer waters of northern Queensland to breed before returning south in October and November for summer. Because of the prevailing strong southbound current, the whales stick closer to the coastline on their journey north. However, I didn’t have my Nikon or a telephoto lens to get any zoomed-in photos. But watching them jump and spray even from a great distance showed how large and magnificent they are. It was totally coincidental and a great spot by V – not sure I would have noticed had I been alone.
We will pass through Sydney airport twice more before we move from Australia in early August, but for all intents and purposes, this was our goodbye trip to Sydney. “Vivid” is a great word to describe my feelings about this incredible city, where I have lived and visited and where – even when the saturated technicolor memories jumble and fade – the experiences and joy so vividly felt cannot.