A weekend break in Sydney is such a trusty escape-hatch from the tail end of winter. Hit the water and head over to the warm embrace of Manly, where the village vibe beats strong and unpretentiously. Manly isn’t the sort of place where you’ll be judged by the sunnies you’re wearing. One of my go-to Manly staples is the ocean-hugging walking trail from Manly Beach to Shelley Beach.
The trails on the headland offer sublime coastal panoramas. Shelley Beach is also one of Sydney’s most sheltered coves, with the geographical distinction of being one of the few places in the city where you can catch an epic sunrise and equally epic sunset form the sand. The hospitality scene is awash with possibilities in Manly.
One of the district’s newest restaurants and wine bars is Good Hope, at 10 Belgrave St. It has fast cultivated a fiendish following for its stunning seasonal share plates and superb selection of Australian wine. If you want to sample one of the area’s old faithfuls, The Boathouse on Shelley Beach is a rustic, chic eatery with lip-smacking views.
I rocked on over to Manly with Captain Cook Cruises and their superb harbour hop-on, hop-off service, which encompasses a swag of harbour-hugging ports of call. With the two day pass, the rocket-fast ferries depart from Circular Quay to nine destinations including the Manly, Darling Harbour, Watsons Bay and Taronga Zoo.
Taronga Zoo. (Photo \ Mike Yardley)
If you’re an animal lover, check out the Taronga Zoo and Whale Watching Cruise Combo deal, which Captain Cook is offering for the next three months. The package includes a riveting morning at the zoo and transport before whiling away the afternoon on the Captain Cook Whale Watching Cruise, beyond the headlands of Sydney Harbour. Expert guides deliver an enlightening commentary on the marine life.
Dolphins nearly always accompany the cruise, with some pods comprising 100 individuals. So far this season, over 95% of the cruises have included whale sightings, including Humpbacks, Southern Rights, Orcas and Minke whales. A highlight are the playful juveniles in their first migration to warmer waters, seemingly working the crowds. The cruise combo includes a whale guarantee: if you don’t spot a whale, you get a free cruise. www.captaincook.com.au
Back on terre firma, The Rocks precinct hooks me in like a tractor-beam. Alongside the photogenic heritage sights, unlock the secrets of these sandstone buildings and hear the tales about ordinary people doing extraordinary deeds, on a Rocks Walking Tour. The ninety minute tour weaves through hidden narrow alleyways, cobbled lanes and into shady courtyards, prising open all manner of heritage nuggets that could be easily overlooked by the unsuspecting visitor.
The absorbing and entertaining story-telling throws fresh light on The Rocks and you’ll come away with a much deeper appreciation for the cradle of Sydney’s colonial history. I enjoyed my walking tour as part of Holiday Inn Old Sydney’s “Explore the Rocks” package. Perfectly poised between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House on George Street, the Holiday inn Old Sydney is one of the Emerald City’s hotel gems.
Beloved by couples and families alike, this charming hotel is more boutique in stature, befitting its locality, in the heart of The Rocks. If you’re arriving by train, it’s an easy five minute walk from Circular Quay station and for cruisers, you’re just a couple minutes walk away from the Overseas Passenger Terminal.
Situated in a heritage listed building, the hotel is 100% non-smoking and all 176 rooms are equipped with all the creature comforts, including excellent air-con, in-house movies, a pillow menu, free WiFi, flat-screen cable TV and 24-hour room service. Waking up to a ‘fresh start’ buffet breakfast in Playfair Terrace Restaurant, I fuelled up with fresh espresso coffee, squeeze-your-own juice and a plethora of tasty hot and cold breakfast selections.
Offering all-day dining, the Playfair Terrace Restaurant is open for breakfast from 6am before serving lunch and a la carte dinner dining until 9pm. It’s a great spot for lapping up the landmarks out the windows and for people-watching beneath the hotel’s high-ceiling atrium. Fusing the rich heritage fabric of the hotel and its locale with the sparkling city skyline, the hotel’s rooftop is unquestionably the radiant cherry on top.
You could not get a better perch to gaze across the dress-circle of Sydney’s greatest landmarks. Under eternal blue skies, I took a sunrise splash in the hotel’s fabulous rooftop pool, before later surrendering to the dreamy twilight panorama, with a sundowner cocktail in one hand and my camera in the other. Holiday Inn Old Sydney prides itself on offering great-value stays.
Their “Kids Stay & Eat Free” policy is one of the many reasons why the hotel is such a big hit for families. I also recommend the hotel’s “Explore The Rocks” package which includes accommodation for two adults and double passes on The Rocks Walking Tour. And don’t forget about that radiant rooftop pool! To peruse all of the packages and special deals, head to www.hioldsydney.com
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings