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OzTREKK Ambassadors: Getting around Sydney

So I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a good transit system. I know that seems really random, but hear me out!

Macquarie University Medical School

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I think you can learn a lot about a city, it’s infrastructure, and it’s people just by observing the transit system. As someone from a small city in Ontario (with kind of a laughable transit system) my only exposure to large city transit has been Toronto. I know I can hear the groans, but honestly I don’t think Toronto transit is that bad… for the most part things are on time and you can usually get to where you need to go easily.

But boy oh boy, was I in for a treat when I moved to Sydney. The transit here is—so far—impeccable. I’ll go into the details in a bit, but first I want to address that I understand this is pretty Sydney-specific, so USyd and Macquarie University, you’re welcome. For all of you reading who know you won’t be living in Sydney, scroll down to the last section for my general tips, tricks, and some links!

Types of Transit in Sydney

Throughout Sydney you have your standard busses, and of course it’s a large city so there are also inner-city trains (think subways but better), and Sydney is built around a harbour, which means ferry boats (McDreamy is swooning—I just know it)!

To board any of the transit you can use an Opal card. For anyone in the GTA it’s the same as a Presto Card. You can load the Opal cared with a specific amount of money or connect to a credit card. To board you simply tap on, and tap off—even the busses! Opal also has an app for iOS and Android which you can use to monitor your balance, plan routes, and see live updates of bus timings.

Ferry Boats

While you probably won’t use ferries for your day-to-day commute, they are a must for the days you have free to do some gallivanting and be a real tourist. My first view of the Sydney Opera House was when I took the ferry from Milsons Point to Circular Quay and I definitely recommend it.  If you’ve been on a ferry before I don’t know that these boats will be any different. I have to admit my ferry experience is limited. Weather permitting, try to be near the front of the line so you can stand at the front of the boat for the best views.

A cheap tourist trick is to take the “slow ferry” (the lines are labelled, don’t worry), for the entire route. You’ll see all the different docking points and get all the great views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. All from the water which is just gorgeous! Remember to wear sunscreen during that trip for sure!

Busses

Busses are much more likely to be your main mode of transit day in and day out. I know that sounds like a drag, but the busses here are actually really clean. In fact, all of the transit is. The bus stops are frequent enough you never have to walk too far. The bus routes overlap in a good way with more direct routes passing some but not all the stops, and while the busses may not be on time there is a transit app which is very accurate. Also, the busses are air conditioned, which makes them little oases on your trip about town.

Sydney is covered in bus-only lanes, which means that some routes (at least the one I’m lucky enough to live on) gets to dodge a lot of the Sydney traffic, meaning my commute to and from school doesn’t really change depending on the time of day.

I did realize there is a caveat to such nice and clean busses. They *technically* don’t allow food and drink on board. That’s not to say I haven’t been let on a really busy bus with a coffee, but that’s also not to say I haven’t been not allowed on because I’ve had a coffee in my hand. So if you want to bring anything other than water and it’s open in your hands, just be aware you’re playing with fire.

Macquarie University Medical School

Visiting the Sydney Opera House

Trains

The trains here were my first exposure to Sydney transit and they are beautiful. To me they are used like a subway but appear more like a GO train (again, references for my GTA peeps. Sorry!), but better!

I remember first standing on the platform and not being aware of how close the train was, because it was so quiet! Can you imagine a GO train or a subway sneaking up on you? That quietness continues inside, and riding in the trains is really quite pleasant. The quiet engine means it’s quiet inside. Generally, the people are polite and quiet too, and it’s really clear which stop you’re at and which you are approaching.

The trains are mainly above ground, but do go through the occasional tunnel so don’t entirely rely on your app for accurate location readings. Just make sure you keep track of the stops and you’ll be fine!

The coolest thing about the Sydney trains is that you never have to sit backwards! In the middle of each carriage, the backs of the chairs are on hinges that let them flip so you can always face the direction of travel. I received some really funny looks when I purposefully sat backwards to avoid sitting beside a stranger, and I could have avoided the interaction and still faced forwards. It’s the little things in life really.

What Sydney Does Well

So to summarize all that gushing, here’s what I love about the Sydney transit:

  1. Opal! – The Card and the app. It’s easy to pay, it’s easy to navigate, it’s a plus.
  2. Air conditioning – making your commute cooler with each trip.
  3. Cleanliness – It’s honestly so nice to sit on a bus that doesn’t smell*

*I have been on one bus that was a bit musty… but it was also full of high school students who appeared to have just left gym class… so I’ll let you be the judge of that.

My General Tips and Tricks

  1. USE IT. Try it out when you first arrive; it will help your adjustment so much. I know it can be really intimidating to understand any new city let alone how to get around, but the only way you’ll master it is by trying. So when you first arrive, make a point of using the transit to find your school, a shopping mall, popular tourist destination, or anything really. Make sure to give yourself lots of extra time these first few trips to make them a little less stressful, missing a bus your second day in your new home is a lot less stressful than missing the bus or getting lost on your first day of classes.
  2. ASK. Seriously, don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve had a few bus drivers save me from heading in the wrong direction. That can be a bit nerve-wracking for some people (me being one of them), but you can always ask any locals in your class Facebook pages, other OzTREKKers who were there before you, or any roommates/hosts you have. Find out how to pay, where you can buy a pass if you need one, and they can share any tips they have.
  3. BE PREPARED. For your first few adventures bring some change (just in case), have a fully charged phone (just in case), and write down the route and stops (just in case!). It makes it a lot less stressful and means you’ll be ready if the pass doesn’t work, you get lost, or your phone dies.

Exploring a new city can be really scary, so give yourself some time to get used to it. Honestly, feeling like I mastered the transit was the first moment I really felt like I could live here. It was a sense of freedom, independence, and belonging all rolled into one that I didn’t expect and I’m so happy I found it pretty quickly.

I know that was a lot about transit, but I hope you could get something from it!

See you in the next one! Bye!

Emma
@emmab_md

First-year Macquarie University Medical School student

Links*

*I quickly looked up these links. Be sure you do your own research if you’re moving to any of these cities, including Sydney! The information may have changed.

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