Travel Diary » Sydney and Newcastle, last stops!
Our final two stops in Australia before flying out for our big family white Christmas in Canada (just in case your are confused no we're not Canadian, my husband's family decided to do a once in a lifetime family Christmas holiday) were Newcastle and Sydney.
This time we just spent a single day in Newcastle. We've spent more time here on previous holidays and I really like Newcastle. It's not as happening as Sydney or Melbourne but for a quieter family getaway it's a nice spot and it has the most amazing beaches (although the picture above is Coogee beach in Sydney).
Sadly during this visit we didn't make it to any of Newcastle's beaches. But we did have a fun day out at the Hunter Wetlands Centre followed by lunch on Beaumont St, one of the best 'eating out' streets in Newcastle.
The Hunter Wetlands Centre was good but not great. Considering less than 30 years ago this giant bird-filled wetlands was actually a waste dump and the entire project is run by a community run volunteer organisation, the wetlands is nothing short of remarkable. There are excellent walking trails that take you through a number of different wetland climates filled with a huge number of species of plants, animals and birds. You can walk or cycle through them or hire canoes and paddle your way through the waterways and birds.
We were a little disappointed by the Bush Tucker walk and Sensory walk. The 'Bush Tucker' walk is filled with native plants that are edible but there weren't enough signs to actually tell you the names of the plants or anything else about them, like where they grew, what parts are edible and how they were prepared. You couldn't even tell which were the edible plants. We were quite lucky to be there with Uncle Craig who as a local science teacher has actually been learning about most of these plants to teach his students so he could be our guide and pick out all the leaves and berries that were edible. The kids didn't enjoy the taste of most!
Similarly there's a sensory walk with plants you can touch. Soft plants, spikey plants, smelly plants. It was better as there were some signs with information but just not quite enough to make it great.
On the plus side though, they did have free nets that you could use to catch and release small fish/insects and a small but fantastic information centre with reptiles and frogs. The staff let us borrow a laminated card of all the birds we might see on our walk. The kids found it much more engaging once they had a pictorial guide to the birds that they were in charge of looking out for! The kids were also really impressed with the playground.
I've read really good reviews about their guided tours of the wetlands and their canoe tours. Both run regularly, it's just a matter of calling ahead and booking. Fees for tours are quite reasonable. Overall it was a really good day out, just not great. If I was going again I'd book a tour or visit a library beforehand to get books on bush tucker plants and Australian wetland birds.
After a week with Uncle Craig and Aunty Sam it was time to move onto Sydney to catch up with more friends and fly out for Canada.
We spent a few days looking for a 'budget' hotel in Sydney but we gave up on finding anything under $100/night. On our last visit to Sydney we camped but this time that wasn't an option so we started looking at the $100-150 hotel range on Wotif.com and checking with hotel's directly.
We chose the Aspire Hotel in Ultimo as it was central and they had a family room for $125 a night. The hotel is old, as was the room and furnishings but everything worked and it was clean. We had a double and two singles, with Internet for an extra $10 a day per device. It's really hard to compare compare value for money with Asia ... for $30-50 a night in Asia we'd have a nicer room with free WIFI, breakfast and a pool. But then this is Sydney!
Ultimo was a great location. We were within a ten minute walk to Darling Harbour, Chinatown, Paddys Market and Central Station. And by a funny twist of fate, the hotel shared a wall with the building my cousin lived in. What a small world! I knew my cousin lived in Ultimo but it's a large suburb and Sydney is a big city so to end up right next door ... what a funny co-incidence!
We had a fun dinner out in Chinatown and had the best egg-custard filled treats from Emperor's Cream Puffs thanks to a tip from Uncle Craig. We ate far, far too many. When you enter the main Chinatown street from Paddys Market end, look for the bakery 20m down the mall on the left. There is a small window next to it that sells only these puffs. If it's after 6pm just look for the long line of people waiting!
One block from our hotel was the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney's Science Museum. Noah, Hayley and I spent 4 hours there one morning. The kids loved the experiment room filled with electricity and magnet displays and the space room. We played with magnets, powered a fire engines siren using bike pedals, experienced a zero gravity simulation (really just a clever perception trick), saw a recreated surface of Mars and learned about the planets. The playground was also a big highlight! The rest of the museum though really didn't interest them. It was more 'look and read' than 'hands on'.
The Powerhouse is not as hands on as some science museums but considering we spent 4 hours there it was certainly a fun day out! Personally unless there is a particular temporary exhibit at the Powerhouse that really interests you, I think Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane's science museums are better. If you are visiting any of those other cities and are pressed for time, I would go to one of their science museums instead and in Sydney spend your time at either the Australian Museum or the Australian Maritime Museum. Of course if you have time go to all of them! We had a great time at the Australian Museum on our last visit the Sydney - the dinosaur exhibit was fantastic! The Maritime museum itself wasn't that fascinating with kids but it is free and for a similar cost as entry to the Powerhouse museum you can go onto a naval ship and submarine!
The highlight of our time in Sydney though was catching up with one of my oldest friends and the children's godmother and her husband. We spent two lovely afternoons catching up, including one on Coogee beach.
And then finally it was time to wrap up our time in Australia and head to Sydney airport to meet up with Colin's family to fly to Canada.