Touring the Blue Mountains for the nature side of Sydney

Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (5)One thing I knew in deciding to take a trip as far as Australia, I wanted to get in everything I could during my visit so of course seeing the Outback was high on my to do list.  Although not exactly the Outback I envisioned from growing up watching Crocodile Dundee, I was able to dive into some of the culture, history and natural beauty of more developed portions of Australia by Touring the Blue Mountains.

Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (3) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (2)The Blue Mountains are a beautiful part of Australia that provides the chance to take on the challenge of exploring the great outdoors.  From state forests to botanical gardens and even waterfalls the area offers a more unchanged vision of Australia.  The Blue Mountains are located about an hour away from Sydney by car so we decided to make the trek using a touring service.  Given the popularity of the destination there are a lot of tours offering the service so you can go with the best price or best amenities.  For us we wanted something a little smaller and with included features like scones and breakfast in the morning and lunch we found our fit with Blue Diamond.  Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (1)It was a sharp contrast to the full buses of visitors to the same attractions but for a little bit more we found the comfort and amenities of the tour to provide both a luxurious and comfortable trip to the Blue Mountains.

The worlds steepest train at Scenic World in the Blue MountainsWithin minutes of heading out of Sydney you clearly see some of the rustic allure of the Blue Mountains.  This old world charm ran throughout our first stop for warm scones and continued as we approached Scenic World.  This park in the Blue Mountains combines the heritage of the area with some new world attractions.  For the true nature lover you have a chance to descend the stairs into the rainforest and for those who want a bit of fun scenic world has to offer attractions such as the Skyway, Cableway and Railway should be right up your alley.  With a claim to fame as the world’s steepest railway, the train should not be missed.  Not only do you get a great view, the steep descent is very much like a roller coaster.  Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (6) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (5) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (4) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (7) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (8) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (9)Once you arrive at the bottom you get a chance to explore the way miners lived and worked and use the walkway to explore some of the rainforest that explore the area.  I love being able to take nature walks and with ancient trees, exotic birds, and lush canopy all around it was a great place to relax and enjoy nature with the family.

Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (4)As our tour stayed a steady pace ahead of the larger tour buses we head to lunch with some brief scenic stops of the 3 Sisters Rock formation before we arrived at one of the main tour highlights, Featherdale Wildlife Park.  There is no way I was leaving Australia without having my chance to get up close and personal with some of the wildlife that Australia is known for: Koalas and Kangaroos.  There are few places close to Sydney to get an up close and personal experience with these animals than Featherdale National Park.  You are literally surrounded by Koalas and Wallabys as you get to feed and pet these cuddly creatures.  Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (3) Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (2)My daughter was convinced of her connection with one, although I suspect the ready supply of ice cream cones and food had something to do with the love.  Even the sleepy koala, that naps about 20 hours a day, was present and awake for our Featherdale Tour.  From alligators to bats to Tasmanian Devils the park showcased the natural wildlife Australia has to offer.

As we were whisked away in our small Mercedes van just as the tour buses descended and headed to the ferry we enjoyed one last view of the beauty, charm, and authentic experience found in a tour of the Blue Mountains.





Beach Day Adventures: Fun in the sun at Bondi and Manly Beach Sydney

Beach Days in Sydney Australia (3)As a Pisces who does not live close to the water, being in the proximity of sun and sand are almost a requirement of any vacation that I take.  Knowing it was both warm and surrounded by water was definitely on the strongest factors I had when planning my 20 hour travels to Australia.  Luckily I was not disappointed as water is ingrained in the Australian culture and gave me three (yes count them 3) days of beach bliss in Australia.  Within Sydney you are within close proximity to two beaches that are both beautiful and full of fun in their own ways.  Choosing the best for you really depends on what your favorite beach time pastimes are when you hit up vacation.

Bondi Beach:

Beach Days in Sydney Australia (10)Our first visit was to Bondi Beach after we received a glowing recommendation from our waiter.  The beach is amount the most popular in Sydney and has gained an international reputation for its waves and atmosphere.  Without question it is the perfect location to people watch.   The avenue approaching the beach is littered with swim shops and stores so you can do some quick shopping in preparation to your beach day fun.  To accommodate its many visitors the beach has large changing and shower areas available to the public and once you hit the sand there is a wave of people, both local and visitors, enjoying the beach fun.  If you are into people watching or water sports such as surfing rank high on your list this beach cannot be beat.  What you sacrifice for being in the beaching hub, beside the crowd, is some of the visitor convenience like chair and umbrella rentals that cut down on what you have to buy and pack to the beach.  For sunbathers and surfers alike this is the top of the line in the beach destinations, however.

Manly Beach:

Beach Days in Sydney Australia (8) Beach Days in Sydney Australia (1)While we were taking the ferry ride over to Manly the kids feared there was no way the smaller, quaint manly beach could top the crowds and waves found at Bondi.  As I exited the ferry and was faced with a restaurant that served both milkshakes and lobster rolls I knew the choice of favorites was made for me.  Manly beach is located on Manly, a smaller beach community.  Because the beach and community walk hand and hand your walk to the actual beach gives you a peak into this town with great shopping and local fare that I love to tap into.  Like Bondi you have a small walkway of shops and restaurants that feature local cuisine and a phenomenal view.  Although you are missing some of the larger conveniences that you can find at the larger beach such as public showers, you do get some perks targeting visitors like chair and boogie board rentals.  While the beach is smaller, I found it still offered the same great water and waves and lovely picturesque charm that I adored.  Outside of the beach there are other attractions such as the Manly Sea Life center giving you opportunities to see the sea life up-close and even dive with sharks.  It is definitely a beach you can make a whole day experience out of as you have both the water and the town to explore and get a real taste of life in Sydney.

Darling Harbor Sydney: Four adventures in one

IMG_1326Located just off of the Central Business District in Sydney there is a wealth of activities perfect for a family day of fun at the Darling Harbour.  The harbor offers both water based activities like dinner cruises, speed boat tours, and shows and a range of activities on land to suit a wide assortment of preferences.  It’s like a one stop shop of tourism as within steps you can see the Seal Life Sydney Aquarium, the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, the Sydney Tower Eye and Madame Tussands wax museum.

Shark Education at the Sydney Aquarium Exotic Fish at the Sydney Aquarium Petting Tank at the Sydney Aquarium Sting rays at the Sydney Aquarium Stingray tank at the Sydney Aquarium Penguins at the Sydney AquariumOur first stop was the Sydney Aquarium as a culture so closely connected to water surely must have some great sea life experiences.  Indeed the aquarium offers a great tour of some of the animals that inhabit the waters around Sydney.  The experience is set up as almost a self-guided tour as you follow a specific path to tour all of the animal attractions.  IMG_1312For me nothing can top being literally surrounded by sharks, fish, and even dugongs so I loved the extensive walk in aquarium feel.  As my daughter is a little more hands on activities such as the stingray tank were a little more her speed.  The aquarium is big enough to see a wide range of sea life but manageable enough so you are still ready for more as you have your choice of views of wildlife, celebrities or just an aerial view from the top.

Madame Tussands (10) Madame Tussands (9) Madame Tussands (2) Madame Tussands (4) Madame Tussands (5) Madame Tussands (7) Madame Tussands (8) Madame Tussands (6)My next stop was actually not my first pick so to my surprise had a great time at the Madame Tussands Sydney.  In my mind a wax museum is a place where you go to take pictures with the likeness of famous people.  In reality it is a chance to put yourself in some of your favorite movies or events and like any other museum have an opportunity to learn more about events in history.  Between royalty, Audrey Hepburn, and Grease scenes my imagination let loose and I was a happy camper.  I was particularly impressed with the story that was told about the Aboriginal people who were native to Australia.  Madame Tussands (3)Throughout the museum they had statutes that explained their history, told through the life story of critical figures within their struggle for independence that came with many native people when their land was “discovered” giving a more realistic spin to the fantasy created in wax at Madame Tussands.

For us with two attractions under our belt we had to tap out and look for dinner.  Watching the sun set on the water after a busy day of getting a taste of Australia is a fantastic end to a fun filled day.  You can tap out after two or attempt to tackle all four events.  Passes and internet discounts lets you have the experience your ways with passes for all the sister attractions only costing about $14 per event when you buy them together.



The Westin Sydney: Location and elegance in the heart of Sydney

Westin SydneyWhen you are in the midst of logging the 20 hours in travel time to get to Australia, you definitely wonder if the trip is going to be worth the trouble.  Once you arrive, however, and step foot into the Westin Sydney, you at least begin to feel like the pleasure may indeed be worth the pain.  Located in the Central Business District, the Westin Sydney has an air of elegance and hospitality that exudes from everything that they do.  Even as we first walked in the majestic lobby area we were both welcomed and made to feel like we were on the road to something grand.  From the various shops to dining options a taste of Sydney can easily be found once stepping in the hotel.

The Westin Sydney is located at the Pitt St. Mall (Item I on the map)

The Westin Sydney is located at the Pitt St. Mall (Item I on the map)

As with any hotel, the people can often make or break the experience.  From the second we stepped in the door the staff at the Westin Sydney worked to ensure our stay would be an unforgettable one.  We arrived early, which is always a hard turn when all you feel like doing is hopping in the tub.  The staff, however, quickly swooped our bags away, took our number to notify us of the first possibility of receiving our rooms and gave us the option of a hot shower at the gym.  The concierge quickly became my city guide giving me tips on the best of the best, and being patient enough with me to stand my questions and delays throughout the duration of my stay.

Westin Sydney Lobby 4 Westin Sydney Lobby 3 Westin Sydney Lobby 2 Westin Sydney Bathroom 2 Westin Sydney East Wing Room Westin Sydney (4) Westin Sydney Walk in ClosetThe hotel pointed to luxury at its best at every direction.  Even the lobby bathroom was impressive with motion controlled doors and combined sink/hand dryers.  As with the rest of the amenities the gym blew a typical gym out of the water.  Instead of a couple of treadmills and weights within the Westin Sydney was a fully functional local gym that you received access to as a guest at the hotel.  From machines to free weights to classes, and even a steam room and showers for a weary traveler, they had it all.

During our several days at the hotel we had the pleasure of staying both in their more recent tower addition as well as the older renovated addition.  The tower rooms combined great city views of the city with the sleek elegance and of course dreamy shower heads the Westin is known for.  The older rooms, although lower, offered great views of the nearby shopping district and plaza as well as enormous room sizes that included sitting areas as well as a walk in closet.  Oh and who could forget the incredible oversized soaking tub in each room that went hand with the relaxation the vacation and the hotel should demand of you.

Westin Sydney (12)Outside of what was inside the hotel, The Westin Sydney gets top marks for location.  When traveling to Sydney you frequently hear about the Rocks, Circular Quay, the Opera House or even Darling Harbor as the prime locations.    While all of those locations are beautiful, you can be smack dab in the middle of all of them and right next to the shopping district in the Westin Harbor.  I was a 10 minute walk to almost all the attractions I wanted to see so I never felt limited to stick within the area I was staying.  From our hotel we got a vibe of the city on the relaxed weekends as well as the busy weekdays and feel the pulse of the city.

Westin Sydney Australian BreakfastFrom location, to staff, to food (the Australian breakfast is a must try), to rooms, the Westin Sydney is one of the best of the best that Sydney has to offer.