At the start of Australia's hottest season, we head to Sydney and the North Coast Region to experience their culture, food and art
Our account of a week in and around Sydney
Watching the iconic opera, Carmen, is quite an experience in itself. But when it’s in an open-air setting on an island off the Sydney Harbour, you’ve got yourself a memory that can be counted among the defining moments of your visit to the Australian city. As we sat in the audience, soaking up the familiar tunes of Habanera while, at the same time, trying not to think of the biting cold wind leaving a trail of goosebumps across our skin, we were acutely aware of how lucky we were to be a part of this beautiful experience. This was our first evening in Sydney, where we arrived after a direct 11-hour flight from Bengaluru, courtesy Qantas. We couldn’t think of a better introduction to the city, which is considered a hub for culture, arts and entertainment.
On the ball
Our first full day in the city began with an elaborate breakfast at our hotel, Four Seasons, after which we walked around the neighbourhood called The Rocks, known for its historic shops, pubs and restaurants. After visiting the Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay and a travelling Louis Vuitton exhibition, we were ready to head to lunch. The restaurant in question was Nomad, located in Surry Hills. With influences of Middle Eastern, Spanish and Moroccan cuisines, it turned out to be one of the best meals on our visit. The burrata, with fennel jam and the BBQ spatchcock with harissa, toum and guindilla are still fresh in our memories. The calorie intake may have been substantial, but we really did need them for our next stop — a walk-through of the Sydney Cricket Ground museum.
It was a completely immersive few hours, which saw us stopping by at installations of original ’90s-era jerseys (of all cricket-playing countries including India), dining areas and locker rooms which have seen cricket’s most legendary names within their walls. Our very passionate guide even pointed out the exact spots favoured by some of India’s most iconic cricketers, from Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli. The tour ended with a Q&A session with former cricketer Michael Bevan, who spoke about his career and experience.
The evening also saw us visit a very unique spot for dinner. The Fish Butchery, run by chef Josh Niland, is both a butchery and a restaurant and is known for a menu featuring nothing but fish, including charcuterie platters, burgers and even ice cream. It may not go down well with everyone, but should definitely be on the list of every adventurous eater.
We then made our way back to The Rocks for a post-dinner stroll. It was the beginning of the Australian summer and though it was quite chilly for us, the streets had come alive post sunset with restaurants having set up tables by the roadside, buskers infusing the evening with their cheerful tunes, and locals thronging the pubs ready to party and unwind. Walking through, past the fairy lights and lit-up Christmas trees, we couldn’t help but get sucked into the festivities, and we decided to celebrate with a hot chocolate from the Guylian Cafe on George Street before calling it a night.
Kingscliff, a coastal town in the North Coast Region, about 45 minutes from the more popular Byron Bay, is an ideal location for a slow-paced and calming beach holiday. We headed here for a two-night break after spending an equal number of nights in Sydney. The closest airport is in Ballina, which is an hour away. On the way to our hotel, we made a pitstop at Tropical Fruit World, a farm that grows over 500 varieties of tropical fruits. We were welcomed with ice creams made entirely of fruits of our choice.
The ice cream revived us after the tiring journey and we then filed into golf carts for a ride around the fruit orchards on the property. We spotted passion fruit, dragon fruit, chikoo and a host of other fruit trees before arriving at a stand on the side of the pathway. A bowl of hazelnuts drew our attention. We snacked on them, cracking them open ourselves with the nutcracker installed there. Our tour then wound through banana groves and ponds to reach the kangaroo enclosure. The marsupials seemed to be in their element, putting on a show, uninhibited by the light drizzle. After watching the kangaroos for a while, we were back on the road and reached our hotel 15 minutes later.
The Peppers Salt Resort and Spa is a great base from where you can explore the town. Despite the drizzle steadily growing stronger, we decided to change into something a bit more dressy yet suited for a beach town and stepped out for dinner. The Bohemian-themed Fins Restaurant and Bar was a dreamy and gorgeous spot. It put us in the mood for some wine and fresh seafood, so that is what we ordered. Paired with some great conversation with our dinner companions, it proved to be an enjoyable evening.
The next two days passed by in a blur of activity. One of our favourite parts of the trip was a breakfast cruise down the Tweed river which also introduced us to the culture and practices of the Bundjalung people, aboriginal Australians who are native to the region. It began with ritualistic dances accompanied with songs sung in a Pama-Nyungan language. As we tucked into the croissants, sourdough, preserves and creams, a member from the community explained the history and evolution of his people. Husk Distillers, a farm-to-bottle rum distillery, in Tumbulgum was another highlight of our time in this part of New South Wales. The distillery is also known for its craft gin, so after a tour of the facility, we sat down for a gin tasting session of their three gins — Ink Art Gin (juniper, fresh fruits and flowers), Ink Sloe and Berry Gin (a bright red gin made with juniper berry, angelica root, hibiscus and liquorice root) and Ink Gin (a purplish blue gin made with 13 botanicals including lemon myrtle leaf, Tasmanian pepper berry and butterfly pea flower). We loved the distinct flavours in each, but if we had to pick a favourite, it would be the Sloe and Berry!
In spite of a packed schedule, we found some time to shop at Byron Bay. The main street is littered with great local labels, such as Arnhem, and vintage clothing stores, such as Miss Brown Vintage Shop. Then we headed to Byron Beach to watch the sunset over a dinner of fish and chips.
Before our final day in Australia, we flew back to Sydney to catch a spectacular performance of Moulin Rouge at the Capitol Theatre. The exhilarating show, a tale that is all-too-familiar, was breathtaking nonetheless. Updated for modern palates, the Tony award-winning musical was a mash-up of popular tracks and featured chart-toppers from artistes like Adele, Katy Perry, Sia, Beyonce and Rihanna. The two-and-a-half-hour show was over in no time — the perfect ending to a phenomenal week.
While our seven-day trip took us to all the tourist hotspots, from the Sydney Opera House, to Darling Harbour, Bondi Beach, ChinaTown and the Sydney Zoo, it was balanced with less popular but equally gorgeous spots and experiences, not to mention some of the most fresh and delicious food. What makes a holiday great is not just iconic buildings or historically significant locations, but also mingling with the locals and seeing the place through their eyes. This is what made this trip one of our best and we’re not going to forget it in a hurry.
Our quick guide to the best restaurants and hotels in Sydney and the North Coast
Mode Kitchen and Bar, Four Seasons Hotel - Contemporary Australian cuisine
Nomad, Surry Hills - Spanish, Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines
The Fish Butchery, Waterloo - fish-based charcuterie platters, fish burgers and more
The Depot, Bondi Beach - Modern Australian breakfast, bowls, burgers and wraps
Chiswick Woollahra, Woollahra - Season modern Australian, garden setting
North Coast Region
Fins Restaurant and Bar, South Kingscliff - fresh seafood
Paper Daisy, Halcyon House, Cabarita Beach - focus on local produce and seafood
Taverna, Kingscliff - modern Greek cuisine
Raes on Wategos, Byron Bay - Mediterranean-inspired cuisine
Four Seasons Hotel, George Street
Park Hyatt, Hickson Road, The Rocks
North Coast Region
Peppers Salt Resort and Spa, Bells Boulevard, Kingscliff
Nonstop return flights by Qantas from Bengaluru to Sydney start at approximately Rs.85,000++.
The writer visited Australia on invitation from Qantas and Destination New South Wales.
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