WHERE TO EAT ON KING STREET

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

Newtown is almost like the Fallowfield of Sydney! It’s a studenty suburb that is super close to a lot of USYD’s colleges and residences including the famous Queen Mary Building and its new rival, the Regiment. King Street is a buzzing hub of shops, restaurants and bars; it is the beating heart of USYD’s social life. After spending farrrr too much money in basically every single establishment that it has to offer, I’m well equipped (if slightly financially destabilised) to talk you through my favourites.

SOUL BURGER

Picture this. Little old Issy has made one of her first ventures out of her accommodation on day one to go and sort herself out with a SIM card. Vodafone may be at the top of the to-do list, but she is distracted by a poster. It’s a burger. And it’s a stunner. Surely you can’t pick a phone contract on an empty stomach?!

The best thing about Soul Burger is that it is completely vegan – and absolutely nothing about it reveals that fact. They pride themselves on re-creating timeless classics that you would never know are vegan. Rather than your classic Portobello mushroom or tofu burger, they’ve actually created plant-based alternatives to meat. Even many of my friends that are meat-lovers were shocked at the opportunity to order a Chilli Beef Burger with Dirty Cheesey and Bacon Fries! Getting the app was a great shout as well – sharing Sweet Potato Fries in Camperdown Park with friends was even sweeter when the fries were free.

My Favourite: The Satay Tofu Burger is one of the cheapest on the menu but not one to be missed. Peanut sauce everywhere, need I say more?

THAI POTHONG

Thai Pothong is one of the BNOKS (Big Name On King Street). I’d heard about it before from some family friends in England and when it was the topic of conversation at work in Sydney too, I realised that they must be doing something right in there! It’s a massive restaurant with two floors and is almost always full, which surely speaks for itself. Make sure you book a reservation! Full of East Asian statuary, wall art and plants, they’ve created a really cool sense of culture inside which makes your lunch or dinner feel like a bit of an event. With loads of really friendly and attentive staff, you will want for nothing as they are perfectly tuned in to an empty wine glass or rice bowl. The best part: it’s BYOB! Ten minutes before our booking, about fifteen of us met outside the bottle-o just next door to pick out the cheapest beer and wine we could find to keep the bill down. Although you’re getting a full-on dining experience at Thai Pothong, providing your own drinks prevents it from breaking the bank which is great for big groups of students. P.S. It’s voted the best Thai restaurant in Sydney!

My Favourite: Penang Curry, Penang Curry, Penang Curry.

THE ITALIAN BOWL

 The Italian Bowl works a little differently to how we might normally expect to eat at an Italian restaurant. They don’t take bookings so you get to queue outside on the bustling street and wait for a space on one of the communal tables. Again, it’s BYOB so people tend to enjoy some tinnies in the sun while waiting for a seat. In true Aussie style, everyone’s up for a yarn so I have to thank The Italian Bowl for the many random friends that I’ve made in that queue!

The idea here is that they absolutely nail classic pasta dishes. Firstly, you chose from all sorts of fresh pasta like fettuccine, linguine, ravioli or even potato gnocchi. Then, and this is the best bit, you get to choose from an abundant list of sauces. There’s eighteen different choices and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve managed to get through the whole lot in my time. From your basic Napolitana all the way to a fancy Mare E Monte, there’s definitely something for everyone. Priced at around £10 per pasta dish (and they’re quite hefty), it’s not extortionate but it’s definitely a treat.

My Favourite: I liked going a bit rogue and trying something a bit different; the Chicken Peppercorn did not disappoint.

LENTILS AS ANYTHING

Now this one is the dream ticket!! Before I went to Australia, I’d had lots of chats with older students who had already been on exchange to USYD. As soon as I said that I would be living near Newtown, every single one recommended Lentils as Anything. Run by volunteers (if you have a spare evening, definitely go and give them a hand), it’s a brilliant manifestation of wholesome Aussie community. They operate on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis, so after eating you have the opportunity to make a monetary contribution as you wish. This means it can provide food to those in need. Of course, this is a great gesture of social cohesion which fosters the inclusion of many different social groups. Even the long benches, that you share with others as you dine, promote a sense of community.

Great ethics aside, the food isn’t half bad either! With a completely vegetarian menu, the choices are changed daily depending on what produce is available. The whole experience is all the more collective when people lean over and ask you which dish you’ve gone for because they’ve never seen it before. There’s usually about three different plates on the menu, with an option for dessert or chai tea too. As well as the more consistent options like Thai Green Curry and Chilli Con Carne, they also include some more niche, adventurous dishes that really embody veggie creativity like a garlic and lemon courgette linguine. Both economically and environmentally ethical, Lentils as Anything really is a win-win.

My Favourite: Spicy Chickpea Pasta. I’ve not looked at a chickpea in the same way since.

MESSINA GELATO

It’s only right to end on a sweet treat and it’d be rude not to include my very own second home. Where do I even start with Messina? As I have generously undertaken market research for you all and selflessly tried the whole menu, my conclusion is: the more, the merrier. The vast range from mango or dark chocolate sorbet all the way to dulce de leche or white chocolate hazelnut gelato, meant that even going about thirty times a week didn’t make the choice any easier. You can have as many testers as you like, though! What’s more, there is a Special’s Menu which includes unconventional gelato combinations, usually adorned by a very on-trend and witty name. For example, they made a Fairy Bread gelato (after the renowned Aussie delicacy) which was toast and butter flavoured gelato with hundreds and thousands all over it. If you’re really in it to win it, have one scoop and dine in to sit and watch the making process through the window to the back – then you can have a second scoop of whatever is fresh out of the kitchen!

My Favourite: It was a rarity that I’d leave Messina without at LEAST one scoop of Super dulce de leche, earning its name by having actual in-house dulce de leche woven through. Take a bow, Messina.

GOING TO THE ‘FOOTY’

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

I’m sure we’ve all been to our fair share of football games in the UK. But with four different football ‘codes’ down under, watching live matches is ever so slightly different …

SOCCER

Soccer culture and what Aussies call the ‘English Premier League’ culture could not be more contrasting. I couldn’t believe that I was watching Sydney FC play against Adelaide United whilst sat in the sunshine with a picnic blanket on a small hill next to the pitch. I’m used to being cramped into a damp stand where a roof over your head is an absolute treat. The attendance for the A-League champions numbered only 11,217 spectators, similar to the capacity of League One side Rochdale AFC from North Manchester. As you can imagine, the chants aren’t quite the same as in the UK but I can assure you that the language is just as fruity! If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend getting your hands on some AFC Champions League tickets. When Sydney FC played against Shanghai SIPG, we got the chance to see big names like Oscar, Ricardo Carvalho and Hulk play on Australian soil. 

AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL

If you refer to ‘football’ or ‘footy’, Aussies from Melbourne will normally assume you are talking about AFL – although those from New South Wales and Queensland might contest this and argue that Rugby League is the ‘real footy!’ A great way to immerse yourself in quintessential Australian culture is by heading to see an ‘Aussie Rules’ match for yourself. I was lucky enough to visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground with my friend whose family are members at Richmond Tigers (big thank you to the Bales!) Unlike in England, four Melbourne-based teams put their rivalries aside to share their home games at ‘The G’ so there is plenty of opportunity to watch AFL at one of the world’s biggest stadiums. Even walking down the Birrarung Marr, the famous walkway towards ‘The G’, was a special opportunity in itself. The Indigenous-titled path was full of fans singing and chanting together. We watched ‘The Tiges’ beat Melbourne Demons on ANZAC Eve, a commemorative occasion that celebrates national unity. Australian identification within AFL is paramount and so this was a perfect way to experience true ‘Aussie’ footy.

RUGBY LEAGUE

Rugby League’s cultural significance is demonstrated through the acclaimed ‘State of Origin’ series between New South Wales and Queensland where they battle for their hegemonic sport. Rather than having a home ground for a particular club and sport like Manchester United exclusively playing football at Old Trafford, the Leichardt Oval in Sydney is used for lots of different football codes and lots of different teams. A big group of us watched Sydney-based NRL teams West Tigers and Manly Warringah –  a great rivalry to witness. West Tigers only have around five home games here per season so their supporters flocked to Leichardt for the nearly sold-out event. Such was the competition between these two teams that you could literally hear the hits of tackles throughout the intimate yet packed Oval.

RUGBY UNION

Although Rugby Union is much more prevalent in the UK, it isn’t quite so popular in Australia. Their love for Rugby League is much more significant. We watched a Super Rugby fixture where New South Wales Waratahs beat Queensland Reds at the Sydney Cricket Ground which was completely different to what I have experienced at the other football ‘codes.’ NRL at the Leichardt Oval was filled with close-proximity viewing, yet Super Rugby at the SCG was the polar opposite. Unlike being part of the vast Aussie Rules audience at the MCG, the Super Rugby fixture only attracted about a third of the SCG’s capacity. Being normally used for cricket or Aussie Rules Football (which is played on a circular field), it was a really interesting experience to be physically distanced from the action. Clearly, the cultural significance of sport internationally is completely different. I’d really recommend going to a Sydney Swans AFL game to see what the SCG would be like when full to the brim.

Overall, watching live sport in Australia is something not to be missed. Australian Rules Football and Rugby League have rightfully earned their title of ‘footy’ which is really interesting to encounter for us Brits who have grown up on just one football ‘code.’ Being able to actually experience the different aspects of this sporting dispute provides a great insight into this great debate amongst Australian culture! Which camp will you choose?

TWO DAY TRIPS IN SYDNEY THAT AREN’T TALKED ABOUT ENOUGH

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

Everyone knows about visiting the Blue Mountains, but here are two day trips that are kept slightly more secret! Go on a Sunday and you won’t pay for than $2.80 for transport too…

Figure 8 Pools

The Figure 8 Pools are at the end of a beautiful coastal walk in the Royal National Park. All you need to do is get the train to Otford and you can immediately swap the boom-and-bustle of central Sydney for kilometres and kilometres of serene coastline. The bushwalk itself isn’t the easiest and takes about an hour and a half as you trek through forest and hills, but the whole time there are beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean to be enjoying as you descend further towards the pools. At the end of the walk, there is a little bit of rock-hopping before you’re met with the beautiful purple and blue rock pools that get nice and heated by the sun! We took a picnic and spent an hour or so having lunch and a swim before heading back up the coastal track before high tide.

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Figure 8 Pools 

Palm Beach

Palm Beach is one of Sydney’s Northern beaches and can be accessed by bus from Circular Quay or Central Station. It usually takes over an hour but the incredible view is well worth the wait! I even enjoyed travelling through each Northern Sydney area and seeing the differences between each of these beach-based communities. The best part about going to Palm Beach is the short walk up Barronjoey Head to the heritage-listed lighthouse. The views at this summit are like nothing I have seen before; the long, thin extension of land has a shoreline on either side so there really is water all around you when you’re sat on the rocks at the top of the hill. This is definitely one of Sydney’s best photo opportunities! It’s worth remembering, though, that the tide can get incredibly strong here, so it’s best to save the swim for when you get back to some of the calmer waters in central Sydney. Nonetheless, this beautiful beach offers mind-blowing views, a nice bit of coastal history as well as a unique experience on the sand which makes it a must-do when staying in Sydney!

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Palm Beach at Sunset

THE EAST COAST

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

THE EAST COAST

Whether you’re going from Cairns to Sydney or Sydney to Cairns, there’s so much to do when travelling the East Coast of Australia. No matter how long you’re planning to go for, here are some of the places that you can’t miss. From North to South, I’ll take you through some of the classic destinations as well as some of the lesser well-known experiences that I heard about from other Backpackers!

Magnetic Island

Just a short ferry off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island is the perfect place to spend a few nights to explore. Its small bus system is easy enough to get from one side of the island to the other, but if that’s not your thing then you can also hire one of the infamous open-top Barbie Cars that are so popular! Here, the Base Hostel is one of the nicest I’ve been to with loads of social areas right by the beach. Everyone will be talking about The Forts Walk and how many koala bears they saw!!

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Hellfire Bay, Magnetic Island

Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

You can’t do the East Coast without going to the Whitsundays – I liked it so much that I went twice! Airlie Beach is a little town that is based on Whitsunday tourism, so everyone you meet will be talking about which boat they’re about to go on which makes a really sociable atmosphere. I recommend doing one of the three-night boat cruises. It gives you the chance to make lots of friends as well as having loads of opportunities to go snorkeling with turtles, banana-boating and even scuba-diving. Of course, you’ll also get to see some of the whitest sand in the world at Whitehaven Beach too!

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Airlie Beach, Queensland

Broken River, Mackay

I heard about Broken River from two girls I met on Magnetic Island. This is not a typical tourist stop on East Coast Itineraries, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. After driving up a beautiful mountain in Eungella National Park land, you can walk along Broken River which is full of wildlife. Not only can you watch turtles swimming, but it’s a platypus habitat! I never thought I’d get to sit and have a picnic in the sun while watching platypuses swimming next to me.

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Eungella National Park, Mackay

Tin Can Bay

Another well-kept secret on the East Coast is Tin Can Bay. This was one of the most surreal experiences of my trip. We heard about Tin Can Bay from a family that we met on Fraser Island and they said it was the highlight of their holiday! Essentially, you drive to Barnacles Dolphin Centre which is a little family-run café right on the Bay that has a resident pod of nine Humpback Dolphins. You can get some breakfast or a coffee while the volunteers stand in the water and share information on each member of the pod. From about 8:00am, the dolphins gradually all come and sit in the water next to the volunteers. There’s no exhibition or captivity. Rather, the dolphins come back every day where they play about in the water with the volunteers and guests get a chance to feed them fish. It was so interesting to hear about the personalities of each dolphin from the volunteers, then actually get to meet the dolphins ourselves.

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Barnacles Dolphin Centre, Tin Can Bay

Noosa

I’m going to live in Noosa one day. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful National Parks in Australia. One of the best parts about Noosa Heads is the Coastal Walk. You pass amazing bays every five minutes and what’s even better is that they are all great for a surf. The paths are full of both walkers and surfers who use the National Park to access their favourite surf spots. It doesn’t stop there – there’s also barbecues dotted around the walks so there’s always a chance to get a feed in after being in the water! Make sure you follow the walk all the way to Hell’s Gate because the views are amazing.

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Noosa, Queensland

Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is a really interesting city. It’s got beautiful estuaries with hostels dotted around the waters so there’s plenty of chance for fun activities on the water. My favourite part was going to SkyPoint in the Q1 Building – it’s one of the tallest buildings in the world so the views are just incredible. For around $30, you can go up to the Observation Deck and have an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, so you can watch the waves roll in while having your bacon and eggs in the morning from around 70 stories high!

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Sky Point, Q1 Building, Gold Coast

My Top 5 Beaches in Sydney

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

On my very first day at the University of Sydney, I walked out of my last lecture for the day at lunchtime to beautiful blue skies and sunshine when I was met with a problem that I would get very used to over my time on exchange: Which beach to go to?! There are over 100 beaches in Sydney so I’m going to share with you my top 5.

Camp Cove

Getting the ferry to any of the beaches along Watson’s Bay from Circular Quay is a ‘pinch-me’ moment every single time as you watch the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the North Shore and the Royal Botanical Gardens pass you by. What’s more, you can set up your towel on the never-too-busy harbour beach, look out to the ocean and see both the CBD sky line as well as the infamous Harbour Bridge too. Watson’s Bay is more of a domestic suburb than your touristy Bondi and Cooggee, so rather than having a load of shops, Camp Cove just has one little kiosk for your mid-afternoon ice cream. If that’s not enough, the Hornby Lighthouse National Park is right next-door for a thirty-minute walk overlooking Middle Head and North Head. It’s one of my favourite places to watch the sun set.

Tamarama Beach

Located along the infamous Bondi to Cooggee Coastal walk, Tamarama is the perfect spot for an afternoon surf that feels slightly more local than the sprawling white sands of Bondi Beach. Nestled at the bottom of a Tamarama Park with beautiful cliff edges, greenery, water and sand, this petite bay is one of the most picturesque beaches in the Eastern Suburbs. Not only does it make for a great surf in the Pacific, it has just one little café next to the park where you can enjoy your food on the patio overlooking the sand.

Cronulla Beach

Slightly further afield is Cronulla, where the hour-long train journey is perfect to get cracking with some uni work while watching tall sky scrapers of Central turn into boutique shops and beach houses. As a busier beach and one of the main surfing destinations away from the touristy Eastern suburbs, Cronulla is the perfect place to try and learn from the locals. Aside from the sand itself, Cronulla has a thriving town centre so whether you’re looking for the best acai bowl in Sydney or souvenirs for the family, a walk around these wide, bright streets is a great place to start.

Clontarf Beach

The Spit to Manly Walk is one of the nicest coastal treks in Sydney which includes lizards, crabs, forest and Indigenous artwork. Getting a bus to Spit and the ferry back from Manly means you get to see heaps of the city itself too. Halfway through this track sits Clontarf Beach. The Harbour Beaches are usually slightly off the beaten track and provide a nice contrast from the hectic waves and chaos of the Pacific shore. Such serene stillness paired with some of the clearest waters I have ever seen makes Clontarf a great place for snorkelling or paddle boarding too.

Balmoral Beach

My favourite thing about Balmoral Beach is how it really seems the heart of the community in Mosman. It is always thriving with dog-walkers, locals swimming lengths along the shore line, families setting up picnics and friends meeting for coffees. Balmoral is also a great place to go for a typical Aussie brunch, whether you fancy sitting along the boardwalk or even at the end of the jetty, there are plenty of cafes serving every style of Eggs Benedict you could possibly imagine.

The First Day

By Issy (University of Sydney, Australia)

The First Day

Morning

After around 32 hours of travelling between time zones, at 9am local time I arrived at my Halls of Residence at the University of Sydney. With hair like a bird’s nest wrestling my heavy luggage into the building, the sight of me inspired pity in two girls that I will now forever remember as my ‘first friends’ in Sydney. They clearly recognised from experience the state I was in! After an extra sweaty check-in to my bedroom having mistaken the heating unit for air conditioning, I decided that it was time get a few of the important administrative bits and bobs out of the way so I could kickstart my new life.

Afternoon

PHONE – I didn’t manage to get my SIM card unlocked before I left the UK which delayed the process a little so get that sorted if you can – but don’t panic if you don’t manage to either – It just means I had to wait for around two days before I could purchase a new Australian SIM card.

BANK ACCOUNT – Commonwealth Bank in Australia is definitely the one to go for! Take along your passport, confirmation of enrolment and national insurance number for a smooth process – I rang my Dad at 4am English time asking him to rummage through my room at home for my old pay slips to find my national insurance number (This didn’t go down so well with him but the Aussies at the bank found it hilarious!) I suggest sorting your bank account out after you’ve sorted a SIM card as you can set up your Online Banking straight away then.

OPAL CARD – In Sydney, students are entitled to a Concession Opal Card which provides you with city travel at a much better rate than an Adult Opal Card. However, it requires an online application that I hadn’t yet completed. So, if you’re really prepared, get that sorted before you set off and use your accommodation address so that your opal card is delivered ready for your arrival! If (like me) you’re not quite as organised, I’d recommend just using an Adult Card temporarily which can be bought at most corner shops while your Concession Card gets processed – it will still be a life saver for those buses that are ‘PREPAY ONLY’.

DUVET – Taking a bus to Broadway Shopping Centre (with your swanky new Opal Card) is a great way to finish settling in. With a few different shops stocking homeware, I was able to compare prices and sort out a duvet and kitchen supplies on a budget. Even better, there is also a supermarket so you can get that fridge full all in the same trip. Make sure you take note of the size of your bed – I didn’t even know that ‘king-single’ was a size until I realised that the single sheet I had bought wasn’t going to fit!

Evening

Although the sleep-deprivation still prevailed after a power-nap, I decided to explore my Halls of Residence a bit more. It was during this jaunt that I bumped into the girls that had helped me earlier and we arranged a trip to Glebe Market (it has every stall you could possibly imagine as well as live music next to a massive picnic area) for the coming weekend – Our first of many trips to come! Despite being so tired and ready to curl up for the night, summoning up the last dregs of energy really taught me the importance of putting yourself out. Even now, I will always use the communal spaces instead of doing little tasks in my room like working or filling in my diary – coming across new people during these mundane activities is such a good way to engage with others. Who knew that writing a shopping list could spark such great conversation?!