Our weekend in the Outback was over and we were now in Sydney. We took a taxi to our hotel, the Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay. This turned out to be one of the best Marriott hotels I have ever stayed at, and one of the most attractive hotels of any brand – classy, clean, and attractive, and in an excellent location. It was late afternoon and we were tired so after checking in we walked a couple of blocks, found a Subway, bought a few sandwiches and drinks, and returned to the hotel for the evening.
Tuesday was our first full day in Sydney. I had arranged for us to take a coffee cruise this morning so after a light breakfast at a nearby café we walked to the harbor and turned in our Viator voucher for cruise tickets. Most of the tours we take when we travel are arranged through Viator.com, a website I learned about from another frequent traveler. It is an especially easy way to set up tours in foreign cities because they can be prepaid in American dollars so there is no need to carry extra cash or use a credit card that might incur foreign transaction fees. The reviews on the site are usually spot on and accurate. The only time I was disappointed by Viator was in our transfer in Paris to our hotel – and when I complained about the problem, my money was refunded.
The coffee cruise was definitely a highlight of our stay in Sydney. It began at 10 in the morning and lasted 2 hours, taking us all around the city harbor. Elizabeth, our guide, was excellent, and explained the history and background of the major sites. We were able to view the opera house, bridge, islands, parks, and homes while sipping coffee or tea and eating a boxed selection of sweets. As our morning tour ended, I could smell the tasty beginnings of the luncheon cruise and pondered whether we should sign up for that as well. However, we had only this one afternoon to explore the city on our own because I had arranged for all-day tours on Wednesday and Thursday. Sydney is a big cosmopolitan city with lots and lots to do. We didn’t want to waste any time.
I had read in one of my guidebooks that it was fun to walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Some intrepid souls prefer to climb the bridge on catwalks and ladders, definitely not for me! But there is a pedestrian walkway so we opted to try that. In retrospect, it was a waste of time because the traffic noise from cars and the many other walkers and cyclists made for a boring venture. The view from the cruise boat was far better and more relaxing. Darcy and I made it to the center point of the bridge and then retraced our steps.
Far better was our afternoon visit to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. Australia became a penal colony for Britain in 1788 (England could no longer send convicts to the Americas after we colonists won our independence in 1776). The Barracks housed more than 50,000 convicts from 1819 to 1848. Beginning in 1848, the Barracks also became an immigration depot and was home to many women and orphaned children from English and Irish workhouses. Both Darcy and I enjoyed this look into Australia’s early history fascinating. There simply wasn’t time to fit more into this busy day so we wandered back to our hotel, stopping to get some bread and cheese to nibble on for a light supper.
On Wednesday we were picked up by AAT Kings tours (another Viator planned outing) and brought to the coach terminal at Star Casino. Sixteen of us boarded a mini-van for a tour of the Hunter Valley wine country. This all-day tour was another highlight of our Sydney adventure. We visited 3 wineries (Drayton’s, McGuigan’s, Lindeman’s) where we tasted a variety of Australian specialties, had a delicious lunch (salmon pasta for me, chicken for Darcy), and saw a lot of the countryside as we made our way to and from the various vineyards. Hunter Valley is especially noted for its Shiraz as well as other reds. We ended up purchasing several bottles (and one actually made it all the way home to the States with us). As a bonus, on the ride home we drove by a ‘mob’ of kangaroos (at least 30 of them) grazing in some fields.
Thursday was our last full day in Sydney. We had signed up for another Viator/AAT Kings tour, this time for a tour of the Blue Mountains followed by an afternoon visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park. Unfortunately, the tour operators tried to squeeze two additional options into an already full day, so we visited another tourist site (one we had not planned for) and also had to make a lengthy stop to let some people off at Darling Harbour for a cruise (and we had to wait until their boat came). We had a big bus rather than a small van and every seat but one was taken. The extra stops meant that the day was exceptionally long. The Blue Mountains (so named because of the blue tint from Eucalyptus trees) were not very high, not very blue, and not very impressive. The extra stop at Scenic World was boring for us because we did not want to take the cable car or railway (both were not for the dizzy or motion sickness prone). The highlight of the day was Featherdale. This was our opportunity to see wombats, koalas, Tasmanian devils, dingos, and kangaroos. We took full advantage – we waited in line to pet the koalas and to feed the joeys (baby kangaroos).
Our ride back to Sydney brought us to the city in the middle of rush hour. Just to add to the long day (and make it much longer), our bus was hit by a Mercedes as we were stopped at a traffic light. No one was hurt and the bus was not damaged (I’m not sure about the car). After an exchange of papers and reassurance from Adam, our young driver, that all was okay (‘no worries’), he proceeded to drop us off at our respective hotels. We turned down a narrow lane filled with construction equipment. One overhanging piece of equipment snapped the driver’s side mirror completely off. Poor Adam was beside himself. This was the last straw. He couldn’t drive the big bus without the mirror to help guide him, so he had to stay where he was. He called the depot to explain the situation and to ask for another bus to take the rest of us home. However, the remaining passengers (including us!) knew we could walk back to our hotels faster than we could get there by driving, especially if we had to wait for another bus to arrive. So everyone got off and headed back via foot! It was now past 8 pm and Darcy and I were exhausted. We had to get up early for our flight to Brisbane the next morning so we packed our suitcases, set the alarm for 4 am, and went to sleep.