Sydney Beyond the Guidebooks
is justifiably one of the world's most popular destinations but many visitors miss the diverse neighborhoods and activities just beyond the reach of guidebooks.Visiting Sydney in 1999 clutching my heavily highlighted Lonely Planet Sydney I hit places which sounded a bit off the beaten path – Balmain, the Glebe Markets, Manly.
But since relocating from Baltimore in 2000 I've discovered many corners of the city, which are close at hand but far from the usual paths of travellers. Exciting neighborhoods, sea pools, and harbor side bush walks create the daily life of the local inhabitants.
Working Class Sydney
The neighboring suburbs of Marrickville and Dulwich Hill offer the intrepid traveller a peek into the workaday world of working class Sydney.
This is a living neighborhood full of families including many immigrants. Young Vietnamese and African parents push prams past elderly Greek men clicking worry beads. After school, students of Asian, Polynesian, Lebanese, and Aboriginal descent fill the streets in their matching uniforms and display their unique Aussie hip-hop style.
Here you come face to face with 21st century Australia.It's a great area to simply wander for an afternoon, eat at one of the myriad of restaurants, or shop for a great meal back at your accommodation. Stay at the Youth Hostels Association Dulwich Hill location and become a local for part of your visit.
There are too many restaurants to describe them all. Sydney offers cuisine from all around the globe able to satisfy the most remote palates. Among the Vietnamese offerings Huong Huong is well loved and busy. Here you'll share a table in the cramped bustling space. Service is quick and efficient, the food cheap, and delicious. To put an Australian twist on your meal, order a stir-fry with kangaroo, crocodile or emu. Other stand-out eateries include the Delicate Spicy Place serving “authentic Chinese home cuisine”.
Jinnah Restaurant offers Pakistani cuisine and a fine collection of cricket memorabilia.The Corinthian Rotisserie Greek restaurant, reflecting the area's Mediterranean connections, is a friendly little place and if you've ever wanted to try roasted lamb's head this is your chance! Other options include roast chicken, moussaka, salads, etc.
The best coffee in the area, and some of the best in the city, is served at Coffee Alchemy. Hazel and Clare roast their own beans and are careful baristas who also serve breakfast and lunch. If you brew your own coffee, ring ahead and they'll roast you a batch based on your brewing method and preferences.
Shopping for Chefs
If your accommodation has a kitchen this area is a great place to stock up on food for cheap. While there are more shops in Marrickville, which is great for poking around, Dulwich Hill has some of my favorites. The bustle of Saturday mornings at Dulwich Hill Quality Meats is a great atmosphere for meat-eaters.
Next door at Senta Brothers Fruit Market the owner sings out sale prices to passers-by. Across the road Gino & Mary's Continental Delicatessen offers a counter full of cheeses, olives, meats, dried fish, fresh bread and the opportunity to be called “signora.”Banana Joes is the best general grocer in the area. The fishmongers at nearby Phuoc Hai Seafood are friendly and helpful in a shop chock full of fresh seafood. Annand Video and Spices overflows with small bags of spices. You're sure to find just the thing to add zest to your meal here.
Most shops are open from morning (eight or nine) til late afternoon (five or six).If you are staying at the YHA-Dulwich Hill, you won't have to go far with your shopping. A Victorian house with a modern extension at the rear, this hostel offers the only accommodation in the area. Rates are $18-20 per person a night in a multi-share room with weekly rates starting at $100. Private rooms are also available.
Experiencing the Outdoor Lifestyle
Having escaped the tourist precincts for some genuine Sydney living, now you'll have to embrace the outdoor lifestyle away from the maddening crowds of the places highlighted in your guidebook.
Here are a couple of ideas:
Good bushwalks exist within view of the Opera House all around the harbor. One footpath runs from Mosman to Cremorne Point and both ends are served by Sydney Ferries from Circular Quay. From the Mosman Wharf walk inland up Avenue Road, left on the small road at the head of the inlet, another left into Harnett Avenue and past the Mosman Rowing Club building onto the tree-lined footpath.
You'll be following the shore line for about two and half kilometres through a park setting with views of boats bobbing languidly at their moorings in the bay while others race past on the open harbour. Rounding the point you'll be greeted with a million dollar view of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. If you've brought your bathing suit, follow the footpath past the Cremorne Point ferry wharf, which is about 250 meters, and follow the side path towards the water to the MacCallum Pool.
This raised harbour swimming pool and sundeck are free and open to the public. Walking Sydney by Jeff Togill is one of many books of Sydney area walks found at most bookshops. Footpaths are also depicted in the various map books of Sydney such as Gregory's and UBD.
Sydney's Beaches and Baths
As a native Midwesterner and sufficiently near-sighted to be uncomfortable without my glasses, I've always been a bit nervous about swimming in the pounding (and, well, not so pounding) surf of Sydney's beaches.
Along with harbor side pools like McCallum, there are a number of excellent sea pools popular with locals keen for a swim away from the surf. Five hundred metres south of Coogee Beach, Wylie's Baths, www.wylies.com.au, is a historic rock pool with excellent facilities. First opened in 1907, Wylie's is listed by the National Trust for its significance as one of the first mixed sex bathing pools in Sydney. On a recent weekday afternoon, the pool was busy but not crowded and unlike nearby Coogee Beach all the visitors seemed to be locals.The Baths are a large rectangular rock pool with a natural rocky and sandy bottom.
There is plenty of room to spread out towels near the pool, while decking overlooks the pool and sea beyond. A small kiosk offers snacks, drinks, and miscellaneous swimming gear. Twenty-cent solar heated showers are found in the clean airy changing sheds. Sydney offers a wealth of suburbs to explore away from the tourists, from the boutique shops of Mosman and the Korean restaurants of Campsie to the relaxed lifestyles of Northern Beaches communities like Dee Why and Narrabeen.
Ask locals for suggestions, follow your curiosity, and you'll go home having had a rather different Sydney experience than most tourists.
Marrickville and Dulwich Hill: Both suburbs are serviced by the purple Bankstown Train Line from the City. However the Dulwich Hill station is farther from the shops than is the Marrickville station. From the Dulwich Hill station turn north/left out of the station (Wardell Road) and walk about three blocks to Marrickville Road and turn left for another three blocks to reach the shops passing the YHA Dulwich Hill on the right side of the road as you go. Marrickville station is on Illawarra Road, most places mentioned here are north/right of the station, including those on Marrickville Road, except Huong Huong one block south/left.
Walking along Marrickville Road between the two suburbs will take 15 – 20 minutes. Although a busy street, it is a pleasant walk through a residential area. Marrickville can be reached by bus from Circular Quay, Railway Square or Newtown on the 423 or 426 busses, the 428 goes to Dulwich Hill. The 445 serves Dulwich Hill from the Balmain Wharf. The 425 and 426 run along Marrickville Road between the two.
Wylie's Baths/Mc Ivers Baths: Located south of Coogee Beach. Buses serving Coogee include: 372 (Railway Square to Coogee via Cleveland St and Randwick Jct.), 373 (Circular Quay to Coogee via Taylor Square and Carr St), 374 (Circular Quay to Coogee via Eddie Ave and Bream St), 370 (Leichhardt to Coogee via Newtown, UNSW and Randwick).
Elizabeth Cage writes from New South Wales Austalia.