Australia’s largest city offers diverse options for yogis, which means for locals there’s no place like home.
By Sue White.
Let’s face it, yoga holiday dreams often involve rolling out a mat on a tropical Queensland island or hanging out with the hippies of Byron Bay, rather than checking out the yogic hotspots of Sydney. But Australia’s largest city has much to offer the travelling yogi. Among the buildings, businesspeople and bustle lie some of our most highly regarded yoga teachers, and exploring the city via yoga is the perfect excuse to get to know it like the locals do.
The first thing visitors will notice is that Sydneysiders are spoilt for choice in terms of yoga styles, locations, and pre- and post-class options. Salute the sun from famous Bondi Beach at sunrise; perfect your Upward-Facing Dog in Sydney’s answer to urban bohemia, Newtown; or dance the night away, yoga style, in a local church at one of The Future Sound of Yoga’s regular events.
Sydney may have something for everyone, but it pays to understand the local mindset; Sydney Harbour both physically and metaphorically divides residents. While it only requires a short, spectacular stroll across one of the world’s most famous bridges to move from north to south, locals often cross with more reluctance than abandon. It’s a shame, as great food, dining and yoga are found in all directions, which visitors will quickly learn as they struggle to fit everything in.
North of the Bridge
There’s “north of the bridge” and then there’s the northern beaches, with a world of yogi-inspired options resting between the two.
Whether you travel by train, car or foot (recommended) to cross the Harbour Bridge, your first stop is likely to be the harbour-hugging suburbs of North Sydney and Kirribilli.
This area is mostly a daytime destination. Businessfolk flock to work in North Sydney’s high-rises by day, but their presence means there’s plenty of yoga to be found to suit the lunchtime and after-work crowds. Many locals head to the long-established Life Source on the Pacific Highway (www.life-source.com.au), founded by yoga teacher, naturopath and author Christina Brown.
Another good place to stretch out nearby (albeit, while wet) is the fabulous North Sydney Olympic Pool, where the overhead bridge views conspire to distract you from your backstroke. While you’re near the pool, take a short walk (west) along the harbourside boardwalk to nearby Lavender Bay. Here, you’ll discover the serenity of Wendy’s Secret Garden, a hidden gem of plants and sculptures maintained by Wendy Whiteley, wife of artist Brett Whiteley. A haven for locals, this is a popular spot to sit and read or meditate by the water.
If you’re in this part of Sydney on a weekend, time your visit to this area with a stop at the Kirribilli Markets. The schedule varies (check www.kirribillimarkets.com), but this open-air market is a great place to snap up secondhand designer clothes at rock bottom prices.
After the markets, head to nearby Neutral Bay, where well-known teacher Duncan Peak’s Power Living studio (www.powerliving.com.au) is very popular. Although there are various centres across the city, its roots are north of the bridge. Try the Neutral Bay or Manly centre and expect to sweat; these Baron Baptiste-inspired workouts are conducted in a heated room (22-30°C) with up to 50 people.
Continuing north, it’s easy to be distracted. Most suburbs in the Middle Harbour vicinity (think Balmoral, Mosman or Cremorne) boast gorgeous harbour views and peaceful streets that are at odds with most visitors’ expectations of a city populated by 4.6 million people. Naturally, living here comes at a premium, but the area’s many harbour walks are free as is a dip at Maccallum Pool on the western side of Cremorne’s Point, a stunning spot complete with Opera House views.
Beyond Balmoral and enroute to Manly, consider stopping for a harbour kayak at The Spit Bridge (www.sydneyharbourkayaks.com.au). Two hours is plenty for a workout; paddle back towards Balmoral if you want the option of pulling in at a beach for a coffee midway through.
This far north, many locals and visitors consider other water-based transport. Taking the ferry from Circular Quay is the most popular way to hit Manly—the gateway to Sydney’s northern beaches.
Manly and beyond is also good fodder for yoga classes: try Qi Natural Therapies & Yoga (www.qiyoga.net), which has been around since 2001, or Manly Yoga (www.manlyyoga.com.au), a Satyananda Yoga centre operating for over 30 years. If you’re at this famous beachside suburb on a Saturday night, and don’t want to join the hoards of party people, Manly Yoga has a different offering: yogis from across Sydney attend its regular kirtan (chanting) events. Qi’s occasional kirtans also draw a crowd if your timing is right.
When you’re ready to rest, accommodation abounds in Manly or if you prefer to take things down a notch, head further north to the Pittwater YHA (www.yha.com.au). This gorgeous youth hostel on the fringe of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is accessible only by ferry (drive or bus to Church Point first). The hostel’s grassy lawns, overlooked by a peaceful hammock-strewn balcony, is the perfect place to roll out your mat and admire the Pittwater views, as well as local wallabies usually lingering nearby.
Want a dose of beaches, bikinis and not scared of the crowds? Head to the celebrated eastern suburbs, where the famous sands of Bondi, Coogee, Bronte and Tamarama can be found, and where many of Sydney’s best-known teachers are based.
Ashtanga students should start in Paddington on the city edge of the eastern suburbs. Yoga Moves (www.yogamoves.com.au) offers a chance to practice at the studio of one of Australia’s long-time Ashtanga teachers, Eileen Hall. Afterwards, continue east to Bondi Junction, where it’s worth stopping off for a flowing class at the long-established Yoga Synergy (www.yogasynergy.com.au) before heading beachside. Co-founded by one of Australia’s best-known yoga teachers, Simon Borg-Olivier, dedicated students head to this small but busy studio in droves.
After Savasana, a smoothie or raw, vegan meal at Earth to Table cafe (85 Bronte Road), a few doors down from Synergy, makes for a fabulous post-yoga feast. From here, it’s an easy (30 minutes) stroll downhill to Bronte Beach, where ocean pools, cafes, picnic areas and views await.
Once you hit the coast at Bronte, the tough choices begin. You could wander south to Coogee, stopping for a snorkel at secluded Gordons Bay enroute, before trying yoga with an awe-inspiring view at Wylies Baths in Coogee (Nicky’s classes are particularly recommended; www.nickywestyoga.com).
If you prefer your yoga indoors in this beachside suburb, Coogee locals love The Livingroom Yoga School (www.thelivingroomcoogee.com.au). The serene space is enhanced by ocean views and the chai at Barzura cafe downstairs is worth the (often long) wait if you want to hang out after class.
Back in Bronte, those heading north instead of south will pass tiny Tamarama Beach. Here, Yoga By The Sea (www.yogabythesea.com.au) offers classes most weekdays. Stay afterwards for a cup of herbal tea before continuing round the cliff to arguably Australia’s most famous beach, Bondi.
While it’s often too busy at Bondi to roll out your mat on the sand, Yoga By The Sea’s classes at the Icebergs pool are an excellent outdoor yoga solution. If you’re looking for a studio experience, try Dharma Shala (www.dharmashala.com.au), at the north end of Bondi Beach; this studio has a loyal following and tranquil environs.
For eats and coffee stops, try Earth Food Store on Bondi’s Gould Street for eco treats or relax at Gertrude & Alice Cafe Bookstore on Hall Street, a great spot to dine while surrounded by walls of books.
Alternatively you could easily spend the whole day wandering the Bondi to Coogee route (two hours non-stop): it’s part of one of Sydney’s most famous coastal walks for a reason. Although the whole route has boardwalks, beware of the crowds; it can get extremely busy on weekends.
For accommodation in the eastern suburbs, go local and sustainable at Bondi Beach Eco Garden (www.bondiecogarden.com). Created by designer Dave Gravina, who was inspired by all that’s green and good, this local guesthouse offers guests fresh eggs from on-site chooks and coffee vouchers for the local organic bakery, just for starters.
City, Inner West and the Rest
Don’t be mistaken that Sydney is only about beaches and views. It’s possible to eat, drink and Savasana your way through the inner city too. Local yogis start and finish their day with a class at BodyMindLife on Mary Street in Surry Hills (www.bodymindlife.com), just a stone’s throw from Central Station.
Dozens of classes both day and evening offer a good excuse to return and hang out in the area—Surry Hills is bursting with cafes, restaurants and shops (Crown Street is a good place to start). For inspiring vegetarian cuisine that even a meat eater would find hard to fault, try Nourishing Quarter (315 Cleveland Street, Redfern) or the fabulous wine bar, Yullis on Crown Street (www.yullis.com.au).
For a quieter night in the city, take in a movie at Govinda’s in Darlinghurst (www.govindas.com.au). Run by the Hare Krishnas, this popular cinema sees guests lounging on cushions, not chairs. There’s also a popular vegetarian buffet restaurant attached. If you prefer chanting to Hollywood, check out the evening kirtan instead (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday; $10 including dinner).
It’s tempting to hang out in Surry Hills and Darlinghurst, but leave time for more urban exploring. The suburb of Newtown, Sydney’s answer to bohemia, hosts the city’s only Jivamukti Yoga studio (www.jivamuktiyoga.com.au). The attached vegan cafe is also excellent, while the vibe of Newtown itself is both eclectic and endlessly interesting.
Foodies keen to explore beyond inner Sydney will find the Benevolent Society’s Taste Food Tours (www.tastetours.org.au), a memorable outing, as well as a great cause. These walking tours through Sydney’s western suburbs offer a chance to meet locals from diverse cultures and try various cuisines—make sure you arrive with an empty stomach.
Do you come alive at night? Check if Future Sound of Yoga (www.futuresoundofyoga.com) has any events on during your stay. These DJ-led yoga-class-meets-trance dance evenings, often held in a local church or major yoga studio, are deservedly popular. Book ahead.
By this time, you’ll need a rest. For a unique sleep you can’t go wrong on Cockatoo Island. Camp, glamp or rent a house in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Just be prepared to wave to commuters from your yoga mat during your morning practice as they pass by on the ferry.
Sue White is a Sydney-based writer and author of the smartphone apps Yoga Holidays Worldwide and Sydney On The Green, which highlights the best of Sydney’s eco options.