Ghillie James and her family take on Sydney and its surrounds on an action-packed adventure.
‘Wet suit or trainers today?’ Was the question that I was woken with every morning of our recent holiday to Sydney, Australia. Not an unreasonable one given the huge variety of actvities we had on offer to us everyday we were there. Whether you are into surfing, riding, beaches, biking, restaurants, extreme sports, animals, shopping or theatre going – Sydney does have the best of everything!
So where to start? When coming for a getaway from our small island Singapore, it’s hard to choose given that everything on offer is so much fun and the variety is huge. We went for a bit of a cross section to cater for my 10 year old thrill seeker, my 7 year old animal lover and me – who’s ultimate desire is, as usual, to eat good food, enjoy some sunshine and have a lovely walk or two.
Flight time is around 7-8 hours depending on wind direction, and a whole host of airlines fly there, so you can go budget to snazzy depending on your wish. You do need a visa, but this is a simple online process and isn’t too expensive.
On arrival in Sydney we whizzed through the airport (hand luggage only!) and were in a taxi for the 45-minute journey into the city within an hour of landing. We chose to base ourselves in one part of town – the northern beachside suburb of Manly. Close enough to the action but far enough for a sea breeze and a chilled vibe. It’s a stunning area, with plenty of incredible beach walks, cycle trails and shops to keep everyone busy as well as tons of great places to eat. To get over to the hubbub of Sydney central you can walk to the jetty and board one of the regular passenger ferries which will take you over safely and quickly all through the day and evening.
We stayed for our first couple of nights at the Sebel Hotel, in South Steyne, overlooking the beach. It’s a practical family friendly place, with a pool, laundry facilities and staff on hand day and night to help with anything. The hotel is situated on the beach, with breathtaking views of the surf to wake up to in the morning (obviously it’s necessary to ask for a sea facing room!). Our pad was a newly refurbed family room with a double room and a sitting room/ kitchen including a sofa bed which the hotel will make comfy for the kids. A small kitchen area with the basics and a washing machine and dryer in the bathroom made it the ideal place for a family who are planning long days out, want to do washing/make picnics etc. Breakfasts are delicious and Manly Wine, joined on to the hotel will serve you up a full Aussie breakfast of champions amongst other choices to set you up for the day (and mamas the coffee is excellent too!).
Having unpacked and refreshed we wandered 5 minutes down the road for dinner at Jellyfish. Super relaxed with a great atmosphere and really delicious food. There’s lots of choice from steaks to pasta to oysters and the children’s menu was healthy and exciting too. It’s BYO too so you can eat there without the usual extortionate wine bill which makes a refreshing change (although wine in Oz is much cheaper than here!)
Day one begun with the above-mentioned breakfast and a delicious takeaway coffee, followed by an amble around the corner to the bike hire shop, Manly Bike Tours. We were given spanking new bikes with a map and helmets and sent on our way to explore the coastal bike trails around Manly and Shelly beach. STUNNING is all I can say. The children loved the freedom and got very used to chatting to the super friendly locals who were walking their dogs or preparing to go for a snorkel in the crystal clear waters. You can even dive from the beach and one retired gentleman told my son of the morning dive he did with his friend every week ‘to keep meeself active!!”
Stop off for healthy ice pops at The Boathouse on Shelly beach – a great breakfast and lunch spot too. Try their seafood platter for two which was a colourful array of the most delicious pate, ceviche, oysters and prawns, then meander back along the beach on the cycle trail and over to the other end, past the surf school for more stunning views and people watching! We saw loads of surfers, swimmers and even a pod of dolphins too!
The Taronga Zoo was our next stop and a fun ferry ride on Captains Cook Cruises to get there. As well as the Manly fast ferry option, Captain Cook cruises run tourist boats to whisk you off to Watson’s Bay (famous for Doyle’s fish and chips) or Taronga Zoo with very friendly and informative guides onboard to fill you in on the history of the harbour. My kids soon talked our guide into taking them to meet Matt, the captain, who was terrific and answered 200 questions whilst steering our not too small ferry at the same time! If you are lucky (we weren’t) and it’s not too windy, you can transfer from the boat onto a cable car, which will take you up the side of the hill to the main entrance to the Zoo. In our case we just took the bus for a short journey (or walk!). It’s a ripper of a place – on a par with our fab zoo here but with cute koalas, plenty of kangas and a few Tasmanian devils to give you a good taste of Aussie Wildlife. You can even have your picture taken with a koala (but book in early to avoid disappointment).
A cab ride away was our lunch spot Chiosco by Ormeggio at D’Albora Marinas, the Spit. It’s a barefoot and kid-friendly Italian trattoria with stay all day vibes and incredible food, set amongst the gin palaces at the stunning marina on the Spit. Both old and young loved this experience (and it really was a not to be missed experience) the highlight for me being homemade gnocchi with slow cooked wagyu shank ragout. For the children without doubt it was warm chocolate filled mini donuts for dessert – heaven!
Days 2 and 3
These were spent exploring the Southern Highlands of Sydney. A trip I couldn’t recommend more highly. You can hire cars with ease (a ten-minute cab ride to all the car hire garages). We used Hertz, who were super efficient. A leisurely car journey will take you 1.5 to 2 hours (don’t be tempted to speed as you will get caught!) and you can stop off at one of the many wineries along the way. I recommend Bendooley’s. Once a hayshed, the iconic book barn forms the centrepiece of the historic estate. We loved finding some old children’s favourites to read, tasting the delicious wines and eating a great lunch, which varies from sharing plates and kids menus to the full 4 courses.
On then, only a further 20 minutes or so, to our next accommodation and the stunning Agritourism that is Farm Club Australia. Set up by owner Hugh Clarke, this relatively new farm stay experience is not to be missed. The concept is simple: open up the farm for visitors to experience, let them feed the animals, pick the veggies and ride the horses, then settle them in to super comfortable accommodation, with a hamper of goodies to barbecue and feed them a slap up brekkie in the morning. We really could have done with about 3 days here, as the farm also offers kayaking, daily farm walks (and jeep rides) and a wonderful café and farm shop. We stayed in the smaller Old Dairy Cottage, but there is a larger house, which could comfortably fit two families (a winner for Christmas or New Year!). Hugh and his team of delightful helpers (and his docile Irish Wolfhound) are on hand to take you around, show you the animals or assist with egg collecting, wombat spotting or BBQ lighting should you want or need it. It really is the bees knees if you’ve got young kids. We reluctantly waved goodbye after breakfast and headed back into Sydney for more action!
For children friendly dining. Head to the Bather’s Pavilion on Balmoral Beach. There are two choices – smarter or casual dining (I know, one day our time will come sans kids to try out the former!). Food is quick to come, and delicious and there is a stunning beach at your feet, for a potter and a play afterwards. There’s no surf too, so better for little ones to get their feet wet.
Sydney activities are endless, from a tour or a show at the world-famous opera house, a trip to the zoo, the aquarium (with penguin ride and shark tunnel!) and Madame Tussauds to name just a few. Highly recommended would be to brave the harbour bridge climb – an experience I have never forgotten since my days of backpacking around Australia. Prices are quite steep, but it’s really worth it, especially at sunrise or twilight. The views from the top (134m to be precise) are spectacular and though it is, without question, a thrill seeker’s dream, the Bridge Climb company are sticklers for safety so you are in the best hands.
A surf lesson is also a must-do and Manly is the perfect place for it. The gents at Manly Surf School are totally charming, great with kids and had both my two up on their boards within 30 minutes. They are safety conscious too and I felt like I had left them in good hands as I watched from the beach whilst sipping another of Jellyfish’s awesome coffees!
For a less action-packed holiday, there are choices galore for chilled beaches and wonderful walks. Highlights would be to drive up the coast to Palm Beach. From there you can take a chug boat and go across to the National Park, where you can picnic and watch kangaroos – super chilled. Closer to Manly there’s also Freshwater (known as Freshie!) which has a super beach too as well as Clontarf beach.
As far as kid friendly holidays go, Sydney really is a ‘must do’ if you possibly can. Seasons vary and our August break was jeans and jumpers weather, but for us that was a treat. For heat lovers, go at Christmas time or in the New Year.
Sydney – we’ll be back!
The Sebel, South Steyne Manly beach, www.thesebelmanlybeach.com.au
Farm Club Australia, Werai www.farmclubaustralia.com.au
Eating and drinking:
Jellyfish, www.jellyfishmanly.com.au – casual, friendly and delicious Aussie fare
Café Sydney – a CBD must, especially at night, but quite treaty so possibly one to do without the kids
Chiosco by Ormeggio, www.chiosco.com.au
The Boathouse, Shelley Beach, www.theboathousesb.com.au
Bendooley’s Estate, www.bendooleyestate.com.au
The Bather’s Pavillion Café, www.batherspavilion.com.au
Manly Bike Tours, www.manlybiketours.com.au,
Taronga Zoo, www.taronga.org.au
Sydney Opera House, www.sydneyoperahouse.com
Manly Surf School, www.manlysurfschool.com.au
Sealife Sydney Aquarium, Darling harbour, www.sydneyaquarium.com.au
Madame Tussauds, Darling Harbour, www.madametussauds.com.au
Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, www.bridgeclimb.com