day 9 down under: bondi beach, surfers, opals, and darling harbour

June 25th, 2017

On my last day in Sydney, I had a plan to maximize my day to see as many places as I could in the time I had left.  I slept in until 8am and got ready for the day.  The hotel had a really nice breakfast and I knew I would be out sightseeing all day so I needed a good energy boost.  It was pricey, as are most things in Sydney, so I had a bigger breakfast than I normally would have so it would tide me over until an early dinner later on.  I made sure to grab a tiny vegemite to bring back States-side at the end of the meal!

There was banana bread EVERYWHERE in Oz and I probably ate it 4 or 5 times on the whole trip.  Lucky for me, I am obsessed with banana bread.  So I couldn’t pass it up on my last breakfast either!  I also found some smoked salmon and cucumbers (an homage to my beloved Sweden), and soft scrambled eggs alongside roasted mushrooms.  I finished the meal with a flat white which was made perfectly (my coffee-professional brother would be proud!)


My plan for the rest of the day was to take advantage of my Hop On Hop Off bus ticket, as well as my “Flexi 5” pass that got me admission to my choice of 5 out of a list of 40 attractions in Sydney.  I had purchased the pass Friday morning, before my flight to Sydney was cancelled from Canberra, so I had chosen 5 attractions to visit over two days. Since I only had this one full day in Sydney, I had to squeeze in as many visits as I could.

The Hop On Hop Off bus in Sydney has two routes: City and Bondi Beach.  I looked at the map and planned out my stops.  I decided to take the City tour just a few blocks around the main areas of the city and then swap to the Bondi tour at the Australian National Museum.  I wanted a good chunk of the day for Bondi, then I would swap back to the City tour later and finish at Darling Harbour.

The Hop On Hop Off, as touristy as it is, gave me a heap of information about the city itself and was a nice way to have control over when I wanted to explore or when I needed it to function like a taxi!  Downtown Sydney, although it is filled with high rises, is full of history and was calm and peaceful on a Sunday morning as I toured through it.

PS- take note of the tiny little dots up the side of that building— WINDOW WASHERS. Bless them, I would have had a heart attack.


Originally I had planned to go to the Australian National Museum using my pass, but when I got there I quickly turned around.  There was a new exhibit, how fun, ALL ABOUT SPIDERS.  Nope.  Bye.

Instead, I walked across the street to St. Mary’s Cathedral which was lit up beautifully in the sunlight on the edge of Hyde Park.  As I got closer I noticed that there was an ice skating rink just in front of it, a pop-up one for the winter, and I was very tempted to rent some skates right there.  But I had a day ahead of me and instead laughed as the Aussies skated in full on winter coats and hats in the 70º weather :)


The spot to swap to the Bondi tour was outside of the cathedral so I hopped on and continued on my way.  On the way there I saw buildings that have been marked as heritage buildings so they cannot be altered on the outside.  It kept the city’s charm as big modern high-rises came up around the sites.  We also saw the Coca Cola sign in Kings Cross which is the largest billboard in the Southern Hemisphere.  Fun fact: it was built in 1974 and remained lit every single day until it was switched off for the very first time for one hour in 2007 to observe Earth Hour.


We traveled down Oxford Street where most of the nightlife is in Sydney.  It reminds me of Adams Morgan in DC.  There were tons of pubs and shops and restaurants and was super colorful!  Oxford St. took us directly to Bondi Beach, and I was so excited to arrive!

Bondi comes from an aboriginal word for the noise that the waves make on the rocks. It is a spectacular beach, even in the winter.  It was beautifully sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and a good 72º on the beach itself.  Bondi is one of the most popular beaches in Australia and I can see why– its about a kilometer of gorgeous sand and warm water.


On the righthand side theres a swim club right on the seashore, home of the Bondi Icebergs. Started in 1929, there was a rule that to gain membership, you had to swim 3 of 4 Sundays of each month in the winter, (May – September) for five years.  If you did, you got access to the swim club which includes amazing baths right on the edge of Bondi itself.  Its a sea pool so the water comes directly in to the pool when the waves are high.  SO COOL.  I was there on a Sunday so the club was absolutely PACKED.

Check out this picture of their pools (taken as a still from this short YouTube video which you should also watch!)

bondi icebergs pool.jpg

Here’s my view from up the beach:


I spent the next hour sitting in the sand, working on my tan, and watching all of the surfers in the water.  It was “winter”, as I’ve said, but I got some funny looks when I showed up with my sleeves and pants rolled up and no jacket :)



There were no less than 100 surfers out there as I watched, almost all in wetsuits to keep them warm.  The waves were not super high but enough for a fun day on the board I’m sure.  I was impressed as I watched!


I snapped some shots of the surfers around me as they paddled out to the waves.  They were of all ages– from young kids to older Aussies who had been surfing their whole lives.  It was amazing to think of this being a regular part of their weekend activities!  I wish I could say the same!




I soaked up the sun for a few more minutes, not wanting to leave.  What a spectacular place.


When I finally got up and dusted the sand off myself, I went to explore the town.  It felt like a perfect beachy town with shops, restaurants, and boutiques.  A friend of mine had given me a tip to go find some opal while I was in Oz, and I was excited to find the shop he mentioned in Bondi.  Opal is my birthstone and I have quite a family connection with precious stones and rocks via both of my grandfathers.  My grandpa Wally is a geologist and my abuelito Henry imported stones from all over the world to his jewelry stores.

The store was called Bondi Beach Opals, Minerals & Fossils and as soon as I walked in I met the owner, Edmond Lahoud.  He stopped me in my tracks at how much he reminded me of Henry.  I told him I was looking for a ring and he sized my finger and brought out the most amazing selection I’ve ever seen.  I told Edmond about my grandfathers and he was charmed that I had come by- a fellow mineral lover, he could tell.  He showed me black opals which I had never seen before– they present themselves in hundreds of different shades and colors.  I was drawn to a sapphire blue opal set between two zirconia and it fit perfectly.  Edmond said he knew, as soon as I saw it, that it would be the one I would choose!  I also picked out a white opal necklace for my mom which was set in a gold setting on a gold chain.  Beautiful.


We talked for half an hour about stones, about his annual trips to Tucson, AZ for the Gem, Mineral, and Fossil show (the biggest on Earth, he says!) and about my grandfathers. He gave me his card and wrote his details on the back.  As I was about to leave, he pulled out a chunk of unrefined black opal (you know its a black opal, he said, because there is a black line on the outside of the rock!) to give to my Grandpa Wally as a gift from one stone lover to another.  What an incredible man!

As it was a Sunday and there were lots of things happening in Bondi, I checked out a craft market that was taking place at the local Bondi Beach Public School.  It had tons of handmade clothing, books, photos, artwork, and jewelry.  There was even a small “puppy parking” spot at the start of the market!  Ha!



After the market I hopped back on the bus and headed back towards the city. We went through Rosehill, one of the most expensive zip codes in all of Sydney, that had insane views of both Bondi and Sydney Harbour.  We didn’t stop for photos so I didn’t get a great shot of the Harbour, but there were hundreds of sailboats out for a breathtaking Sunday afternoon!



We wound around the city and I switched back to the City tour to continue on to Darling Harbour where more of the attractions were.  I hopped off and went to explore the bridge that takes you across the harbour to shops and activities.  It could not have been a more beautiful day!


I started out at the Wild Life and Aquarium attractions which I mistakenly thought was the Sydney Zoo everyone had been raving about.  It only took me about 45 minutes to go through each one (taking my time, mind you) and they were interesting but not as cool as Featherdale which I had visited the day before.  Next time I’m in Sydney I’ll go to the REAL zoo, Taronga, for certain!

There were a few cool animals I hadn’t seen before, and some kangaroos ready for a pat. The aquarium had beautiful sharks, jellies, and rays, but was tiny for an aquarium in a city like Sydney.  I did get to see an amazing Mantis Shrimp, the one that has 100 color receptors (we have 3!).




After I finished at the wildlife zoo and aquarium, it was about 4:30PM and I was hungry and hadn’t eaten since breakfast!  I walked around Darling Harbour at sunset before the restaurants opened at 5.


When the did open, I found one right on the water that had a two course dinner offered for AUD$30, about $22USD, and it was a proper Aussie steak. I told myself I’d have a real Australian meal on my last night and I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful setting!  I started with the calamari, which were the biggest and most tender pieces of squid I’d ever had.  It looked as thick as the pieces I’d fish with in Tampa far out in the bay!



My main course was a med rare steak with a gigantic prawn on top, sitting on potato mash and garlic butter.  So good.


I hopped back on the bus after dinner, properly full, and went back to my hotel.  I was exhausted but had made the most of my one full day in the city.  Sydney is spectacular and I would move there in a heartbeat :)


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