Sydney, compared to say Melbourne, has a reputation for enjoying the finer things in life. It’s flash, it’s fast and it thoroughly loves taking your cash.The saying goes that while you might choose Melbourne for your wife, it would be Sydney that would make a good mistress. And with the NSW capital being undeniably pretty and keen for a good time, with no questions asked, it’s easy to joke at the metaphor.However, spend even the smallest amount of time in the Harbour City and the comparison struggles to ring true. Its staggeringly beautiful, and endless, waterfront, as well as surrounding national parks, multiple museums with no entrance fees and highly competitive pubs away from the tourist glare, mean it’s a city that need not break your bank. And yet, where’s the fun in that? Sometimes, whether for a special occasion or simply to satisfy the desire to genuinely see a place at its best, it’s worth splashing out on an experience which, and let’s be honest, will probably result in you going without food (but not goon, obviously) for a week on a backpacker budget. But who’s counting? How often are you in Sydney?
The Bridgeclimb by James Basenvalle
The experience: Geoff is more than 70 years old and has climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge 28 times. And during my very first climb, he adds one more notch to his belt. “When my wife goes to the opera, I’m climbing the bridge,” Geoff said proudly. But the record surprisingly isn’t his – another local has apparently climbed the bridge 54 times. So what makes the experience so addictive? I’ve lived in Sydney for my whole life and it took me 21 years to climb the bridge. And yes, it was as amazing as they say. Stunning views, beautiful weather and trendy one-piece suits. For over 80 years, the Harbour Bridge has towered above Sydney’s cityscape and for almost 15 of those years, the BridgeClimb has offered the best views in town. My climb leader, Chris, is incredibly attentive and extremely personable. When he fastens our radio headphones to our climbing belts, he asks for everyone’s name and seems to remember them instantly. His knowledge on the bridge is ample. Being one of only two locals in my session, I was quietly confident with my bridge knowledge, but so many things astounded me. For example, over eight years, only 16 people died during the construction of the bridge. And when there was a fatality, the men who were working that day, would each give half of their pay to the grieving family. The Discovery Climb is a long one though, it took a total of three hours from start to finish but there’s also the option of The Express Climb or The Bridge Climb. Although I may never break the record, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge once was enough for a lifetime of memories.
Cost: Climbs start at $198, with the price dependent on day and time. Info: bridgeclimb.com.au
Wakeboarding by Alex Harmon
The experience: “You should really start off with a knee board,” the salty dreadlocked instructor warns as I peruse the wakeboarding shed. “Nah, I’ll be fine, give me a proper wakeboard,” I boast. I’ve snowboarded, seriously how hard could this be? I imagine myself gliding around the park, getting air, traversing the jumps and landing with the grace of an Olympic ice-skater. And yet, on my first attempt at the Penrith Cables Park, I could not have been more wrong. I position my feet on the wakeboard, slipping into the straps and hang onto the cable. After the signal and the seemingly simple instruction to keep the rope close to my body, hold on tight and let the motorised ski lift-like circuit pull me around, I take off fast. So fast that I keel over, lose control of the board and go flying through the air. I’m still holding onto the cable. Nobody told me what to do in this situation, should I cling on to the cable and barefoot ski? If only. I drop the cable and make the humiliating swim of shame back to shore and to the back of the line where I watch kids – yes kids – launch off into the lake getting air off the jumps in the manner I had envisioned for myself. After several more of these attempts, and belly flopping into the lake, I opt for a knee board and make the graceful journey around the park. With aching muscles and bitter resignation that I won’t be the next Torah Bright on water, I accept failure. But I’ll be back, and I will master it. That’s right, I’ll show those kids who laughed at me.
Cost: From $39 for an hour. Day passes cost $69. Info: cableswakepark.com.au
Yoga from the Sky by Sandra Parr
After trying Bikram yoga, which involved a 40 degree room and a scary man who physically shouted at a woman and called her a failure for walking out of his class, I decided it was time to try something a little more relaxing.
Yoga from the Sky at Sydney Tower Eye is pretty much what it says on the tin. What a way to wake up, though.
I don’t know if it was the relaxing music or the 360 degree view of Sydney 268m up in the sky, but for those 45 minutes I forgot that I was in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Sydney and completely zoned out.
Hatha Yoga poses, stretches and positions for 45 minutes followed by a healthy fruit breakfast is honestly the best start to the day I have ever had. Oh, and the fact that you can burn up to 500 calories in those 45 minutes is always a bonus.
The class, which is held every Wednesday morning (bookings advised) will set you back $25, so it’s probably not the most budget friendly class you will ever take, but it’s worth it for the views as the sun comes up across Sydney’s skyline.
Taking in the beauty of the sunrise as you balance and stretch your body is guaranteed to set you up for the day so it’s worth splashing the cash on this one.
Yoga teacher Erika tells me that it’s good for posture, toning and if you don’t like heights, she also does a class on the beach.
More than just exercise, it was a unique experience and after a couple of months of eating rubbish and pounding my liver, my body thanked me for this little treat.
Wednesday mornings in 2013 from 6:45am – 7:45am. Cost: $25. See: sydneytowereye.com
Shark Diving by Caitlin Stanway
The experience: Why settle with a quick cuddle and photo with a stoned koala when you can get happy snaps facing the jaws of death? Ok, so the jaws belong to grey nurse sharks, and while they aren’t interested in having you as an entreé, the rush of swimming with these massive sea creatures is pretty hard to beat. A half hour ferry trip from Sydney’s CBD will get you to Manly where, hidden below Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, is Shark Harbour. The four million litre aquarium is home to a group of docile Grey Nurse sharks who, thanks to Shark Dive Xtreme, you can get up close and personal with. The dive starts with a thorough, and very reassuring, training session where groups are walked through diving basics. Once everyone is suited up, it’s into the training pool to get your sea legs. If it’s your first time diving there’s nothing to worry about, the instructors are incredibly patient and walk you through every step. Entering the main aquarium is an experience you’ll never regret. There is no denying the sharks are huge, but as soon as you realise you’re not on the menu, the dive is spectacular. Chilling with the grey nurses are giant stingrays, Port Jackson sharks and some incredibly massive turtles, who are all more than happy to get right up close – the stingrays are even known for giving the odd diver a hug.
Cost: Dives start at $155 for certified divers and $200 for beginners. Info: manlysealifesanctuary.com.au.
Skydive the Beach by Ashley Sloter
The experience: Skydiving is something I have always wanted to do. Now I was going to do it on the beach. The skydive company drove me from Sydney to Wollongong, where I signed my life away and put on a jump suit. I had met the strange man who I’d be hooked to and before I knew it, eight of us, along with our professional skydivers, were packed into this little aeroplane. I was getting nervous. But we were soon up in the air looking at the ocean below us. Way too soon the door was opening and people were starting to fall out of it. We were fifth in line and I was feeling a mix of excitement and nervousness as I watched everyone ahead of me get to the door and freak out a little. Then it was my turn. I got to the door and made the mistake of looking down. I couldn’t help myself. “Shit,” I thought. “I’m going to die.” Thankfully the strange man hooked up to me didn’t really give me much time to think about it. Suddenly we were out of the plane and falling 14,000 feet. The rush was unlike any other. I couldn’t help but scream and enjoy the fall. It was pretty much the greatest feeling in the world. We fell for a good long minute and then I felt the pull of the parachute and we began out slow decent to the ground. Once I hit the ground I was a little sad to see my adventure gone, but I’m determined to do it again.
Cost: Jumps start from $265, not including DVD or photos.Info: skydivethebeach.com.au
Venture Cruise by Alex Harmon
The experience: It must have been that time of the month for Sydney, because you just didn’t know which mood you were going to get. One minute we’re applying sunscreen as we’re docked in Darling Harbour, the next minute the sky turns an Apocalyptic shade of grey and we’re piled inside the boat trying to avoid the rain. And then the hail. It didn’t matter, though, because spirits on board were high. The jukebox was pumping out Abba (this was swiftly changed to Top 40, much to my dismay) and the bar was stocked full with booze. After our first drink and some precarious photos of the Opera House, the weather had changed again to a perfect summer’s day. Sydney, the old bitch, had come out to play. We make our way to the deck and sprawl out on sun lounges, taking in the sunshine with the wind in our hair. The cruise stops at Chowder Bay on Sydney’s north shore where we’re served a picnic lunch and have the chance to disembark the boat for a swim. After some free time, we leisurely board again and make the trip back to Darling Harbour in the setting sun. Even with a rocky start, all can be forgiven. Because when Sydney shines, she really shines bright – and the Venture Cruise is great way to see her best angles.
Cost: Backpacker special $55 (normally $69) for 3.5 hours. Info: captaincook.com.au
Hop On Hop Off Cruise by Lisa Robinson
The experience: Sydney is the world’s largest natural harbour and arguably the most stunning. One of the best ways to explore the many sites dotted along the water’s edge is the Hop On Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer Cruise, with its modern vessel fleet taking you to eight of the top spots. Step aboard at Darling Harbour or Circular Quay and you’ll instantly be treated to unrivalled views of two iconic sites – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, giving you the opportunity to take that perfect picture to make your friends and family back home jealous. Onboard, learn the history of these and other sites within the harbour for the duration of your trip. The first stop is Fort Denison, an historic sandstone island that was once a penal site. Today it’s a Harbour Navigational Facility, National Park, and museum. Make sure you time your trip to coincide with a tour of Australia’s only Martello Tower and the 1pm firing of the cannon. Next, head along to Taronga Zoo, where the resident Australian and international animals enjoy some of Sydney’s prime real estate. After watching the animals feed you can wander up to the leafy streets of Mosman in search of your own lunch, or for a perfect picnic stop jump back on the ferry and head across to Shark Island. With 360 degree harbour views, a small beach and picnic shelters, Shark Island is the ideal spot to sink a few beers and enjoy a languorous siesta in the afternoon sun. Peel yourself away and catch the next ferry all the way to Watsons Bay, located on the South Head Peninsula – the gateway to Sydney Harbour. On the return trip you’ll cruise past the now familiar sites, but if you’ve got time for one more attraction, get off at Luna Park, walk through the famous smiling face, catch the Ferris Wheel and see Sydney glow beneath the setting sun.
Cost: An entry level 24 hour ticket includes Circular Quay, Taronga Zoo, Watsons Bay, Luna Park and Darling Harbour and is priced from $42 adults. $7 gets you entry to Fort Denison and Shark Island.Info: captaincook.com.au
Wild Life Sydney Zoo by Lisa Robinson
The experience: If you only know one thing about Australia, you’ll know that we’re home to some of the most dangerous animals in the world. Before you hit the road looking for them, why not check out what you’re up against by visiting WILD LIFE Sydney? Located at Darling Harbour, this unique zoo showcases Australia’s most famous animals in their natural habitats. Take a couple of hours to journey through the various terrains – visit the Butterfly Tropics to walk amongst the strikingly colourful butterflies and frogs, and familiarise yourself with the fearsome eastern brown snake and red-bellied black snack, both of which haunt Australia’s east coast. Stop off in the tropical Daintree Rainforest to see the endangered double-wattled cassowary, and then feel the heat of the desert Outback where the iconic red kangaroo and emu roam. If you’re unable to spot a koala lazing amongst the foliage of Gumtree Valley, go one better and pat a koala (it’s against state law to cuddle a koala). For those who don’t squirm at the thought of creepy-crawlies, wander back downstairs into the Bugs Garden, an interactive habitat where you can see some of the world’s deadliest creatures like the infamous funnel-web and redback spiders. The highlight of a trip to WILD LIFE is undoubtedly the Kakadu Gorge exhibit where you meet Rex, the 5 metre long saltwater crocodile. Weighing in at around 700kg, he’s one of the world’s largest crocs and can be viewed from above and also from underwater (behind a glass wall of course!). If you’re brave enough, make sure you’re there on Monday, Wednesday or Friday to see this monster devour his lunch.
Cost: Entry from $28. Info: wildlifesydney.com.au
Helicopter Flights by Alex Harmon
The experience: “You wouldn’t stick your hand outside a car window going at 180/km per hour, so don’t stick your hands outside the helicopter door.” Seems like obvious advice, but when the helicopter you’re looking at has had its door removed, things get a little confusing. I opt to sit shotgun in the chopper and let my gangly colleague sit in the back with no door. He’s got a seatbelt that looks like it belongs in a Volvo, not a six cylinder chopper. Minutes later we have lift-off and begin the journey into Sydney Harbour. It’s the most surreal feeling, slowly lifting into the air, hovering as the chopper blades send ripples of wind through the grass. We’re given the weather conditions from the air traffic control room and after a few “roger that’s” (who gave me a headpiece, seriously?) we’re 500ft in the air overlooking Sydney’s western suburbs. Soon the harbour, which seemed so far away from the ground, can be seen in the distance. It’s a grey day with the sun peering through the clouds but from this angle, even the overcast days seem breathtaking. Flying over some dedicated rowers on Parramatta River and ducking the early morning 747s coming in from Hong Kong, we make our way into Sydney Harbour. We loop around towards Manly, checking Bondi from the distance and over the Opera House so we can take some photos. I’m feeling less like Jack Bauer now and more like a traffic report girl as I comment on the rush-hour cars backed up over the bridge. Then, all of a sudden we turn at what feels like a 90° angle to get a different perspective on the bridge and I come head-to-head with the harbour. Then it’s back to home base, with a cheeky lesson on the pedals, gears and how “there are no roads to follow up here, it’s all about sight”. As we hover into our park, lowering down like the rocket-man and dreading the drive back into the city on the M5, I wonder how I go about getting that pilot licence…
Cost: A 30-minute scenic harbour flight costs from $149 per person.Info: skyhighhelicopters.com
Sydney Tower’s Skywalk by Caitlin Stanway
The experience: With two of Australia’s most iconic landmarks in view, combined with the bustling Sydney Harbour and stunning beaches, what better way to soak up the scenery than from 268 meters in the sky? Located in Sydney’s Centrepoint tower, Sky Walk at the Sydney Tower Eye is the ultimate way to see Sydney. With a circular walk taking around half an hour, the Sky Walk takes you around the eye of Sydney’s highest tower. Taking one of three high-speed elevators you arrive inside the eye of Sydney Tower where you’ll be suited up and given a quick safety run down. After being harnessed to a rail it’s off to see the sights, and man what a sight it is. On a clear day you can see as far as 80km from the tower. The instructors are, predictably, well versed in what you can see, and give a comprehensive rundown of the 360 degree view. From the glistening Harbour waters and Circular Quay to the industrial western areas and the picturesque Bondi Beach, only an aeroplane could give you such a (excuse the cliché) breathtaking view. The glass bottom platforms extending from the tower will test anyone with a height phobia, and no matter how often the instructor tells you each glass plate can hold 400kg (an elephant, so we’re told), it still doesn’t change the fact that there is nothing below you!
Cost: The Sky Walk experience starts from $48. Info: sydneytowereye.com.au/explore/skywalk