Seeking respite from Melbourne‘s soul-withering winter,  I grabbed some last-minute flights, took Friday off and headed north to the sunshine, golden beaches and deep blue skies of my youth. Sixty minutes by air, 4° nearer the equator and a good 8°C closer to spring, I was chasing sun, fun, food & friends, all with a total lack of planning. Throw in some art, beer, music and nature and it’s a perfect getaway. 

The author takes a selfie on a sunny day with the entrance of Sydney Harbour in the background across the water; spending diary Sydney
Steve escapes to the sunshine near Watson's Bay © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

Pre-trip spending

All prices are in Australian dollars

Flights: $83.95 one-way Melbourne Tullamarine to Sydney Kingsford-Smith on budget TigerAir; $179 Virgin returning Sunday night, hoping it would be more punctual (it wasn’t). Last-minute beggars can’t be choosers.

Transport: $40 Opal Card (similar to London’s Oyster) top-up to use on trains, buses & ferries.

Accommodation:  $0 (staying with friends and family)

Total: $302.95

A busy thoroughfare in Sydney's Central Station. The departures board is to the left; spending diary Sydney
Public transport helped keep costs down © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

On the ground


Total: $38.90

5.30pm: My getaway starts now with a tasty pinot noir ($9) at Tulla’s Terminal 4, perfect for washing away the working week and the dodgy airport falafel ($11.90).

6.30pm: I arrive an hour later and jump the train to my mother’s where I’ll spend the night. I tap my Opal card and there’s a hefty airport surcharge ($18). 

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Total: $361.32

On the left of a collage is a close up of a coffee in a glass with a busy street full of passerby's in the background. On the right, is a close up of a statue of Queen Victoria, flags and Hong Kong House in the background; spending diary Sydney
Left: coffee outside Jet Cafe, York St. Right: Queen Victoria statue © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

9:40am: I share a quick avo toast and coffee with my mother, then train into the city ($3.13). 

10am: I make a beeline to Ho’s Dim Sim Kitchen in the Chinatown end of Pitt St and grab some Prawn Har Gow – 6 little quivering lumps of chilli-splattered goodness ($6). They’re scoffed on the run as I cut through nearby World Square to the outdoor shops on Kent St where I find a book on walks for Royal National Park ($11.65). 

11:15am: Needing another coffee, I plonk outside Jet Café ($4.80) in Queen Victoria’s shadow on York St. Across the road in Abbeys Bookshop, I unloose my inner sci-fi geek and snare Artemis ($19.99) by Andy Weir, the follow-up to The Martian

A collage of a pair of photos. On the left, a close up of prawns sizzling in oil. On the right, a close up of the author's hand mopping up left over oil with bread; spending diary Sydney
Left: the sizzling gambas; right: garlic oil at Encasa © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

12:15pm: Back on lower Pitt St, I meet an old friend Ray at Encasa, a favourite Spanish haunt, and soon we’re tucking into sizzling garlicky gambas (shrimp), charcoal occy, Spanish pizza and a very tasty garnacha (wine). We mop up the garlic oil with fresh bread rolls then order a sherry. Or so we thought, as more wine arrives. Oops! This sets the tone for the rest of the day. We’re soon joined by Ian and sample a strange but feisty vanilla Pedro Ximenez. Luckily these two guys (who I’ve known for over 40 years) eventually go back to work before I get maggoted. We spend $61.50 on food and $118 on grog, my share being $89.75

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2:40pm: I’m staggering through Hyde Park, towards the State Library, where I whiz through a stern collection of portraits-of-the-long-dead (free) before tracking down the statue of Trim (the world’s most famous sea-faring cat) outside. I’ve just enough time for a quick dash through the Royal Botanic Garden and a fleeting glimpse of the Bridge, Opera House and selfie sticks.

A collection of classic framed portraits against a vibrant blue wall; spending diary Sydney
Portraits at the State Library © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

4:15pm Ray’s upstairs at the Edinburgh Castle. We decide on a palate-cleansing G&T made with local Archie Rose gin ($26 – my shout). The others filter in which means more gin before changing to schooners of Blonde. Some idiot buys a round of tequila shots. My rounds come to $41.

7.30pm Dinner at Diethnes is a blur. Apparently we had the $45 a head banquet. Sorting my receipts the next morning, I’ve bought a bottle of wine ($24) and a round of Rakomelo ($90) whatever that is??  

11.30pm Taxi back to the ‘burbs with friends (they pay).

On the left, a picture of the authors friends enjoying beers, on the right a close up of two gin and tonics sitting on the bar; spending diary Sydney
Left: Schooners of Blonde at the Edinburgh Castle, right: Archie Rose Gin & Tonics © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet


Total: $148.68

10:30am: Back in the city (train $3.13), I need an industrial-strength pho. I head for George Street where a Vietnamese cheapie supplies the medicine ($13). I load it with chilli until I feel the booze sweat out the back of my neck. Equilibrium restored, I wander down Broadway to the markets on Glebe Point Road, my old stomping ground, where the stalls, cafes, bookshops and pubs evoke a freight-train of nostalgia. After unearthing a used copy of Freya Stark's The Southern Gates of Arabia ($12) at Sappho’s, I review last night’s carnage over coffee and orange cake ($9.50) in their leafy courtyard, texting Ray to fill in the blanks. 

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12:30pm: It’s hard to be maudlin in Sydney’s wonderful winter sunshine as I walk under blue skies to touristy Darling Harbour. Some map ($16.25) and gear (water bladder $23.35) therapy set me on a course for Observatory Hill and another classic view of the Harbour Bridge.  I sneak a look at Melbourne’s weather and suppress a snigger.

A panoramic shot of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House on a sunny day; spending diary Sydney
A sunny winter's day near Sydney Harbour Bridge © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

2pm: I’d been thinking galleries today but the weather is too nice so I keep walking across the Bridge, the Harbour is magnificent as ferries steam in all directions against the Opera House backdrop. In Kirribilli, I buy sushi, gyoza and a drink ($14.80) from a Japanese café but find what I really want – a prawn skewer ($10 yep, it’s the North Shore!) – around the corner. I take my snacks to Bradfield Park under the Bridge’s north pylon and sit in the sun, Opera House in the distance. 

3.20pm: From Milsons Point, the Cross Harbour Ferry takes me to Circular Quay ($6.12) where I ride trains to Sydenham ($0.52). Ian’s band is playing at the Gasoline Pony. The pho is wearing off and the Pony’s beers warrant caution, so I’m happy when my friend Kel produces some cleansing Peronis. I pay back $15 and enjoy the gig, the 6-piece band jammed into a tight corner.  The clientele is mostly geriatric musos with a sprinkling of curious young Vietnamese locals. There’s no cover charge but Kel drops $2.50 of my change into the “Band Donations” jug.

Four members of the band stand squeezed on the small carpeted stage while another guitarist stands on the main floor; spending diary Sydney
The band at Gasoline Pony © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

7pm: Kel goes home, while me & Ian go for a quick Vietnamese feed – salt & pepper squid, duck with quince and a weird bánh xèo (crispy pancake), washed down with an acceptable rosé. I pay for the wine ($19.99), Ian pays for the meal. I’m feeling weary so I train it back ($2.52) and sleep for 10 hours.

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Total: $46.17

10am: I walk to nearby Penshurst and manage to shatter my iPhone taking a photo. Luckily I have a spare. My next move is planned over coffee and beetroot-cured salmon, avocado and poached-egg toast ($23) at South Pour café. I decide to train into town ($2.80) and hunt phone repairs. Opal cards are capped at $2.80 on Sundays, so the rest of my transport is free (until the airport later).

A collage of a two photos. On the left, a smashed iPhone screen showing a picture of Kathmandu Butchers. On the right, a close up on salmon and egg on toast with salad on top; spending diary Sydney
Left: a smashed phone could have meant disaster for the budget, right; beetroot-cured salmon and poached egg on toast © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

11:30am: The repair dude quotes me $180 and we both smile with the knowledge there’s no deal.

12pm: The day is rapidly escaping so I forget the crippled phone and make my way through the crowds to the nearby MCA and check out the Shaun Gladwell retrospective ($0). His large, silent video installations are just the Zen trip I need.  Afterward, I discover a great view of the Opera House from the crowded rooftop terrace; thankfully I’m not hungry.   

12:50: Take the ferry to Watsons Bay (free); ferries are definitely the most relaxing way of sightseeing Sydney. I follow the clifftop path to a view of North Head and the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Tracking south along the Coast Path I reach Diamond Bay and its precariously perched apartments. The sun’s shining but there’s a cold ocean breeze as I watch humpback whales breaching off Dover Heights. I bus the rest of the way to Bondi

A shot of Bondi Beach in the sun. Cars are parked nearby and people are walking on the sand; spending diary Sydney
Bondi Beach is still spectacular even in the cold © Steve Waters / Lonely Planet

3pm: Sydney’s most famous beach is still a draw in winter and plenty of folks are out promenading. I realise I haven’t eaten since the morning so I waste $5.50 on hot chips then start the long commute back for an early dinner with my mother.

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6pm: The final airport leg is a harried blur of trains ($14.87) and an ever-increasingly delayed flight. I make it home eventually and head straight to bed. 

Overall Spend: $597.07 (including Opal card top-up) + Flights ($262.95) = $858.02 

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