‘WELCOME to the best cafe in the world!” announces our kayaking guide as we bob, coffees in hand, in the middle of Sydney Harbour.
Watching the sunrise behind the Opera House, my partner Ross and I have to agree.
OK, it’s a long way to go for a flat white (even if they were invented here), but brave the jet lag and you’ll be rewarded with amazing beaches, delicious food and the friendliest people.
It’s all about the opera
IN a bid to beat the 11-hour time difference, as soon as we arrive we strike out for Circular Quay.
It’s a 30-minute amble around the harbour overlooking the iconic Opera House.
We grab a selfie at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair – a sandstone rock cut into the shape of a bench – before ducking into the Royal Botanic Garden, full of cacti, ancient trees and long-beaked Ibis (Rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au).
Chilling at the waterside Opera Bar afterwards with a pale ale, £4, is a real holi-yay moment (Operabar.com.au).
Get a totally different view of the Opera House on a behind-the-scenes tour, £23, where you could catch performers rehearsing (Sydneyoperahouse.com).
For a special treat, we book dinner at Bennelong inside the Opera House. The view is magical, and we can’t believe our luck when fireworks go off as we tuck into our cherry jam lamington pud. A two-course dinner costs £60 (Bennelong.com.au).
Roo do you think you are?
AT the Southern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Barangaroo is a buzzy waterfront prom lined with cool restaurants like Love.Fish – the perfect spot to people-watch over a plate of calamari, £11 (Lovefish.com.au).
There are some great boutiques behind the main stretch, too – my fave is The Collector Store with its #fashiongoals edit (Collectorstore.com.au).
Keen to soak up some rays post-lunch, we take on The Rocks – a maze of cobbled streets that spring to life every Friday, Saturday and Sunday with 150 stalls selling everything from eco handbags to boomerangs.
Food trucks serve up tasty BBQ croc skewers for £3, and some of Sydney’s oldest pubs can be found here. Chill with a craft beer at Endeavour Tap Rooms, or sample the best roo burger, £12.50, at The Australian Heritage Hotel (Australianheritagehotel.com).
Fuelled up, we jump on a ferry, £3, to Taronga Zoo. The short ride gives us more selfie opps with the Harbour Bridge before dropping us at the entrance.
We make a beeline for the cute koalas then tick off roos, crocs and anacondas. For an extra-special treat, splurge on a night at the zoo’s new luxury eco retreat, where you can wake up to the rustling of a bandicoot or the call of a lyrebird. Entry costs £22 and double rooms start from £436 B&B (Taronga.org.au).
Get your vitamin sea
DON'T miss that sunrise kayaking session as the sky blazes orange, from £68 (Sydneybykayak.com).
More of a surfer? Take a pilgrimage to Bondi, with its super-size beaches and waves.
We while away an hour watching wetsuits in action and checking out the arty sea wall, before starting the 6km walk to Coogee.
Stop for a snap at Icebergs dining room and bar – jutting into the ocean, it’s one of the most Instagrammed seawater pools and a spot to carb-load on fresh pasta (Idrb.com).
The Bondi to Coogee coastline is all rock pools, Aboriginal rock art and coves of bathers. If snorkelling is on your bucket list, Manly is straight out of Blue Planet.
Spot dolphins and penguins at Shelly Beach before feasting on a bucket of prawns, £22, at The Boathouse (Theboathousesb.com.au).
- Plan your trip at Visitnsw.com and Sydney.com.
- Return flights from London to Sydney with Quantas cost from £737 (Quantas.com).
AWAY from the hustle in Chippendale, brekkie at Concrete Jungle is an Insta-treat – I go for a Blue Majik smoothie bowl, £10, which is like eating healthy blue ice cream (Concretejunglecafe.com).
When the Aussie sun gets too much, the Australian Museum reels us in with displays of Captain Cook’s cape and Australia’s first bank note.
Entry costs £8 (Australianmuseum.net.au). Arty types will heart the free Museum of Contemporary Art Australia – think vast spaces and installations (Mca.com.au) – plus there are sculptures and paintings galore at the grand Art Gallery of New South Wales. Entry is free (Artgallery.nsw.gov.au).
Stay and play
WE check into cool hotel Ovolo Woolloomooloo, which sits on the world’s longest timber wharf with harbour views.
With ping-pong, fire pits, a DJ and a basement pool, staying there makes us feel instantly cooler, plus rooms come with their own iPad and a free mini bar which is replenished daily. Yes, really!
Don’t miss dinner at the hotel’s plant-based Alibi restaurant, where charcoal steamed buns, £10, almost convert us to going vegan… Double rooms cost from £190 B&B (Ovolohotels.com).
After a sophis stay? The luxe Langham is all pink decor, with a swanky spa and a baby grand in the foyer. Doubles cost from £209 B&B (Langhamhotels.com).
Unwind in wine country
IF you fancy getting out of the city, Mudgee and its 43 wineries is only a 45-minute flight from Sydney, from £63 one way (Flypelican.com.au).
Line your stomach with delish dukka eggs, £9, at quirky Artisan On Lewis (Artisanonlewis.business.site), before heading into the vines with Mudgee VIP Wine Tours.
Pace yourself through rieslings and cab sauv before a hamper of sourdough, feta, meats and fruit, £20, at Lowe Wines. A half-day tour is £38 (Mudgeevipwinetours.com.au).
Dinner in Alby & Esthers’ fairy-lit courtyard is a must. We share lip-smacking honey pork ribs, £16, and cheesy hasselbacks, £11 (Albyandesthers.com.au).
Luckily, Perry Street Hotel is within stumbling distance. Once a mechanics’ institute, it’s now home to stylish suites with balconies.
We find chic kimonos laid out before collapsing into a wine-induced slumber. Double rooms cost from £88 B&B (Perrystreethotel.com.au).
The next morning, we start planning our return to Oz. Maybe there’s a reason boomerangs were invented here…
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