By Greg Hung Aug 27 2013
updated May 7 2014
Greg is a modern World Explorer, Film-maker, Mobile & Google friendly Website producer, & Entrepreneur at the intersection of travel and technology. He has directed, shot, edited, and produced over 30 high definition travel and lifestyle related videos on Youtube videos in addition to producing ChicVoyage in Asia – modern travel adventures on the Amazon.com store in 2012. He has been instructed by globally renown SLR Director and film-maker Phillip Bloom. His 4 month 2013 journey took him to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
22 days living like a local in Sydney: The journey begins
A several months of planning, anticipation and talking about Australia it was now actually going to happen.
The first order of business was to get set up on a cell phone sim card for a local number in Australia with internet access. I ended up selecting a sim card provided by Yes Optus for $30 for 30 days of high speed access on a 3G network, which is fast enough for youtube, google maps, facebook, and surfing the internet. Vodaphone is a familiar name, but even the employees said that their coverage would be poor in some of the other Australia cities I was going to.
As I have basically sold all my major possessions and savings to make this trip Ive been more frugal than I normally am. As such I’ve been avoiding some luxuries such as cabs and limiting expensive dining out. It takes discipline after having enjoyed these comforts already while working at a good full-time job.
Sydney public transport and helpful Australia
I hate transfers from airport to your place of accommodation in most destinations. If I had the resources I would make this experience better. You should be able to get off the plane and after customs walk directly to your transportation that will take you where you are staying. It’s not rocket science. Back to Sydney so I missed the Eastern shuttle from the airport to Bondi beach area, and now I had my first experience with the Sydney public transportation system. Compared to Singapore, Taipei, and Vancouver I found the system confusing. Many square grids and colored lines and many interconnecting trains with dangerous gaps between the train and the platform. I was surprised that the train itself wasn’t exactly in tip top condition.
On the bright side I had a working cell phone and an Airbnb host to guide me as well as some friendly Australian locals. I asked a local girl at Bondi junction which bus I needed to take and she escorted me right to my bus and helped me with my luggage. I can tell you 18 days into my trip that local Sydney Australians are probably among the most friendly and helpful people that I’ve met. As a Canadian I have taken this friendliness for granted.
The Bondi Crib
As I monitored the blue dot on my Google maps I arrived at the stop at Dorcas street. My host John introduced me to the apartment and the area. This was my first private apartment suite from Airbnb. The spot was an original with the custom sandstone and surf inspired theme. The apartment had everything I needed from wifi, full kitchen, condiments, couch, ping pong table, and washer and dryer. John even provided wetsuit, surf and snorkel gear, which is a value add in my books. This would be a perfect space for a couple of people to enjoy a Bondi surfing retreat for a week.
As soon as I unpacked I made a stop to the local owned Chinese grocery store. I picked up some pasta, some veggies, pasta sauce, milk, and a small bread and the bill came to almost $30. I use a small cup of coffee from Starbucks as a baseline between prices in Vancouver and Sydney. A small coffee in Vancouver goes for about $2. A small coffee at a Sydney Starbucks is $5!, but if you find a local spot (which most are better) the cheapest you will find is $3.50. Good cheap food will go for $10-13. Now I really appreciate the good prices we have in Vancouver. If I was going to survive 2 months Australia I was going to have to be in super frugal mode. This meant shopping for local groceries, taking public transport, and basically questioning every expenditure while still trying to have a decent time. Sounds challenging? Well I was still able to enjoy a local Australian Porterhouse steak dinner by getting two steak cuts for about $8-9 by picking it up from Woolworths (where the locals shop for good priced quality groceries).
The Bondi lifestyle
Bondi is well regarded by locals and from what I’ve read one of the most popular beaches in the world. I will vouch for that. I have seen some of the better beaches in the world from Turks and Caicos, Cancun, Maui and Honolulu. In my opinion Bondi is one of the best beaches because the sand is nice, it is large and spacious (unlike Honolulu), offers free Wifi, is clean, relatively clear water, and it has real waves. Big waves. There is a strong surfing culture. There were large groups of surfers in wetsuits riding waves and even chatted to a couple in the water. I bumped into several on my walk to the beach on their way out or on the way back. You don’t have to go that far out from the beach to catch some good waves. The north side of Bondi has tamer waves that are more beginner friendly while the side closer to Bondi Iceberg is closer to the rocks in the picture with rougher. The waves are very powerful and it’s hard to get far from the shore. I didn’t find this at Honolulu.
tip: use a longer board. 7 foot or longer if you are a beginner. wear a wetsuit as salt water will burn against your stomach and the board.
Bondi is among several other beaches along a seawall path that leads to other beaches such as Bronte, and Tamamara. Each beach has it’s own vibe and characteristics. The locals here come out to walk,tan or jog along this path and at Bondi beach as part of their daily lifestlyle.
There are plenty of shops in the town of Bondi to have a drink and eat. I walked into town on a weekend night in Bondi to get a feel for the nightlife. It felt like a different vibe during the day with a lot of wild young people spilling outside of bars and young people loitering on the street. I enjoy my nightlife, but for some reason this didn’t feel like my scene or that welcoming.
I read much about Bondi Iceberg and felt that I had to at least check it out while I was staying in the area. The camera operator that I hired told me that the Bondi Iceberg club was a bit snooty and I had to arrange a filming with them beforehand. Later during my stay I came there for a drink and found that it was not pretentious as I thought it would be. They just asked for my drivers license and you’re free to order a drink and enjoy it on the patio along with some of the views of Bondi beach. In fact the prices of their beer and wine are very good. I sampled some other spots in Bondi like the Bucketlist bar for a beer and the surf shop for a deep fried Mars Bar. The Bondi Iceberg pool is something I didn’t try. It is not heated and I think the appeal of it for the locals is the heritage and the branding associated with the club.
There are many well located waterfront properties along the beach. I would love to have a vacation home here with the proximity to a world class beach, good year round weather, and it’s just about 25 minutes away from the Sydney CBD. to top it off there are many great adjacent beaches if you walk along the beach path known as the coastal walk.
Celebrating my birthday in the Sydney CBD
I found an excellent and attractive masseuse at Bondi iceberg, and treated myself to one with her to start out my birthday in Sydney. My masseuse had suggested checking out Watsons Bay. I made a mental note. Sydney is a huge area. Good thing my next Airbnb host offered to pick me up from my place at Bondi. I based myself in the neighborhood of Surrey Hills using Airbnb, a good neighborhood located a short 10 minutes walk to the CBD area. I started by exploring on foot to get familiar with the streets and my surroundings. I started by doing some grocery shopping at the local IGA. I had never once experienced a birthday in a city where I knew just about no one. I felt that I had to at least have a drink and attempt to make some friends. I quickly search the meetup site and found an informal entrepreneur event where beers were allowed. I walked and navigated myself using Google maps and asking people directions. At the event I had a good chat, drank some beer, and exchanged some business cards. Like some meetups in Vancouver this one felt like a superficial crowd and didn’t feel like I made many genuine connections with exception with one couple from New Zealand. I reached a point where I was ready to leave and try to see Iron Man 3 by myself. I found the main movie theater on George street and was not allowed in the movie theater because I brought my SLR camera. I decided not to risk leaving it with their office and sadly headed home.
I walked down Elizabeth street checking out the various asian restaurants. The Mcdonalds cheeseburger meal wasn’t going to suffice as dinner after all it was my birthday. I was reading the menu of a Thai restaurant when I bumped into the New Zealand couple from the meetup that were doing their Avatar conference just up the road. They kindly offered to invite me for dinner at this restaurant. We had a good conversation and the couple suggested that I visit an area called New Town while in Sydney. Funny how things worked out that night. There are some good people in this world. I hope you’re reading this. Thank you.
Tip: It’s a good idea to get familiar with your local area on foot or on bike.
Surrey Hills & the Nightlife
Located just south of the main attractions Surrey Hills is a suburb lined with character homes with unique second floor terraces and cafe’s. It is a safe neighborhood during the day, but at night especially during the weekend I found much of the nightlife crowd makes their way through this area during the weekend. I did reserve a Friday night to sample some nightlife just a 4 minute walk away from my place. First stop was the H bar, which appeared to be a happening spot for a drink on a Friday. I snagged the only seat available on the outside bar for a sparking champagne. To figure out my next stop I asked the bar tender who suggested the wild rover and the Playbar just a minute away. Next stop was the Playbar. A bouncer guarded the door, but as I approached he greeted me and let me in. There was a good vibe in this place, with a live dj, and some benches to sit. I grabbed a quick drink and took some footage before moving onto the Wild Rover.
The Wild Rover looked intimidating from the outside. A darkly lit building with people coming in and out guarded by a bouncer. As I walked closer I mentioned I was referred here by H bar to come have drink and was let in. This place was a controlled chaos. Limited seating with some table and seats by the bar with the majority of the space standing room only. Bar tenders dressed in smart outfits and with the crowd appearing to have a good time socializing with their group. Not the most solo friendly space but an interesting spot to check out on both floors and have a good beer. I ended the night by walking 5 minutes down Campbell street where you’ll find many of the Asian restaurants. I enjoyed a good meal of Korean Jap Chae noodles at the Campbell food court
Tip: Ask local bar tenders for suggestions for bars and lounges if you are unsure. They are usually in the know.
3 Sisters & the making a good friend on the Meetup Coogee Coastal Walk Hike
I decided to take half the day to get out of the city and take the train to go see an attraction called the 3 sisters. You take the train to small town and catch the bus to get off and take pictures of 3 pointed rocks known as the 3 sisters. Sorry I’m not getting too excited about this one, but the attraction did attract bus loads of chinese tourists that I had to compete with to get some decent pictures. If you’ve got some time in Sydney and want to get out of town to see an attraction then this is one idea. Personally I would like recommend spending your time seeing the Sydney Opera, Harbour Bridge, or the Coogee Coastal walk before even thinking about the 3 sisters.
Speaking of the Coogee coastal walk I joined a meetup group called the Sydney Bushwalking Meetup to do this walk with a group. We would meet at the Circular Quay , the location where you would catch ferries and also see the Sydney Opera House, the Rocks, and the Harbour Bridge. We met our group and I immediately hit it off with an attractive UK expat. We got took the Ferry to Watson’s bay and snapped some shots of the Sydney skyline and along the coast. The walk is a great way to get some sunshine and exercise while enjoying the beautiful ocean and views along the coast. We walked past Bondi and Bronte beach and stopped at our destination at Coogee beach. During the walk I had a glimpse into expat life as one of the girls who had been living there told me that it was frustrating making friends with other expats because they would leave shortly after they met. Her solution and tip was to join associations that were more established like tennis clubs and make friends there. By the time we arrived at Coogee I found out my UK friend had a South African boyfriend, but we exchanged contacts to do dinner in Newtown before I left. Coogee was a nice family friendly beach to have a bbq or a picnic. Most of the group was too tired to BBQ after the hike so we picked up some kebabs and beer before I caught the bus back. A productive day where I got some exercise, some shots, and made a new friend.
Saving the best for Last: The Opera house & the Harbour Bridge
Before I traveled to Sydney the image of Opera house was the image I envisioned when I thought about Sydney. To me it was an iconic structure and I had to all type of shots of it before my trip was over. To get to the Opera house you go to the circular quay. You have to walk about 10 minutes from there until you get to it. The first sight of it will have you reaching for your camera. It is indeed amazing. I recommend taking pictures of it during the day and night time and from both sides of the Harbour Bridge to cover all the angles. I walked inside it to check it out and use the bathroom. If I had budget I would probably have seen a show, but instead I chose to enjoy an organic tap beer at the Opera Bar. This bar is happening and you can enjoy it sitting my a heat lamp at night or by an outside table as you enjoy prime seats of the Opera House and the Harbour bridge. One sunny day I decided to reward myself after I filmed and enjoyed a beer and a pizza at this Opera Bar. It was one of my highlights of the Sydney trip and I savored every minute of it.
The harbour bridge is also a significant structure and I recommend walking across it. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars to walk on top of the bridge you can spend around $11 halfway through the bridge and climb to the top. At the top there is a viewpoint where you can enjoy amazing 360 degrees views of the Opera house, the bridge and the people climbing it, and more. I also recommend to continue walking to the other side of the bridge where you will be rewarded with views of the Sydney skyline and another angle of the Opera House. If you plan it well you can get to the other side by sunset to take evening shots. Just when you thought you got all the best pictures try taking the ferry back to circular quay instead of walking back across the bridge. You will get picture angles of the Opera house that a good percentage of the tourists had never thought of.
Tip: Try taking the ferry to Manley beach from circular quay. Its a worthwhile trip on its own and you’ll get good photo ops of the Opera house from the ferry.
Newtown & Brekkie
On my last evening I met with my UK friend at the Newtown train station for dinner (she is camera shy btw) Newtown was packed with restaurants on both sides of the street. We decided to try a vietnamese restaurant. The next morning I decided to sample some brekkie in Surrey Hills. I settled on a spot referred by locals called Reuben Hills. The portion was small, but good quality and I ended up tagging some good tracks on my Shazam so I was happy. Back at the Surrey Hills mansion I had my bags packed and was about to open the door for the shuttle when I saw it drive by and stop at the street. I chased it down in my socks and the Airbnb host got him to drive back in front of the house. We said our goodbyes. Next stop a return to Auckland.
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Produced by Greg Hung for Chicvoyage Productions 2013
The footage in this video is available for licensing
ChicVoyage offers high quality global travel content (videos, pictures, entertainment) available for licensing.
Produced by greg hung for chicvoyage productions 2013
music by – birocratic
tracks: orientation, merlot, bump #4, stay gold
music by – Tom Wendt
tracks: Cool Surf pour Joerg ind Liza
camera operator assistant: charles clement
the Bucket list, Bondi Surf seafoods,Bondi iceberg club , and John F airbnb host