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Exploring the Coast: a visit to the Scarborough Hotel

Me and Pat

Our third weekend in Sydney marked our first excursion outside of the city limits. On the occasion of Pat Sarnacke being in town to start his sabbatical, Darren suggested a trip to the Scarborough Hotel for lunch. An hour drive south of Sydney, the trip took us through most of the Sydney metropolitan area before working our way through the Royal National Park. Though around 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coast, there are only a handful of large cities. Scarborough, like many of the coastal towns, is a small area situated amongst hills, cliffs, beaches and the Pacific.

The coast and the Pacific

The Scarborough Hotel isn’t actually a hotel, although it, like many other drinking establishments, has “hotel” in the name. This is a holdover from past liquor licensing laws that often required pubs to provide some manner of accommodation. Though this requirement has since been phased out, the license is still called a “Hotel license” by the Office of Liquor, Gaming & Racing. The hotel also holds the distinction of being the oldest licensed premises in Wollongong, dating back to 1886. In fact, according to the Scarborough Hotel website, the town was actually named after the bar, not the other way around.

Lunch at the Scarborough Hotel

The hotel has a nice restaurant and a few bars, but the real draw is the outdoor seating area situated at the top of the cliff. Overlooking the ocean and a few secluded beaches, the area is evidently a popular place for weddings and other events. We unfortunately didn’t make it down to the beach, but we saw a few people who had worked their way there, either via an adjacent beach or down the cliff somehow (we couldn’t quite figure it out).

Sea Cliff Bridge - photo by Jon Bragg1

On the way in and out, we passed over the Sea Cliff Bridge, a spectacular cantilever bridge built in 2005 to avoid regular rock falls on the existing portion of the coastal Lawrence Hargrave Drive. The bridge offers spectacular views of the coastline and has been featured in a number of auto advertisements. We unfortunately didn’t have time to stop, but I wouldn’t mind passing by again to take a few shots of my own.

 

Kristen and me

 

1. http://www.flickr.com/photos/festivefrog/1558301874/

Sydney Festival 2011: Symphony in The Domain

Our second week went by smoothly. Kristen officially started class and I’m still getting to know my way around the ThoughtWorks office and the CBD (Central Business District, for those of you just tuning in). Sydney, though not an exceptionally well-laid out city, has an abundance of high quality public venues and festivals to make use of them. One of the most prominent is the aptly-named Sydney Festival. Held every January since 1977, the festival includes close to 100 music, performance and art events spread throughout the city.

The Domain and the skyline

Some of the most popular events are the open air concerts in the Domain, an extensive set of parks, museums and monuments on the east side of the city. Only a 10 minute walk from most of downtown, the Domain is Sydney’s equivalent of Chicago’s Millennium and Grant Parks; an expansive green space for events, festivals and general recreation (I play soccer there every Monday). It is part of a larger downtown park system that includes Hyde Park to the southwest and the Botanic Gardens to the north, with the iconic Sydney Opera House at the northwestern tip. Check out the map for a better idea of the layout.

Music in the city

We attended the second of the three open air concerts, called Symphony in the Domain. An event that normally attracts upwards of 80,000 people, it combines the feel of Ravinia with the location of Pritzker Pavilion. This year the Sydney Symphony was accompanied by readings from Shakespeare and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.

Bats in the Domain

We arrived pretty close to the start of the show, so we opted to grab a seat in the grass off to the side, though still in view of the stage. While waiting for the show to begin, Kristen headed over to the concession area to get us a snack while I took a few pictures of the area. One of the first things we noticed were the bats. Native to Australia, grey-headed flying-foxes, also known as fruit bats, are abundant in the parks of Sydney and can be seen roosting in the trees.

1812 Overture with Fireworks and Cannons

While the entire concert was great, what primarily attracted us (Kristen in particular) was the finale performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. A staple of Ravinia’s Labor Day Spectacular (which we’ve attended twice), the 1812 Overture is often accompanied by pyrotechnics of some sort. In this case, the performance was accompanied by fireworks, cannons, and fireworks coming out of cannons… an excellent way to end the show.

Like most major cities, there are always an abundance of events, shows, concerts and festivals going on in Sydney. For example, in a few weeks we plan to attend Tropfest, Sydney’s short film festival. You’ll find plenty to do when you come (and you should!)

First-Hand Guide: Traveling to Sydney, Australia

So you’re considering a trip to Australia, yeah? Great! It’s a bit daunting, I know, but once you make it here, you’re bound to have a fantastic time. Hopefully this guide can help answer most of the questions and concerns you might have about making the trip.

Make no mistake about it, Australia is a long way away from, well, almost everything. A flight from Sydney to New Zealand is at least 3 hours, Tokyo is 10 hours and Los Angeles is 14 hours.

Most itineraries from the US will route through either LAX or San Francisco (SFO), and, depending on your preferred airline, you can probably fly to one of those cities directly (United, American and Delta fly direct to LAX from their major and some minor hubs). Depending on your time and airline preference, you also can fly non-stop from Vancouver on Air Canada or, starting in May, you can fly non-stop from Dallas on Quantas, although the DFW-SYD flight stops in Brisbane first.

I’ll use LAX as my example, since that’s what we did. Flights from ORD-LAX are about 3.5 hours; JFK-LAX is about 5. You’ll probably want to give yourself some extra time prior to your international flight, since that gives you a buffer for delays and should increase the chances that your bags will make it.

As I mentioned, LAX-SYD is about 14 hours. Flights usually leave between 9-11pm and land at around 6am two days later. We left on January 6th and landed on January 8th, so I’m sure something interesting happened on January 7th, but I wasn’t there for it! Of course, you regain that lost day on the way back (you land the same day as you take off). You’ll be flying on a large plane, probably a 747, so there will be movies and other entertainment available.

It’s not a fun flight, but if you’ve been on other red-eyes, it doesn’t feel that much different. I personally didn’t really notice much of a difference compared to my flights to Brazil and Chile (10 hours apiece). You leave at night and arrive in the morning, so a few hours here and there don’t really make much of a difference. Just hope that you can get a bit of sleep on the plane, although it probably won’t make your first day in Australia much easier.

As you might imagine, flights are expensive. Expect to pay at least $1500-$2000 per person for a round trip ticket, depending on when you book and when you want to visit. You can attempt to book with points, but Australia is difficult to obtain using award travel, so you’ll need to be flexible with your itinerary and diligent about calling the airlines for availability.

Fortunately, with each ticket comes two free checked bags on most US carriers, which you’ll want to stick to, since both additional and overweight (>50 lbs) bags cost around $200 apiece each way. Australia is a pretty casual place, so pack light and weigh your bags before you leave home. More information is here, depending on your airline: UnitedAmericanDelta.

Once you arrive, you’ll be dealing with an actual time change of around +16 hours (SYD – US EST), though the impact on you is actually only 8 hours (Sydney is 8 hours behind and 1 day ahead of the US East Coast). Based on the rule of thumb that it takes about 1 day per hour of adjustment, it’ll probably take a week before you’re fully adjusted, though you’ll probably feel good enough to stay out all day by your 2nd or 3rd day. I’ve heard that the adjustment during the trip back is more difficult, although I haven’t experienced it yet.

Once you arrive, there are plenty of places to stay, and from what we’ve heard the hotels are pretty good. We haven’t stayed in any of them though, so definitely check out reviews online and see what is available, especially if you have a particular award program affinity.

Sydney is a very walkable city, so I’d recommend booking a hotel that’s reasonably centrally located. If you look near downtown Sydney, known as the CBD (central business district), you’ll probably want to find a hotel bounded by the water on the north and west sides, Elizabeth Street on the east side and Liverpool street on the south side. This will ensure that you’re no more than a 20 minute walk to restaurants, shopping, nightlife and major train, bus and ferry stations.

You can also look for hotels near the beaches (there are some) or use something like VRBO if you want to rent a house. I wouldn’t recommend going too far outside of the city so as to keep your transportation options open, so no farther south than Maroubra or farther north than Dee Why.

Unless you’re planning a trip significantly outside of the city, don’t rent a car. You can get just about anywhere by ferry, bus or train, which is much cheaper, almost as convenient and a better way to experience the city. For day trips, you can usually organize something through a tour company, although the light rail system around Sydney is pretty extensive. Sydney also has car sharing through GoGet and they allow drivers with foreign licenses, so that’s an option for longer stays.

Regarding trip duration, I’d recommend staying for at least 9-10 days, since it’s a long flight to get here and you’ll need at least a day or two in Australia before you’ve adjusted enough to the time change. While there’s plenty to do in Sydney, you also might consider using it as a jumping point to visit other cities/states in Australia (Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Cairns, Perth, Tasmania), other locations (Uluru [Ayers Rock], Great Barrier Reef), or other countries in the neighborhood (New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore). Wikipedia has a great article on Australian landmarks to help you get started.

In short, come visit! As a trip, it’s a significant undertaking, but you won’t regret it, promise :)

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