During our recent trip to Sydney, Australia we couldn’t believe how expensive everything got. During our last visit, things seemed much more reasonable, of course, we also had jobs and income back then. Regardless, during our latest visit, we were determined to have a great time on a budget, and we did!
Sydney Australia on a Budget
In 2008, we traveled to the state of Queensland in Australia. We spent two weeks visiting the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Whitsunday Islands.
This time around, we wanted to explore the Australian wine country, especially the Margaret River and the Barossa Valley (near Adelaide) areas. We also wanted to spend time on the Gold Coast.
Nothing Ever Goes as Planned
We were initially planning to spend a month in Australia. There are so many interesting places to visit, and the continent is so vast, that we figured we’d need at least a month (to travel at our slow pace).
However, as we began researching the cost of accommodation we became extremely disappointed and frustrated. Everything seemed so expensive, and the accommodations in our budget were very poor in value throughout the continent.
Upon giving up on the hopes of landing a long-term apartment, we began researching hotels and hostels. Even badly reviewed, run-down hostels were priced at over USD100 per night! We considered Darwin, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide, but everything was too costly.
It was at this point that we became so frustrated with the price tag that came with visiting Australia that we decided to spend only one week in and around Sydney.
Getting Around Sydney Australia
During our first few days, we enjoyed touring downtown Sydney, Bondi Beach, Sydney Harbour, and of course, Centennial Park. We used public buses using the Opal Public transportation card that came with our apartment, very handy. The cost per ride was about USD 2 with rates being cheaper on Sundays.
Like many other world cities, Sydney is a great place to wander and explore for free. You can watch boats come in and out of the Harbour, take photos of the iconic Opera House, look for seals along the water, people watch, and enjoy the street quirky performers.
3 Unique Things to Do in Sydney Australia on a Budget
Since eating out was crazy expensive, we cooked our own meals and bought budget-friendly Australian wines to enjoy with dinners at home. We considered completing the Sydney Harbour Bridge Crossing but were disappointed to find out that it costs about USD 600 for two people.
For day trips out of the city, we hired a rental car through Ace Rental Cars at about USD 35 per day. To save costs, we only rented the car for four days. On the other days, we used public transportation to reach the airport where the rental company was located. Upon departing, we used the rental car to take us back to the airport.
Difficult City to Traverse
At this point in our travels, Sydney was by far, the hardest city that we ever had to drive in and navigate around. Signage is surprisingly poor, traffic is horrendous, and the city is an unorganized network of winding streets, very unlike the grid layouts that most of us are used to.
Also, we had to purchase the E-Toll Pass online for tolls. If you rent a car, you may need this pass.
1. Centennial Park Neighborhood
We finally found an apartment in the Centennial Park neighborhood. In fact, the only reason we stumbled upon it was that the owner had just lowered his weekly rate which caused it to fall into our budget.
Amusingly, the unit was very much a bachelor pad, but it was fully stocked, came with a washer, comfy bed, wifi (which the owner kindly upgraded his data package while we were there at no additional cost), and free parking. As a bonus, it had views of the Fox Studios, the Cricket Stadium, and the Sydney skyline. Also, the cost of this unit was a steep USD 96 per night.
Opened in 1888, Centennial Park commemorates the foundation of Australia in 1788 and has a treasured place in Australia’s history. Located in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, Centennial Park is the biggest urban park in Australia, and it’s a marvelous place to enjoy the outdoors. Also, Centennial Park was the inspiration for the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.
If you are a lover of animals, we have to mention a unique perk that came with this unit. The owner leaves peanuts for guests to feed the wild, friendly cockatoos that make daily visits to the apartment.
It was a special treat to experience these beautiful birds right on our own balcony. Often, during the late afternoons, we enjoyed cocktails with the cockatoos!
2. Hunter Valley Wine Region
Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s premier wine regions located about 90 miles outside of Sydney. Our tour of this region was the highlight of our trip to the continent. We explored this beautiful valley, stopping at a variety of boutiques and more widely known wineries.
We enjoyed Piggs Peake, Ernest Hill, Tempus Two, and Bimbadgen Estate. Of course, wine tastings are free which is always helpful on a budget. Signature wines from this region include Sémillon and Shiraz. Also, there is an exceptional wine tour for anyone looking to splurge a bit and enjoy cheese and chocolate wine pairings.
Our love for wine made us splurge on another “wine excursion,” and we dined at Twine Restaurant, which is adjacent to Wynwood Estate. Dining al fresco on a beautiful sunny day, after viewing a family of kangaroos hopping in the vineyards made this a highlight of our round-the-world trip.
If you are a wino like us, a day trip to Hunter Valley is a must while visiting the Sydney area. It really blew our expectations and gave us a renewed perspective on Australian wines.
3. Blue Mountains National Park
We took another day trip to Blue Mountains National Park located about 50 miles outside Sydney. The park actually has a blue hue that comes from the oil-producing eucalyptus trees that populate the area.
As a World Heritage site, the park features walking trails, and waterfalls, and is known for the Three Sisters rock formation.
Many visitors pay to park to view the Three Sisters rock formations. What people don’t know is that if you simply keep driving past the visitor’s center, you can park for free and get a view of the natural landmark by going to the Eagle Hawk Lookout. We avoided the crowds and had the opportunity to enjoy the majestic view, alone on a secluded bench, without paying a cent.
Consider bringing a picnic to the National Park. There are many places to enjoy lunch with a view. We were so sick of sandwiches from our New Zealand road trip that we couldn’t stand the thought of another slice of lunch meat.
We ate in nearby Leura at a new Thai restaurant and enjoyed a bottle of Australian Chardonnay. At the time, it was worth the splurge, but looking back we could have saved about USD 35 by sucking it up and picnicking instead.
With all expenses including apartment, rental car, petrol, groceries, wine excursions, and the food we came out to USD 204 per day. This total also includes airfare from Auckland to Sydney.