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.
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!
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!
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!!
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!
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.
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!
I’ve decided that 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 – the views are amazing.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?!