So you have ogled at the Sydney Opera House, climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, rolled around the verdant lawns at the Royal Botanic Gardens, ambled down the sensational Bondi beach and strolled down the aisles at David Jones and Meyer? What’s left to do you in this sexy, sunny city of fit and gleaming health buts? Well, this only means that it is time to explore the suburbs!
My maiden trip to Sydney in 2013 was ticking off the major Lonely Planet-certified tourist sites, so on my second trip back there in 2016, I decided that the spotlight should be on suburbs. They may not be that polished and gritty, but it is about as close as it gets to living in Australia
Here’re three Sydney suburbs that I enjoyed forking out an extra $3.50 for a train ride from Central Station (yes, travelling around town is expensive) or ferry ride from Circular Quay Station down the Parramatta river.
Welcome to Newtown, or known as bohemians paradise! Hippies with technicoloured hair drinking coffee whilst smoking, Mohawk-crowned gays holding hands and the arty-farty old ladies in colourful pigtails strutting around are just some of the quirky characters ambling down the main artery of King’s Street in Sydney’s alternative enclave.
I spent four glorious hours along King’s Street hopping from store to store. And boy, it was hit after hit. Outlandish vintage clothes from the swinging sixties, CDs (a rarity in digital-dominated Singapore), “alternative” books on gays and lesbians, mysterious books wrapped in brown paper, too-cute but useless accessories – hello flamingo floats and watermelon-designed straws, Newtown has everything for you. Each shop had a distinct identity and so much to offer, even if you’re merely window-shopping. Turn right at the entrance of Newtown station – that the more buzzier part. There, find Australia Street – there is Bar Muda, which has possibly the best brunch dish that I have had in Sydney. Go for the Potato Stack – it is every hashbrown lover’s wet dream come through. Blocks of toast bread-sized potato-like lasagna that are stacked on top of each other like a building, decorated with cherry tomatoes and grilled eggplants.
Next door is Black Star Pastry, where tourists only have eyes for the watermelon cake, and locals would go for their hefty sandwiches and hearty leek pies. The bookstore scene is solid with Elizabeth Bookstore & Better Read Than Dead, and there is a factory outlet shop at the tail-end of the street that is having a permanent 50% discount on its mono chromatically chic clothes. Apparently, its other outlet at the more mainstream Oxford Street sells the clothes at least $50. What a steal!
- Cockatoo Island
Camping on Cockatoo Island is the first thing you’d associate on one of Australia’s earliest and versatile shipyards – the former prison island was a key naval base for the allied forces during the Second World War, before being converted to a shipyard and now a gl-amping hotpsot. And in case you’re wondering, there’re no parrots croaking on this parcel of land that is right smack in the middle of Sydney’s fabulous undulating city skyline.
The shell of its former past remains in the shipyard warehouses and factories that still remains. It is literally film-set worthy as I stumbled upon filming in process while exploring eerily vacant factories and rusty machinery. To navigate around the island on foot, renting an audio map is sufficient unless maritime history is your cup of tea. The stand-out point was what used to known as the governor’s house that’s perched on top of a hill, surrounded by cosy cottages that have been converted to holiday chalets. There’s even a rather-abandon looking tennis court on a hilltop. A fascinating living piece of Sydney history to explore.
Balmain’s not the first place to visit for most people. It is after all one of the oldest living enclaves in Sydney. Well, the only reason that drew me to visit the pub-dense former working class borough is the Balmain Market that is held every Saturday at St Andrew’s Church till 4pm. I came slightly later at 4.15pm from a long-winded bus ride from Glebe (which has one of the best saturday markets) and all the stalls had already packed up and called it a day. The next best option was to go house-hunting. The endless rows of time-tested cottages and houses are so beautifully quaint. Download a Balmain walking tour and it points out now-defunct landmarks such as the former post office and even a holding place for prisoners. The long stretch of tree-lined boulevards lined with homes that get larger and more glamourous as you walk towards to the gleaming blue river. A good respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.
For more travelogues, click here