“Have you ever been there on a hot day?” was the answer I received from a Sydneysider when I asked him what the big deal about Bondi Beach was. Well, as you can see from the photo above that is what Bondi Beach is like when the weather is quite nice (though it wasn’t stinking hot) and while the multitude of kites were pretty cool, there was one thing that put me off this place – people. Okay, I probably wouldn’t call myself a misanthrope, nor would I say I have a phobia of crowds (I like crowded places, but then I like my own time as well – if I hated crowds I wouldn’t go to Hong Kong), but there is something about the perfect beach that hordes of people seem to destroy.
I’ve been to Bondi three times, and each of these times I went there I looked around and asked “so, what’s the big deal?” In fact the first time my brother came (which happened to be the first time I went as well) he also looked around and said “is that it?”. There just seemed to be thing thing about that place that to us was little more than exaggerated hype.
The thing with Bondi beach is that it is an Australian icon, but why it has become such an icon is beyond me (maybe wikipedia has the answer – it doesn’t). Do people come to Bondi Beach because it’s famous, or is it famous because people go to Bondi Beach? I guess it is one of those chicken or egg questions because, to be honest, the only reason I went to Bondi Beach was because it was famous, and for some reason a trip to Sydney is not complete without at least making a trek to this weirdly iconic beach.
When I say trek I’m not exaggerating. The reason being is that the train ends at Bondi Junction, which is about 3 km from the beach. The first time I went there I made the mistake of walking – a mistake that I wasn’t going to commit twice. Anyway, to get from the railway station to the beach you catch a bus (or a taxi, or just walk), however this poses a problem when it is one of those really nice days because everybody wants to go to Bondi Beach, so the buses tend to be packed and the roads chock with cars to the point it is almost impossible to move. In fact the last time I went there I caught a cab from Bondi Junction to the beach only to discover that the route regularly bottlenecks. I have said it before, and will say it again, Manly Beach is much, much better because it is a lot easier to get to (all you need to do is catch a ferry from Circular Quay).
Anyway, I prefer beaches that tend to be quiet, which no doubt is a problem when you are talking about Sydney because the beaches are quite small (most of the coast is actually quite rocky) and form in little coves. The one time I did manage to get to a decent beach, which was on the North Shore, by the time we arrived the weather had cooled dramatically and everybody had gone home. At least we had the beach to ourselves. Anyway, I have always preferred the quiet beaches, which generally doesn’t happen when you are dealing with beaches in a city because on those really hot days everybody else has that same thought as you – let’s go to the beach. This means that to find a nice, and quiet, beach is a challenge in itself, and usually requires pre-planning, a car, and a willingness to drive a long way. I do remember finding that perfect beach once with some friends – it was a three hour drive south of Adelaide and to get to the beach we had to scramble over rocks and along a cliff face – and it was a treat. No wonder a movie was made about a guy whose quest was to find the perfect beach (and these perfect beaches no longer exist because as soon as the movie was made the tourists all flocked to those beaches).
Anyway, here is a Google Maps view of Bondi, and you can probably see what I mean when I say that most of Sydney’s beaches are quite small. To the south of Bondi you have Bronte Beach (which was one of my friend’s favourites) and then further south you have Coogee, which is also quite popular – probably because it’s not Bondi.
It was interesting looking through the Wikipedia article on the beach however because they indicated that for most of the 20th Century it was a working class area with a lot of immigrants. That has changed substantially now with the prices of property in Sydney going to the roof, but then again it is not surprising that it is really expensive to live down here because, well, everybody wants to live near the beach.
Bondi Junction, as I’ve mentioned, is basically where the train stops. Why they never continued it on to the beach is beyond me, but apparently it was because the trams used to trundle through here and you would jump off the train and then get on a tram to head to the beach. However the trams are long gone, so you have the end of the line at what is effectivily a massive shopping centre.
In all honesty shopping centres really don’t look all that fantastic from the outside, so here are a few photos I took of the inside.
Okay, I do have to admit that I do like walking through big shopping centres, but in the end they tend to bore me – all they have is shops and all they want to do is to suck as much money out of your pockets as possible, while you end up taking home things that you probably never needed in the first place. I have to say that this shopping centre is huge, and if you make your way to the eastern end, up near where the cinemas are, you get a magnificent view of the harbour. I have come here a few times, namely because they happened to be the only cinemas that I knew about at the time, and if I wanted to watch a movie when I was in Sydney, a short train journey to Bondi Junction was all that surfices. That has all changed now that I have discovered the Event Cinemas on George St.
The thing with a lot of these shopping districts these days is that the shopping centre seems to dominate the marketplace, however there is more to Bondi Junction than just this whopping great big shopping centre (with pretty good views mind you). The shops also stretch out onto the streets, and opposite the shopping centre (running parallel to the railway station) is a mall. I also found three pubs in the area – the Tea Gardens Hotel (which is mostly a sports bar – the boxing was on when I was there), Shoiban’s Irish Bar a bit further down (which wasn’t bad), and the Eastern Hotel which, I must admit, is a bit of a dump.
From left to right we have: Shioban’s Irish Bar, The Eastern, and the Tea Gardens Hotel.
Actually, now that I come to think of it, the pubs down at Bondi Beach weren’t all that flash either. Okay, you do have a few smaller bars scattered about but I didn’t end up checking them out. However, on the foreshore you have Ravesis (which is pretty flashy – not really my scene) and Hotel Bondi (which isn’t bad, but don’t expect quick service on a nice day – they told me that lunch would be 45 minutes – I went elsewhere). A bit further back, hidden in the suburbs is the Beach Hotel (which looks a bit tacky on the outside, but has a pretty awesome beer garden) and the Royal Hotel (which I really didn’t like – sort of one of those pubs frequented by old men).
Wandering the Backstreets
One of the cool things about checking out pubs is that you find yourself moving off the beaten track. The reason I pick pubs is because they tend to be scattered about, which means I get to do a lot of exploring: there aren’t a huge number of them, and I can simply step inside, have a beer, look around, and then move on (though after a few beers I suddenly realise that I really can’t do anymore pubs – but it isn’t the same going into a pub and ordering an orange juice – or a glass of cleaning fluid, which is what I tend to call coke). What I do get to see though are all the houses, especially in these older suburbs of Australia. As I’ve indicated previously, Bondi as been around for quite a while so there are a lot of older houses here with a lot of charm. Okay, there are modern buildings being put up but it is these old houses that give these suburbs character.
Actually, one of the things that I love doing is looking at the houses in the various locations that I visit, whether it be in Australia or overseas.
Anyway, I’ve probably said enough about Bondi for now (though no doubt I will be going back there again in the future – I hope they don’t knock those old houses down), but there was one thing that I saw as I was making my way back to the city, and it was this vicious guard dog that was guarding a clothing store.
Bonding at Bondi by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License..If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.