© 2012; 2004 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Hafeezur Rahman Malik. Information
Note: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.

Sydney and Beyond – A Solo Travel Report

© Photos Tourism New South Wales

By Hafeezur Rahman Malik

"Twelve thousand kilometers – 40 days on buses! Are you crazy?" shouted my friend Zahid when he saw my travel plan for Australia.

Sydney Harbour and Skyline. Photo courtesy Tourism New South Wales.

Zahid was right. Information I gathered from Greyhound Pioneer was staggering. It would take at least 190 hours of bus riding round the clock to complete my goal.

I have faced it before. Of course, there is a price to pay: neck stiffens, back aches, bottom burns. Overnight journeys bring more misery: hostels' checkout time is often 11am or earlier, so one has to drag one's gear all day before boarding the bus, then a sleepless night follows.

More troubles are in store as one arrives at a new place in the early hours only to find that a bed or room will not be available until afternoon.

Why do it, you might ask? Well, if you want to see the world, and I do, and you aren't made of money, and I'm not, you do the best you can and go.

I was warned about Australia being quite expensive. So, scraping together all my resources, I collected US$3,000 to cover the tour costs. In addition, I had access to another US$3,000 through cash and credit cards. With light luggage, high spirits, and deep pockets, I landed at Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney.

"Have you any food with you?" an Immigration officer asked me. When I showed him a small packet of cheese, pinched away from the airline breakfast tray, he directed me to the "Red Channel." There, I had to wait for a while as the line was progressing slowly. When my turn came, I laid down all I had on the table, piece by piece.

A customs officer looked at everything and threw away the cheese instantly. When she went for my medicine box, my heart sank. "What is this for?" she enquired picking up a wrapper of Zoften.

"It is anti-allergy medicine for sinus, ma'am," I told her, pointing at my stuffed nose to establish my bona fides. She smiled and cleared me. Once out of the terminal, I sighed with relief.

Australia – Dream Come True

Aussie PassI was in Australia, a dream had come true. In the next 40 days I traveled 12,900 km to Brisbane, Gold Coast, Cairns, Mt Isa, Darwin, Kakadu Park, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon, Coober Pedy, and Melbourne. Finally, for a change of pace, I boarded a ship to Tasmania.

Never before have I spent so much on my annual tours. I could not have done with less as I was already staying in dorms and traveling by night buses to save on room rent. I tried other cost saving ways, too. I stayed free-of-cost with my nephew part of my time in Sydney, but that proved futile. As a good grand-uncle, I could not refuse taking his three kids to the zoo, aquarium, and Olympic Park where tickets were in the vicinity of US$100 each time.

All in All, a Great Trip

But I don't mean to complain too much. Ignoring cost and fatigue, my travel in Australia was very successful. I was able to move as I liked. There was a variety of transport everywhere, all were time-conscious. Only on one occasion, a boat, Spirit of Tasmania, stopped midway in Bass Strait for about four hours. This was compensated for by a sumptuous breakfast next day.

On another occasion, a bus broke down, but an alternate bus was provided within half-an-hour, and by taking a shorter route, it arrived in Sydney on schedule.

Greyhound bus staff was well-informed and well-mannered. One time, while hiking up a steep ascent at Kings Canyon, I felt pain and stiffness in my legs and had to take a break occasionally. I found the Greyhound driver all the time trailing two steps behind me to extend a hand should I stumble.

Food was always fresh and dandy. Railway stations and main bus depots had food courts that remained opened 24 hours as did chain stores such as Coles and 7-Eleven. Prices were fixed and well displayed.

This trip provided me an opportunity to see tropical wetlands, rain forests, coral reefs, red-soiled deserts, ghost towns, road-trains, ant hills, and mighty rocks changing color at sunrise and sunset.

Above all, I found Australians friendly, informal, and helpful. Chances of being cheated were remote. Though trains throughout the country are perfectly safe, all stations had marked areas for waiting at night. Taxis have glass partitions separating drivers from passengers though muggings or stickups were unheard of. (Diane's Note: Not quite "unheard of." I can't resist interjecting to say that the only time I have ever been robbed in all my travels was in Darwin Australia – even so, I too consider Australia safe for solo travel.)

Aussie Pass

Sydney Airport had a good rail link. It took barely 12 minutes to reach the Central Station located right in the city center. My first job was to look for a place to sleep. Fortunately, Youth Hostel of Australia (YHA) was just around the corner. The staff was very friendly and advised me to become a member for US$30, which would give me access to 140 YHAs all over the country. For another US$42, they provided me with a comfortable room. I went to sleep immediately to beat jet lag.

Rested, I set off to organize my bus plan. Information booths were handy to the YHA. Of the many different available passes, I got an Aussie Highlights Pass for A$1,467 (C$1,424; US$1,040), which allowed a loop around the eastern half of Australia plus bonus tours to Kakadu and Uluru National Parks. The pass was valid for 365 days with a minimum of 32 days required to complete the tour.

With my lodging and travel problems solved, I set out on a footloose walk in the city. I never consult a city map; I just go left and right and note landmarks as I pass by. By the Grace of God, I always return safely by night. The trick is to keep going in one direction, drifting a little to the left or right, and returning back by a parallel road. To double check, I always keep a compass ready. Only by some peculiar quirk of fate would I get lost.

Moving to my left, I found myself on broad, vibrant George Street and asked a passerby how far I could go on that road.

"To the end of the world crossing Harbour Bridge," she replied. "It's best if you buy a Day-Tripper for only fifteen dollars."

Walkabout Sydney Center

Having already spent a big chunk of my funds, the mere mention of the word "dollar" revved my blood pressure and blocked my ears. I thanked her, patted my legs, and braced myself for a 12-mile walk. George Street, the historic district of The Rocks, and Harbour Bridge. Photo courtesy Tourism New South Wales

Sydney, I discovered, is as multi-ethnic as New York City. Passing through "Spanish town" and Chinatown, I heard multiple languages. Restaurants and food stalls offered Chinese, Malay, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, and Japanese food.

In The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, I found narrow, cobblestoned streets and colonial buildings giving a look of the past. Filled with tourists, the area is now a paradise of gift shops, galleries, pubs, and tea rooms.

Along the way, I often glimpsed the magnificent Harbour Bridge, and when I finally reached it and saw a stair-access, I could not resist walking across. It was a very pleasant walk with fresh air and scenic views of rivers, ferries, cruisers, the city skyline, and the unmistakable Sydney Opera House. Looking up, I saw people climbing the bridge in groups. Later, I heard that each had paid US$140 for a guided tour to the top just for a thrill.

Crossing Harbour Bridge brought me to the North Shore, which was studded with high-rises and sidewalk cafes, but exploring the area would have to wait for another time. Zigzagging in narrow streets, I made my way to the ferry terminal. No one asked me for a ticket on boarding, and I thought it was a free ride, but when I disembarked at Circular Quay, I had to purchase a ticket to leave the terminal. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Returning to the city center, I crisscrossed Elizabeth Street, Pedestrian Malls, and George Street, reached the YHA, fell into bed, and slept like a log.

Darling Harbour

The following day I rode a monorail (A$6) to Darling Harbour, another lively waterside district. From above, Sydney looked big and bustling. Said to be over 4,000 square kilometers in size, metropolitan Sydney is one of the largest cities in the world in terms of area. Near the harbour the view from the top became a gorgeous panorama: water glistening under bright sun, flags flapping in a cool wind, people in colorful clothes moving about parks, restaurants, shops, and amusements. Darling Harbour is home to the Sydney Aquarium, an IMAX Theatre, a casino, and the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a gift to Sydney from its sister city of Guangdong.

I had started my day with only a cup of tea and a couple of crackers and was feeling hungry, so first I looked around for any eating place. Wok on Inn, a noodle bar, gave me my fill for A$10. Afterwards, I adjusted my belt and went to visit the Australian Maritime Museum (A$12) and its display of aboriginal canoes, First Fleet, and surf culture. Moored outside were a navel destroyer, a submarine, a racing yacht, and a Vietnamese refugee boat.

Nearby, the Powerhouse Museum (A$10) covered varied subjects such as decorative arts, social history, costume jewelry, rock music, locomotives, and space capsules.

Sydney Opera House and Botanical Gardens

Next on my agenda was Sydney Opera House, walking via Market Street and Queen Square where I turned left onto Macquarie Street. I passed by old public buildings like St James Church, the Mint, Parliament House, the State Library, and the Conservatorium of Music, eventually arriving at Circular Quay. I had been there the day before as it is a hub for the ferry terminal, the railway station, and bus-stops.

The Opera House was now in sight, with its soaring sail-like or shell-like roofs. Once I was face to face with the Opera House, it did not seem so romantic. At many places, tiles were broken and cracked along the edges. Some were scrawled with the names of those who had visited before. Many types of guided tours were available, like "Front-of-the-House" and "Backstage," but I just walked around enjoying the aromatic air coming from the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens, my next point of interest.

The gardens were located on a slope overlooking the harbour. There were many trails leading to different displays, from Mrs Macquarie's Bushland Walk to formal manicured gardens, to exhibits of rare and endangered species from around the world. With planning, plant lovers could spend endless pleasant hours here attending guided walks, lectures, exhibitions, and workshops held at several venues on the grounds.

It was early evening when I left the gardens and took a path leading back to the Opera House. With the skyline of downtown Sydney as its backdrop, the Opera House was an awesome sight. Beauty always improves with distance.

The long walk had taken a toll. My muscles trembled and joints rattled, so I called it a day and took CityRail (A$2.20) back to Central Station and the YHA.

Soon my Australian odyssey by bus would begin. Next stop Brisbane and beyond. But first, I needed to get some sleep.

If You Go

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Comment on this article

>> From Mohammad Sharif: "I have gone through the whole of the article about your Australian visit. You tried to summarize everything. This has not satisfied me. Every sight you have visited leaves much to be desired."

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