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How to make the most of two weeks in Sydney, Australia, including a trip to the vineyards of Hunter Valley

I love nothing more than deserted beaches and a slow pace of life, but at the same time, I have a major soft spot for cities and the buzz that comes with them. Sydney, a vibrant city with so much to do and see, surrounded by hundreds of stunning beaches is pretty much the dream scenario, so I was truly excited to spend a couple of weeks getting to know the city. Here’s how I spent my time in Sydney after a few fun days in the compact city of Adelaide.

fins of sydney's royal opera house
Sydney's Royal Opera House

Day one: Sydney Opera House

Designed by Denmark born Jørn Utzon, the Sydney Opera House is actually a series of three sets of concrete shells and the effect up close is stunning. I didn’t get chance to go inside for a performance but took photos from the outside on my first day in Sydney, before heading over the nearby Harbour Bridge for sweeping views back over the Opera House for a whole new perspective. The boat trip to Manly, where I spent most of my time in Sydney also offers great views of both the Opera House and Bridge from the water and fast became one of my favourite journey’s into the city. 

sydney opera house
The view from Sydney Harbour Bridge

Day two: Modern art

Each time I’m in a new city I love to see the art offering, The Museum of Contemporary Art, near Circular Quay train station always has brilliant exhibitions featuring Australian artists, while the Art Gallery of New South Wales, a short walk away, became one of my favourite places to hang out. I became transfixed with the work of Del Kathryn Barton, whose giant works of animals, birds and the female form are created using watercolour, gouche and pen on canvas, make sure you see her work if you’re in the city. The gorgeous Royal Botanic Gardens are also in this part of the city and upon visiting I found hundreds of bats, wrapped up in their wings sleeping in trees, noisy white cockatoos, beautifully colourful rainbow lorikeets and the strange, rather scary looking Australian white ibis. It’s free to stroll around and I found myself returning a few times over the two weeks I spent in the city.

painting by Del Kathryn Barton
Del Kathryn Barton's work at the Art Gallery of New South Wales
Day three: Palm Beach

For beaches around Sydney, there’s literally hundreds to choose from. I headed north on day three to Palm Beach, where a lot of the TV Show Home & Away is filmed, this long stretch of sand reaches out into the South Pacific Ocean culminating in a patch of greenery called Barrenjoey Head. There’s a 19th century sandstone lighthouse near the tip and it makes a great walk after spending the day on the beach, you might also spot the Home & Away crew filming scenes throughout the day.

palm beach sydney sea and sand
Palm Beach
Days four and five: Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley, known for its vineyards is around two hours drive north of Sydney, if you love learning about and sampling new wine it’s definitely worth the journey with over 29,000 kms of vineyards to explore. Hunter Valley was actually the first time I’d ever visited a vineyard and so to taste local Shiraz right in the estate where the grapes are grown was a delight. There are hotels and guest houses dotted throughout the historic wine region so it’s easy to stop for a couple of days, relaxing in the hills and getting to know your new favourite wines.

vineyards at hunter valley near sydney
Hunter Valley
Day six: Horse Racing at Royal Randwick

A friend I knew who was living in Sydney at the time of my visit managed to get some tickets for the horse racing on Derby Day at Royal Randwick. As a complete novice to horse racing, I was amazed at how much fun it was, not only did I win 25 dollars, I also loved seeing everyone dressed up for the event.

horses racing at royal randwick sydney
A day at Royal Randwick's races
Day seven: Sydney Fish Market 

Sydney Fish Market is worth a lunch trip for the huge array of fresh fish on offer. I actually made an error when visiting and ordered a platter of deep fried seafood when I really should have gone for sushi and sashimi or a plate of freshly caught oysters, king-prawns and crab. To get to the fish market take the Sydney Light Rail to the Fish Market stop, cross the road and you’ll see the market ahead.

Day eight: Manly to Spit coastal walk

This scenic 10km pathway takes in an array of stunning inlets and beaches, as well as Aboriginal rock engravings and sub-tropical plants and flowers. Most people start the walk at Spit Bridge, but as I was staying in Manly I did the opposite route stopping along the way to snorkel and sunbathe. The views out across the water are magical on a sunny day and there’s a bus from Spit Bridge to take you back to Manly.

Day nine: Surfing at Bondi Beach

Bondi is perhaps Sydney’s most iconic beach so I decided to spend a whole day chilling with a picnic. A few friends from the city owned surfboards so bought them down for a ride on the waves, surfing is definitely harder than it looks and there’s a strong undercurrent at Bondi but it’s worth a go when in Sydney and it's an amazing workout. 

Days 10, 11 & 12: Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Accessible only by ferry is Pittwater Youth Hostel in the Ku-ring-gai National Park. Punctuated by water inlets and stunning places to swim, the park offers a completely chilled place to escape the city with stunning treks through the bush including a hike up to Willunga Trig Point for great views across the whole park.

Day 13: Pies in Manley

Something I never knew before I arrived in Australia is that Australian’s make out-of-this-world pies and there’s a few places to sample them in Manley, including my firm favourite Hamlets Pies & Coffee, where I tried many a pie during my two weeks in Sydney. My favourites ended up being Mexican beef & sour cream plus and the Thai chicken pie which I’d enjoy warm on Manly beach, don't miss it.

Day 14: Saying goodbye to Sydney

On my last day I picked up the camper van which would be my home for the next 35 days and started off on the next part of my journey, a road trip from Sydney to Cairns, an amazing trip that allowed my to get close to nature, see some stunning beaches and spot cassowaries, platypuses and koalas in the wild.

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