#9 Sibling Rivalry – Sydney and Melbourne, Australia

View of Sydney’s beautiful harbour from the plane :)

Witnessing the crush of suit-clad and iron-faced Sydneysiders at lunch hour in Martin Place, it’s not difficult to see why Sydney, beyond its beautiful harbour and cosmopolitan beat, is the economic capital of Australia. I have to say, it’s hard to fight to the top among the cities Down Under to be the best, with every city from Hobart to Brisbane to Perth boasting their unique must-see landmarks and a distinctive niche.

I’m unable to comment on the rest since I’ve yet to check them off my list, but having returned from a quick city jaunt in Melbourne the garden state and my second time in Sydney has set me thinking that there is every reason for these southern sisters to engage in head-on sibling rivalry.

Let’s look at the people, streets, public transport, waterfront experience and their beaches to see how each city fares!

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#4 My fingers are bluer than the Blue Mountains – Sydney, Australia

Never doubt the weather report. Even if most of the time it isn’t too accurate. Because the time when you decide not to listen to it, as much as you don’t like or want to believe (for fear of disappointment or overconfidence in own abilities to predict weather), it is going to turn out pretty damn accurate. Arriving at Katoomba after a gruelling (ok, it wasn’t so bad…just really excruciating slow) 3-4 hour train ride from Sydney’s Central railway station, we hopped off the train, ready to stretch our legs but were instead greeted rather rudely by the startling chill. How cold can it get? We scoffed, but now we swallowed hard and braced ourselves for the 4°C cold at an altitude of more than 1,000m.

Sunset view of the Three Sisters!
(managed to take a picture before the battery died from the cold)

Confident that there would still be hostel vacancies (since it’s off peak season and all), we marched up to the YHA in the dwindling sunlight, a half an hour trek around the town area of Katoomba which felt like 3 lifetimes, and managed to secure some beds for the night. The YHA hostel in Katoomba is a cosy wooden two-storey building with the likes of a ski lodge, complete with a rec room, a dining hall, a spacious kitchen, and all the things you’d find in a comfy hostel. (Wished I remembered flipflops though, because I ended up walking around in socks.)

The town was awfully eerie after sundown, for good reason, with the teeth-chattering wind chill that seeped through to the bones. Occasional, strong gusts of freezing air rushed up to us whenever we passed a street junction, where the straight and squat rows of cinnamon-red cinderblock buildings gave way to a little road for cars to pass through. Popped right into a toasty and busy little pizza parlour where business was brisk and people wove in and out endlessly. It was as though the whole town felt like pizza that night — rowdy families, cosy couples and raucous college kids formed a varied backdrop whilst the stifling aroma of ham and cheese sizzling in hot oil filled the boxy little space. You wouldn’t have expected this from the silence of the streets outside. Post-pizza, time for a little drink to warm us up a bit…!

The Old City Bank Bar & Brasserie looked rather inviting with warm orange lights illuminating the interiors of the stately-looking brick house. In here, it was like a completely different world from the pizza place, sophisticated twenty to thirtysomethings gossiped and flirted with one another in little pockets, nursing one fancy cocktail after another, while the older crowd looked like they were having one of those “philosophical chats” over a gin and tonic or two. It was virtually impossible to talk over the cacophony of 2,000 simultaneous (non-)conversations in the cavernous high-ceiling room, but somehow messages were conveyed through an overly vehement nod or merely a seductive gaze in one’s direction. The atmosphere was a little sultry with a live band blaring right in our faces, the music had a vintagey, folky feel… a symphony of sounds from a classical guitar, harmonica and drums, and the singer’s hauntingly high warbling notes. For a moment, everything seemed to blur into the background, into the orange light, into the many beautiful alien faces…and you could almost, just almost, forget about the world.

The cold has this amazing ability to sap one out of energy in a short period of time. To escape from the bristling winds on our walk back from the bar to the hostel, we popped into one of the bric-à-brac stores that lined the main streets. I was pretty surprised that it was still open at nearly 10pm in such a small town, but was more than glad for the respite. There were many interesting trinkles and second-hand items on sale, and one that caught my eye was a huge oil painting of Frida Kahlo. Plenty of antique vases, ceramics, old sewing machines, military uniforms, handmade furniture and ornaments, silverware, designer purses, carpets, huge ugly fur coats and lots of curios… a good place to spend half an hour poking around things that piqued our curiosity. But enough was enough, we needed rest for our hike in the Blue Mountains.

Just so you know, the Blue Mountains aren’t exactly as blue as you’d imagined them to be. Earned its name from the blue haze that is generated from the vaporizing moisture from the eucalyptus forests, the Blue Mountains is also recently listed as a World Heritage area. Truly breathtaking, and lauded as one of the must-have day trips when visiting Sydney (besides Hunter Valley)…

“The rugged beauty of the mountains captivated my heart as well as my soul the moment I laid my eyes upon the scenery.”

The skies were turquoise and clear, not a cloud in sight. The sun blazed but my skin just felt a tinge of coolness. We were about to go bushwalking! Since there was the case of a 19-year-old British tourist who went missing for 12 days (he survived) after going off into the mountains a few weeks before this, we needed to record our names down at the front desk in the hostel before heading out. Well, better safe than sorry, I guess.

We didn’t head straight to Echo Point, but instead took a scenic walk from our hostel and went into the hiking trail from a side entrance of the Blue Mountains National Park. Wise choice, because we could enjoy the fresh air, the birds chirping and the calming silence of the forest…well if I ignored the quiet crunching of gravel and dry leaves under my boots. By the time we reached Echo Point, there were busloads of Japanese and Chinese tourists there marring the landscape with their gaudy inappropriate-for-hiking attires and camera flashes doing their touristy thing. We avoided the mob by popping over to the Information Centre to grab a couple of maps at and went on our way back into the mountains again.

Look, you can’t even see the end of the stairway…and this is only part of it.

One of the main attractions called The Giant Stairway was no joke, with nearly 900 steps of it all! Good thing we planned our route in advance (lazy hikers as we are, heh) and descended the stairs instead of going up. By the look of the blue-faced hikers who decided to challenge the Giant Stairway climbing up, we knew we made a good decision.

The highlight of the morning was the Scenic Railway. We could see The Three Sisters as we rode upwards and the adrenaline rush combined with the view just took my breath away. For just A$10 per person, this would be your best bet if you want to save time and money, instead of having to do the Scenic Skyway or Cableway, which of course would allow you more time to take pictures and enjoy the view at your time. And as if the view and the experience weren’t enough, the Scenic Railway is also the steepest incline railway in the world; so you can add this to your list of Firsts that you have been proudly expanding.

The weather so good, everyone wants a piece of it…even if it meant having lunch on the road divider!
(Did I mention my BF has the best camera ever? The blue in the sky…perfectly captured)

Wanting to fit more into the itinerary, we headed out to Leura Village on the Blue Mountains bus (because it was waay too far to walk), and had a little jaunt around the beautiful quaint little town of Leura before conquering the rest of the hiking trail back to Echo Point. Leura is a very sweet and beautiful town. But the trail was waiting for us. Had a fabulous mouthwatering mindshatteringly yummy meat pie before the trek began. The calories were very much appreciated.

We went past many many viewing points, some of them with picturesque panoramic views worthy of more than a Panasonic Lumix advertising campaign. I was out of breath and frankly out of fuel. The sun was setting and I was freaking out because we were barely 40% of our journey back. My BF was very supportive, both physically and metaphorically, kept my spirits alive by telling me stories and carrying my pack to keep my mind off the fact that my legs were as heavy as lead and that I have already walked a hell lot of a distance. You would be surprised that I was the one who suggested doing this, and he came out unfazed, and amazingly not as bombed out as I was. Not only was the hike filled with words-cannot-describe-how-beautiful-they-are views, it was also a refreshing workout and a great bonding time for us. After the exertion, we also visited the Jenolan Caves the next day to wrap up our trip to the Blue Mountains.