Travel: The Rocks – Sydney, Australia Pub Crawl

You’ve had a long day of sight seeing around Sydney, Australia.  You’ve seen the opera house, the harbor bridge and ate a great lunch at one of the many fine restaurants in Circular Quay harbor.  Or perhaps you’ve spent the day surfing (or trying to at least) at Bondi Beach.  Either way, it’s time for a break and you are now ready to unwind in a very fun and unique way – a pub tour of The Rocks!Sydney Australia pub tour 11-8-2011 3-21-06 AM

Come along then mate – let’s meet at Cadman’s cottage, the oldest house in Sydney and then just go for a bit of a stroll.  C’mon, don’t worry about the rain, you’ll be inside soon enough!  Look our guide has even brought us some fashionable rain ponchos – only thing is, the worst of the rain is now over!  Wait, this is not a whine tour, it is all about beer.

Our first stop is an Irish pub.  Why Irish?  Why not!  It’s just to get you situated.  On tap we have a good selection of well known Irish beers.  Our tour guides gives us an overview of what to expect on the tour and tells us about The Rocks.  The Rocks was established shortly after the colony of Australia was formed in 1788.  Original buildings are made mostly of local sandstone from which The Rocks gets its name.  From the Sydney Australia pub tour 11-8-2011 3-20-59 AMbeginning, this harbor side neighborhood had a reputation as a slum, frequented by sailors and prostitutes.  However, today we won’t see much of either during our pub tour.  Many times in history, the plan was to demolish the and redevelop the area, however in the 1970’s politics came into play to renovate and not demolish.  Now The Rocks is very popular with tourists, featuring a variety of craft and souvenir shops as well as many historic pubs.  The Rocks are very close to Circular Quay (Sydney harbor area) and have great views of the Harbor bridge. 

Sydney Australia pub tour 11-8-2011 3-28-19 AMOur next stop is the Hero of Waterloo.  It’s been here for 160 years or so, waiting for us to arrive – however the beer is definitely much more recent.   You can see the sandstone walls both inside and out.  There are many beers on tap at the Hero, but let’s focus on James Squire, named after the convict brewer, James Squire, who it is claimed created Australia’s first commercial brewery.  On tap today we have the Nine Tales Amber Ale, The Chancer Golden Ale, One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale, Four Wives Pilsner and Jack of Spades Porter.  You pick whichever you like, but I’m going for the One Fifty Lashes!  It’s an excellent Aussie style Pale Ale, with 3 varieties of hops, including the New Zealand grown Nelson Sauvin, which is also now being used by several American craft breweries.

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The beer is great, the atmosphere is conducive to tipping a few pints and the setting is absolutely historic.  But you have to go to the basement to get the ultimate tale of this bar!

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From the Hero of Waterloo website  

“There are many stories surrounding The Hero. The best known is that of the tunnel which runs from the cellars of the hotel to the Harbor. The tunnel was used for rum smuggling and involuntary recruitment of sailors. A young man might find himself drunk at the bar, dropped through a trap door into the cellar, dragged through the tunnel, to awake next morning at sea shanghaied aboard a clipper, and so legend goes.  A maze of stone cellars under The Hero bear silent witness to its nefarious past. This Historic Australian landmark is classified by the Heritage Council and The National Trust.”

Sydney Australia pub tour 11-8-2011 3-49-39 AMThe tunnel is cemented over, so we cannot use it today, but if this happened to you, you certainly would never forget your visit to the Hero of Waterloo!  We paid for our beers, but if you go and are offered a free brew by a comely wench, you are on your own.

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Now it is off to my favorite stop on the tour – The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel.  Everything you could need – food, beer and a place to sleep!.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s also the only Brewery in the world with a beer named after former United States Vice President Dan Quayle.  Made famous in the states for not knowing how to spell “potatoes”, Dan is even less famous here (other than the beer of course) – go ahead search the web – you can find links to Quayle Ale, but nobody seems to know why it is called by this name.  You can find out, but only if you go on the tour!  Just because I don’t tell you why now, does not necessarily mean that I had too good of a time on the tour drinking the other fine beers at Lord Nelson, that I forgot the story.  No does not mean that at all.

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Look – here is a picture on the wall of Dan drinking beer at Lord Nelson’s.  Can’t you just picture him spouting out one of his famous (mis)statements “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”  or  “The future will be better tomorrow.”  Again, how true for sure.

We will make one more stop on this tour at the Australian Hotel.  The great thing about this place, is that if it were not raining we could sit outside.Sydney Australia pub tour 11-8-2011 4-41-51 AM

Also – they have largest collection of Australian beer cans I’ve ever seen.  OK, it’s the only one I’ve seen, but it is still large.  The Australian hosts an annual Australian Beer Festival in October of each year.  You may be thinking, when exactly is a good time to go to Australia?  The seasons are opposite of what we have here in the states, so maybe go during the US winter.  OK that could be a good idea, but really October sounds like a good time to go to me.  The winner at the festival last year for best overall beer was Holgate Chocolate Temptress.  Man that does sound tempting.

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Now it’s the end of our tour in The Rocks.  If you are reading this and looking for a special beer tour, please consider our travel agency exclusive custom tour “Microbrews & Other Tastes of Wisconsin”.  For less than the cost of an average air ticket you can have an all-inclusive Wisconsin vacation in March of 2012.  We hope to see you there!


Travel: Sydney Australia and the Sydney Bridge Climb

Only a quick 14 hour flight from Los Angeles, is the truly amazing city of Sydney Australia.  Sydney is the most populous city in Australia, but allows the visitor so many opportunities for intimacy that even if you are one that normally avoids cities, it is definitely a must see. 

Sydney was established in 1788 as the site of the first British colony in Australia.  Part of the reason, was Britain seemed to like to export its criminals, and with lengthy sentences for even petty crimes, instead of filling prisons in Britain, why not ship the prisoners some where else and let them build their own prisons.  You’ll notice that 1788 is after the date of American independence.  Britain could no longer sends its criminals to North America so it had to find a new location: Australia.

Sydney had a lot of issues like any new colony would, but by the 1820’s it improved from its basic beginnings into a much more cosmopolitan city.  British (and Irish) convicts had been busy constructing many roads, wharves, bridges and buildings.  The city now had banks, markets, and a police force (or more correctly – constabulary).  Now it is worth noting the convicts did not stay prisoners forever.  Once their sentence was up they could either go home or stay and assimilate into Australian society.  To go home however, meant many months on a ship at sea and the government would not pay the return fare.  So, they typically stayed.  In the 1850’s they were also joined by folks from all around the world as the first of several Australian gold rushes began.

Everything was going great, but in 1929, the Great Depression hit Sydney bad.  Being extremely dependent on exports of agricultural and industrial items, means Australia was one of the hardest-hit countries in the world.  Unemployment reached 29%.  Work was hard to come by, except for some of those lucky folks who had jobs building the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The bridge was built to connect the Sydney city center to the north shore.  The southern end is in The Rocks section of Sydney (watch for blogs on our pub tour of the rocks). Here is how it looked when finished in 1932


According to the good folks at Guinness (good book for records, great beer), it is the world’s widest single span bridge.  It carries rail, pedestrians, bicycles and 6 lanes of cars.  The bridge measures 3770 feet long  and is 440 feet high measured from the very top to the water level.  Construction began in July of 1923 and the bridge was opened for business in March of 1932.  For more details on the bridge history you can go here

Here’s a few views of the bridge we took on our recent trip to Australia.

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What’s particularly amazing is the bridge is now open to public for climbing!  Starting in 1998, the company BridgeClimb has made it possible for millions of tourists to climb the southern half of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Climbers are provided with protective clothing and safety gear.  After a brief orientation, they are secured to the bridge by a wire lifeline and they simply go for a supervised 3 hour walk.  I was recently in Sydney and had to give this a try.  A friend of mine from Down Under Answers made arrangements for me to be a part of a night climb.  Her words were it would be scary yet exhilarating.  I am not a big fan of heights, but also don’t want to miss out on truly momentous tour opportunities.  Let it be said, I am not a mountain climber, not a bungee jumper, and have never strapped on a parachute in my life.

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Here is a close up

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First you have to take a breathalyzer test to be sure you were not hanging out in the local bars just before your climb.  This is a tough one, because the BridgeClimb383673_2224598735192_1254456758_32264116_1701357611_n office from where you begin is in The Rocks area of Sydney and has lots of great pubs.  If you pass the breath test (yes I did!), you then lock up all your valuables and change into the Bridge Climb Suit.  You are not allowed to take any personal items on the climb – no phones, no cameras, no emergency beers.  Here is the last picture from my blackberry – all suited up and ready to orient.  One Facebook friend remarked that I looked a criminal caught in a security camera.  It’s true – I was a bit nervous.

During orientation they give you all the safety gear, show you how to use it and walk you through a mock-up climbing section.  Just to be clear, there are steep stairs, but most of the BridgeClimb is walking.  Walking up and walking down, but not what you typically picture if you think of mountain climbing.

It is high.  It felt high and it made my earlier snack of a greasy empanada want to jump out every now and then.  Probably just nerves and bad grease, but still. 

However, I did climb to the top.  I  loved it every step of the way.  I really wanted to do it to prove I could and to be able to tell people I did it.  There was one particular area I did not like.   I was not a big fan of where you cross over from the span you came up, to the one you go down.  It’s a narrow walkway looking down at 7 lanes of traffic, but with railing and of course you are cabled in.  I don’t think I ever felt that I was not safe, I was constantly however just a little bit apprehensive. The fear of heights is not the fear of falling and dying.  It’s just the fear of the fall.  You know while it will be fast it will still take a second or so, just long enough for you to realize what a stupid thing you did and now you’re going to make the news, but you won’t be able to see it yourself.  As far as I know, nobody has ever fallen from the BridgeClimb and that now includes me.

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Here I am – at the very top!   Honestly, no photo shop involved.

You can do it to.  Sue and I are both Aussie Travel Specialists, and can help you plan your trip to Australia (and the BridgeClimb if you want).  This is really a bucket list type trip, so whether you use our agency or not, be sure to find an Aussie specialist to work with to help maximize your experience.

Next time I promise to blog about other options in Sydney that will definitely make you fail the breathalyzer test.