A journey that takes me on the other side of the planet is always one I eagerly anticipate. For this excursion, I spun my globe and decided on Australia as my destination. Known as “Down Under,” the “Land of Plenty” or simply “OZ,” Australia has many nicknames, most quite applicable.
After a bit of deliberation, I’ve decided this journey to Australia will include stops in Sydney, the Blue Mountains, The Great Barrier Reef and a little hidden treasure known as the Daintree Rainforest. It will be a gentle 10 day ride dipped in luxury and unique experiences.
There are several points of entry to Australia. The most commonly used when arriving from the U.S. are Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. While Sydney is not the capital of Australia, it is definitely the largest city, home of the one of the most photographed buildings in the world, the Sydney Opera House.
As we landed in Sydney on a particularly beautiful morning, we found the process of clearing customs effortless. Rarely does one get out of an airport within an hour from landing, especially when arriving in a foreign country. Once out, a quick ride from the airport by private car and we were welcomed by our hosts at the Intercontinental Sydney Hotel.
As any large cities, Sydney offers a vast array of luxury hotels. Our choice was definitely the right one. Situated near Circular Quay, the smaller pier of Sydney adjacent to the Opera House, the Royal Botanical Gardens and the magnificent Harbour Bridge, this 32-story hotel offers proximity to the right spots and outstanding views. I chose the “Club Lounge” category, which provided me access to the lounge on the 31st floor and all the amenities it includes (complimentary breakfast, open bar happy hour and a million dollar view.
As you acclimate yourself to the time difference (14 hours ahead of EST), avoid going to sleep after checking in. I recommend a warm shower, change of clothes and to live on local time. With that in mind, I took the recommendation of the concierge and headed to a charm- ing little café at The Rocks for lunch a few blocks away from the hotel (Swagmans Post Courtyard) which serves a variety of local specialties and burgers. Do get a table on the old wooden balcony, on the second floor, to enjoy the street’s activity on market day. Being a weekend, an arts and crafts market was taking place, which is where I headed after lunch to begin to immerse myself in Australian culture. I recommend completing your day by walking around the Harbour, where you will discover the famous Opera House and the outstanding Royal Botanical Gardens. After a day of adaptation to the local climate and time, I headed to the Finger Wharf – only a short walk away and through the Royal Botani- cal Gardens. This beautiful Edwardian wharf faced oblivion for decades before being preserved and renovated. It received a “sprucing up” in the late 1990s and has emerged as one of Sydney’s most exclusive eating, drinking, sleeping and marina addresses. Here, one can enjoy a nice evening with live music or do Sunday brunch at one of the 10 restaurants lined up on the port.
My choice for dinner, was Manta, recommended by Intercontinental Hotel Chief Concierge David Pratt, whom we ran into as we were eat- ing. Manta offers outside seating, an extensive wine list and some of the best seafood in Sydney. Head Chef Daniel Hughes presents a combina- tion of seafood and meat with balance and dedication. An Australian wine is a must for a dinner. If you are more in the mood for a stronger alcoholic beverage, try flavored mojitos, utilizing some of the best exotic fruits Australia has to offer.
Day two of my journey started with visit of North Sydney, on the other side of the harbor. While I chose to walk the bridge for the ultimate view of Circular Quay and The Rocks, I just as easily could have taken the ferry which reaches the other side of the harbor in 10 minutes or so. North Sydney offers outstanding views of the Opera House, Circular Quay and the city’s skyline. Make sure to stop by the permanent Luna Park Sydney, a great way to spend an afternoon when traveling with children. Complete with a Ferris wheel and roller coasters, it offers a fantastic view on Circular Quay and Darling Harbour.
On your way to lunch in the CBD (I strongly recommend the “Glass Brasserie” inside the Hilton Sydney on George Street), stop by the historic Government House located inside the Royal Botanical Gardens. For those of you unable to stay away from shopping, visit the Queen Victoria Building. Occupying an entire block of George Street, it has more than 180 of Sydney’s finest fashion boutiques and jewelry shops accompanied by delightful cafes and restaurants. Around the corner and on the route of Sydney’s own monorail one will find The Strand Arcade. It remains a majestic beauty in the middle bustle of Sydney’s central business district and is a unique mix of Australian designer fashion and specialty stores catering for a discerning, sophisticated clientele.
Sydney has a lot to offer: I recommend devoting at least three days/three nights to the city. With more than 50 historical sites, museums and art galleries as well as countless restaurants, cafes and wine rooms, it has something for everyone.
Mikael’ sweet spot: La Renaissance Café Patisserie – 47 Argyle Street – The Rocks
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