Day 1 - Suss out Sydney
Georges Street runs the whole way through the city centre and is a good place to begin your wander, starting at Central Station. From here you should hang a left and meander through Chinatown. Full with jewellery shops and restaurants, there is also a market known as Paddy’s Market in the area, and a great food hall if you are feeling peckish. Also close by is Darling Harbour. Previously one of the parts of the city most locals wanted to forget about, in recent years it has become slightly commercialised, but still worth a look.
From Darling Harbour you should make your way to Pitt Street. There is a monorail which operates around the city but it is really just for novelty reasons, although is used by some city commuters. Whichever way you decide to get there, you can have a walk around the shops in the pedestrianised area as there are lot of shopping centres and department stores about. If you don’t want to blow all your cash straight away you can pick a spot and watch some of the street performers or buskers. Sydney’s tallest building known as ‘Centrepoint’ is also right in the middle of Pitt Street and there is an observation deck at the top which offers excellent views over Sydney.
When you are strolling down Pitt Street you should recognise a segment of a bridge which is at the end. This is Sydney Harbour Bridge. Known as the ‘coat hanger’ to locals, it connects North Sydney to the CBD and really is breathtaking when you see it up close. The best vantage point to see the bridge is from Circular Quay, where you will also find Sydney Opera House. This famous building looks different from every angle and is unlike any other in the world. If you only do one thing down here, sip a coffee and just gaze at both these landmarks
If you finish up in Circular Quay, just beside the quay is a part of the city known as ‘The Rocks’. The area is full of activity seven nights a week. In particular, there are loads of Irish Bars along the Rocks’ end of Georges Street. ‘Fortunes of War’, which claims to be the city’s oldest pub, is also in the area. The best thing about drinking in ‘The Rocks’ is seeing the Harbour Bridge very first thing when you walk out of the pub.
Day 2 - Kayaking and bar crawling
There is one thing seeing Sydney from land, but it’s another thing to be able to say you kayaked on Sydney Harbour. It’s a great way to see some of the harbour and a good way to get active also. Sydney Harbour Kayaks run full and half day tours around the North Shores which give those on the tour the chance to swim and snorkel also.
After your paddle in the harbour, make your way back into the city for some relaxing in the Botanical Gardens which are right beside the Opera House. Inside the gardens are a glass pyramid where you will find the Sydney Tropical Centre, a rare plants section and, most impressive of all, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. This is the best place in the whole of Sydney to see both the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge together.
Oxford Street runs from the top of Hyde Park in the centre of the city, the whole way down to Bondi Junction, one of the eastern suburbs. There are pubs, clubs and fast food joints every 100 yards down the street, making it the perfect place to go on a pub crawl. It is also the heart of Sydney's gay social life, but whether you are gay or straight nothing will stop you from having a night to remember.
Day 3 - Katoomba and the Blue Mountains
Situated about 65 kilometres from the city centre, the Blue Mountains National Park is one of Greater Sydney’s ‘must-dos’. What’s good about most day tours to the park, which is situated close to a town called Katoomba, is that they also take in Homebush and the Olympic Village, home to the 2000 Olympic Games, considered the best ever. Stadium Australia and the Sydney Aquatic Centre, where many memorable scenes took place during the games, are in the village and it is nice to see it in person.
Also squeezed in to the first half of the day is Glenbrook National Park which is full of wildlife in their natural habitats, and Wentworth Falls, a town best known for its 922ft waterfall and bush walks.
After lunch is when you go to see the famed ‘Three Sisters’ which are found in the Blue Mountains. The lookout to the mountains is apparently the most visited lookout in Australia. The haze given from the Eucalyptus forest below is how the mountains got their name. Afterwards you walk to Katoomba Falls, through spectacular rainforest and return on the world’s steepest railway. Day tours really fit loads in and are the best way to visit the mountains.
There are two ways to visit the Blue Mountains. You can either get one of the day tours like mentioned above (recommended) or you can travel to Katoomba and stay there overnight. If you do plan to get a hostel in Katoomba there are still a good number of places to go as the town has a population of over 17,000 people. But if you decide against it, and go back into Sydney, around the city centre there are a large number of pubs, particularly Irish ones. These aren’t too bad, and are full with backpackers, but some are quite dirty. You have been warned!
Day 4 - Beaches, cliffs, then fish and chips
Note: This day can be done either way ie start in Bondi and finish in Coogee, or vice versa. We’ve done it so you start in Bondi.
It might not be the most amazing beach in the world, but Bondi Beach is undoubtedly Sydney’s, and probably Australia’s most famous. Spanning one kilometre from the north to the south headlands which guard it, lifeguards patrol the beach while surfers and swimmers can be seen in the sea. And then there are sunbathers, of course. If you don’t feel like sunbathing for a couple of hours the surfers provide hours of entertainment, as do the skateboarders going up and down the half-pipe which is at the southern end of the beach.
After all that relaxing in the morning you should do something a little more active in the afternoon. And between Bondi and Coogee is the perfect activity. Regarded as one of the best walks in Australia, the Bondi-Coogee cliff walk lets you visit all the eastern suburb beaches along with taking in some truly breathtaking ocean views. Departing from Bondi, the next beach is Tamarama, dubbed ‘Glamorama’ as it is where many of the city’s beautiful people come to sunbathe. From there you travel by Bronte, through Waverly Graveyard, on to Clovelly, passed Gordon’s Bay until you eventually reach Coogee Beach. While not as internationally known as Bondi, it is extremely popular with locals and backpackers alike.
The walk is a total of 6 kilometres in distance and takes approximately 2 hours to complete. After upon completing it you should have worked up quite an appetite. There are loads of restaurants in both Bondi and Coogee, but what both coastal towns both have is excellent fish and chip shops. They are bound to fill that gap in your stomach, and if you feel like desert you can try deep fried Mars Bars from Bondi Surf Seafoods on Campell Parade. Mmmm!
Depending on which of the two suburbs you end up at in the evening that is where you should stay. Both have good places to party in, and as both are full of backpackers, there is always a good atmosphere in them. Wednesday night in Bondi is the busiest while in Coogee Thursday is when everyone decides to go bananas.
Day 5 - A leisurely stroll around the city
From Sydney your next stop is Byron Bay, home to the surfer and the hippy. But to get there from Sydney it takes about 13 hours on a bus so to save on a night’s accommodation get the overnight bus. Check the bus times at Central Station, but the overnight buses usually leave between 7pm-9pm.
So before you hop on the bus for the night take some time out for some of the gems of Sydney’s city centre which haven’t received a mention yet – the Queen Victoria Building, one of the nicest shopping centres you are likely to ever visit; Oxford Street and Paddington for its shopping; Kings Cross for (if nothing else) its seediness.
But once the evening comes get yourself geared up for a long night on the bus. If you have a pillow, make sure to take it!
Day 6 - It’s time to chill…
Situated 13 hours north of Sydney on the bus is Byron Bay, possibly the best place in Australia to do nothing else other than chill out. Since the 60’s and 70’s people have been coming to Byron taking refuge from the big city. People have also been going to the town for its alternative lifestyle – it is a haven for hippies and surfers.
The main street in Byron is Jonson Street. This where you will find the main shops, bars and all the other streets branch off this one. Also, from Jonson Street, you can get straight down to Main Beach. A walking path begins here and brings you on one of Australia’s best walks. But we’ll get back to that later.
After a 13-hour bus journey, once you get to this hazy town there is nothing better to do than simply relax. And this is the perfect place to do so, whether in your hostel or in one of the various bars around.
Day 7 - The most easterly point in Australia
After your breakfast (and maybe even a quick stroll around the town again), make your way down the path at the top of Main Beach. This path brings you on a 3.5km walk out to Cape Byron.
Once you reach the end of Main Beach you come to Lighthouse Road where Captain Cook Lookout is. Here boasts amazing views over Byron Bay. After the lookout you pass by Clarks Beach, Wategos Beach and eventually you will reach Cape Byron, which incidentally is the most easterly point in Australia. Keep your eyes open when you perch yourself at this spot for a pod of dolphins. They are regularly sighted around this area.
From Cape Byron the next spot in this walk is the lighthouse. From here you have the decision to keep going on or turn and go back to Byron the way you came. We reckon is that you carry on as it takes you through some pretty dense rainforest. Through these forests you have a pretty good chance of seeing some wallabies.
Upon returning to Byron, you should gear yourself up for going out on the (small) town. Due to the volume of backpackers who stop here there is always a party atmosphere in most of the pubs. In particular, Cheeky Monkeys at the bottom of Jonson Street is where the majority of travellers go.
Day 8 - Up in smoke!
In 1973 a festival in the hinterlands around Byron Bay called the Aquarius Festival which celebrated alternative lifestyles was held. From this festival, a group of hippies decided to begin their own hippy commune around a small town in the hinterlands known as Nimbin. Today it is Australia’s alternative capital, with dealers roaming the streets selling everything from hash cookies to marijuana.
There isn’t much to do in Nimbin, but walking along the town's main (and only) street is like now other in the world. Dealers approach you literally 10 metres from the local police station wondering if you would like to sample their herbal remedies!
Day trips leave Byron daily to Nimbin and visit waterfalls, rainforests and there are spectacular views all along the way.
Getting back to Byron, Cocolmangas is another popular haunt with the backpacking fraternity. There usually more locals here than in Cheeky Monkeys but there is always a fairly decent atmosphere.
Day 9 - Concrete Jungle
Just two hours north of Byron Bay is Surfers Paradise. It’s a far cry from the previous stop, with high rises replacing the alternative medicine shops. So if you are still in your chilling mode, this might not be the best place on the coast for you. But if you are in the mood for some serious partying you should drop your hat here for a few days.
Surfer’s is situated on Australia’s Gold Coast, so called there are 35 kilometres of beach running from northern New South Wales to southern Queensland. Surfing is one of the most popular activities in this lively, if somewhat commercialised town. So if you fancy yourself catching a few waves, this is one of the best places on the coast to acquire the art.
If you enquire in your hostel, you should be able to sign up for one of the numerous bar crawls which take place here. They are a great way to meet people and, for a not too substantial amount of money, you get a few free beers along with entry in to one or two nightclubs. If you enjoy a hectic nightlife you should make a note on a night on the tiles in Surfers.
Day 10 - Hold on to your hat!
Along with the beach and the nightlife, Surfers Paradise other claim to fame is its theme parks. Sea World, Wet n Wild, and b>Warner Brothers Movie World are some of the most popular. So whether its stomach-churning rollercoasters, nauseating waterslides or stunt shows, you are bound to find it somewhere in Surfers.
Day 11 - More than just a big town
Situated a mere hour and a half north of Surfers Paradise is Queensland’s capital, Brisbane. It has had the reputation of being a ‘big town’ rather than a city in the past but upon visiting the city you will see how this image has since been forgotten.
After being in Sydney, you may feel like you have seen everything a big city has to offer, and this may be the case, but Brisbane is still worth a night’s stay. The city centre has an array of shops, cinemas and bars which will keep any backpacker occupied for a few hours.
Across the Brisbane River, you will find the city centre’s man made beach. This is in area of the city called Southbank. You will also find an IMAX Cinema, the Chinese Gardens plus a wide assortment of bars and restaurants. And if you happen to be there over the weekend take advantage of the bargains to be found at the weekend markets.