Arguably…Sydney and Melbourne are the two of the top Australian cities for backpackers to visit, work, and reside while traveling on their working holiday visa. A month and a half ago, I landed in Australia on the same visa with the goal of working to fund traveling throughout Australia and Asia. So far, I’ve experienced these two top backpacker destinations whilst residing in Cairns. I spent 24 hours in Sydney after my long journey across the pacific from the States, and last month I spent one weekend in Melbourne for UFC 193. This will not be a typical review of the attractions in each city, but more focused on things such as the cities’ ambiance, beauty, and accessibility.
Sydney is the business capital of Australia, and in the CBD (central business district), there was a lack of culture and essence, replaced by overwhelming formalities. Stepping off the train at Circular Quay, you’re drowned in button ups, briefcases, and pencil skirts. Making your way to the harbor, you see Harbor Bridge to your left, which is unexpectedly and beautifully dominant compared to the Sydney Opera House on your right. From here, I headed to Manly Beach by jumping on the 45 minute ferry ride, which accepts Opal cards – Sydney’s re-loadable card for their clean and reliable multi-platform public transit. Manly is a family beach that consists of a small boardwalk with many takeaway restaurants to enjoy your meal near the shore. Beware, the seagulls are aggressive at Manly and took my food directly from hand and chased me until I was well away from shore! By this time though, I was jet-lagged, and headed to my AirBnB accommodation in the artsy and hipster suburb of Newtown.
The next morning I grabbed the wrong bus on my way to Bondi Beach. Once I was on the correct bus, I was pulled off the bus by men who check to see if you have enough money on your Opal card (Opal enforcers?!). To my luck, I had a negative balance, but after emphasizing that I was new to the country, I got off with only a warning instead of a $200 citation. They were also great enough to put me back on a bus towards Bondi. During that ordeal, I highly considered giving up and going back to my accommodation, but how grateful and proud I am that I did not since I was about to encounter my favorite part of Sydney.
Stepping off the bus to see this enormous beach filled with surfers, families, fitness lovers, and sunbathers excited me to take off on my jog along the coast…but before I took a picture. I ran another 20 meters and I had to stop again. I continued to pause throughout my jog along the 5k trail – mesmerized by the Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach coastal walk. I passed many infinity pools including Bondi Iceberg Pool; at every bend, royal blue colored waves collided with multi colored granite formations; atop trail hills and stairs were scenic views of coastal homes and mini beaches; and in the midst of all this natural beauty appeared a flawless cemetery on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. A scene from the trail that I’ll always remember is a shirtless, fit male running in black shorts and five finger shoes. As we all turned a curb of the trail, he launched head first in this man-made pool that was still apart of the ocean. It was as if they took the edge of the coast (this part was made of concrete) and cut out a half circle so that the ocean would flow within that section to make a self contained oceanic pool. Mini ladders were built onto the insides of this mini circle so that not everyone had to jump in head first. This moment was when I realized that I was so happy to be in Australia.
Happiness overwhelmed me as I sat on the very top front of Melbourne’s double decker airport express – the Skybus. As we got closer to the CBD, Melbourne’s skyline soon came into view with the Melbourne Star standing out among the skyscrapers. Immediately before descending into the tunnel of Spencer station, Etihad stadium greeted us with stadium wide posters of the women fighting in the record breaking UFC event that Sunday. Filled with anticipation and excitement from Melbourne’s warm welcome, I instantly felt a connection to the city once I stepped out of the station. Melbourne’s CBD was vibrant, hip, and diverse. Diversity is essential for me since I feel less alone when there are many others walking about of darker skin. People of Asian, Middle Eastern, and African descent blended well into the multicultural CBD. Chinatown was also an influential area of the CBD, which is where I was directed to eat a budget friendly dinner. A Thai eatery named “Your Thai” sat me on the empty second floor where there were no duos sitting unlike on the first floor. I was thoroughly impressed that they were so thoughtful of my seating placement since I was solo.
Once I finished my meal, I had the option of taking the Melbourne’s trams that take you anywhere in the CBD for free; or to explore the city on foot. With most of Melbourne’s attractions being within walking distance of each other, I decided to take a stroll on such a nice day. I headed to the open and uniquely structured Federation Square, and I naturally gravitated towards the body of water near the square – the Yarra River. Everything you can imagine was aligned along this river walk – it was tree and grass lined with artfully designed bridges easily connecting pedestrians to the other side of the river; couples, runners, musicians, and loners enjoying the start of the weekend; and an elevated outdoor bar that stretched at least half a kilometer along the river. This mesmerizing bar, named Arbory was connected to Finders Street Railway Station and was packed with suits, dresses, jeans, and even sweatpants. It defined the meaning of happy hour and ignited a carefree atmosphere that I was itching to be apart of. I made my way towards the nearby Birrarung Marr Park, which was hosting a street festival full of food vendors, pop up bars, and hilly grassy areas to chill and relax. Melbourne evoked good vibes.
I rose early the next morning for a reverse Great Ocean Road tour via Wildlife Tours. The reverse tour drives three hours from Melbourne to begin the tour at the end of the Great Ocean Road, so that we make our way back for the remaining of the tour. At the end of the Great Ocean Road are the famous 12 apostles among other nearby vast limestone formations. These magnificent brown and beige formations effortlessly complement the sandy beaches, white waves, and icy blue waters. Ultimately, it was time to continue the tour, which I was less impressed with compared to the start. The remaining of the tour we stopped for food and drinks, hand fed birds, saw a koala, and walked in a small rain forest.
The following day at UFC 193 did not disappoint. I was shaking in anticipation of the fight that ultimately made history. The first female fighter in the UFC was defeated for the first time in her career. I walked out of Etihad Stadium making my way to the airport never feeling so satisfied with a trip nor a city..
Man-made beauty – Melbourne
Natural beauty – Sydney
Ambiance – Melbourne
Accessibility – TIE – Melbourne’s trams are free, and they have reasonably priced railway system, but the SkyBus is expensive at $18 one way. Sydney’s train is not only reasonably priced, but can easily and quickly access the airport from the CBD.