Photo of surfer at Bondi Beach courtesy of Tourism Australia

Sublime Sydney

Spellbinding scenery, exotic wildlife provide exquisite experience

By Allison Parker

When cool winds blow and snow flurries whirl in the Queen City, an amazing adventure awaits in sun-kissed Sydney, Australia. With average winter temperatures from the mid 60s to the high 70s, Sydney beckons travelers with a temperate climate and friendly culture. From beautiful, sandy Bondi Beach to the fabulous Sydney Opera House, there’s much to see and no better time to venture Down Under than during Charlotte’s cold months.

Nicole and Mike Daw like staying on the shores of Sydney Harbour with its sweeping city views. Photo courtesy of KLYX Photography

Ballantyne residents Mike and Nicole Daw and their daughters, Kylie and Lexington, have spent the winter holidays in Sydney several times with Mike’s parents who live there. Mike is a native Australian, and his parents have a terraced, 1899-built home on the shores of Sydney Harbour, the world’s largest natural harbor.

For those without family in the area, the Park Hyatt Sydney is a great place to stay while touring the city. The five-star hotel is centrally located between the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Park Hyatt offers guests residential-style accommodations and sweeping views of the country’s largest city (more than five million people). The luxurious setting includes three rooftop suites and a rooftop pool.

Other accommodations Nicole recommends are Novotel Pacific at Manly Beach and Jonah’s at Whale Beach. “Jonah’s is more of a beach destination but stunning,” she says.

“Christmas in Australia includes beach and barbecue.”

— Nicole Daws

Photo of Sydney Harbour courtesy of Tourism Australia

Picturesque Views

With air travel to Sydney, there are routes through California (Los Angeles or San Francisco) or Dallas. Flying through Dallas is slightly longer, but Nicole’s in-laws like it better because they’ve found the customs officers to be friendlier. With either route, total travel time is approximately 24 hours. Flights leaving on Monday will bring travelers to Sydney on a Wednesday.

Staying with Mike’s parents on Sydney Harbour, the Daw family is at the heart of the city’s action, including during the holidays. They enjoy picturesque views of the water and Sydney Harbour Bridge from the comfort of the home’s deck.

Spending time with family includes Christmas traditions like opening the “pressies” in the morning as well as a meal that’s not the traditional ham or turkey. “Christmas in Australia includes beach and barbecue,” Nicole says.

New Year’s Eve brings a special light show on Sydney Harbour. The Daws host a large group of family and friends to share in a show-stopping fireworks display over the water. The patio offers a breathtaking bird’s-eye view. What an unusual experience to ring in the New Year 14 hours ahead of neighbors and friends back in the Queen City. “The fireworks are spectacular,” Nicole says. “One display is like a river of colorful fireworks — it makes the Macy’s display seem like child’s play!”

Being adventurous, the Daws enjoy treks out of the city as well. On their last trip, they spent a weekend in the “bush,” or remote forests. “One of the girls’ favorite memories was that they were close enough to nature to see a wild wallaby,” Nicole recalls. For those interested in local wildlife in general, the Taronga Zoo is also popular. It’s a 15-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay in Sydney and sits on the shores of Sydney Harbour.

The New Year's Eve light show soars over Sydney Harbour. Photo courtesy of KLYX Photography
Bondi Icebergs Club photo courtesy of KLYX Photography

Beach Bounty

For those interested in seeing Australia's wildlife, Taronga Zoo is a popular option. Photo courtesy of KLYX Photography

For sunseekers, Sydney has a bevy of beaches to entice sunbathers and swimmers alike. Byron’s Beach, Noosa Beach and the famous Bondi Beach are sure to please. Bondi Beach has a memorable spot called the Bondi Icebergs Club. Nicole and Mike recommend it as a “must do” place to eat and drink. It’s known for its large in-ocean lap pool, which receives occasional dousings from sea waves.

A jaunt on the Cliff Walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach is a sure pleaser and a great workout, too, as one literally climbs up and down the rocky coast while taking in majestic ocean views.

A quick day trip to the town of Kiama leads to the Kiama Blowhole, where waves create a large gusher effect. “The blowhole is one cool site that the kids and adults can enjoy as it’s such a distinct occurrence,” Nicole notes.

One of the Daws girls' favorite memories from their travels to Australia was being close enough to see a wild wallaby. Photo courtesy of KLYX Photography

For thrill-seekers with no fear of heights, the Sydney Bridge Walk is a way to see the city from an unusual vantage point. Limited to participants 8 and older, the climb takes several hours to reach the top of the bridge — equivalent to 41 stories high if it were a building. The adventure was one of the Daws’ early dates on a trip to see Mike’s family.

Foodies will enjoy dining at Doyle’s at Watson’s Bay (the Daws love the fish and chips), Opera House Bar (Northern Rivers Scotch fillet), and Café Sydney at the Sydney Customs House (ginger beer, Below Basil cocktail). “One of our favorite date-night venues is Bather’s Pavilion,” Mike says. “It has scenic views of the beach and waves.” They especially like the restaurant’s degustation (tasting) menu with wine pairings.

An individual dish they enjoy, found widely in bars and restaurants, is potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce — “scrumptious,” Nicole says.

She also notes, “Aussies LOVE their coffee.” One of the best coffeehouses within Sydney Harbour is Bay Ten Espresso in Lavender Bay. “There are not many chains like Starbucks in the Aussie coffee scene,” Nicole says.

She and Mike also enjoy sharing Australia’s native foods with their children. Popular items to try while in Sydney include fresh seafood, Tim Tams (chocolate biscuit cookies), vegemite (thick, black food spread made from leftover brewer’s yeast, spices and vegetable additives), meat pie (ground beef in a pastry) and fairy bread (white bread topped with butter and rainbow sprinkles, often served at children’s parties).

Nicole laughs when mentioning vegemite. “In my humble opinion, this was NOT meant for human consumption,” she says, “but hubby and my girls love it.”

With so much to see and do in Sydney and beyond, the Daws recommend taking at least two to three weeks to enjoy the region. The Great Barrier Reef is approximately an eight-hour drive from Sydney, and the New Zealand cities of Wellington and Auckland are about three hours via domestic flights.

Though half a world away from Charlotte, Australia offers sublime winter weather and fascinating sightseeing. Visiting Sydney can be an incredible journey.

Coffee, Australian Style

When New York native Nicole Daw met the Australian man who one day would become her husband, she quickly learned he was a coffee connoisseur. “Mike had his own elaborate espresso machine with a monster power converter because it was an Aussie machine,” Nicole remembers.

Now living in Ballantyne, the couple loves to visit Rush Espresso in Ballantyne Village, which is owned and operated by fellow Aussie, Paul McConachy.

McConachy says it’s common for Australians to have their own espresso machines. “In Australia, coffee is not an ancillary item like it is within the States. Coffee is an event. It’s a forced break to stop and enjoy the varying flavors while taking in surroundings, great company and stimulating conversation.”

McConachy sources Rush Espresso’s coffee that comes from his homeland through another native Australian, Phillip Di Bella, known for his Di Bella Coffee company and Abbotsford Road coffee shops. “Harvesting the top 10 percent of beans for roasting makes for coffee of higher quality, with lower acidity and smooth, rich taste,” McConachy says.

“We listened to our American market and those well-traveled coffee lovers, which resulted in our ‘Crema’ blend,” McConachy says.

Bay Ten Espresso is a popular coffeehouse in Sydney's Lavender Bay. Photo courtesy of KLYX Photography