Australia · My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 15: Picking a Gym in Newtown

In January I started my yoga challenge because I couldn’t fit a steady gym routine into my schedule. However, it’s a new month, I’m in a new place, and I’m seizing the opportunity to get back into martial arts training.

In December, when I was staying out in The Hills District of Sydney, I talked about doing some free trial sessions at various MMA gyms in Castle Hill. Now that I’m in Newtown, I’m ready to check out my training prospects here.

For starters, I mapped out gyms within a two-to-three kilometer radius that I could walk or jog to in a half hour or less. I found a couple of MMA gyms in Marrickville, Sydenham, and St. Peters.

One was a Gracie Barra Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym but having already done a trial class at a Gracie Barra in Castle Hill, I more or less already knew I was looking for a more complete MMA experience.

Another prospect within range was Power Core MMA Gym but when I checked their timetable I got the idea that they were more focused on fitness than fighting.

Moreover, they didn’t have any morning or midday classes and since I’m often working in the evening that would be fairly essential for me to keep a solid training schedule. They did invite me to come in for a free trial class but I never found (or made) a way to work that into my schedule.

Next and nearest was Zeus International Martial Arts Academy. Although–like Power Core–they also do not offer classes before 5 or 6 PM, it was close and I was interested in trying their Muay Thai.

My free trial session at Zeus was enjoyable and both the instructor, Costa Prasoulas, and the training assistant who was my sparring partner gave me lots of helpful tips to adjust and refine my fight game.

Coach Costa is a fantastically warm and welcoming fellow and I loved the friendly vibe at this gym.

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Though the gym is very small, they do a lot with the space they have.

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Located at the Marrickville District Lawn Tennis Club, Zeus Academy offer Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When you come in for a trial session, you can immediately sense the spirit of family built around both styles.

However, I knew it would be difficult to commit to training here because of my schedule so, as much as I would have loved to keep training here, my search continued.

This week I took a trial class at Darkside MMA in Sydenham. Even though this is the farthest of the gyms in the area, I was immediately drawn in by their timetable.

With daily classes at 12, 5, 6, and 7 PM I knew I would be able to fit at least one, if not more, sessions a day in with my current online teaching schedule.

Here’s the dealmaker: each class is something different, from boxing and Muay Thai to grappling and jiu-jitsu, as well as MMA classes to put them all together. Before even showing up at the gym I had a feeling it would be exactly what I was looking for.

After contacting the gym online and being told I could walk in for my free trial class at any time, I received a warm welcome from the instructor and was even taught their secret handshake at the end of the session.

The MMA training was great. Right off the bat, we jumped into sparring drills with mouth guard and shin pads. The class ended with three 5-minute rounds of ground-and-pound cage work and my total exhaustion by the end told me this is exactly where I want to be training.

A few days later I came in to enroll for a month and join the midday boxing class. Again, we spent most of the lesson doing sparring drills and, in addition to learning some great sequences, I got some practice keeping my eyes open and focused while gloves came at them.

Before week’s end I joined two more classes and in all four I’ve taken so far I’ve had to focus on footwork and defense–both weaknesses of mine.

In the last MMA class, there were only two of us training and my partner and I got into a nice groove with an initially tricky southpaw setup that could open a fight with some stellar striking and takedown opportunities.

It’s a five-kilometer walk, jog, or run to the gym and back and on Thursday it was a trip I made twice–for noon boxing and evening MMA. I was thoroughly wiped out by the end but anticipant of achieving a new level of fighter fitness by the end of my first month.

Honestly, I’d been too caught up and thoroughly exhausted by the training here that I hadn’t gotten around to taking any pictures until just the other day. I’m going to consider that a good thing, but now that I’ve enrolled and been to a few classes I finally got around to snapping some.

Pictures, of course. Snapping pictures.

Here’s a look at the gym and facilities.

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I’ll let you know what I’ve learned at the end of my first month here.

Cheers.

Australia

Snapshots of Sydney Street Art

February has come. I have been to Manila and back and am now settling into a new neighborhood and place of work for the next two months or so.

On what is now my third trip to Sydney, in addition to having such visitor essentials as using an Opal card and going to the beach thoroughly covered, I’ve been setting up a few other things as well.

It hasn’t been entirely seamless as I’ve recently been dealing with both Aldi mobile and Belong broadband failing to connect me to their services. In the meantime, I’m fortunate enough to have somebodies to lean on; thus, life goes on and it remains good.

Day by day, I’ve been exploring my new environment. While I’ve previously praised live street artists in places like Circular Quay and Manly beach, here in Newtown and surrounding I tip my hat to those invisible folks who have left such stunning wall art as you can see in these photos.

Cheers.

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Australia · My MMA Journey

2018: Mindfulness, Minimalism

You won’t even find the word “and” in the title because, from a minimalist point of view, it’s entirely unnecessary. How mindful of you to notice, in any case.

I have a few things on the agenda for this post.

First of all, I’m following up on my  24-day yoga challenge, which ends today.

Other things that end today: the month of January; my time in Sydney with my daughter.

Despite these monumental culminations, the day has paid little regard to reverence or reflection and jam-packed itself with work to do, classes to teach, reports to write, and bags to back.

It is then, with transparency in mind, only fair to note that I wrote a good portion of this yesterday. Sitting on my brother’s patio in the Hills of Sydney with my home-brewed iced coffee, I reflected upon a day in the city packed with pizza, play, sunshine, and feelings, and upon two beautiful summer months spent with family and friends.

Finally, with this post, I have a mind to write about my thoughts for the new year and let’s face it, the last day of January is really as far as we can push such things.

Before I get stuck in that, let’s revisit the yoga.

24 Days of Yoga

I started this yoga challenge as a continuation of my amateur MMA series, since I couldn’t swing the gym for awhile and wanted to keep flexible and fit.

If you’ve been following my MMA journey, you may have picked up a hint here and there that it’s not only one of physical transformation but that it bleeds into other realms as well.

That being said, my yoga practice this month has been about more than fitness and flexibility: it has also helped me manage my energy and emotions and provided an alternative to feeling restless, worried, or on some days even a little depressed.

Here are the yoga classes by Fiji McAlpine’s that I tried this month, many for the first time:

  • Revolved Bound Side Angle Pose:
    • Dynamic Twists
    • Reach & Wrap
    • Workshop
  • Morning Wake-Up and Flow
  • Vinyasa for Vitality
  • Arm Balance Power Flow
  • Power for Deep Release
  • Inspire the Fire
  • Chakra One Flow
  • Chakra Two Flow
  • Dancer’s Pose:
    • Supple Spine & Shoulders
    • Balances & Binds

Having missed more than a week due to an injury, I ended up completing 12 classes in 24 days and I’m reasonably happy with that.

Of the classes listed above, I especially enjoyed the chakra-based ones and the freedom of flying into wild thing towards the end of Chakra Two Flow.

Morning Wake-Up and Vinyasa for Vitality are two of my favorites that I’ve revisited many times. Both are short 20-minute classes that will pick you up when you’re feeling sluggish and leave you pulsing with energy and strength.

That really is what I love about yoga, and specifically, Fiji McAlpine’s classes on Do Yoga With Me: her classes give you a physically challenging workout, an influx of energy, and finally, a calm and meditative state of mind, all of which set you up for a day filled with gratitude.

When life slows down a little bit, I will revisit this post to add more information, a hyperlink, and a brief review of each of the above classes.

Until then, why don’t you have a perusal of your own on DoYogaWithMe.com and share your experience in the comments?

And so we come to the end of the first month with which we have started the new year.

I hesitate to call them resolutions, but these are my words:

Mindfulness: to be mindful of people, of self, of the body, of consumption, of want, of need, of choices.

Minimalism: to have less and live more.

In the spirit of minimalism, I’m going to make the mindful decision to stop now. Also because I have a bunch of stuff to do.

Namaste. Cheers.

Australia · MMA

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 14: Yoga Challenge

When I was training at Bulldog Muay Thai, what probably impressed me the most was the almost unnatural flexibility of these great big bulky fellows.

I can also say that the fighters at Team Lakay back in the Philippines, were extremely flexible: most of the guys I trained with could take their splits a whole lot farther than I could, for example. They were built fairly small, though.

Watching meaty six-foot-something, 200-plus-pound fighters stretch like gymnasts without batting an eyelash is something entirely different.

Yup, last week I talked about MMA-ing in Sydney before the start of the new year and I mentioned, sadly, my schedule wouldn’t allow for much training in January.

So here I am with old faithful: yoga at home.

I honestly haven’t done much of it at all in the past year–being so preoccupied with the martial arts–but I’m happy to be getting back into my practice with the challenge of taking my strength and flexibility to a new level.

Additionally, I don’t think my body will hate a spell of stretching and recovery and–on top of all that–what’s a fighter without flexibility?

It was probably a few years ago when I first discovered DoYogaWithMe and it has become a staple in my life since.

Classes are conveniently categorized by length into 0-20, 20-40, 40-60, and 60+ minutes and range in style from nice relaxing stretches to short energizing practices and lengthy, sweaty challenges.

In short, there’s no reason not to fit at least one of them into your day.

This month, my challenge is 21 yoga classes in 24 days, starting with the first one I did on January 8 and ending on the 31st.

Additionally, I’m pushing myself to move from intermediate to advanced and upping, among other things, my arm balance, headstand, and inversion game.

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On www.doyogawithme.com, click “Yoga Classes” and you’ll see a bunch of this:

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Without even creating an account, you can take almost every class (except the ones with an orange plus sign).

You can browse by difficulty, class length, style, and teacher to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Certainly one of my favorite instructors is Fiji McAlpine.

What I love about her classes is that they don’t just feel like and a nice stretch and some decent exercise; she always makes sure you feel the burn, whether it’s incorporating pushups in your sun salutations, holding plank or chair pose, or balancing on your arms for a spell.

She has amazing strength in her arms, legs, and core and inspires me to develop the same.

I also enjoy classes by Tracy Noseworthy as I love the flow in her classes and find her instructions very easy to follow.

I bought an audio recording of Sun Salutations III to keep on my phone for yoga-on-the-go. This sweet and simple 15-minute practice flows through an energizing series of sun salutations and Tracy’s instructions keep you focused on fluid breathing throughout.

You can make a free account if you’d like to save your favorite videos to your bookmarks, become a subscriber for access to premium videos, challenges, and programs, or choose to make a one-time donation to the platform.

You can also buy an audio file for $3, a small-screen video for $6, and a large-screen version for $9 if you’d like access to your favorite classes offline.

I’ll let you know how my challenge went at the end of the month.

Namaste.

Australia · My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 13: Rolling in The Hills

Or: Kicking, Punching, and Rolling in The Hills District of Sydney

Or: Tryouts at the MMA Gyms of Castle Hill, NSW

Back in July of last year when I was backpacking in Baguio, I wrote about staying healthy on the road and I consider this a bit of a sequel to that.

Now that I’m in Sydney for a few months enjoying the summer and holiday season with family, I’ve been looking for ways to keep up with my training and fitness.

Before my departure from Manila at the end of November, I was doing two to three hours of training, typically four nights a week. I didn’t want to lose that entirely when switching to holiday feeding and beach lounging mode, so I looked up a couple of MMA gyms on Google Maps, found their websites and Facebook pages, and got in touch for some free trial classes.

Intermission.

I’m often asked how long I’ve been doing MMA.

In truth, there are two stories of where it began. One is in high school when I put on boxing gloves for the first time and gave a large soccer player an accidental bloody nose with a left hook he apparently didn’t see coming. You can see how love for the sport was spontaneously born.

The other is many years later, at the turn of my quarter century, when I finally decided to put the gloves back on.

In the week following my 25th birthday, I started classes at Elorde Boxing Gym, moved on to Muay Thai after six months, and throughout the year 2017 began experimenting with MMA at various gyms in Manila and notably at Team Lakay in Baguio.

I ended my time in Manila with three months of circuit training and Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes at Fitness Unlimited, a gym that quickly became my second home.

The year came to a close in Sydney, where, as we were getting to earlier, I took a peek at the MMA scene by visiting various Castle Hill gyms for some free trial sessions.

Free Trial #1: A Day at Pollet’s Martial Arts Center

An instant favorite, (certainly as far as my daughter was concerned) Pollet’s Martial Arts is a franchise with a number of dojos across Sydney and Australia.

You can come here to learn karate, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, and MMA, or to improve self-defense and fitness.

While Gracie gyms (coming up) teach the Brazilian style of jiu-jitsu (BJJ), Pollet’s is home to a Master Instructor with an 8th-degree black belt in Kempo jiu-jitsu. This more traditional Japanese style tends to put ground-based BJJ back on its feet as it incorporates judo throws and wrestling takedowns in addition to grappling.

Grant Miller, the owner of the Castle Hill franchise, is a friendly and accommodating trainer from whom I learned a great deal in only one lesson.

Since I was the only student to show up in the middle of the day, we had a one-on-one session of MMA grappling, sparring, and Muay Thai drills.

At the end of the class, we reviewed grappling techniques and Grant helped me up my submission game with a handy variety of rear-naked chokes–one of my go-to’s.

Grant also gave me a lot of information about the dojo’s various martial arts styles and was helpful in giving tips and instructions for improving areas of personal weakness.

Let’s take a look at the gym.

There is a large training area on the ground floor with mats, a boxing ring, and a cage, weight training corner, and another matted area upstairs as well. The dojo also sells fight wear and essential gear.

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Pollet’s is wonderfully respectful and at the same time child-friendly environment. There is a small collection of toys for kids to play with and the owner himself has a friendly daughter just a year older than my own.

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Children are of course expected to keep food and shoes off the mats at all times.

I’ve been eager to return to Pollet’s, not only because my girl keeps begging me to, but because of how much I learned in less than two hours time. I’d love to train here more because I’ve seen how much I have yet to grasp and I can see myself picking up a lot of it here.

Check out their website for classes in Castle Hill and elsewhere or get in touch on Facebook.

Free Trial #2: A Week at Bulldog Muay Thai

Right off the bat, I appreciated the generosity of the 7-day free trial period here at Bulldog in Castle Hill.

This gym is run by the McKinnon brothers, a great bunch of people, fighters, and trainers.

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Because of my schedule, the only class I was able to show up for on my first day was the sparring, which on Wednesday’s at 11 AM, Stuart said, was for fighters.

He wasn’t lying, Among those in gloves and shin guards was none other than Tyson Pedro, one of Australia’s very own in the UFC.

Stu, head of the gym, recommended watching from the bleachers but welcomed me to use the facilities for personal training. Tyson–friendly guy–invited me for a spar but unfortunately got a knee to his already-injured elbow and had to call it a day before I had the chance to take him up on his offer.

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We had a nice chat nonetheless and he told me about his next fight in Perth, for which he’d soon be traveling to the US to train.

Tyson, ranking 12 out of 35 in the light-heavyweight division, is currently training for the upcoming fight on home soil against Saparbek Safarov on February 11.

The classes I was able to participate in, however, were physically challenging and a lot of fun.

First, there was a regular Muay Thai training session lead by Stuart’s younger brother Steve at 12:15 PM that same Wednesday. In addition to an excellent warmup and a set of combination drills practiced with training partners, I enjoyed the ab exercises at the end of the class.

Steve, who was taking over for his brother that day, told me I was welcome to come back the next day for the Fighter’s class but did mention that Stuart calls the shots when it comes to the lessons.

When I returned Thursday evening, since I couldn’t make it on time for the 6 PM Muay Thai class, I had hopes of joining the Fighters class at 7. However, Stu explained that his students had to work their way up to this level through regular attendance of regular classes–in some cases for many years. He didn’t consider it fair to let me jump in and again welcomed me to use the facilities for my own drills.

Following the class, Stu invited me to join the Stretch & Roll session, which was stellar.

After I busy beach weekend, I returned to the gym on Monday for Muay Thai and sparring. I immensely enjoyed sparring with a partner and later with the trainer–something I hadn’t had the opportunity to do since I was up in the mountains of Baguio with Team Lakay. And this time I even got to wear shin guards.

It’s difficult to compare my training at Bulldog Muay Thai with Pollet’s as it was a completely different experience. Where I learned a great variety of MMA techniques at Pollet’s, I had the pure pleasure of intense fighting and physical exercise at Bulldog.

I can say, however, that Bulldog was equally child-friendly. It’s basically a playground and my daughter loved it here too.

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They sell Muay Thai gear at the counter and you can visit their website to check out the trainers, fighters, classes, and timetable. Go ahead and send them a message on Facebook if you’re interested in training; they are very responsive.

 

Free Trial #3: A Day at Gracie BJJ

This time, I dragged my own sparring partner along, entirely new to martial arts and with whom I was hoping to have some fun.

At this point, we were right in the middle of Christmas and the New Year so the gym was operating on a slightly more relaxed holiday schedule–luckily for us because we had a hard time finding the place and showed up late.

I should note that at some gyms, arriving late at a jiu-jitsu class is considered highly disrespectful and in some cases flat-out unacceptable.

However, I called the gym a few times as we were trying to make our way there and they assured me that it was OK to arrive a little late this time.

We found Gracie’s a little after 6 PM on a Thursday and, because of the holidays, the Fundamentals and Advanced classes were combined into a two-hour session from 6 to 8.

After suiting up, my partner and I stepped in a little late but that instructor was kind enough to take some time introducing us to the gym and getting us caught up with the lesson.

Because my partner was entirely new to jiu-jitsu, the instructor ran did a quick run-through of the basic positions for him and we enjoyed rolling through those in the sparring rounds.

For programs, timetables, and more information visit their website. If you have questions and want to get in contact first, it’s best to give them a call.

Note: As of the now, I have no pictures of this gym. I jumped in late and was immediately engaged in the class, so I honestly didn’t think to take any. I might be back for a follow-up on my free trial, however, now that the training schedule is back to normal. It’s a nice place though; you can take my word for it.

 

Jiu-Jitsu Styles

It wasn’t until I tried jiu-jitsu in Sydney that I was properly introduced to the various styles, from Barra and Humaita to Kempo. Let’s get this sorted out, shall we?

Starting from the beginning, we have jujutsu–a traditional Japanese martial art form–giving birth to judo, BJJ, aikido, and other such popular fight sports.

The name jujutsu can be translated to “gentle art” or “flexible technique” and it is one that is used to defeat an armed opponent without a weapon (or with a small one).

When judo was brought to Brazil around the time of the first world war it was picked up by the Gracie family, who shifted the emphasis to ground grappling.

Judo, at the time, was still known as Kano Jiu-Jitsu, for its founder, which is why its Brazilian variation became known as BJJ and not “Brazilian judo”. (Probably a good thing.)

One jiu-jitsu association, Gracie Barra, is more traditional and focuses on self-defense. Conversely, the association of Gracie Humaita teaches a form of the sport that has evolved for competition.

Gracie Barra and Humaita Jiu-Jitsu gyms can be found all throughout Sydney and its suburbs.

Beyond that, I’ve heard talk of many noteworthy MMA gyms in and around the city as well and I look forward to visiting as many as I can.

However, racing into the first month of the new year, I have not yet been able to make regular classes work with my schedule.

With the nearest gyms over in Castle Hill still a good 40-minutes away, my 4-year-old with me most of the time, and English classes that conflict with most of the training sessions, it appears I will have to forego training for the remainder of January.

When the summer holidays come to an end for my family here in The Hills of Sydney and I escort my daughter to Manila to spend the Philippine summer with her father, I will be returning to Sydney for a stay in the city and a chance to dive deeper into the MMA scene.

To make the most of the interim, I’ve taken up a 24-day yoga challenge. More on that later.

 

 

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

4 Sydney Beaches to hit this Summer

With hardly a day left to 2017, I’m ready to breathe a sigh of relief that this crazy ride of a year is coming to an end.

I can look forward, with hope, to a new one of excitement but to look back with gratitude, I find it best to single in on three simple things: sun, sand, and waves.

If there is one thing I can say about 2017, it’s that it’s taken me to many a beautiful beach–possibly more than in any other year of my life. Goals!

From a relaxing vacation in Puerto Galera and a surf trip to Baler in the Philippines to camping in Port Macquarie and road tripping to Byron Bay in Australia and of course all the day trips to beaches in and around Sydney, it’s been one sunny year.

I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this (half) year of blogging than with a write-up of four beautiful beaches I’ve visited this month, all of which have some standout features that make them excellent spots to bask in the hot, hot glow of summer as you start the new year right.

Here’s a quick look at our four beaches.

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1. Manly Beach

Manly, the first beach I visited in Australia, is still a favorite.

It’s a scenic 30-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay and the walk from the wharf to the main beach takes you through warm streets graced with park benches, fountains, sandwich shops, bookstores, cafes, surfboards, and the occasional talented musician.

While it can get crowded in summer, it appears to be an excellent surf spot and one I look forward to trying out in the new year.

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When the sun starts to dip behind the trees and cast shade on the beach, you can chase it back to a nice little bit of sand just beside the wharf.

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2. Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is a 15-minute walk along the coast from Manly but you can also drive there directly, park just up the path, and have a nice barbecue in the shade. The waves that hit Manly don’t reach this little spot so it’s great for little kids and snorkeling.

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From the parking lot, and before heading down to the beach, catch this gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean.

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3. Whale Beach

Whale Beach, north of Sydney, features a pool and fun rocky area for adventure play and exploration. On the opposite end of the beach, there is a surf rescue and, coincidentally, a gnarly surf spot. Those seen slashing the waves over here certainly had a seasoned appearance.

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This beach has also got tables and grills for barbecues and a little playground in the shade for the kids.

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4. Wattamolla Beach

Wattamolla is south of Sydney and tucked away in a beautiful nature reserve. You’ll have to drive here and once you get off the main road you’ll lose signal on your phone–a beautiful thing, really.

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This stretch of cool ocean water is perfect for a swim because the waves are very mild. If the open sea is a little too chilly for you, however, you can hang out in the warmer pool of water on the other side. There is plenty of shallow water here for little kids to wade in and rocks off of which the older ones can jump.

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There you have it, just a small taste of Sydney beaches but I dare say it’s a good start.

Here’s to a beautiful evening and a blessed 2018!

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

A Day to Wander Sydney

Sunday is a perfect day to wander around Sydney because you can take unlimited bus, train, and ferry rides for only $2 with your Opal card. (That’s Australian dollars, so about 1.50 USD)

Start at Circular Quay and mosey to the Opera House

From wherever you are, catch a bus and/or train to Circular Quay. Make sure you say “key” and not “kway”.

For routes and schedules, Google Maps is all you need and it will give you real-time updates on changes and delays.

From the train, you will emerge at the ferry terminal and we’ll get back to that. First, walk along the harbor, past the Harbor Bridge, and head toward the Opera House.

Take your time and definitely stop to enjoy the street artists and performances.

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There are plenty of spots to grab a coffee to go or a bottle of water, both of which will cost you $4-5.

Get your photos of and with the Opera House and the bridge and go down the steps to the lower level of the Opera House for bathrooms and the cafe.

Stroll the Royal Botanic Garden

Get lost here for a while; it’s already one of my favorite places in the city and a beautiful place to kill however many hours you’d like.

Have a picnic, have a nap, read a book, eat a snack, and enjoy the view.

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Catch a ferry to Manly Beach

When it gets too hot in the gardens and the water starts to look quite inviting, walk back to the ferries and catch one to Manly Beach. They leave Circular Quay every 30 minutes and it’s roughly a 30-minute trip across the harbor.

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Cool down in the Pacific Ocean

Walk through the pleasant shopping street, grab a bite, and find a spot in the sand. Watch the surfers and the waves or maybe even take them on.

Eventually, the sun will start to set behind the trees and they will cast shade on the beach but if you want to, you can walk back toward the ferry and catch a bit more of the sun on the beach beside the wharf before it sinks into the harbor.

Without any waves, the water on this beach is beautifully translucent and, once it touches your toes, its cool clarity will pull you right in.

Have a drink to the setting sun

Find a pub with a view and sip on a cold one to the last of the day’s light.