Earlier this year in May, I had the privilege of working with Qantas and Destination New South Wales to visit Sydney and Hunter Valley for the first time. Even though I was only there for a short five days, I had an amazing time there. But before we begin, let’s take a look at the highlights reel…
Now, let me recount my journey… I took a night flight out to Sydney via Qantas, and had access to their lounge at Changi Airport (which also had a bar, by the way). In that little time I had left before boarding, I stuffed my face with dinner selections from the kitchen… and I was ready to board the flight for more food. Needless to say, the meals served on board were exceptional! I was lucky to be given a Business Class ticket by the Qantas team, so the eight hours flight felt like I was right at home. Flying business class on Qantas was a different ball game altogether — they gave out amenity kits that were designed in collaboration with Kate Spade and Jack Spade for both genders, and even provided pyjamas so that you could spend a comfortable night in the skies. I’d have to say though, that the in-flight entertainment created an endless dilemma for me, but I meant it in a good way. Seriously though, with so many selections, how should I choose to spend my eight hours on board?! Sleep, watch a TV series, watch a movie, eat again, or… sleep? Ah, what a first world problem!
The hours flew by (pun, ha!) and then before I knew it, we had touched down in Sydney. I was headed for Bondi, where I was staying for the next two nights. I have heard so much about Bondi before, and I was excited to finally be there. I stayed in QT Bondi, and I absolutely loved the hotel. When you walk through the hotel lobby, you’d already get a sense of its eclectic character — but it isn’t until you enter the room when you’d get completely blown away. It felt like I was in interior heaven… I’m not exaggerating, or maybe I am, since I’m a huge fan of eclectic interiors. Oh, and everything in the hotel room is for sale (including their super comfortable bathrobes), you need only ask!
I took the afternoon to explore Bondi, and had lunch (fresh oysters, yum!) at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar. Icebergs is a definite bucket list for both locals and tourists in Sydney, and it’s where you’d get the stunning and iconic view of Bondi Beach. It was a really calming experience hearing the waves crash as I dined and I’m sure you’d agree with me if you have been there yourself! *Cue for you to make a mental note to visit this place* For the rest of the day, I walked around the beach looking at graffiti art on the Bondi Sea Wall, embarked on a fraction of the coastal trail, and had dinner at Brown Sugar, before retiring for the night.
On the second day, I woke up early to catch the sunrise at Circular Quay and boy, I was freezing even under my jacket! It was 7am, and with the sound of Sydneysiders shuffling to get to the CBD for work, I felt like I was slowly waking up together with the city. I watched the sun slowly climb out from behind the Sydney Opera House as it reflected its golden rays onto the Harbour Bridge across the waters, and it was surreal. My morning was spent with Elisabeth (a local photographer from vacation photography company, Sweet Escape), who took my outfit photos as we explored and walked along the harbour towards the botanic gardens.
*Pro Tip: Circular Quay is the best spot in town for all your scenic harbour shots of Sydney. You can walk towards the Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Garden from the train station if you turn right, and towards The Rocks (Hickson Road Reserve) for a closer view of the Harbour Bridge if you turn left!
It was already 9am by the time we decided to head towards Newtown. Newtown is a quaint precinct on the inner West that’s full of character, with graffiti art all over its streets. Elisabeth used to live in Newtown so this was home ground for her. She brought me to alleys with the best street art, and we walked through the town together looking at beautiful Victorian houses. My itinerary had included a visit to Hakiki – a Turkish ice cream parlour that even Elisabeth adores – but the shop wasn’t opened yet when we got there, so we had to give it a pass.
I was feeling extremely jet lagged (and exhausted from waking so early), so I returned to my hotel for a nap before heading out for dinner. I went to Bar Brosé in Darlinghurst, and I highly recommend this place for its ambience and food. I had a nice glass of white, fish, and oysters again (ahhh, for all you oyster – or seafood for that matter – lovers out there, I swear Sydney is one of the best cities to have them!).
My two days of going solo were over, and I was joined by two other journalists from Singapore the next morning, together with our host, Sally, from Destination NSW. We were headed to Hunter Valley for a night, which was about two and a half hours drive away from Sydney. It was time for lunch when we finally reached, and so we stopped at Bistro Molines for a quick bite. The design of the restaurant had a French influence to it (its french doors and windows that let you appreciate the view of the vineyards while you dine), but it’s no wonder, since the owner and chef is from Provence.
We visited Tulloch Wines and Hunter Beer Co., and the Hunter Valley Gardens for the rest of the afternoon, before checking into our accommodation at Sebel Kirkton Park. I mean, what better way to spend a day than with a chilled glass or two, and a scenic walk around a picturesque garden? *winks* We had dinner at The Cellar Restaurant, which also had an amazing atmosphere and a fireplace that was really helpful for the chilly night. No prizes for guessing what we ordered, but we definitely ended the night with happy bellies.
We retired early as a hot air balloon ride was lined up for us the following morning, but the wind grew too strong overnight, and we were unable to experience it. To date, I have not had the chance to go on a hot air balloon because they (three separate bookings in three different cities!!!) have all been cancelled due to weather conditions. I hope you’ll have better luck than me!
We returned to Sydney after our breakfast at Café Enzo, to get ready for the exciting night we had ahead of us — it was the opening night of Vivid Sydney 2016! Vivid Sydney is the world’s largest festival of lights, music, and ideas, that has been running for eight years. Last year, more than 1.7 million people attended Vivid Sydney, so you can imagine just how large scale and exciting this festival is for both the locals and travellers!
We had a few hours to kill before the night’s activities, so we did a little shopping at Strand Arcade down Pitt Street (read: amazing fashion boutiques!!), which was about 7 minutes walk from our Shangri-la Hotel. The skies were already getting dark by the time we returned, so we hurried to Quay Restaurant at Circular Quay, where we would camp for the best spot to watch the ‘lights on’ moment.
Now, picture a very dark harbour, suddenly coming to life with projections of indigenous art on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, and neon lights lighting up from buildings and boats all around — it was such a magical sight indeed. We spent the next three hours walking around Circular Quay, experiencing and interacting with the different light shows and installations. Everything was beautiful, but the Cathedral of Light was my favourite of them all!
Psst… This year, Vivid Sydney saw more than 2.31 million visitors, and if you’d like to be part of that growing number, watch out for Vivid Sydney happening from 26 May to 17 June 2017 next year!
The next morning marked the last day of my trip, and we visited Carriageworks Farmers’ Market, where local (NSW) farmers sell their produce and foods. We had breakfast there, including a very yummy beef burger! I’ve been to smaller scale farmer markets in other parts of Australia before, but I’ve not been to one this large before. I understand why the locals love their farmer markets — you can find all sorts of organic and bio-dyanimic foods, from meat, to mushrooms, flowers, nuts, oil, and fruits. Who wouldn’t?! It made me wish we had our own version of farmer markets in Singapore too. :(
Alas, it was time for me to leave my new founded friends and depart for the airport. Thanks to the Qantas team, I was given access to the Qantas International First Lounge in Sydney Airport. I enjoyed some quiet time there, admiring the view of the city (you can also enjoy a spa session there but it was fully booked when I was there) before boarding my flight back to Singapore.
There were many places I didn’t get a chance to visit due to my short and tight itinerary, but I promise to be back! Thank you Qantas and Destination New South Wales for taking me on my first trip to Sydney, and for allowing me to experience the wonderful Vivid Sydney festival, among the many other fun things we did. :) Till then, Sydney!
Photos taken with iPhone 6S Plus and Nikon D810 + 24-70mm
Video taken with iPhone 6S Plus