Australia: Christmas Down Under

Frustration about having just missed completing my farm days by Christmas soon left me as I waved goodbye to Red Cliffs and headed for Melbourne. This wasn’t where I was spending Christmas, but now I wasn’t working that week, I had time to pop in for a few days before moving on. I spent 3 days catching up with my friends; we went on a night out in Fitzroy, did plenty of brunching, made mulled wine and a gingerbread house to get us into the festive spirit, and did a bit of Christmas shopping (which still felt weird in the heat – though in true Melbourne style, there was a good amount of horizontal rain as well as brilliant sunshine. More like home).

A festive masterpiece

That weekend, I said a sad goodbye to the friends of mine who would have left Australia by the next time I’m in Melbourne, and I headed for the airport. Next stop, Sydney! I was meeting my family there – my parents, brother, sister and brother-in-law had all come out – so I was really excited to spend a Christmas all together in the sun. I landed in Sydney to find Dad and Will waiting for me at my gate, and we drove back to the Airbnb where we were staying in Freshwater (a lovely little suburb just north of Manly) – via Dan Murphy’s to stock up on the essential festive booze. When we arrived I was reunited with Mum, Charlotte and Lance, and we spent the rest of the day catching up and eating before Team Jetlag called it a night.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Given the family had flown across the world to see me I’d taken on the responsibility of being Mother Christmas. In the morning, my sous chef (Will) and I faced the crowds to do the Christmas food shop, and then I finished off a bit of Christmas shopping. In the afternoon, some family friends took us for a lovely walk to Cremorne Point. (Our old neighbours emigrated out here nearly 10 years ago – I stayed with them the week I was in Sydney when I first arrived in Aus, but it was exciting for Mum and Dad to see them here!) We walked from Mosman out to the little Cremorne lighthouse, then along some amazing prime real estate that looks out onto the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, before driving to the lovely Chowder Bay for a coffee. That evening, we went to our friends’ for some festive drinks. When we’d had our fill of wine and canapés we returned to the Airbnb and fulfilled our Christmas tradition of eating mince pies, drinking Baileys and watching Father Christmas and The Snowman. Magic.

Christmas Eve walk views from Cremorne

I had something of a rude awakening on Christmas Day, given that everyone was jet lagged and woke up about 5am. They managed to wait until about 8am until they woke me up, so bleary-eyed, I switched into Mother Christmas mode. Now, I have to admit that despite the fact the youngest of us is now 24, we are still lucky enough to get Christmas stockings… This year we’d enforced a no presents rule given the distance travelled, but again, as they’d all come to see me, buying a few gifts was the least I could do. I’d done everyone a stocking, so we sat in the living room for present time – including the obligatory throw-the-wrapping-paper-into-a-box-at-the-other-end-of-the-room game (oh Christmas is wild in the Field household). Stockings unwrapped, we played a very funny card game called Bubble (Google it) before we had the traditional smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast. So far, aside from the heat, Christmas morning had looked a lot like it does at home. The next activity was a bit of a departure from this, as we walked down to Freshwater beach for a Christmas swim and sunbathe. It was very busy but felt very festive, with a lot of Santa hats and eskis of beer around us. We raced into the sea, and tried to remember the last time all 5 of us were on a beach together!

Christmas Day on Freshwater Beach

The inaugural Christmas swim complete, we walked back to the Airbnb and showered, before Will and I put beers in the hands of the others, sent them outside, and got to work in the kitchen. I thought attempting a traditional Christmas dinner away from home would only be disappointing – namely because I would set myself up for a direct comparison to Mum’s delicious feasts – so I decided to do something a bit more summery and Australian. We started with some tiger prawns, Will making some delicious mango salsa to accompany. Then I did kangaroo fillet for main, and a mango and passion fruit pavlova for dessert – with plenty of wine to wash it all down. Lance’s parents had flown over from New Zealand (where he’s from) to join us for a few days, so it was lovely having a big group for Christmas lunch. It wouldn’t be Christmas without paper hats and awful jokes, so of course, we had some crackers too.

Serving the Christmas pavlova

In the evening, when Lance’s parents had left, it was time for more games. I’d prepared something of a Christmas quiz (as usually hosted by my uncle at Field family Christmas get togethers). The most amusing rounds were the paper plane construction and having a minute to draw a picture I’d found of a cartoon kangaroo – which after all the wine yielded some interesting results… We went to bed mellow from the booze and having had a good ab workout from laughing; a wonderful first family Christmas in the sun.

‘You have 1 minute to draw this cartoon kangaroo…’

Boxing Day had more fun and games in store. We were off to witness the start of the famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race, which begins in Sydney Harbour. The Manly ferry runs a special service, with two of the vessels going out and lining up at the edge of the sailing course to watch the yachts race past. We had a leisurely cruise from Manly, round some of the bays until we reached the gap between the Heads which leads out to open ocean. Here there was a line of buoys to mark the edge of the course, and the ferry captains had the difficult task of trying to keep them in more or less the same spot! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Total chaos. The two Manly ferries were amongst hundreds of other boats in the harbour there to see the race; everything from private yachts and tourist catamarans to small dinghies – and even a man in a kayak! I’m not quite sure how no-one collided, particularly when boats starting following the racing yachts up along the course and towards the Heads after the start. Clearly, this wasn’t their first rodeo. We were out in the harbour for a couple of hours, and after all the yachts were out racing through open ocean down to Tasmania, we sailed back to Manly and had some beers in the wharf before walking back along the coast to Freshwater.

In Sydney Harbour for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race

The following day I thought it was about time I did a bit of exercise after the Christmas indulgence – and there are few places prettier than the northern beaches to go on a great walk. I met up with a friend and we headed off to do the Spit to Manly walk. It’s 10km and takes 3-4 hours, but it justifiably appears on various lists of the top Sydney walks. It snakes along the coast from the Spit Bridge to Manly Wharf, along beautiful beaches and with some climbs rewarded with incredible views over the harbour to North and South Heads. We stopped along the way for a swim at little bays you can only reach on the walk or by boat, cooling off in the crystal waters. It’s definitely worth carving out time for – just start at a reasonable time in the morning to avoid the heat of the day in mid-afternoon, and take plenty of water! We rewarded ourselves for the exertion with a beer and a pizza at the Wharf Hotel afterwards, which is also a popular night spot.

Looking over the harbour from the Spit to Manly walk

The next day it was time to succumb to the inevitable and be Sydney tourists. We walked to Manly and got the ferry to Circular Quay ready for the day’s activity: a tour of the famous Sydney Opera House. I’m not massively into architecture as Dad and Will are, but I really enjoyed it. It’s an iconic building but its construction was far from smooth, so it was interesting finding out more about how it was designed and the journey it went through to become what it is today. At $40 per person for a group tour that took around an hour, it was reasonably priced and not too long as some tours can be. It was slick and gave an insight into the kind of entertainment the Opera House hosts now – as well as some amazing views from one of the bars out into the harbour. If you can bear fighting your way through the crowds of Circular Quay, it’s definitely worth a visit.

View of the Opera House from inside

From the Opera House, we thought we might as well continue with the tourist trail, and we wandered through The Rocks and onto the Harbour Bridge to look back down at Circular Quay and into the harbour both sides of the bridge. You can go up one of the bridge pillars for $15, but we didn’t think you would get much more of a view than the one you get from the bridge path itself – although your view would be unobstructed by the protective fence that lines the walkway. You can also do the famous Bridge Climb, but at around $300, that might be one for another day…

From the bridge we walked a little further into the CBD for some lunch in Australia Square, before Mum and Dad went exploring in the Botanic Gardens and I went to meet a friend – but not before we’d accidentally stopped by at Messina, gelato stop of the gods… That evening and the following day were very relaxed, consisting of little more than beach bumming and barbecuing. With such a summer holiday feel, Christmas already felt like a long time ago!

There are a number of well-known spots that are reachable from Sydney in the form of a day trip. The following day I took advantage of this by booking onto a tour of the Hunter Valley wine country with some university friends, who by happy coincidence, were all fleetingly in Sydney at the same time as me! I met them bright and early for the minibus journey up to the Hunter, which is about 2.5 hours north of the city. We chatted the drive away, as I hadn’t seen some of them since I graduated over 4 years ago, and my closest friend of the group I hadn’t seen for a year and a half since before I left the UK. We stopped for a quick coffee and leg stretch en route, then when we arrived at our first vineyard, it was straight into the wine! I enjoyed my first tipple at 10:03am. If you can’t have wine for breakfast a) on holiday and b) at Christmas, when can you?

Reunited with uni friends for some Hunter Valley wine

Over the course of the tour we visited four wineries and a spirits distillery, as well as having a very tasty barramundi lunch at our second winery. We had a variety of different wines, all in a beautiful setting on a very hot day – with temperatures reaching 40 degrees. By the end of the day we were all pretty mellow from the combination of heat and wine, so there was a lot of napping going on in the bus back to Sydney… The tour cost $160 with Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours, including pick up and lunch. It sounds quite expensive, but considering the distance from the city – and the fact that being designated driver in wine country isn’t much fun – it was good value. There are a number of operators so it’s worth doing a bit of comparing, but definitely a good day out if you fancy escaping the city.

After all the fun and games of the previous week, New Years Eve had crept up quite quickly. After a beach visit, Mum, Dad, Charlotte & Lance were planning on going to a dinner party and watching the Manly fireworks at 9pm – but this was a bit too civilised for me and Will. We went to meet some friends of his from back home and his stint in New Zealand for some afternoon beers, before going to NYE in the Park: a festival in Victoria Park in near Newtown. It was only the second year the festival has run but it was really good fun; two stages, food vans, several bars and a brilliant atmosphere. At about 7pm the heavens opened and there was a thunderstorm. A few people ran for cover under the bar umbrellas, but realising it was unlikely to stop any time soon, we headed back out into the elements. Dancing in the rain just added to the atmosphere, and we brought in the new year soaked through but with a smile on our faces.

Before and after the NYE thunderstorm…

Unsurprisingly, the next day got off to a slow start (or more specifically with me knocking through the wall to my brother in a morse code style which I hoped said ‘HELP. BRING TEA.’ He did.), and much of the day was spent on the beach trying to wash the hangovers off into the waves at Freshwater.

By the next day we’d recovered and were ready for another adventure out of the city: our family friends took me, Mum and Dad on a day trip to the Blue Mountains. In the morning, we sadly said goodbye to Charlotte and Lance who needed to get back to London for work. We then piled into the car and drove a couple of hours west of Sydney, stopping en route for breakfast. Caffeine requirements fulfilled we set off for our whistle stop tour. The Blue Mountains National Park is a huge area and I wouldn’t say a day trip is really enough to properly explore – at least not to do a proper hike, or to get a little off the beaten track. Our friends took us to some fabulous viewpoints (highlights being Sublime Point and Goffs Leap) but a few of them are hotspots for coach tours so were a little busier than we might have liked. Aside from the time restriction we also had a thunderstorm hit whilst we were having lunch (at The Solitary, which was delicious), so I felt we barely scratched the surface. Still, it was a great introduction to the area and really made me want to go back and camp or get a cabin for a couple of days, to be able to get some good long hikes in.

Enjoying the view from Sublime Point

The following day was our last as the four of us. I saw a friend from London for coffee in Bondi before meeting Mum and Dad in the city, where we strolled around the QVB – then left Dad exploring various museums. We met Will back in Freshwater, and I headed down to the beach with him to baste for a couple of hours. Mum and Dad were out in the evening, so Will and I spent our last sibling evening together for a while doing a little challenge: drinking the leftover Christmas booze. With 10 beers, a bottle of rosé and a fair amount of gin, Frangelico and Baileys remaining, we were in for a long night… With a few games of beer pong, some suspect dance moves and some very… inventive shots we somehow managed to get through it all – and suffice to say we were really very drunk when Mum and Dad got home (probably to wonder what had gone wrong in our upbringing. Maybe justifiably by the looks of our dance moves.)

I started the next morning with a similar morse code SOS through the wall to Will, who was feeling just as fragile. The booze challenge was less of a good idea come the morning. A swim and a breakfast wrap later we were feeling just about human enough to get down to the sad job of packing. Will has now flown back to London for uni, but luckily I’ve got Mum and Dad for a couple more weeks. We’re off on a little road trip round what will be the fourth Australian state I’ve visited: South Australia!

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 2, one to ascertain how much coffee I was in need of to survive the day.
Interaction was: surprisingly sympathetic. Thank you, oh kind barista.

One Woman and her Backpack x

Follow me on Instagram @ellielfield


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