Storm over Sydney, New Year’s Eve 2018

The dramatic storm that ended 2018 by soaking most of the people who’d been waiting 12 hours for a fireworks show was not forecast, but it also wasn’t entirely unheralded. Here’s the sky 2 hours before it struck:

Storm gathers over Sydney, New Year's Eve 2018
Storm over Sydney, New Year's Eve 2018

However, it wasn’t until later that this was heralded on the radar:

Storm building over Sydney, New Years Eve 2018

I went to the north of the island to see if I could see the storm cell; hearing a security guard’s radio piping up about moving all guests into shelter. Promising! I was not disappointed:

Sydney storm cell, New Year's Eve 2018
Storm cell over Hunter's Hill, New Year's Eve 2018
Rain foot, New Year's Eve 2018

I hurried back; as I did the loudspeakers started to call everyone into the old machinerary sheds due to a “dangerous storm”; we were probably some of the few New Year’s Eve revellers around the harbour who could take shelter that evening.

I made it before the rain did. However, I wasn’t quite the last one in:

Taking shelter from the storm, New Year's Eve 2018

We were out in time for the party:

Rain dance

Other photos of New Year’s Eve (in progress).

What should I do in Sydney?

Leigh advises if you tell a story three times, blog it. My version is “if you give advice three times…” I tend to assume that Sydney advice is fairly easy to find for visitors, but sometimes it’s better from someone you know! I’ve given advice to three separate first-time travellers to Sydney in two months, and am accordingly freeing it for you, my reading audience.

The Harbour Bridge and Opera House viewed from the north east
Sydney at night by Nigel Howe

What sort of advice is this anyway?

I’ve lived in Sydney for 17 years this year, my entire adult life. My Sydney biases: I like walking and exploring ourdoors. I like things that can be done during the day and ideally that you can take children to. I like dining out including fine dining. I’ve spent the vast bulk of my time in Sydney living without a car and tend to recommend things accessible via public transport.

There are some things I can’t help you with: I’ve never spent much time in pubs and clubs and in any case I’ve had children for more than six years so my already limited partying knowledge is pretty well atrophied now. I’m also not a serious outdoor sports person: I know you can kayak and ocean swim in Sydney but I can’t tell you where or how better than the Internet can.

Where to stay

Unless you have some reason to stay in some particular part of Sydney, stay near Circular Quay or Wynyard train stations for access to the most public transport. If you’re visiting almost entirely for the beaches, stay in Bondi or Manly.

What to do

Walk from Circular Quay past (or into) the Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens. The Opera House has performances in many genres if opera isn’t your thing.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. The ferry trip alone is worth it; it is one of the longer ones and you will see much of the eastern harbour. Manly is a beach suburb; you can swim at a harbour or ocean or sheltered ocean beach, do the Manly to Fairlight penguin walk or go to the aquarium.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island. Cockatoo Island used to be a island-sized shipyard and is now an island-sized museum of ex-shipyarding. You can ramble through giant sheds and along catwalks and so on. There’s on-island camping and glamping, the only harbour island that allows overnight stays. If an island picnic is more your thing, there are also private ferries from Circular Quay to Shark Island, which is more like a large park.

Shed interior, Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island by Chris Marchant, edited by Mary Gardiner

Visit the Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. Their permanent exhibits include decommissioned naval vessels and a submarine. Have a look at the current exhibits at the Powerhouse Museum for science and technology possibilities.

Head to the beach. As above, Manly is a good choice, and in the eastern suburbs Bondi is famous and has fairly good transport. It’s also a starting point for the beautiful Bondi to Bronte coastal walk. Coogee is the beach with perhaps the next best transport options. Clovelly is a long inlet and thus very calm. Most beaches, including Bondi, Coogee, and Manly have an ocean bath – a pool filled with seawater – if you’re not up for swimming in the ocean.

Swimmer in Coogee ocean bath
Swimmer in Coogee ocean bath by Tim Gillin, edited by Mary Gardiner

The art gallery I like best is the Museum of Contemporary Art right at Circular Quay. The huge mural at the entrance is re-commissioned and painted over once a year or so, so look at the current one whenever you go. The cafe at the top has an excellent view.

I’m not done with ferries yet, you can also catch Circular Quay ferries to Luna Park, a harbourside amusement park, and to Taronga Zoo, Sydney’s best known zoo. The Gunner’s Barracks in the vicinity of the zoo is a great ramble but harder to reach from the south side of the harbour.

Luna Park ferris wheel framed against the Harbour Bridge
Luna Park,by Simon Clancy, edits by Mary Gardiner

Great walks include the Bondi to Bronte walk mentioned above, the Glebe foreshore walk and the Harbour Bridge to Manly walk (or the Spit Bridge to Manly half depending on your walking distance and available time).

The water park Wet n Wild may be more of an acquired taste, but I keep wanting to take visitors there. You don’t need to be an especially strong swimmer but a love of rollercoasters might help.

Seasonal things to look out for include the yearly Sydney Festival and Vivid festivals in summer and winter respectively. Vivid includes large light installations around the harbour and other parts of the city. There’s Sculpture By the Sea exhibits on the Bondi to Bronte walk in spring. The film festival is in June and the comedy festival in April and May.

The Museum of Contemporary Art covered in a red snake pattern
Museum of Contemporary Art lit for Vivid by MD111, edits by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA. Light show inspired by Jess Johnson, artist unknown.

Where to eat

Fine dining is often in flux, check recent restaurant reviews. The Boathouse at Glebe is the closest to a regular we have; it specialises in seafood. Cafe Sydney is my preferred place with a view.

For cafes and gastro pub-style eating, head to Surry Hills; bills is the best known cafe. Haymarket is the centre of Chinese food, and the other side of George Street has some great Thai places including Chat Thai.

If despite my protestations of ignorance someone insisted I choose the bar, for visitors I’d go with the Opera Bar on the lower level of the approach to the Opera House, or try out Blu Bar at the top of the Shangri-La if everyone was willing to primp for it. If your motivation is cocktails alone, the Different Drummer in Glebe is good.

Out of town

The Blue Mountains to the west are reachable as a day trip on public transport; head to Katoomba and to the Echo Point lookout.

Jervis Bay to the south is a good weekend away; you’ll likely want to drive. If you want to do some kayaking without having to deal with the boat traffic in Sydney Harbour this and several other places on the coast are good alternatives.

Image credits

Sydney by Nigel Howe.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney by Chris Marchant, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Coogee beach, Sydney pool by Tim Gillin, rotated, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Luna Park Sydney by Simon Clancy, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Vivid Sydney 2014 by MD111, rotated cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner, availabe as Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike. The Museum of Contemporary Art light show in 2014 was inspired by artist Jess Johnson, but artist unknown and copyright presumably all rights reserved.

Photo circle shots

I recently ran a “photo circle”, consisting of a small group of people sending prints of their own photographs to each other. It was a fun way to prod myself to take non-kid photos.

My four photos were:

Photo circle: sun in the eucalypts

I took Sun in the eucalypts in the late afternoon of Easter Sunday, as the sun was sinking behind the eucalypts at Centennial Park’s children’s bike track. I tried to take one with the sun shining through the trees but didn’t get the lens flare right. I like the contrast between the sunlit tree and the dark tree in this one. It feels springlike, for an autumn scene.

The other three are a very different type of weather shot, taken during Sydney’s extreme rainfall of late April and very early May:

Photo circle: rainstorm

This one has the most post-processing by far: it was originally shot in portrait and in colour. I was messing around with either fast or slow shutter speeds while it poured with rain at my house; I have a number of similar photos where spheres of water are suspended in the air. None of them quite work but I will continue to play with photographing rain with a fast shutter speed. In the meantime, the slow shutter speed here works well. I made the image monochrome in order to make the rain stand out more. In the original image the green tree and the rich brown fencing and brick rather detract from showing exactly how rainy it was.

Photo circle: Sydney rain storm

This was shot from Gunners’ Barracks in Mosman (a historical barracks, not an active one) as a sudden rainstorm rolled over Sydney Harbour. The view was good enough, but my lens not wide enough, to see it raining on parts of the harbour and not on other parts. All the obscurity of the city skyline in this shot is due to rain, not fog.

Photo circle: ferry in the rain

This is the same rainstorm as the above shot; they were taken very close together. It may not be immediately obvious, but the saturation on this shot is close to maximum in order to make the colours of the ferry come up at all. I was the most worried about this shot on the camera, it was very dim. It comes up better in print than on screen, too. The obscurity is again entirely due to the rain, and results in the illusion that there is only one vessel on Sydney Harbour. Even in weather like this, that’s far from true. I felt very lucky to capture this just before the ferry vanished into the rain too.

The right to forget, or, that one terrible road stop

I predict that soon the conversation will turn from the right to be forgotten to the right to forget.

Why so? Well, now Google Maps now tries to remember places I’ve been and include them in the maps it shows me. The trouble with this (ignoring any petty privacy, commercialisation, misc concerns you may be about to mention to me) is that there are some places that should be forgotten. In particular, all of Western Sydney’s commerce is now represented to me by one service station that we stopped at on a family trip because someone needed to use the loo, but couldn’t, because its loo was splattered with largely unspecified bodily fluids.

Get it together Google! This is even worse than the way my Youtube suggestions are now and forever filled with Thomas the Tank Engine videos because of an unfortunate and lengthy phase my son went through. I insist on not navigating Sydney in future primarily in terms of which horrible public toilet I am nearest.

 

Product review updates: Shoeboxed & GoGet

I had some success in 2012 at subscribing to things that made my life a bit easier to organise, so, a couple of updated reviews.

Shoeboxed (original review)

Update February 2017: this service is now known as Squirrel Street, and their smallest monthly pricing is significantly higher than it was in 2013. However much of the review still applies.

Original 2013 update:

What: a service where you package up a bundle of papers to be scanned, and they scan them, do some basic data entry (vendor, date, total amount, total GST) and store them on their website for you.

Current impressions: it’s still a pretty good fit for our needs: whenever a piece of paper enters our house that we have any belief we may need to access for paperwork purposes, we ship it off to them for scanning, data entry and shredding. The big test was doing our 2011/2012 taxes, and it was great to just enter a search term and have the document we needed show up among the top hits. We’ll keep using it for the foreseeable future. We don’t even really need the numerical amounts entered, since we don’t do personal bookkeeping at anything like that level.

I’ve also started forwarding them PDF receipts I get in the mail, and those work well: the PDF is pulled out and added to the data entry queue the vast bulk of the time. They’re much less good with HTML/text email receipts; it’s a harder problem though.

The major downside that has emerged is the length of time the processing takes, at least on the entry-level plan that we are on. It takes about two weeks from popping the envelope into the mail to the scans being available, and the delay is the scanning itself, not the data entry, so we can’t even access the raw images during this period. (There’s two ways to tell: one is that data entry for documents we upload in electronic form is usually complete within hours, the other is that the scans eventually show up in our “uploaded documents” queue waiting for their own data entry, and that happens about 24 hours before we get the “envelope processing now complete!” email.)

This is slower than the pricing plan states. It is mostly annoying for my business receipts: I do do double-entry bookkeeping for those, and in order to stay on top of things I like to do bank reconciliations sooner than 2 to 3 weeks after spending the money. I expect though that most businesses would subscribe to one of the higher volume plans (ours is 50 scans a month) which also have faster turnaround times.

GoGet car sharing (original review)

This has been a great replacement for car ownership, for us. Neither of us commutes by car (it would be a thoroughly silly way to pay for a regular commute), and we don’t even use cars every single weekend. But we do travel a lot to places where it is either essential or nice to have a car for the weekend, and make shorter trips to places that are a pain to wrangle a young child, associated supplies, and ourselves to on public transport (eg, Sydney’s beaches).

It’s also nice to have access to the vans. I’ve only done amateur furniture removal once this way, but they’re nice and roomy (we got two couches and a double mattress into one trip) without being as difficult to drive as the trucks one gets from rental companies. Also potentially much cheaper for small things, to be hiring by the hour!

For whatever reason, the contention for them has not been as bad since around about April. We can almost always get our first or second choice of car with as little as an hours’ notice. This is excepting the local iMax (8-seater) which you have to book up to 6 weeks in advance, but we very rarely need an 8-seater, luckily. We also regularly are later than we planned to be, and only once have I had to hurry back because someone else had booked the car for the next hour: every single other time we’ve been able to extend the booking into the free next hour. Several more cars have been added to the neighbourhood since around then.

We’re getting used to the child car-seat issue. It helps a lot that one of the nearby cars now has a car seat in it. We still often have to fit or re-fit the seat; I now believe the commonly cited statistic that around about 70% of self-fittings are incorrect. Ours definitely aren’t as tight as a professional fit sadly, but at least unlike everyone else we don’t have the back of the child’s belts wrapped around the adult belt that holds the seat itself. However, fitting a seat is a lot less onerous than carrying a seat to the car (while persuading a toddler to walk with us) and then fitting it! It will be good to have him in a booster though.

It’s not especially cheap: our monthly spend is somewhere between $200 and $500 (the high end in months like December and January, with multiple visits to different family in different cities). And we’re definitely using cars more often than we would if we had to sort out an entire car hire from scratch from a daily company every single time.

If there was one feature I really wish they’d add, it would be the ability to conditionally cancel a booking. The present situation is this: if you cancel with 48 hours before the start of the booking, it’s cancelled and you do not pay anything and the car is available for someone else to re-book. After that, you simply cannot cancel (not even any portion of your booking that is more than 48 hours in the future). What I’d like is the ability to do something like cancel at any time, thereby having the car available for booking by someone else, and, if there was less than 48 hours’ notice, incur the difference between my original hourly fee and any hourly fees they were able to get from any new bookings for that car. Then they have the same situation as now with regard to not losing my booking fee, but the neighbourhood is not locked out of the unused car for the duration of my abandoned booking. We felt this keenly when we had to walk away from our entire Easter weekend trip at the last minute due to acute illness.

We don’t intend to purchase a car again any time soon.