The Holiday Inn at Potts Point was the height of luxury in comparison to my digs of previous weeks. It was also the starting point for my Contiki tour: The Big Walkabout. This adventure would take me from Sydney all the way up the east coast of Australia to Cairns, where I would then catch a flight across to Alice Springs in the centre of the country. From there, we would snake our way up from Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) to Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory; the final stop before I returned back to London Gatwick on a freezing January morning at 6am…still in my flip flops.
The first leg of our east coast journey was over the Christmas period, and thus, everyone was keen to get to know each other in the few days that preceded the 25th. This way, a proper celebration could be had and we could ditch the hideous small talk. This was my first Christmas away from home and I was a little unsure – when your mum makes stuffing as good as mine does, you would understand my scepticism…
After an initial evening meeting for those of us who had booked ‘pre-tour’ accommodation (this was around half of the entire 47 of us), we all got on with the necessity of the polite small talk that soon evolved into pricey drinks in Darling Harbour and then in Kings Cross. Used to the rock-bottom prices of Thailand, paying for entry into bars again came as a quite a shock to the system. However, it was somewhat comforting to spot Bacardi rum and Smirnoff vodka rather than the Thai alternative; actually believing the alcohol percentage information is always a plus.
The next morning we ate the most decadent breakfast imaginable. All 24 of your breakfasts are included on The Big Walkabout, but the majority are the hotel or hostel’s continental breakfast option. These are usually more than adequate – (still thanking my lucky stars for lack of rice at this point). However, on this occasion, we had got the hot breakfast upgrade, and I am not ashamed to say I WENT TO TOWN. They had a juicer for Christ’s sake – what is a girl to do but stuff her face full of hash browns, miniature pastries and strange combinations of fruit and vegetable juice? It’s the logical move.
We had two full days in Sydney, and a hefty chunk of sight-seeing to do. Had I not soaked up a lot of Sydney’s offering already, I would have maybe felt this wasn’t enough – there’s a lot to see!
On our first day, we took a day trip out to the Blue Mountains and trekked up through Jamison valley to Wentworth falls. We also stopped off at a viewing point to see the Three Sisters.
I think us Brits are just not used to the sheer SCALE of things in Australia. Nothing is this big…! After a lunch stop in a small town called Leura, we headed back into the city.
Our first proper evening in Sydney as a group was spent at Stack’s Taverna – a great restaurant just off Darling Harbour where you can tuck into a delicious steak cooked on an enormous grill next to your table by your own fair hands. This was followed by a SILLY night back in the Kings Cross area, predominantly in World Bar and Goldfish. Cue terrible dancing and a welcome introduction to everyone’s real personalities.
Other Sydney adventures included a ‘Coat of Arms’ pizza at The Australian, a great little restaurant cum hotel in The Rocks area of Sydney. The Coat of Arms was a hefty pizza base adorned with delicious kangaroo steak strips and emu pieces. Take a look at the menu if interested. We also had to struggle through a morning on Manly beach watching the surfers. What started out as innocent sunbathing quickly evolved into myself and my new found Californian friend, Megan, being coaxed into a boisterous game of beach volleyball on the pre-marked courts in the sand. I can confirm that the Americans and Canadians in the group heavily dominated us weedy Brits. Obviously we clung desperately to the excuse that we don’t get the appropriate weather for beach sports.
My favourite part of the Sydney section of the tour came on the final night. If you are unfamiliar with Contiki tours, many of the activities are already included in the price. However, there are also optional ‘me-time’ extras that you can arrange with your tour leader. Myself and several others had opted for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. The rather cheesy #noregrets hashtag is apt here – it was BRILLIANT. Our group climbed one of the columns of the bridge (obviously attached via thick metal wire and caribena clips the entire way around) just as the sun went down at around 9pm. This meant that by the time we had got onto the uppermost arch in order to walk the length of the bridge, it was dark and the city was glittering below us. I can’t recommend this activity enough.