A Local Takes on Touristy Sydney, Australia

For me, one of the best things about coming home after a long period away was feeling like a tourist. Suddenly, I wanted to do the touristy stuff listed in guidebooks. I managed to coax various family members into strolling the sights with me. Ultimately, some of my favourite moments were spent on, or in, the city’s landmarks including: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the botanical gardens, the Pacific Ocean, and hotel lobbies. I absolutely love the Westin Sydney’s lobby — it’s a microcosm of everything that is good about the city: spacious and sunny thanks to the glorious high-ceiling atrium, with great food, wonderful service, beautiful traditional architecture married with modern touches (it’s part of the redeveloped former General Post Office in Martin Place) and a high tea fit for two mad hatters –or chatterers — like us Chetner girls.  Enjoy the views.


If Bridgeclimb is too pricey, climb its sandstone pylon. Thirteen dollars, plus 200 steps, later and you’re treated to  270-degree views that span the North Shore, Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay and The Rocks — a historic precinct.


Pool of the Park Hyatt in the foreground. This was taken on the pedestrian walkway leading up to the pylon.

Pool of the Park Hyatt in the foreground. This was taken on the pedestrian walkway leading up to the pylon.


My dad, sister, and I were led by the experts of The Rocks Walking Tours on a rainy Monday morning. That didn’t dampen our spirits, however. Over 90 minutes, we learned so many quirks about this 1788-established settlement — also the site of Sydney’s first Chinatown — that to this day, my dad continues to rave about it.

Fact: Had it not been for a green ban instigated by residents in the 70s, this precinct would’ve been demolished.

The Rocks in the foreground. This photo was taken from the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney.

The Rocks in the foreground. This photo was taken from the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney.


By the harbour, smack-bang in the middle of Sydney’s CBD, and a quick stroll from the Opera House rests Australia’s oldest botanical garden (it will be celebrating it’s 100th birthday in 2016). This bounty of natural beauty is a sensational spot to get some fresh air, traverse flourishing gardens, relax on the lawn, and just take in the city views. After getting some sun, I recommend hitting the city for a spot of high tea at the Westin in Martin Place…


After so many years of popping in for after-work champagne and cocktail peanuts at the Westin, my sister and I opted for the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea. White-gloved service, Ruinart champagne, a bustling lobby bar, and much to catch up on… it was a wonderfully drawn-out day tinged with lots of nostalgia.


Though I went school and university oh-so-close to this area, my return heralded my first-ever walk from famous Bondi Beach to Coogee. No wonder it’s the site of the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. The oceanfront stroll is stunning! A good couple of hours were spent musing, photographing, and scribbling notes. It’s a must do, and I wonder why it took me so long to get there.

Start the walk with a swim and a beverage (champagne?) at Bondi Icebergs Club

Start the walk with a swim and a beverage (champagne, perhaps?) at Bondi Icebergs Club

A little way past Bronte Beach...

A little way past Bronte Beach…

The clifftop Waverly Cemetery has waterfront views.

The clifftop Waverly Cemetery has waterfront views.

SAMSUNG CSCTwenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did… so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain

Coming Home. The Gold Coast, Australia

Visiting the Gold Coast after a 15-year hiatus felt weird. Arriving after a fifteen hour flight from Los Angeles, I strolled the promenade just as the sun was starting its descent. Inhaling the thick sea air, I took in the familiar beach scene and its roar of crashing waves. The red-and-yellow lifeguard flags, symbols of where to plonk the beach towel and go for a safe swim, failed to lure me in — I had no desire to get in the water. Instead, I craved the company of my parents, sisters, and brothers, as well as my godmother, to draw upon memories of this oft-visited part of Queensland associated with our wonder years. Walking alone didn’t feel right.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a good laugh drawing from my own bank of memories: how my sister, Alana, and I had feared for our lives in a pedicab driven by a guy named ‘Spiro’ whose unnecessary hair-pin turns left my own hair standing on end; when I’d been dumped by a wave so hard, it embedded within me a lifelong fear of the deep; and the time a group of us had sneaked into the very same hotel where I was booked for the night —  the former Gold Coast International Hotel, now QT Gold Coast — to visit our new Melburnian “boy friends” (yes, we did get caught). Later, looking down at the pool from the hotel balcony, I noticed the former hotel logo still splashed across its bottom. Directly in front of the QT, the Focus apartment building stands stoic in its cylindrical glory. It’s where we’d holidayed for a number of years, blessed with lots of space, prime ocean views, and across-the-road beach access. Rear Window was a source of inspiration on the balconies of the higher-up apartments, and judging from the number of cranes and condos against the skyline today, such activity looks poised to continue indefinitely.

Apart from the corridor of high-end brand stores like Prada and Louis Vuitton, a tram, a smattering of new hotels, and a couple of outdoor shopping malls, the Gold Coast felt the same to me: slightly dusty and touristy with a penchant for neon lights and thrill-seeking rides that come alive at night.

Looking out from the15th floor of the hotel the next morning, across the beautiful stretch of turquoise and deep blue water along the horizon, I was relieved of the previous day’s racing thoughts and anticipations. I was more at peace. I was in Australia — “home” — and it felt really good to be back.


Early Mornings…

To really see a city means to get up early before chaos renders it opaque. When I worked in Sydney, I’d catch an earlier bus just so I could grab coffee at Starbucks by Wynyard Station and watch the CBD unfurl into busyness. Crossing the Harbour Bridge at that time felt like I was waking up with the Pacific Ocean – I remember how it twinkled under the sun as if blinking it’s way out of a long slumber.

Early-morning walks make for good memories. One day in June, when we lived in New York, my husband and I wanted to dodge the breakfast lines at Clinton Street Baking Co., so we woke with the alarm, drove to the East Village, lucked a parking spot, and scored a table within 20 minutes. The ricotta pancakes soaked in blueberry sauce were divine and coffee never tasted so good (who doesn’t love an early AM jolt?), but what I particularly savoured were those moments walking to the cafe, when we’d had the streets to ourselves and seen beyond the well-trodden footpaths and summer haze that later descended. The village revealed hidden graffiti, artwork painted over unfolded roller doors, and above, fire escapes in an array of colours. The hosed-down pavements reminded us of how beautiful it is to start the day with a clean slate.

In late 2013, I’d made a pact with myself to wake up with the first sunrise of the upcoming new year. We were booked into a Santa Barbara hotel across from the ocean and at dawn on January 1st my husband slept while I, in my bathrobe and sneakers, ventured outside. Through the palm trees, I saw a sky brushed orange and pink. I crossed the street to watch the light ascend and breathed it all in — the salty air, the mist, the light. A few early birds and after-party stragglers still drinking beer were perched along the beach wall. We all shared in the awakening of a brand new year.

I’m flying home to Sydney in a few months’ time and can’t wait to experience its summer mornings; to see the sun-dappled Pacific and to watch the city prepare for the working day as I drink a cup of great Sydney brew. While I doubt I’ll be ordering from the aforementioned Starbucks, I wonder if it is still there. I’ll let you know.


East Village mornings


Pancakes at Clinton Street Baking Co.


Roller-door murals

Up with the early birds in East Village

Up with the early birds in East Village

Santa Barbara sunrise

Santa Barbara sunrise

A new year in Santa Barbara, 2014

A new year in Santa Barbara, 2014


Sunrise on the beach in Santa Barbara

Intermission II: The LA Tourist Speaks

I asked my sister, Katherine, to list her LA: Top 5. Being a first timer in the city, I’m not surprised that she responded with the following:

1. Hiking to the Hollywood Sign.

2. Walking Hollywood Boulevard.

3. Driving through Orange County – to Laguna Beach and San Clemente.

4. Exploring Beverly Hills and witnessing everything it is known for – the Lamborghinis; the brand name stores – Gucci, Prada; Rodeo Drive…

5. Drinking a Moroccan mint matcha latte at Urth Caffe in Santa Monica.

Though I’m a resident of LA, even I get excited when I glimpse the Pacific Ocean’s shimmer on a sunny day, take a Star Line tour of Hollywood stars’ homes, and hopscotch the Hollywood Walk of Fame. While Kath’s Top 5 may read like that of a guidebook, it’s a worthy list that reminds me that all that glitters in LA really is gold to the tourist.

My sis and me peeking over the fence at "that" sign

My sis and me peeking over the fence at “that” sign

Hollywood Sign c/o the iphone

Hollywood Sign c/o the iPhone

Top of the Sign

Top of the Sign


Looking over LA

Kath looking over LA


Lucille Ball's old home

Lucille Ball’s old home in Beverly Hills

Bijan's Bugatti

Bijan’s million+ Bugatti on Rodeo Drive

Harry Winston store on Rodeo Drive

Harry Winston store on Rodeo Drive





Oz premiere on Hollywood Blvd

Oz premiere on Hollywood Blvd


Chilling at the pool at the Loews Hotel hollywood

Chilling at the pool at the Loews Hotel Hollywood

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach


Warming the fingertips - Montage Hotel Laguna Beach

Warming the fingertips – Montage Hotel Laguna Beach

Photo Shoot at Treasure Island Park, Laguna Beach

Photo Shoot at Treasure Island Park, Laguna Beach

The Pacific

The Pacific

San Clemente - through Katherine's rose coloured glasses

San Clemente – through Katherine’s rose coloured glasses

My sis, Kath, with her fave Moroccan Mint matcha drink at Urth Caffe

My sis, Kath, with her fave Moroccan Mint matcha drink at Urth Caffe

Road Trippin’ via Raleigh, NC

Driving along stretches of highway has given me a distinct feeling of de-ja-vu; I’m reminded of when I was a kid, driving up Australia’s East Coast with the family over the summer holidays. I’d stare out the window at the repetitive landscape – green tree after hill after green tree; a pattern broken either by a bridge crossing or farmland speckled with livestock: grazing sheep, dozing cows, and roaming horses.

Despite a difference in age, taste, and destination, road trips have a distinct feel. Of course, some things do change over time…

The 2Day station that used to play on the FM car radio has been replaced with an organised MP3 playlist; the highway lunch is no longer a McDonalds cheeseburger and sundae, but a Wendy’s salad and large coffee; the GPS has long superseded the UBD street directory, which used to be a staple in the side door pocket of dad’s car. I remember tracing the roads with my finger, tracking our progress towards Queensland’s Gold Coast. Now, I just key the correct address into the smartphone and ensure I keep up with what the navigation system is telling me (not so easy).

Sitting in a 2 seater is not dissimilar to sharing a car with 5 others. I am still crammed with stuff underfoot – at the moment it happens to be by bags filled with technology, and not a backpack jammed with can’t-live-without-them toys and books.

Probably the biggest difference in being an adult on a road trip, versus a kid, is that I have most of the control over the itinerary. Setting aside the amusement park rides for the time being, right now it’s all about arts and culture, dining, a bit of history, and experiencing the beautiful nature of the USA.

Because you just never know when I might be sitting behind the wheel of that family wagon.

The Prayer ~ Auguste Rodin. At the North Carolina Museum of Art

Iris Restaurant at the North Carolina Museum of Art