Australia - the Southern Hemisphere

Updated: Jun 4

A journey to the land down under...


Sneaky, unmarketed, fireworks display celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Look how small the crowd is! Photo - CCRiney

The time had finally come when we were able to visit Australia. I am half Australian and I have parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends living on the other side of the world (I live in London). My journey with my sister from London to Sydney on March 9, 2022, felt like nothing short of a major expedition! We decided to go before anything else changed, again...


Finally we could make the journey after two years, no quarantine, no permission needed just paperwork and a pre-departure COVID test. Oh the joys, of the pre-departure COVID test, as I write this many destinations no longer require them! What a difference a few weeks make.


The Journey


I always think a journey starts when you first start thinking of a place you want to go to and why. You know my where and why, so here is where I am taking you next:


  1. Pre-departure tests - London.

  2. Airlines - we didn't have much choice as airlines had just started flying again to Australia. We chose Singapore Airlines based on length of flight, price and reliability.

  3. Arrival at the airport - Sydney.


Tests - The Travel Admin (even as I write, this has changed)

Pre-Departure COVID tests - Terminal 2


I booked mine for the day of the flight and the testing centre turned out to be right next to where I was checking in. My sister had her Antigen test (or RAT, as it is known in Oz) the night before so she was good to go. We had a very short conversation about, "what if...I was positive." I, obviously, would be heading home alone and she on the long flight not so alone.


I did a test the day before at home (still have a small stash of tests) and was negative. But what a way to start your journey! Also, fortunately for me I went in the wrong entrance (see the photos below). Why I thought "No entry" was where I should go, who knows?

Photo: CMRiney


The photos above show - on the left, definitely not the right way in. Middle, my cubical for the test and the final photo is of the long line to get into the testing area that I managed to bypass (by mistake, yes really).


Pre-test - still required at the time of posting to go to Singapore.


Other forms - are not needed for Australia now but do keep checking what you need, things are moving and changing quickly. See my other post about COVID & Brexit travel documents.



Singapore Airlines


I do like flying Singapore Airlines - I have found the staff friendly and the aircraft comfortable. As for dealing with COVID infection risk - I have read that sitting in a window seat and turning off the overhead airflow helps among other things like wearing a mask. Also, the way air is filtered in large planes mitigates the risk.


Photo: CMRiney


To get to Australia was a two-flight journey, one taking 13 hours (6,600 miles) - London to Singapore. Second flight, 7 hours (3,518 miles) - Singapore to Sydney. We also had a 3-hour transit layover in Singapore. That makes 23 hours in a mask. But when you add the time at the airport before the flight it was a horrible 28 hours.


Below Pictures: Singapore Airport: with Donning & Doffing stations for airport employees PPE, a nervous passenger in full PPE and a mostly empty arrivals area, really strange feeling compared to the relative hustle and bustle of Heathrow.

Photos: CMRiney


Singapore was operating a Vaccinated Travel Lane VTL flight. You could only travel on these flights if you were fully vaccinated. These are still in place. Even so the flight crew had visors, gloves and masks. We were also continually asked to make sure our mask was on.


The flight was bearable, full, but comfortable. The flight crew kindly filled in my flight log as well. Thank you Singapore.


Photos: CMRiney


Note: Carbon impact A new thing is happening when you book flights, have you noticed? They are telling you the carbon impact of your particular flight compared to others on booking websites, showing you which are lower than others going to the same destinations.


Arrival


From the inflight entertainment on Sinagpore Airlines - photo CCRiney

Amazing to finally touchdown in Sydney after feeling more cut off than I have in years, even with the likes of WhatsApp and Facetime etc. My parents were waiting at the arrivals gate for us to appear - just amazing to finally have a hug.


Of course, there were a few weird and funny last-minute hitches before we were allowed to leave the passport control and baggage claim. Apparently, I am unable to follow fairly simple instructions regarding the automatic gates that read your passport! Didn't realize I was supposed to have a ticket from one machine to take to the other...


I was caught in a weird electronic reader loop! At least I wasn't the only one, in my defense I hadn't slept for over 24 hours. Note my sister follows directions and was wondering if I was caught up by the notorious border control - think sniffer dogs! There was an incident, years ago, involving a satsuma.


I made my way out of one loop only to get stuck in another... our planeload of people was held in

Sydney Airport - Baggage Claim photo:CMRiney

baggage claim for over an hour due to flooding of the runways and difficulty of getting our bags unloaded. We were the only flight in the whole area and there was a nice feeling of comradery while we waited.


Mainly around who had what duty-free in their possession in case we needed sustenance (alcohol, it was agreed was what would be most needed!).


But we had arrived. As you can imagine, a lot of time was spent with our parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, it was much needed and wonderful.



In the next section, I would like to tell you about the places in Australia that we visited and, as usual, through words and photographs.


Here's a tale of two cities. Coming separately, Part two - a week in the outback.



Part One

Tale of Two Cities - New South Wales (NSW)


We only had time to visit NSW but we made the most of it!


We mostly stayed in the state of NSW, starting and ending in Sydney, with a brief afternoon in Hebel, Queensland. We were away for two weeks which is too short if you have never been and only just long enough if you have... Here's the outline - click on the sections that interest you most or follow the journey.


1. Sydney - rain and sunshine

  1. Harbour views

  2. 90 year old bridge and the sneaky fireworks

  3. Circular Quay & the Rocks

  4. Top tips

2. Newcastle

  1. Beaches

  2. Lake Macquarie

  3. The Hunter Valley



1. Sydney


An iconic city known for the wonderful images of its harbour or harbor.


Sydney Opera House - CC Riney

Harbour Views


Sydney Harbour, in the rain or sunshine, is just gorgeous (follow the link as it is an excellent summary of what to do around the Harbour).


A friend came up to meet me in Sydney and it absolutely poured all day. We were there during all the horrific floods in Queensland and NSW in March 2022. The rain and flooding is still happening 2 months later.


Sydney Harbor - photos CMRiney


So, what did we do, we just headed for the harbour and found the perfect place to take in the view, chat and stay dry! That was all we needed.


If you find yourself in a similar position head for the cruise terminal opposite the Opera House near the Sydney Harbour Bridge till you come to the end of the building and reach The Squires Landing.


We were in the forecourt area which is a low key, light & airy, bar restaurant with an amazing view! The two photos show the view from inside looking towards the Bridge and directly in front of our table, the Opera House. Very wet, but we were warm and dry behind huge glass windows.


I am not saying it has the best food or making any other claims, you can look it up for reviews, mine would be 3 1/2 out of 5 but the views & the relaxed ambiance, at that time, were 11 out of 10.


Sydney Harbour Bridge - 90 Years Old in March 2022


We did not know until we arrived back in Sydney about the celebration that was about to unfold around us.

Sydney Harbour Bridge - 90 Years Old - CM Riney

I use to live and work in Sydney taking the train across the bridge into the CBD (central business district) every morning from Artarmon on the Northside of Sydney. What a commute, definitely my best ever!


Little did we know that the bridge was celebrating it's 90th Anniversary the day before we left. We arrived in the morning and headed down to the harbour via a quick visit to the QVB building (another recommendation for you), and there were actors dressed in period clothes handing out newspaper fliers and sustainable puzzles declaring the Harbour Bridge to be 90 years old.


We spent a very pleasant afternoon enjoying the festivities including a small stage show with singers and

Bananas in Pyjamas - Photo CMRiney

Bananas in Pyjamas. What is better (stranger) than this line-up - Banana in PJs, Sydney ferry and the Opera House!


I don't know if it had been publicized at all and suspect it hadn't as Australia was only just emerging from it's worldwide lockdown. Sydney, on such an auspicious occasion, was not packed.


And that wasn't all, there was a light show on the bridge then just as I was in full photographer mode the booming sound that couldn't be anything other than fireworks!



What an absolute treat, after two years of lockdown and no celebrations, we managed to accidentally be in Sydney for fireworks being launched from the Opera House. My sister and I joined the small crowd and ran towards the sound and arrived in plenty of time to be right in front of the Opera House watching what, almost, felt like a private show just for us.



Building of the Bridge


DID YOU KNOW? - Sydney, Newcastle-upon-Tyne bridges and Hells Gate Bridge - NYC all are connected?


Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Bridge - Same designer Sydney Harbour Bridge
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge - photo CMRiney

The same architect designed both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, which has the same design but on a smaller scale.


It is also said that this bridge design came from the Hells Gate Bridge, in New York City, finished in 1917. Another connection for me personally as I was born in New York.




So which came first? Sydney or Newcastle (Hells Gate started it all)

Mott, Hay and Anderson had their design for the Sydney Harbour Bridge accepted on March 24, 1924 - over a year before work on the Tyne Bridge began. The initial clearance work had begun the year before that. So the Sydney bridge came first!
However, speaking at an official function after the Tyne Bridge was opened, 84-year-old Sir Hugh Bell, representing the builders, is reported to have said: “This is regarded as a trial trip for the Sydney Harbour Bridge – and we’re grateful for it.”
So as well as being finished first, it seems the Tyne Bridge was a bit of trial run for Dorman Long. So you could say that the Tyne Bridge was first!

Quote from the Cronicle Live.


Definitely, Hells Gate was first, then maybe a tie between Sydney and the Tyne Bridges.



Circular Quay


I do so love Circular Quay and the ferries that run out of it. Circular Quay is a great destination as a starting point to taking in the harbour. Walk all the way around it from the Opera House to the Bridge. Stop in at The Rocks.


From Circular Quay you can get a ferry to some lovely locations. Including the beaches and pubs of Manly, seafood at Watson's Bay and the view looking back towards Sydney Harbour and of course the wonderful animals at Taronga Zoo.


Not to mention the rich history that awaits both indigenous and colonial. In Watson's Bay you can take a tour with Kadoo Tours to explore the indigenous history with a guide from the Dharawal–Yuin nation. You don't have to go to the outback to get an understanding of the "oldest surviving culture on Earth".


The Rocks


The Rocks, just next to the bridge is an old part of Sydney with some great restaurants, pubs and interesting shops with a market (food and arts&crafts) taking place on the weekends. This is the place of Sydney's first maritime village, the place of the first colonial settlement.


It has a rich and fascinating history well worth discovering.

My top tips -



  1. Bridge Climb if you aren't afraid of heights, no better view to be had

  2. Tour of the Opera House,

  3. Aboriginal sites - give yourself a full view of this part of the world

  4. Botanical Gardens, - a great place to get away from the city for a few hours

  5. Excellent galleries and museums

  6. Darling Harbour - also worth a visit.

  7. China town - great food

  8. Taronga zoo - great views from the North shore looking back on Sydney.

  9. Transport - Sydney has a tram system now as well as the trains running underneath the city and my personal favorite the ferry service

  10. Accommodation- all types available one of our favs by Central Train station - Mercure , but there are also high end, pubs, hostels and apartment style hotels- really fantastic locations and views. And more...


Basically, you could spend a full week just in Sydney and just about see the main attractions!




2. Newcastle



Newcastle, the name the European's gave this area, named after Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK due to the discovery of coal. Before that it was the Awabakal and Worimi peoples who are

"acknowledged by City of Newcastle as the Traditional Custodians of the land and waters situated within the Newcastle local government area, including wetlands, rivers creeks and coastal environments. It is known that their heritage and cultural ties to Newcastle date back tens of thousands of years."

Somewhere, I think, often overlooked, sometimes just passed through on the way to the Hunter Valley, NSW wine country, are the beaches. But I would suggest that if you want relatively empty beaches, a beautiful lake and a few historic locations it is worth a stop. One more thing at Blackbutt Reserve you can picnic in an open-air space among Australian wildlife.


Beaches


Some of my favorite beaches - Merewether, Bar Beach and Redhead. All are frequented by surfers and swimmers alike. And these are only 3 of the amazing beaches to be found in the Newcastle area.


Photos- CMRiney


If you look at the map above you can see some of these names on it. A few with a pink asterisk * beside the names. The wooden tower you can see in the third photo above is the Redhead Beach shark watch tower. An iconic image in the Newcastle area. It was constructed during the 1930s and some of the timber could be over 100 years old. It is the only example of its kind on Australia's East Coast. In this photo you can see the beach is covered in sea foam - something I had not seen here before and many people arrived with chairs to sit and watch it.



Merewether is the home to the international surf competition, Surfest. I use to drive past this beach everyday on my way to Newcastle Uni and later to my first professional job with EY. I do miss these wonderful, wonderful beaches.



Lake Macquarie


Gorgeous in the early evening. Used for all kinds of recreation. It is actually Australia's largest coastal saltwater lake.

Photos- CMRiney



The Hunter Valley


NSW wine country - what more should I say? Here are a few photos but they don't do it justice.


Vineyards and big skies - photo CMRiney


Hunter Valley is gorgeous - beautiful rolling hills, vineyards, some lovely restaurants and places to stay. Take a wine tour and sample some of the new world wines that aren't from the USA. It is worth an overnight to get to know how much Australia appreciates good food and wine. As you can see from the map above it is over a large area - plenty to see and sample!


Kangaroo in the Hunter Valley - photo CMRiney

The last time I was in the Hunter was in, 2019, it was very dry and the kangaroos were all congregated near the meadows around the road edges so very easy to see. Some had joeys (kangaroo babies) in their pouches.