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Welcome to Sydney, Australia, the land of Vegemite and vast beaches. You’ve landed just in time for the annual arts and culture extravaganza that is Vivid Sydney, May 24th – June 15th 2019. To paraphrase Aussie icon Kath Day-Knight, this 23-day festival of light, music and ideas will take you into the nooks and unexplored crannies of the city but there is also plenty of culcha to soak up in the state of New South Wales while you’re here. Having grown up in this beautiful part of the world and consumed at least 3000 sausage rolls in my lifetime, I am appointing myself as your tour guide for this trip. I hope you slept like a baby and filled up on tasty treats during your Qantas flight, because you’ve got a busy few days ahead.
Start experiencing authentic Aussie culture before you touch down in Sydney by travelling with Qantas. The airline offers the best in true blue hospitality on its non-stop flights from North America to Australia.
During the flight, you can recline in ergonomically designed seats or lie-flat beds in Qantas Business while sipping on award-winning wines that have been handpicked by sommeliers from Sydney’s two-hatted Rockpool restaurant. Pair your drink of choice with gourmet meals designed by celebrity chef Neil Perry. You’ll also have the opportunity to sample some of Australia’s finest snacks from the inflight snack bar during your flight. If you have any questions about the in-flight menu or where to grab a coffee when you land in Sydney, the cabin crew has got you covered.
The journey with Qantas will familiarise you with three things that are very important to Australians: food, wine and relaxation. And there’s plenty more where that came from.
Start the day like a true Sydneysider by rising at 6am and doing a few quick sun salutes. Now that your chakras are aligned, you’re ready for what I can objectively say will be one of the most epic drives of your life. Head south from Sydney towards the Royal National Park where a windy road will take you through bushland and lush rainforest before spitting you out at the ocean’s edge. From here, you’ll start making your way down The Grand Pacific Drive and across the spectacular Seacliff Bridge. Nestled between cliffs and the ocean, the views from this bridge are more dramatic than an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Chuck a u-ey (that’s Australian for u-turn) and head back to the city, where you can spend the afternoon wandering through Chinatown, Darling Harbor and Barangaroo. The lively foodcourts on Dixon Street are packed with delicious lunch options and The Gardens by Lotus at the Chinese Garden of Friendship serves up some mean dumplings.
Now its time to head down to Sydney’s most iconic harbor for the Vivid Sydney festivities. Pull up a patch of grass outside the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and watch the sails of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor come alive with light and colour. The thrill seekers among you can overload your senses even more by checking out all of the interactive artworks that are scattered around the base of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Then, refuel with a bite to eat at The Rocks night markets during Vivid Sydney.
The Sydney Opera House is one of my favourite places in Sydney. Sitting on the building’s grand steps and looking out across the water towards the bridge, I get a real sense of why they call ours the lucky country. While you’re in town, spend a morning taking in this marvel of modern architecture or indulging in a champagne breakfast at the Opera Bar below. Both activities are equally ‘Strayan.
After breakfast, take the ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo. Make sure you sit outside for the full sea spray experience. After saying hi to the meerkats and getting your photo taken with Australia’s chillest native animal, AKA a koala, take another ferry ride over to Manly.
Follow the Manly coastal walk around to Shelly Beach, stopping to watch the surfers or to grab a cold beer at one of the strip’s classic Aussie pubs on your way. Then, it’s your turn to go for a paddle in the ocean. Or, if you’re lazy like me, just kick back on the sand with a good book. You can’t leave Manly without trying some good old-fashioned Aussie fish and chips from one of the takeaway shops on the main drag. If asked what salt you want on your chips, your reply should always be ‘chicken’.
When night falls, head back to the city to explore the exhibitions and performances that pop up all around the city during Vivid Sydney.
I hope you’re not sick of ocean views, because there are a few more coastal spots for you to visit before you venture out of Sydney. First up is Vaucluse’s Diamond Bay, a coastal stretch of ocean that offers scenic views and whale watching. Then, it’s off to the home of Australia’s favourite pastimes: surfing, tanning and beach cricket. That’s right, I’m talking about the one, the only, Bondi Beach.
At one end of this pristine stretch of sand is Bondi Icebergs, a great place for a schvitz (in the sauna) or a snack (in the dining room and bar). At the other end is the North Bondi ocean pool. The rocky outcrop behind the pool is where the crazy locals swim. I suggest people watching from the grassy knoll behind the pool with the beverage of your choice instead.
After this safe, delicious and entertaining activity it’s time to get on the road again. This time you’re heading northwest to the magical Blue Mountains for an overnight stay. The Blue Mountains gets its name from the eerie blue haze that hangs above its valleys. Time your arrival at Echo Point around sunset so that you can watch the last rays fall behind a remarkable rocky landmark known as the Three Sisters.
On your way out of the Blue Mountains, make a pit stop at the Kanangra Walls. The Kanangra-Boyd lookout offers awe-inspiring views of the misty mountains and rolling green hills (and some pretty great photo ops too).
After you’ve soaked up all that serenity, it’s back to Sydney for another dose of culture at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Check out the best in local and international art at the gallery before heading back outside for the Vivid Sydney light show.
As well as the spectacular light displays each night, the festival features Vivid Ideas and Vivid Music with live music, talks and events every day at the Sydney Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Headliners this year include Spike Lee, Esther Perel, Underworld, FKA Twigs and The Cure as well as many others, make sure you check them out.
If you’re not kicking on at Vivid Sydney, finish your trip like a Sydney local with a sundowner at the Watsons Bay Hotel. This bayside pub serves prawns by the bucket and Coopers pale ale on tap — it doesn’t get much more Australian than that!
This article originally appeared on VICE USA.
Photo: Sam Wilson