We usually devote a Top 5 post to the capital/largest city we visit in a country, but we're skipping that for Australia. After New Zealand, we were tired and we didn't explore as much as we usually do. Instead, we spent a lot of time with friends and family and enjoyed a short, slow-paced sojourn in the land west of New Zealand ;-)
We started in Sydney and spent our first day exploring downtown, Clarke Quay, the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and a small sliver of the Botanical Gardens. The Opera House was every bit as pretty as imagined, despite the ongoing construction. The Quay was a bustle, commuters arriving from or departing to the suburbs, tourists hopping rides to various attractions, buskers hoping to earn a wage for the day. Despite the extremely early flight we were on from Auckland, we both felt wide awake as we weaved amongst the daily life around us.
The next day, we joined the ranks and enjoyed the ferry over to Manly for a day at the beach. The ride itself is a pleasure with amazing views of the Opera House and Fort Dension. Arriving in Manly, the overcast weather was not optimal and the water was filled with bluebottles, but it was a warm day and there was plenty of space to stretch out and relax on the beach. We also lucked into some of the best fish and chips we had in NZ/AU right near the beach at Four Fish.
The rest of our time in the city was pretty rainy so we didn't explore the city very intently. Instead, we got a healthy dose of something travelers miss out on during their trips - friends and family. One morning, we met up with a friend from our Salkantay Trek and had a great time catching up over a leisurely brunch while we avoided the rain. We spent an afternoon exploring the neighborhoods of Surry Hills and Paddington (where we were staying) and found it to be similar to Los Feliz in Los Angeles - full of chic boutiques and delectable-looking cafes and bistros that would make for a wonderful place to live. If you're in the area, make sure to give Gelato Messina a try. It's worth it!
The best part of our time in Sydney, though, was the fact that we were lucky enough to stay with Cathie, Anais's aunt's sister, and her family in their beautiful home in the Paddington suburb. Cathie plied us with various Australian vintages and craft brews, her partner John roasted chicken and regaled us with stories of his arrival in Australia as one of the original backpackers in the early '70s, and their cat Ziggy was just the right combination of cuddly and crazy to keep us entertained for hours. After wearing ourselves out in New Zealand, their hospitality was an incredible luxury and we left Sydney far more rested than I imagined we could have.
Cathie, John, Martin, and Ziggy - thank you!