Within minutes of each time I’ve arrived in Sydney, I’ve wanted to unpack my bags and move there. Permanently. The sparklingly clean, walkable city with nearly 6 million people is blessed with natural beauty, temperate weather and diverse neighborhoods. If that were not enough — Sydneysiders are an undeniably friendly lot.
This time, the out-of-control bushfires sadly were raging in the suburbs during my December visit causing Sydney’s normally pristine blue skies to turn intensely gray with smog reminiscent of 1960s Southern California. Climate change is having an impact; hopefully the government will make good on its environmental promises.
Sydney’s newest star to its CBD — Central Business District — is The Fullerton Hotel Sydney that opened this past October. Domiciled in the landmark, mid-19th-century former General Post Office, it combines historical significance, elegance and the spectacular service for which this brand is known. It’s perfectly situated within walking distance to Sydney’s most popular spots, including the Opera House, Darling Harbour, Royal Botanic Garden and Pitt Street Mall.
The Fullerton’s 416 rooms are spacious with some of the finest hotel bedding anywhere. This coupled with in-room Nespresso makers, iPads and deep soaking bathtubs made leaving the room difficult. There’s a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center and 24-hour business center. The Fullerton offers complimentary 90-minute heritage tours explaining the property’s unique history, and its socially important mid-20th-century clock tower. www.FullertonHotels.com
Sydney’s world-class food and wine scene has no shortage of innovative, farm-to-table and creative cuisine combinations.
A fantastic meal was had at chef restaurateur Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie. A modern, chic dining atmosphere with its massive glass-enclosed wine cave, this lovely sight is almost dwarfed by floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Heritage-listed, city-block-long, 19th-century Romanesque Revival QVB, the awe-inspiring Queen Victoria Building.
Then, of course, there is Mangan’s food: a matrimonial bliss of artistic creativity and the finest local ingredients. The tasting plate of the freshest sashimi was followed by succulent lamb rump with pencil leek and Moroccan-spiced pearl couscous. A flavorful barramundi served with mussels and I was satiated completely. Until, of course, my waiter suggested a cheese plate. www.glassbrasserie.com.au
Before seeing “Cosi,” a hysterically funny play, I entered Bennelong Restaurant inside the iconic Sydney Opera House. Amid views of Sydney’s glorious harbor, I sat at Bennelong’s Cured and Cultured Counter that felt like dining beneath a tall ship’s flowing sails.
The seven-course tasting menu had me seriously considering marrying head chef Rob Cockerill. Outstanding Red-Claw Yabbies (crayfish) were served with lemon marmalade, followed by bresaola with horseradish, king prawn toast, a divine stracciatella salad and suckling pig sausage roll second to none. Its mixologists also make memorably beautiful creations. www.Bennelong.com.au
Chef Gerrit Schellenberg, who learned from some of Singapore finest chefs, whips up tasty Southeast Asian dishes at The Place. Try the delicious Kong Bak Pao, Wagyu beef and chicken satays, then enjoy green chicken curry. The New Zealand Akaroa salmon is also good. www.fullertonhotels.com
Sydneysiders love their coffee and happily, one is hard pressed to find a bad cup anywhere. At the QVB, small bites and great coffee can be had at Jet Bar Caffe. www.jetbarcaffe.com
No trip to Sydney would be complete without a day at famous Bondi Beach, just 30 minutes from central Sydney. The nearly four-mile “Bondi to Coggee Coastal Walk” is on a paved path shared by locals and their four-legged compatriots. It’s an absolute visual feast of turquoise blue panoramas, stunning bays, craggy cliffs and dramatic rock pools.
On this walk, like an illusion, a lap pool appears in what seems to be suspended animation enveloped by craggy ocean rocks. This is The Bondi Icebergs Club. Starting in 1929 local lifeguards came here to stay in shape during winters. Today the restaurant and bar are happily open to the public. www.Icebergs.com.au
Nearby the hilltop Waverly Cemetery is probably the most gorgeous resting place on planet earth.
In an art deco-style building near Sydney Harbour, the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibits a wide collection of Australian modern art and a significant collection of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander art. It recently hosted a special exhibition of acclaimed British artist Cornelia Parker’s work. Most impressive is its 19-yard long embroidered replica of the Magna Carta with 200 contributories, and the large “War Room” with its sheets of billowing, perforated red paper negatives remaining from Remembrance Day’s poppy cutouts. www.mca.com.au
Those interested in surrealism or polo horses should stop by the Charles Billich Gallery near MOCA. In this historic building, Billich — an 85-year-old who works seven days a week — is considered by some collectors to be a Dali disciple. Born in the former Yugoslavia, Billich was sentenced to a 10-year prison term for writing satire. Released unexpectedly after two years, he sought asylum in Australia, ultimately studied art in Melbourne and thereafter obtained Australian citizenship. His work now hangs in the Vatican, the Tongan Palace, Geneva’s Red Cross Museum and the White House. www.billich.com
From the Circular Quay, the fast ferry to Manly Beach, just seven miles northeast of Sydney is a wonderful day trip. Walk past the shops and turn right to Shelly Beach and have a coffee at seaside Bower Manley. The nearly three-mile stretch is known as the Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve.
Manly was the site of Australia’s first legal bathing in 1902 and hosted the first body surfing contest in 1908. Famed Hawaiian swimmer, surfer and Ambassador of Aloha, Duke Kahanamoku, brought the sport to Australia by demonstrating surfing here in 1914. In 1994, a bronze statue of Duke sculpted by Barry Donohoo commemorated the surfing giant. In 2012 Manly became Australia’s first World Surfing Reserve and third in world due to its superior surf breaks. So if Hanging 10 is in your future, this is great place to learn the sport of surfing.
The lesson learned
No matter how you choose to spend your time in Sydney, when it comes time to leave, you might be seriously afflicted with dreams of expatriating. Fair dinkum — it’s true — as Aussies say. Instead, perhaps you can swiftly start planning another Sydney sojourn.
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, legal columnist and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com. Some vendors hosted the writer however content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the writer’s opinion.