Exploring New South Wales in a whole different light
From celebrating Australia’s largest festival, to surfing, quad biking and hot air balloons, we went exploring around New South Wales.
We got invited to experience a week long trip over in New South Wales, to travel, explore and immerse ourself into the Aussie way of life. Just a short twenty four hour plane journey over to the other side of the world and we had arrived at our first destination, welcome to Sydney!
WHAT TO DO
A diverse melting pot of culture, food and architecture
Vivid Sydney was introduced to put life into the city after dark. A festival owned, managed and produced by Destination New South Wales, celebrating light, music and ideas. It’s free, family-friendly and a great way to explore to city. You can also pay for ticketed talks and performances, one of the keynote speakers this year was movie legend Spike Lee! It’s been running eleven years, for just twenty-three days of the year, each night kicking off at 6pm. You’ll see the many of the iconic Sydney landmarks in a whole different light (yes literally!)
Let’s light this place up
What’s great about it is the buzz and energy, it feels like the whole of Sydney is joining in, with installations popping up throughout the different districts. There’s strips of LED lights on the high rise hotel roofs, colourful displays in Louis Vuitton’s shop window, special themed menus in restaurants and brightly lit boats circling the harbour. Our favourite bit was in The Rocks district, under a bridge called Argyle Cut, Pixar studios co-collaborated with Vivid to make a short video of the history of their movie timeline, which was projected directly onto the ceiling of the bridge, best enjoyed by lying on the floor.
A grand music affair
We went on a tour of the Sydney Opera House, to learn the history and inspiration behind the monument. The iconic shells are built to look like sails, made with bespoke self-cleaning tiles bought in all the way from Sweden. With six performance spaces, they host music artists, choirs and orchestras all year round. Including Kayne West, Coldplay, Janet Jackson, Iggy Pop and every year a huge annual NYE fireworks party. In honour of the Vivid festival, videos of the beautiful indigenous flowers and plants of Australia were projected onto the giant white sails especially for the festival. A piece called Austral Flora Ballet by Andrew Thomas Wang. It really was a visual spectacle.
A bridge too far
We couldn’t come all this way without ticking off a major life bucket list, of doing Sydney’s Vivid BridgeClimb (https://uk.sydney.com/things-to-do/tours/bridgeclimb-sydney?&nst=0). Harnessed up and dressed in special climbing suits, we scaled the multiple steps, whilst a guide entertained us of the stories behind its build. Staring out at a breathtaking view of Luna Park and Sydney harbour. Celebs who’ve climbed the bridge include Oprah Winfrey, Ryan Reynolds and David Beckham! The best bit, whilst the festival is on, you get to wear a special Vivid flashing vest and dance about at the summit on a light-up disco dance floor whilst loudspeakers boom out a medley of pop hits. If that doesn’t dust off your jet lag, nothing will!
One thing on our Aussie tourist must do’s list was surfing! What better way to do it than to take a short ten minute drive out of Sydney to Bondi Beach. Let’s Go Surfing shop offers a private surf lesson that takes an hour and costs $119. Our guide, Lars was super friendly and helpful, watching our technique and giving us helpful tips, which worked a treat, as by the end of the session, we were surfing those waves almost as good as Kelly Slater... Well we said almost!
We’ve got the hump
We drove out to Port Stephen’s Birubi Beach to visit the Stockton sand dunes. It’s the largest moving coastal sand mass in the southern hemisphere and it’s also where you’ll find Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides. We were booked for a one-hour camel ride, each of us getting hoisted up high in the air then perching precariously on the camel’s hump. They trotted along the sand dunes in line formation whilst gazing out in awe at a perfect sunset and glowing pink-orange sky. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the camels were led into the ocean and we bounced about as the waves gently swelled and splashed. We caught sight of a huge Humpback whale in the distance, this really was a bucket list moment.
We got taken out on Moonshadow 5, a huge catamaran that does trips out in Port Stephens harbour to find Indo Pacific bottlenose dolphins. They promise a 90% success rate of spotting dolphins and if you don’t see them on your trip, you get a free ticket to return again! Luckily for the boat company, we spotted them within five minutes of our ninety minute voyage and from then on, they surrounded the boat! A school of ten dolphins jumping and flipping out of the water. It really was special as the sun beamed down on us to see nature in all its beauty.
Putting the pedal to the metal
We returned back to Nelson Bay’s Stockton Beach to visit Sand Dune Adventures (https://sandduneadventures.com.au/). We had booked sixty minutes riding through the bush and over the stretch of sand straddled over 400cc Kymco quad bikes. They’re a whopping 290 kilos of muscle power. And luckily for us, they’re pretty considerate to if you want to crawl along or put the pedal to the metal. Top speeds for the riders go up 80 kilometres. The sand’s been there for over fifty thousand years. They actually sell it to Hawaii to fill the beaches of Honolulu! What’s crazy is the terrain is never the same, depending on weather it’s been windy or raining, everyday the dunes look different. People come from all over the world to these dunes including Beyoncé, Tony Hawk and even better the cast of Geordie Shore! For the winter it’s only $88 for an hour, a steal considering we literally had the ride of our lives.
A little drop of sunshine
We drove out to visit Brokenwood Cellar Door & Winery, opened in the nineteen seventies by three solicitors who shared a love of wine. They were so passionate when they started off they literally eat, slept and worked on the property. The winery is a huge space, forty acres of beautiful rolling green hills. It was originally intended to be a cricket pitch, but ended up becoming the wine region, so they still fondly nickname it the cricket pitch vineyard. Hunter Valley wine region attracts people from all over, perfect for the grapes, it has the right mix of sunshine and good soil. Brokenwood’s most loyal customers can actually help pick the grapes one day a year during the harvest season in February for an event called ‘’Get Your Hands Dirty’.
We tried six different wines on our tasting, a Semillon, an Oakley Creek Semillon, an Indigo Vineyard Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Hunter Valley Shiraz and a Wade Block 2 Vineyard Shiraz. The bottles ranged from $28 to $66. We couldn’t wait to ask if there was a particular trick to the sniffling and swirling of the wine glass, but loved being told that behaviour was for wine walkers, all just peacocking and all you really need to do is just drink it!
Tulloch’s chocolate and wine tour, has been running for a hundred and twenty four years, which started off with the owner producing port for family and friends. Years later, as the popularity grow, they expanded into wine. Their tour included five pairings, intended to enhance the flavours in the wine once we took a bite of each of the matched chocolates.
We had Prosecco to start matched with a dark orange chocolate, reminiscent of an Aperol Spritz. Then a Verdelho (which is ‘late picked’ in the harvest to make it sweet like port, matched with a white macadamia chocolate (this was our favourite). Next a Pokolbin Shiraz, with a mountain peppered dark chocolate, which brought out a fruity tartness. Their delicious 88 Red was matched with a raspberry heart. To finish a sweet Creme de Vin matched with a dark coffee chocolate.
Blessed be wine country
Next up we hit up Usher Tinkler Wines, found inside a small converted church built in 1904. In 2014, the hard work of two owners kicked off the beginnings of what’s now a thriving business. We tried eight of their different grapes. La Volpe Prosecco, a Nose-2-Tail Semillon/Chardonnay blend, a UTW 2018 Reserve Chardonnay. We LOVED their 2019 Rose Shiraz/Merlot, which had amazing strawberries and cream flavour notes. The Enneagram 2019 Mixed Varietal - this was a bit of an experimentation as they wanted to recreate a purple wine and what ended up with was a happy accident of nine different grapes. Next up a Nose-2-Tail 2018 Red Shiraz/Pinot and a UTW Reserve 2017 Reserve Shiraz.
To finish (if you’re not falling off your chair) Mr. T’s Rare Batch Fortified (best served warm) was the triumphant highlight of the tasting experience.
It’s worth mentioning, they serve the most incredible candied pecans, they make fresh in-house. Make sure you ask for Luke, he’s full of passion and for an Irishman, has an incredible knowledge on Hunter Valley Wines.
We were super excited to wake up for our 5am early morning wake up call to drive out to Balloon Aloft for a hot air balloon experience. After an initial greeting and safety briefing, we watched with glee as our huge balloon filled with air before climbing into the basket. Before we knew it, we were up and gliding, scaling heights of two thousand eight hundred metres. Gazing down at the heady heights of wine country school and schools of running kangaroos. It lasts an hour and is capped off with a champagne breakfast. It was incredible and ticked off another epic bucket list goal!
Discovering Sydney differently
We went on a Culture Scouts tour, to learn about the local artists and communities. First up we walked around the Redfern neighbourhood, admiring the different buildings, wall murals and rows of the cutest narrow corrugated iron-roofed terraced homes. Our guide Greg Paton explained the history behind the rise and fall of the indigenous community.
Right around the corner we arrived in Chippendale, which many years ago had a dark and dangerous reputation. But now it’s a super trendy gentrified neighbourhood, where the property value has skyrocketed. We walked through the boutique hotel The Old Claire, originally a brewery administration offices, with the most beautiful wooden panelling. Also walking through the iconic Spice Alley, full of graffiti by the Australian version of Banksy, Scotty Marsh. We also popped into a few different art galleries, hearing the most fascinating stories about the artists and collectors that dominated the area.
FOOD AND DRINK
We had lunch at Anason, a Turkish style mezze restaurant, complete with waterfront views. In recent months the area has had a complete overhaul, one of many bustling eateries in the buzzy Barangaroo precinct which circles around Darling Harbour. We loved their octopus with broad bean fava and cured Tasmanian salmon with fenugreek and pickled chillies.
There’s a breathtaking coastal walk from Bondi to Bronte Beach, where we scaled rocky boulders, passed million dollar waterfront mansions and an ocean adjacent swimming pool! We had lunch at Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, which boasts jaw-dropping views of the ocean. We ate sea trout that they filleted for you at the table, even better there was a separate bowl just for the radish and olive garnish! This place was the epitome of lavish dining. For dessert we destroyed a very pretty plate of chocolate mousse, with olive cremoso and milk sorbet. If you’re lucky you may spot a humpback whale or two swimming passed!
We had dinner one night in Bennelong, which is located actually inside of the Sydney Opera House. The grand ceiling beams made the restaurant look like a spaceship, from their windows a breathtakingly beautiful view of the illuminated Sydney bridge and harbour. Their cocktail list was full of cocktails we didn’t know existed and suddenly immediately had to have. Their ‘Ten Thousand Men Of Harvard’ included banana and coffee infused Remy Martin cognac, served topped with a shortbread biscuit. They even serve martinis by throwing a glass of liquid nitrogen onto the floor to create a smokey theatrical effect, before mixing the drink back into the now chilled glass at the table. Their stand out dishes were their yellow fin tuna sashimi with cultured cream, dashi grains, lava and roe. Also the ‘Chocolate cake from across the water’, a signature dessert created by celebrated chef (he’s also a regular on Masterchef Australia) Peter Gilmore, revealed a secret hidden centre when drizzled generously with chocolate sauce.
On the way to Port Stephens, we ate at Bonfire at the Bon Pavillion. Recently opened in Gosford, it’s a huge space with a giant Aboriginal inspired wall mural taking up the length of one wall. The open facing kitchen served an impressive range of mouth-watering cuts of steak. We loved their king crab linguine with salmon caviar and their ‘illegal margarita’ pimped up with a dash of Hellfire shrub and a glass rim of black salt.
We stopped off for lunch at the cutest waterfront restaurant, Little Beach Boathouse. Perfectly picturesque on Nelson Bay’s marina, they had a huge selection of local caught fish.
We went for dinner at the modern contemporary Italian restaurant Eremo. Where we had the most incredible beef tartare, under a smooth as silk porcini caramel, dusted with pickled onion powder. We also sampled their burrata cheese with pomegranate molasses and compressed watermelon. The watermelon was recompressed and frozen at least ten times to give the impression of a roasted pepper, it was like nothing no taste or texture we’d tasted before!
Over in Redfern, we had lunch in the courtyard of converted warehouse, Henry Lee’s. We ordered a toasted croissant, crab meat, coconut lime mayo, avocado and mango. With a side of mushroom fries. Oh my goodness was it good! But what truly made our hearts melt in sheer delight, was their activated charcoal latte. With black sesame, chocolate and ginger and a side serving of maple syrup. 100% this alone was worth the flight.
Inside the Ovolo Woolloomooloo, you’ll find their in house restaurant Alibi. This is the first hotel in Australia to host a plant-based menu. Created by celebrity chef, Matthew Kenney. We opted for their eight-course tasting menu with paired wines, beers and sake. Every dish was delicious and for a bunch of self-confessed meat lovers, we didn’t miss it at all!
PLACES TO STAY
A bed for all seasons
We stayed for the first few nights at the luxurious Four Seasons Sydney. The location was brilliant, on the main shopping strip, literally only a couple of minutes walk to Circular Quay, where you’ll find Sydney Bridge and the Opera House. There’s a large gym and an even bigger south facing sun-soaked pool. In the rooms, the bed’s were giant and super comfy, it felt like sleeping on a cloud.
On the lookout for Skippy
We went drove out to Hunter’s Valley, a part of New South Wales that’s synonymous with wine country. There are vineyards practically around every corner, think of it like a Disneyland for wine drinkers! We stayed in a villa at Chateau Elan. As soon as we walked through the door, we’d fallen in love. This isn’t just a room, in fact it’s larger than our entire flat back in London! A huge spacious bedroom, bathroom with a jacuzzi style jet stream bath. A living room (complete with burning gas fire), and a dining area, both inside and outside, which opens onto rolling greenery. It’s so out in the country, kangaroos literally jump about on our doorstep! We’ve also never seen such a pretty sunset. It’s so spacious, if you’re too lazy to walk from your villa to reception, you can ask for a lift via golf cart! Why the hell not!
Back in Sydney, we stayed at the boutique Ovolo Woolloomooloo. It’s a huge industrial space, originally a wharf full of sailors, it’s now full of quirky books, free pick n mix and even a bank of arcade machines, it’s an Instagram dream. The rooms themselves are HUGE, with the most gorgeous panoramic waterside view! Super comfy king-size beds and we mustn’t forget to mention not only is their mini bar free, but there’s an open bar for happy hour every day!
By Jacqui Faiman
MTV Travelled with… Destination NSW. For more information visit https://uk.sydney.com/ and www.vividsydney.com. Four Seasons Sydney, room rates start from £150 per night. For more information visit: www.fourseasons.com/sydney. Bannisters Port Stephen, room rates start from £113. For more information visit: www.bannisters.com.au/port-stephens/