Australia: Hunter Valley & Sydney

Day 19

Not only was it my last day on tour with the gang, my ankle was sore from yesterday’s surfing lesson.

After breakfast we loaded onto our bus Matlida and headed south to Hunter Valley Vineyard, where we stopped for lunch. The menu was very posh. Almost too posh for my liking. All I wanted was a sandwich! Is that too much to ask? After nibbling on some pizza we gathered out front for our tour and wine tasting lesson. We were shown the vines where they grow the grapes and we headed inside to watch a short film on the wine-making process. The film was quite interesting, but we were all excited about one thing, the tasting!

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We sampled various wines and could purchase items from the shop. When the wine-tasting was over we headed outside for one final wine-related activity, treading grapes.

There were 2 teams, and each team had a bucket of grapes to tread. When they had trod the grapes they were to filter out as much as possible and put the juice in a glass bottle. The team who had the clearest, no-bits juice were the winners. I didn’t take part as I was worried my ankle would get trod on, so I had the job of being photographer.

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We boarded back on Matilda for the final stretch of our journey, Sydney. Alan & Leigh each took it in turn to re-cap the tour and highlight some of the more hilarious moments since our group came together 2 weeks ago. After a series of emotional songs and emotional speeches, I was doing really well at holding it together, until Dan made his speech. That was it, I joined in with the rest of the bawlers.

As we entered Sydney, we drove over the harbour bridge and got our first look of the Sydney Opera house. Flashbacks of 10 months of planning, wondering, researching and realising Sydney would be the last part of Australia I would visit.

As today was Sam’s birthday, we decided that we’d all meet for dinner and drinks and also as our last night together. We checked into our rooms, at the Wake Up Sydney Central Hostel and after showering for dinner, we met in the lobby to head out to dinner. We decided to head to the Great Southern Hotel as we had been told the food was tasty and reasonably priced.

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After dinner and drinks and a day of emotional goodbyes, we headed back to the rooms. Sam and Fiona were lodging with me tonight as I had a room to myself. As strange as it seemed, after having spent every night since the start of this trip getting to know my new roomies, I couldn’t stand the thought of spending my last night alone.

Day 20
Sydney

Sam & Fiona were left early this morning for a Skydive so I’d be catching up with them when they returned. Lucky for me Nat was getting the train back into Sydney from her uncles in St Peters so she could show me around the city.

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We met at Circular Quay Station, which is about a 15-20 minute walk from the hostel. I walked down Pitt St, and stayed on that same road until I reached the station. I was reunited with Nat and first stop on her tour was an area called The Rocks, which is right by Circular Quay. The Rocks is known for is art and craft souvenir shops as we as a weekly art market and is also home to a couple of pubs.

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After a walk around the Rocks and the market we walked around the bay to the Sydney Opera House.This is the icon that became the “finish line” of my trip. We got a few photos but didn’t hang around too long as I wanted to see as much of Sydney as possible (as I was leaving tonight) and we’d be coming back to meet the rest of the gang later.

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From the Opera House we headed into the Botanical Gardens. While in the outback, Sabine had told me how beautiful the gardens were and I was not to miss it. I was glad I came. Nat walked me through the gardens and you could still see the boats on the harbour as you walked. We eventually rounded on Government House which is tucked away in the gardens. The House was built in 1837-1843 and was originally to be used as a building of residence for the Governor of New South Wales. Although no Governor’s live here today, the house is still popular with tourists exploring the gardens.

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The grounds of the house had plenty of plants and trees (one particularly huge one!) as well as fountains and seating overlooking the harbour. After the Government House, we stopped for lunch at the café in the gardens, before walking the final stretch back into the city.
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At this point we reached Sydney Hospital and outside of which is a statue of a Boar and for those that put money in the well and rub the boar’s nose, they’ll have good fortune. So guess what we did?

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We then continued walking until we reached the old barracks which have been changed into a museum.

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We carried on walking past the Australian Museum and NSW Library into Hyde Park. Now for your Brits out there, it’s a lot smaller than our Hyde Park in London, but I’m not going to go all the way to Sydney and not check out their Hyde Park right. I wasn’t disappointed.

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As we walked we realised there was a Chinese Noodle Market on this weekend so one section was under construction.

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Back out the other side of Hyde Park and we arrived at St James Station and headed towards the shopping centre, to make our way to Darling Harbour. It was smaller in comparison but you could see a whole other side to Sydney harbour from here, including SeaWorld. We saw that Darling Harbour hosted regular firework displays at the weekends, and one was on tonight although I wouldn’t be here to enjoy it.

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We crossed the Darling Harbour bridge and checked out the shops & restaurants before heading towards the Chinese Markets. As we walked we passed street performers and various live music acts played in the streets.

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We came across the Chinese Gardens which were beautiful but as we were on a tight schedule we didn’t get to explore so we made our way to the lagoon area and took in the sights.

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We then headed on to Paddy’s Market which is a large indoor market that sell everything you can think of.

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After yet more souvenir shopping we headed to Belmore Park to meet Dan, before heading to the Sydney Opera House to meet the others who had been skydiving. They were so happy they finally got to do it.

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By the time we reached the Opera House we took a seat on the steps along with many other tourists and admired the views surrounding us. I thought back to the beginning of the year when I’d first booked this trip, and visions back then of me imagining my last day, visiting the Sydney Opera House, having my picture taken on the steps alone and free, having conquered my Australian adventure, proud that “I did it” and I’d done it on my own… only I hadn’t.

Yeah sure I started this tour on my own, in the outback covered in red dust, meeting Shorty and his angels, trekking through the outback, flying to the east coast, meeting the new east coast crew, cuddling koalas, cruising on catamarans, grinding winches, searching for sting rays, karaoke, island hopping, surfing, shopping and sightseeing, I realised one obvious extra bonus I had not thought of in the whole 10 months of dreaming about this trip… that I’d made many happy memories with my new friends. And although I wasn’t going to have the “finish line” photo of myself on the Opera House steps, I got a final group snap instead. My Sydney Opera house finish would be different, and even though I set out to do it on my own, I’d met the most amazing people out there. I’m glad my finish line photo was with friends.

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After a bittersweet photo session on the steps we headed off to grab an ice cream before the dreaded walk back to the hostel to grab my gear and head home. I said my farewells to Nat and thanked her for being a life-saving tourist. I’m glad I had her on my last day to show me around Sydney, I just wished I had more time to see it. Back at the hostel I grabbed my rucksack, hugged and waved and said farewell to my new friends. It’s safe to say I was sad to be leaving…

So there you have it. My tour of Australia finally comes to an end after 10 months of planning and 22 days away from home and after everything I had been through, from the outback to the east coast, there was only one thing going through my mind as I sat in the back of the taxi to the airport… I can’t wait to come back.

Epilogue:
I still keep in contact with the people I met in Australia, and I’ve recruited a few of them to come with me on my New Zealand trip next year. Maybe I’ll hop over to Australia when I finish and pick up where I left off. Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading this article. If you’re thinking of doing a solo trip I hope I have inspired you to take the leap and do it. You won’t regret it.

Em x

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