I have been fascinated by Australia ever since I read Bill Bryson’s ' Down Under'. There was no end to the natural wonders the place had, including the world’s oldest living organisms. However when the time to visit Australia finally came, the itinerary was attuned to traveling with a toddler. We spent a whole week in Sydney and one in Port Douglas.
When we went - We were there in the Christmas week. Before I left, people warned me about the hot summer and the crowds. The temperature never crossed a pleasant 27 degrees in the day. Also, the tourist season picks up only post-Christmas. So it was a good time to have visited.
Stay - We transited through Sydney to Port Douglas and stayed a night in Circular Quay. This was a stone’s throw away from the key attractions – Opera House, Botanical gardens, Harbour Bridge – and had lovely restaurants. After Port Douglas, when we spent a few days in Sydney, we stayed in Meriton Service Apartments on Pitt Street. While not next door to the sights, it was very well connected by bus and train to all the key spots, was the heart of the shopping district and CBD, next door to Hyde Park and had pretty decent restaurants. With a two-year old, a spacious serviced apartment worked better than cramped hotel rooms.
Opera House – We went on an hour-long guided tour of the Opera House (have to book ahead. Can do it online). The iconic structure looks magnificent from up close too and the whole tour was very engaging, with quick dashes into the various theatres, a short video on the engineering challenges during construction and some wonderful sights from various vantage points. Highly recommended – laze around the Opera House after the tour watching the seagulls and the sea. Then follow through with drinks and food at the Opera Bar adjoining the seaside wall of the Opera House.
Royal Botanical Garden – Massive gardens with all sorts of exotic-looking flowers. Great for walking around and for a picnic.
Hyde Park – Lovely place for a picnic. Had a large supply of birds on hand for young kids to feed and chase. Every time we passed through the park, Bobo simply ran behind the poor birds.
Hyde Barracks Museum – An UNESCO World Heritage spot, it gave an idea of Australia’s convicts history. While everyone knows how criminals were shipped to the new land, it was heart breaking to see the crimes for which they were being punished (life sentence for stealing a horse!). The only reason I could see the place and listen to the guided audio tour was because we took turns babysitting. Bobo missed this bit, but I am sure he did not miss it at all.
Taranga Zoo – A really big zoo that can take up a whole day. There were very good maps available online and at the venue to plan our day. The Australian animals were the best to see since we could have seen lions and tigers in other zoos too. They also had a section for farm animals which my city-kid gawked at open-mouthed.
Bondi Beach – Long white stretch of sand, with surfers all around. When we went, the weather was chilly but that did not deter the surfers! We also dropped in at the Iceberg bistro next door from where we could see the seaside pool with people swimming furiously in the cold water
Manly – A ferry ride brought us to this beach/eating/shopping area. It looked very promising in terms of the beach and the food. Unfortunately it started to rain and we beat a hasty retreat in half an hour.
Blue Mountains – This was a day trip. We saw several brochures for tours but it was quite easy (and cheaper) to just take a train to Katoomba and then public buses thereafter. The big draw was the Scenic World, with the world’s steepest rail line, a skyway over a canyon and a cable car. We had lunch at ‘The Yellow Deli’ which had really yummy food.
The Rocks – Stone-paved roads that lead to various restaurants. We also read about the weekend markets here but never got around to seeing them.
Darling Harbour – Lovely place to eat and watch the sea. Also had a nice kids park with plenty of play equipment, most of which were meant for older kids. Still, Bobo persisted in playing
Sales – As it happened, we were there on Boxing Day and so I could visit the Boxing Day sale. Despite Australia being horrifically expensive, I could still find some bargains.
Sydney without a toddler would have been a little different and probably included more walks and restaurants and definitely more drinks. Still, it was a good place for kids and every place seemed to welcome them with open arms. So we managed to eat some great food and see some nice places, all with the kid strapped into a stroller.
Sydney without a kid may also have taken lesser time to tick off but the amazing thing I discovered was that a slower pace meant that we could actually savour a place instead of constantly getting prepared for the next part of our day. Especially letting a toddler lead you can mean stumbling upon a game of chess in Hyde Park being played on a large board with waist-high chess figures and watching the final exciting bits before checkmate.
Sydney was pretty ok.