Australia 15: Living, Working, Breathing Oz

So my original plan had been to simply travel the East Coast of Australia (after the Outback) and then fly straight on to New Zealand, but 2 months into my trip I decided to stay put in Sydney for a couple of months and get a job so I could experience working abroad and spend more time with my best friend of 14 years, Natalie, whom had been living in Sydney for 2 years. When I first arrived in Sydney she was living on the North Shore in Mosman, but once I returned from my trip to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road it wasn’t long before we were moving to Paddington to live with her old flatmate Sophie and Claire, where I would be sleeping on the sofa bed. The day of moving was an emotional one and we dealt with that in the only sensible way – with alcohol. Lots of it. That night I went to my first ever Oz house party for Halloween and made friends with Bruno, a Brazilian living in Sydney.

The house in Paddington was near a popular area known as Five Ways that has a few bars, cafes and shops, so I wandered round here handing out my CV. Literally 5 minutes after handing it in to The Royal Hotel Paddington – a four floor venue with a pub on the ground floor, a restaurant and bar on top, the Elephant cocktail bar on the third floor and then finished with a rooftop terrace with views across the city – they called me and asked me to come in for a trial that Sunday. I already had completed my RSA course – a Responsible Service of Alcohol licence at $120 AUD, the onus of serving alcohol in Australia is on you not on your employer – and I was offered the job at the end of my trial, primarily as a waitress in the restaurant but I would also be trained on bar.

I have to say now that working at The Royal was a huge and wonderful part of my time in Sydney. I really REALLY struggled staying put and having a “normal” routine after months on the road moving at a fast pace, having a number of emotional breakdowns along the way (Nat saved my life over and over again when it came to this), but working at The Royal gave me something to focus on, a sense of belonging, and amazing friends. You hear about “Paddington Princesses” – Paddington to Sydney being the Chelsea to London – but they were some of the most genuine, down-to-earth people I have ever met whom welcomed me with open arms and became more like family. I will forever be grateful to that place for the stability it gave me during a time of feeling very unsettled.

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The Unicorn at around 1am

Also, it was such a fun place to work – I LOVE waitressing and interacting with customers, I love being on my feet in a fast-paced environment, and I loved the energy and social feel to working in such a busy place with a live DJ at the weekends. They were great about giving us training days – being able to sample the new food and wine menu being one of my favourites – and it hosted the Royal Fair street festival in November where I was first forced to dress up as an elf but then got the pleasure of running the Aperol Spritz bar. After a 12 hour day, a crowd of us headed to our local favourite The Unicorn for drinking and dancing until 3am.

I generally really loved the area I lived in, too. Five Ways itself had enough that you might immediately need – Thomas Dux grocers (which I believe has now been merged with a Woolworths Metro?), restaurants including Christo’s Pizza, coffee shops including Sonder and Sonomer and Tiger Mottle that also doubled as brunch hangouts, then there was Eat Thai – one of my favourite places for a delicious, hearty brunch in the morning, an on-the-go coffee hit mid-afternoon (the coffee and fruit shakes were the perfect combo of flavour and thickness and were my go-to if I were to start a shift in the middle of the day) and a proper pad thai for the evenings, which was only $10 AUD from 6pm on Tuesdays.

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Brunch at Eat Thai

The other thing I loved about Five Ways – or Paddington – is that it is located right in between the city (Hyde Park) and Bondi Beach, the 389 bus stopping in 5 ways and taking you in either direction in about 15 minutes, although I also walked both routes occasionally in around 40 minutes. Other than our post-work drinks at The Unicorn until 3am, The Woollahra Hotel – part of the same chain as The Royal Hotel Paddington – was 15 minutes walk from where I lived in Paddington (and was on the walking route towards Bondi) and therefore a pub we often went to for drinks; The Paddington Inn was another local pub/bar I liked to visit on evenings I wasn’t working or for a quick after-work drink, and The Light Brigade was another four-floor pub with roof terrace that I visited with my sister when she came to visit and where I had my leaving drinks with my work friends the night before I flew to New Zealand.

Oxford Street is the main road leading from the city towards Bondi – where many bus routes operate – and as well as various pubs I have mentioned it also has an Off Ya Tree tattoo parlour (not the one I had my nose piercing done as that was in Melbourne, but the one I had to go to TWICE to re-purchase the same nose stud TWICE as it felt out my nose and disappeared when I was drunk TWICE), Berkelouw Books that is a gift shop with coffee bar upstairs AND a library that I liked to just wander around, Paddington Markets on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm that sells local crafts, clothes, jewellery, food and drink, and one of my favourite places to hang out or go for a walk; Centennial Park.

Centennial Park is a large, public urban park where you will see people jogging round the loop, working out on the grass, going for walks, feeding the ducks, having a picnic, hiring a bike from Centennial Park Cycles, laying on the grass and catching the rays or even having a wedding; one of which I actually witnessed.

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As it was only a short walk from our house I came here often, sometimes for morning walks with the guys from work followed by a coffee at Centennial Homestead, frequently to lay in the sun, infrequently to go for a run, once to cycle and twice I came in the evening for Moonlight Cinema; an open-air cinema that runs in the summer months from December through to March at $20 AUD a ticket, where you can bring your own food, drinks and seating but that also provide bean bags at an additional cost plus a few food and drink stands. The first time I went was on a date to see The Girl on the Train but about 15 minutes in it started to pour with rain and had to be closed – my date and I went for something to eat instead but when I realised I wouldn’t want to go on another date with him I decided to re-use my tickets to see Allied on my own instead – a really good film and a really good evening being out in the park by myself.

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Other nearby places that I liked to visit regularly included Rushcutters Bay – a park, tennis and green area alongside the harbour that also has a coffee shop (Rushcutters Bay Kiosk) that I went to one morning with the guys from work, I favoured this as my running route as somewhere that wasn’t too far for me to go to, was fairly remote, had a flat area for me to stretch in, and had incredible views of the bay. I love the water, and being in Sydney in the summer meant stunning views of the sun glistening on the bay and illuminating the sail boats that were docked.

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If I wanted a swim, however, then I would head further East to Redleaf Beach in Double Bay, a harbourside beach with Murray Rose Pool that provides swimmers with a safe harbourside tidal enclosure to swim in. Here, after a 30-40 minute walk, I could lay on the sand in the sun or take a dip in the deep waters for a “proper” swim where you wouldn’t get knocked out by treacherous waves and, during the week day when it wasn’t school holidays, it was really peaceful.

If I wanted to to swim as exercise then I would walk via Potts Point to Andrew Boy Charlton Pool and pay around $6 AUD to sunbathe next to and swim in an eight-lane outdoor heated salt-water swimming pool on (yet elevated above) the shore of Woolloomooloo Bay. Then was something pretty cool about swimming in the pool overlooking the huge bay below you. It was also right alongside the Royal Botanic Gardens, somewhere I visited a few times for walks or to check out Mrs Macquerie’s Chair – a stone bench with views of the harbour. I also took the short walk to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which was free and I really enjoyed. Generally, however, it seems I spent most of my time visiting spots along the harbour, making the most of being next to the water and how many stunning bays Sydney has to offer.

Speaking of Bays, one of my favourites would have to be Watsons Bay; a harbourside, eastern suburb of Sydney that you can get to via ferry from Circular Quays, or the 324 bus from near Edgecliffe which was a 10/15 minute walk from my house in Paddington. It’s not hard to describe what is so wonderful about Watsons Bay; harbourside beaches, cafes and restaurants, coastal walks, cliff edges and sailing boats. I went there first with my friend Katie R where we did the full walk to South Head via Laings Point and Camp Cove, where you pass by incredible views of Sydney harbour and the vast water.

I also went back there on my own to do walks around Gap Bluff, with lookout points of the Gap and higher up views across Sydney harbour, and I also paid a visit to Lady Bay Beach, my first ever nudist beach experience, and quite possibly my last. But it was something to tick off my to-do-before-I’m-30 list, and I was sort of proud of myself for braving it despite being only one of two women on the entire beach. I paid yet another visit to Watsons Bay in the week my sister, Marie, came to visit (she made it for my 30th birthday, the wonderful sister that she is) and we spent our time swimming in Camp Cove as the sun set over the bay and eating sharing dishes at Watsons Bay Hotel where a shitty seagull stole one of our prawns.

Visiting the numerous bays in Sydney also tied in with one of my other favorutie things to do; coastal walks. I have already mentioned Watsons Bay and in my previous post on visiting Sydney I mentioned the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, which is one I then did another two times. Once was on my own again to see Sculptures by the Sea; the world’s largest annual free-to-the-public outdoor sculpture exhibition along the coast from Bondi to Tamarama. It runs from mid-October to early November and I stupidly went on a Sunday when it was ridiculously busy and, at times, we were moving at the pace of snails. But some of the artwork was absolutely stunning and it was an amazing day for it.

The other time I did the Bondi to Coogee walk, but this time the other way round from Coogee to Bondi, was when Marie came to visit. We went on the walk after spending an hour or so on  soaking up the rays on Coogee beach and had great weather for it, stopping at the various lookout points and climbing over the rocks to see the huge waves crashing into the cliffs; the ocean definitely has a huge appeal for me, grounding me and overwhelming me all at once.

Another popular coastal walk is the Spit Bridge to Manly walk, a 10km trail that weaves through a mix of lush bushland and scenic harbourside trails comprised of a series of short tracks passing some of North Sydney’s beaches, bays and inlets. I enjoyed the walk but, for me, it wasn’t as stunning as other coastal walks and you couldn’t get as close to the water. I also wasn’t as hot on Manly Beach as others seemed to, preferring Watsons Bay myself and enjoying Manly purely for the drinks I had at The Bavarian with Katie R overlooking the cove.

When Katie R came to Sydney we also used this as an opportunity to head to the Blue Mountains together, taking a 2 hour train from Central Station in Sydney to Katoomba. From here you can then take tours of the Blue Mountains or get a bus closer to the attractions, but having been on a train for 2 hours we decided to walk to the Three Sisters at Echo Point; an unusual rock formation and the most famous landmark of the Blue Mountains.

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From here we descended down for the Echo Point to Scenic Walkway Bushwalk via the Giant Stairway, which is literally the steepest and most narrow staircase down the side of a cliff I have ever walked. More in the forest than up above the mountains you couldn’t really see the “Blue” mountains – so named as they are clad in vast forests of eucalypts , which in the hot sun discharge a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from their leaves that refracts light and makes the haze look blue at a distance – but it protected us from the heat of the sun, which is always welcomed. We eventually made it to the Scenic Walkway for a 2.4 kilometre stroll through Jurassic Rainforest before taking the 510 metre journey up through the Jamison Valley and to the top of the escarpment. The views were decent but we were squished like sardines and had selfie sticks shoved in our faces from every angle.

Back up top we decided to continue our walk back towards Echo Point but continuing East to the Kiah Lookout for panoramic views of the Blue Mountains, before carrying on through Leura Park and this time making our way to Leura Station for our train back into Sydney.

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Kia Lookout

On our return to Sydney we decided to head to the Opera Bar overlooking the harbour as it was such a beautiful day and this one of the hotspots, where your view includes The Opera House as well as Harbour Bridge. Arriving at around 5pm and not leaving until around 10pm, having a few drinks at the Opera Bar before eating harbourside at Portobello Caffe, we had the view of the harbour with the bright blue skies of the late afternoon and then it lit-up in the night sky.

 

 

I happened to turn 30 while I was in Sydney and wanted to do something really significant for it. My sister arrived for her week trip on the Friday evening and my birthday was on the Sunday, so I decided that I wanted to do a skydive the day before on the Saturday, which Natalie had said she would do with me for around $250 AUD each. So we’re up at ridiculous o’ clock on the Saturday morning to get to Kings Cross for our coach taking us to Woollongong, where I spent the journey attempting to zone out and listen to music while Natalie unloaded her bust of anxious energy on me by listing all the school plays we did together in primary school, some 20/25 years ago. At the skydive landing site we had to get weighed and pay for photographs (I think an extra $50 AUD), get into our gear and then sit through a briefing on the positions we would need to adopt in the air. Then, we had to wait. There was traffic from the landing site to where the planes took off from so we ended up waiting a looooong time, which really wasn’t good for my anxiety – we would go from pacing the outdoor area, to singing and jumping around, to physically going through the positions we would have to do, to sitting in terrified silence.

Eventually we were picked up by our minivan and driven to the take-off zone, where the instructors were making jokes about the parachutes not working (hahaha, HILARIOUS) and were at one point concerned we had been drinking based on how giddy we were. When we got there I was a bit shocked to see what we would be jumping out of, something that resembled a toy plane, just a bit bigger. Our skydive was supposed to be from 14,000 ft but the instructor said we would more likely go to 15,000, and at one point, when it felt like we were really high and must nearly be ready to jump, he said we were only at 5,000 ft. I was supposed to be going first but another woman was right next to the exit door whereas I was sat beside her so she went first; I was sat staring to the right of me as I watched this woman and her instructor fall and then TWIST out of the plane before being sucked into this white vacuum of cloud. I had sort of imagine you just fell forwards and dropped down but she literally spun around to face me and then continued spinning until she just disappeared. I was left staring at the spot she had just been in, my face as white as the clouds.

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Then it was my turn and, after checking with my instructor that he had definitely secured himself properly to me (“Are you sure?? It doesn’t feel as though you are”) I went into complete autopilot mode, doing exactly as he told me, and shuffled to the door of the plane and sat down with my legs over the edge, leaning back into him. I think he said “are you ready?”, I possibly managed to say “yes”, and he pushed us out of the plane, we’re spinning, and then all of a sudden we’re free-falling. I cannot explain the sensation; it is not at all stomach-in-mouth as I had expected, it is more like floating downwards (at a very rapid speed!) rather than the feeling of “falling” as you might imagine it, mainly because you are laying flat rather than head first. Don’t get me wrong, there was a huge force to it with the immense wind pushing into my face, but I felt secure and exhilarated.

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He pulled the parachute (and it worked – thank f***) and then we were upright just as we descended through some clouds, and this was my least favourite part as we were spinning through dense, grey clouds and I felt extremely disorientated, but once we were through the clouds and I could see the ocean below me, the mountains around me and the beach ahead, I felt at peace – it was such a stunning landscape.

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The last position you are supposed to take is lifting up your legs as you approach the ground but for some reason, when it came round to it, I couldn’t get my legs to move, so I had to grab onto my trousers with my hands and pull upwards so my legs would be lifted! Landing on the beach was amazing, and the absolute euphoria I felt once I was on the ground was second-to-none.

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We were both ridiculously giddy and then exhausted afterwards, so we headed back home and then chilled for a bit before getting ready for our evening out. It was me, Marie, Natalie and Sophie, drinking at the house before getting a cab to Xage Vietnamese Restaurant in Surry Hills, which is a BYO restaurant so we took some sparkling with us. The food was amazing – we ordered about 5 dishes to share – and it was a perfect throwback to my travels in Aisa but with some close friends.

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Afterwards we headed down the road to The Winery, a wine bar with a delicious array of cocktails and an inviting outdoor area, where I think we powered through 3 or 4 cocktails each with Claire joining us and, as a group, making friends with the girl sitting next to us with her boyfriend.

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After here we headed to our final sport for the night, Cliff Dive; a tiki bar with colourful art on the walls, booths, and DJs playing music for us to dance to while I switched from wine and cocktails to cider; always a wise choice to mix your drinks, right?? Anyway, I don’t remember all of it but we had a great night dancing, squatting and gurning as I turned 30 before heading back to the house for an after-party of dancing to the Spice Girls. The following photos are especially self-indulgent, but it’s ok as it was my birthday.

On my actual birthday – the Sunday – Marie and I eventually crawled out of bed to get the bus down to Bondi where we had brunch at Lamrock Cafe overlooking the beach. We then wandered over to The Bucket List for drinks with Nat and Claire as it has an outdoor beachfront setting and is really popular, but I found it a bit overrated with the staff up themselves and the drinks overpriced for cocktails that were particularly watered down. The highlight was probably getting my carrot cake from home – I’m not a massive fan of birthday cakes and carrot cake is my absolute fave – before heading down the beach with my sister to mong out in the sand for a bit.

Other than have my birthday, the week Marie was here we managed to fit in quite a lot. On the Tuesday we took ourselves off to Palm Beach for the day, which is the outdoor set for Summer Bay in Australian soap Summer Bay. This is another childhood classic for the both of us so it was perfect to make this trip with Marie, getting a bus to Wynyard in the city before catching the L90 from Wynyard Station to Palm Beach. The whole trip took 1.5-2 hours but was totally worth it to arrive to find the crew filming a scene at “Summer Bay Surf Club”, with all the familiar signs and accessories.

 

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Sadly, as I haven’t watched Home and Away since childhood, I didn’t recognise any of the characters, but we still had fun wandering round the set and snapping photos by the classic path leading down to the beach. Definitely a childhood dream come true, and while the waves were too vicious to have a proper swim (no wonder the opening credits feature people surfing; the waves are certainly meant for it) we enjoyed a couple of hours laying on the sand and dipping into the sea to cool off.

We then went for a walk across the beach and over the road to The Boathouse, the exterior of which is used for filming outside shots of Bayside Diner. It was a lovely restaurant with an absolutely stunning spot  on the bay that we decided to come back to for a drink with a view later on, choosing to walk along the stretch of sand ahead of us to then reach the Barranjoey track that is an uphill cliff trail to the Barranjoey Lighthouse. The best part are the views from the rocks of Broken Bay and beyond. Such an iddylic place.

On the Wednesday my sister treated me to the Harbour Bridge Climb for my birthday; exactly as it sounds, wearing super sexy clothing and strapped into a harness-type contraction, we spent the afternoon climbing up and along Harbour Bridge in Sydney. You can also climb it at night and we struggled to know what would offer the better view, but we were really lucky with the weather in that it was bright and sunny yet not too hot, while the wind wasn’t too extreme either. It wasn’t half as scary as I expected it to be nor as physically demanding, but the views were absolutely incredible.

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On the Thursday we hit it hard with a Hunter Valley Wine Tour at $130 AUD each (including lunch) with a start at 6:50am. The pickup point was in Kings Cross and the minivan then had to get us out of Sydney and into Hunter Valley for our first wine tasting before 10am – that’s how every good story should start. To be honest, I am trying to recall from my memory – 7 months later – the events of a day that involved drinking wine regularly for 9:30am onwards and, surprisingly, I am struggling with the finer details. I know we went to 4 vineyards and I remember the first location well; a lovely building with beautiful gardens and fabulous wines, where we both managed to look fairly respectable.

After that I recall the second vineyard was set on these vast and impressive grounds with views that went on for miles, where we could go for a wander within the vineyard after we did the wine tasting inside an old brick building. I believe we then went for lunch, where they were really strict and wouldn’t let us eat outside despite it being a gorgeous day, and then we went onto our third tasting that was inside a shop; the best bit was how generous they were with letting us sample things other than wine. Then the final stop was again set on gorgeous, with the tasting being conducted in a restaurant area and them kindly allowing us to take half-empty bottles with us, which we then drank outside while sat on the grass with a backdrop of absolutely stunning mountains.

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Anyway, by this point it was 3 or 4 in the afternoon, we had been drinking wine for 5 hours and sitting in the sun, and it was starting to take its toll. Just before we jumped back into the minivan, we naturally decided to take a selfie with an animal statue first. As you do. It was a brilliant wine tour that I would highly recommend.

Back in the city we figured we may as well continue as we started and we headed over to the Shangri La hotel for cocktails in the Blu Bar on Level 36 that offers views across the harbour. Unfortunately there was an event going on while we were there (just our luck!) so we didn’t get the best views, but it was still a cool place to go that I would recommend.

Other things I enjoyed doing with my time while in Sydney were wandering around Paddy’s Market in the city, which is located in Haymarket and open Wednesday to Sunday 10am – 6pm. It was the closest shopping experience to that in Asia where an indoor market sells bags, shoes, jewellery, clothes and knick knacks for a reasonable price, and where I picked up a day backpack for $20 AUD. I also walked over to Sydney Fish Market for some of the best fresh fish and seafood I have had, which  chowed down on with views across Blackwattle Bay; went on the Glebe Foreshore Walk that offered views of the Anzac Bridge and ended in Jubilee Park; and one day too the ferry from Darling Harbour all the way to Parramatta wharf and back just to enjoy being on the open water on a summer’s day.

 

One of the hardest things for me about my time in Sydney was Christmas. I already knew it wouldn’t be the same because of being away from my family (which, I have realised, is so much of what Christmas is about for me) and the weather being different, but I hadn’t realised how much that would impact how Christmas felt and how devastating it would be. Cos, the thing is, Christmas is so much about the weather – wrapping up warm on cold evenings, lit-up markets at night, eggnog by the fire, mulled wine at outdoor bars, the snow, the Christmas lights piercing through the black sky… and all the Christmas songs are focused on all of those things. So in Australia, where it is hot at this time of year, it doesn’t feel Christmassy and Australians don’t either; they see this as their summer holiday, their chance to get away, rather than as a time to celebrate with family. There is zero Christmas spirit, a handful of Christmas songs playing in some shops, and the bare minimum Christmas lights. It’s basically Bah Humbug in a country. And what made it harder is that Australia is so westernised and filled with people whom speak English and can feel like you are even in England at times – especially in the city – it almost feels like it should feel like Christmas, and should feel like home, but it doesn’t.

Christmas Eve was weird, too; I was scheduled to work, which I was happy about as I love waitressing and have really enjoyed working on Christmas Eve at home as there is an energy and everyone is excited about Christmas. So I skipped into work with my reindeer headband, singing and wishing every Happy Christmas Eve, to be met by disgusted stares. I asked our DJ if he could play Christmas songs and he snapped back “are you kidding?!” When I insisted I wasn’t – it is Christmas Eve, after all – he said he “might be able to find one” but it would be a remix. He didn’t end up playing it. Refusing to be sucked into this misery I kept my reindeer headband on all day, said Merry Christmas to every customer, and decorated the menus with Christmas hats.

Luckily I worked with two Americans whom were more into Christmas like I was and both were working Christmas Eve, and a group of us went back to one of their houses after work to drink and play games into Christmas Day. I woke the following morning on my own at my house and then walked over to Emily’s house in Surry Hills for an Orphans breakfast with her and Tommy; the food was delicious and we watched Elf while wearing Christmas hats and exchanging gifts, so it felt slightly Christmassy.

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Tommy and I then got an Uber to Coogee Beach where we were meeting Debs and her room mates, to arrive what I can only describe as Brit carnage. The entire beach was completely packed with predominantly British travellers in their swimsuits and Christmas hats, drinking and dancing and squished together like sardines. We apprehensively made our way to where Debs was and joined in drinking on the ground with her and her mates, slowly starting to feel more at ease, but after a few hours the police came round asking everyone to move on and a guy lying passed out on the ground next to me had drink thrown over him by mates in a bid to make him conscious. Wonderful. It was cool to be on the beach in the sun at Christmas Day – just the very audacity of it, really – but it wasn’t Christmas as I know it.

Afterwards I got the bus from Coogee into the city, where I then hopped on a ferry from Circular Quays to Neutral Bay Wharf and then walked up and round to Hayes Street Beach to have a swim in the bay. It’s not every year you get to take a ferry across the harbour in the sunshine and then cool off with a dip as the sun begins to set on Christmas Day.  I dried off and made my way to the Air BnB that Natalie’s Dad, sister and sister’s boyfriend were staying in (they were visiting for the holidays) and joined them for board games, wine and cheese; this was probably the most Christmassy part of my day. Having said that, while I had a good day and enjoyed all the things I did – and the pure audacity of being in a bikini in the sun and having a cooling swim in the bay was something that sort of delighted me – it was not Christmas. In my eyes, I missed Christmas that year. I eventually made my way back to the house in Paddington and got into bed, where I facetimed my sister as it was mid afternoon in the UK and they would be having Christmas dinner soon – chatting to my sister while seeing my Mum preparing dinner in the background and spying the dinner table all laid out with Christmas decorations brought a lump to my throat. It was one thing to skip Christmas but a whole different thing to watch my family have theirs. 

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Boxing Day was less depressing as Christmas was no over and a group of us had plans to go to The Races, which is free to enter on Boxing Day if you have an international passport. We all got dressed up and Debs and her mates came over to mine for pre-drinks, then we picked up Emily in a cab and headed to Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. Presumably because we were a group of girls we got ushered into the VIP section for free, where we got a table on the lawn right in front of the Racecourse.

A bottle of bubbly (rose, of course) was about $40 AUD so we stocked up for the group and placed our bets for the upcoming races before heading outside to watch (and drink). I’m not massively into horses, races or horse racing but on a beautiful sunndy day with sparkling wine in my hand I can get into anything, and Emily and I literally shrieked with absolute delight when we won…to then discover we had only just about broken even. But it was so much fun and such a good day.

It took the poor staff ages to coax us to leave, where we then practically had to be thrown out because we decided to plonk ourselves down on the grass right before the exit. We started wandering down the road to find a nearby pub and, it taking us so long due to the level of alcohol in our blood and the height of our shoes, the staff that had ushered us along caught up with us! A few snogs later and we were on our merry way.

The day after boxing day I spent with Natalie. Both feeling slightly ropey we managed to get out of the house early morning and catch a train from Edgecliff Station to Cronulla. From here we got a ferry from Cronulla across to Bundeena, which takes half an hour and leaves half past the hour, every hour, for $6.40 AUD each. From the ferry stop we then walked to pick up the Coast Track at the Royal National Park from Bundeena to Otford. It is recommended to do the full 26km over 2 days and camp in the national park along the way, but we made a one-day trip out of it by going from Bundeena to Wattamolla and then going back on ourselves.

It was a ridiculously nice day and the walk varied as it went along the cliff edge, inland to dense forest, and out across beaches. We climbed over rocks above a waterfall, weaved through brush, and climbed up over cliffs. It was so good to be in the open, fresh air and near the water again, and was lovely to spend quality time with Nat prior to me moving on. We headed back the same way we came, hopped on a ferry at Bundeena back to Crunella and took the train back to Edgecliff.

New Year’s Eve was a holiday I was looking forward to in Australia – I’m generally not that bothered by New Year and will happily go to a friend’s house for drinks or to the local pub for a live band, but New Year in Sydney is huge and after a difficult Christmas I felt like I really needed this. Nat got tickets to the Harbour (New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbour – y’know, no big deal) for her dad, sister, sister’s boyfriend, me and her, so we got dressed up before getting the bus down to the Botanic Gardens, where we had to walk through to get to our area. Our tickets included a sit-down meal so we found our table, where we could get stuck straight in to our starters.

 

We then walked down to the water where we took obligatory photos with the harbour behind us, then returned to our tables to continue drinking prosecco before we could go and collect our main meals from the dining area. Dessert was some kind of eton mess, which went down really well with the numerous bottles of prosecco we were powering through, when all of a sudden we were approaching midnight. Now, I have seen many firework displays in my time, but NOTHING like this. I wasn’t at all prepared. After having an early-evening airshow as the sun was starting to set, which I hadn’t been expecting, I then experienced the most amazing firework show I have ever seen in my entire life; huge, spectacular and magic, it was the longest and most beautiful display I have seen. Happy New Year.

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The band then started to play so naturally Nat and I went up to dance, spending a good hour or so showing off our shapes (god I sound old). Eventually the night was over and we hobbled over to the bus stop to pick up the 389 back to Paddington, where we then stopped by my old work (my last ever shift had been the day before, on 30th) to join in the NYE party there and celebrate with my best friend, Natalie, and my work friends. Many drinks and many hours later, we are making the wise decision to head to nearby club Arq, stumbling there IN DAYLIGHT before being turned away for some of us (ahem, I won’t mention names) being far too drunk.

So on 3rd January I left Australia to travel around New Zealand. I first landed in Australia on 8th September to start in the Outback before hitting the East Coast, first arriving in Sydney on 7th October. Other than my week trip to Melbourne and the GOR I had therefore been in Sydney for almost 3 months, working in Hospitality for 2 of those months, and therefore really got a feel for Sydney. Whilst I absolutely LOVED spending time with my best friend, Natalie, while I really enjoyed my working experience and made amazing friends, and while I really fell in love with Sydney – with its city feel combined with its coast, beaches and harbour, plus the National Parks and other stunning greenery, it is such a beautiful and diverse place – I also really struggled being here. I had fully embraced and owned the identity of being a backpacker and was feeling lost without it, I felt enriched by the challenge of a wildly different culture in Asia that was now missing in Westernised Australia, plus being in a country that felt similar to home – yet I wasn’t actually at home – made me miss home more. 

I also drank way too much in Australia, ate way too much in Australia, lost myself a little bit in Australia and was a bit of a knob in Australia; the things that kept me grounded during this time were the kittens that moved into our home and some rather wonderful people I was fortunate enough to have in my life at this time.

In fact, when I look back on my time in Australia what I remember the most – and what makes me feel warm and nostalgic – is the breathtaking, lung-filling landscape, and the friendships I made. The people I met along the way, got to spend more time with, or was lucky enough to class as family. The people who – even when I was dead excited to go travelling again and be a backpacker once more – I was ridiculously sad to be leaving. That was my biggest surprise and my biggest gift. Thank you to every single one of you (but especially to you, Miss Natalie).

LS.

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