We had no intention of visiting Sydney again, having seen the icons in 2000, as we thought it was nothing more than a big city. We were so wrong.
To members of the rest of the world, Sydney is probably small fry, with a population of 4.3 million, making it less than one ninth of Tokyo, which I think is the most populous. Rival Australian city, Melbourne, is close behind with 4 million but then the rest just fall away, leading Australians like me to refer to Sydney as a big, busy city.
We were challenged by friends to visit their beloved city and they swore they could show us the type of holiday we would love, with plenty of hiking, outdoors and beaches. So here is a summary.
Plenty to see
We took a ferry from Watson Bay to Circular Quay, then from the quay to Darling Harbour. You go beside the bridge and opera house, then under the bridge and beside lunar park and any warships that are in. The waterfront at Darling Harbour has a wax works, wildlife show, maritime museum and at least one old sailing vessel. The walkways are accessible and interesting, with plenty of places to rest or get refreshment. From Darling Harbour you can go straight into the city centre and from Circular Quay you can cross through the Botanic Gardens, but we didn’t so I cannot comment on how easy or otherwise that is.
Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk – Great range of sights
From the iconic shore of Bondi Beach, with its cafes, sunbathers, cliff views and lifesavers, we set out along the cliff top. The gradient varies and we dipped into lovely coves where a surprisingly small number of swimmers were, and strode up to the top again to photograph dramatic and beautiful coastline. The big surprise is the cemetery at Waverley, where notables such as Henry Lawson are buried. Well-preserved monuments provide a somber section of the walk before you step out onto the hilltop once more. Coogee Beach baffled my beach-going instincts and i was lucky enough to see a few brave swimmers attempt the entrance from the side of the concrete …umm … platforms? Not for the feint-hearted, but children could easily enter from the sandy end, devoid of waves. Pleanty of water and rest spots along the way, including amenities. A beautiful walk, but take sunscreen and hat, even if it is overcast.
We did the pylon climb on the bridge which was easy and yet took us high enough to see amazing sights at the top. The history of the bridge was very interesting and to so close to this icon was inspiring. The opera house was very controversial when built, with people saying it had ruined the city forever. Now it is a world-class symbol of good architecture, recognised everywhere. We saw the harbour by day and night and the myriad of colours and angles are all worth capturing.
National Parks, the north coast and the heads.
We had a few morning walks through one of the National Parks on the North Shore. It was beautiful and the birdlife, flora and, of course, rocks, were amazing. Our friends took us on a drive of the northern beaches and The Head, where it is common to watch as cruise ships leave the harbour and head out to sea. A varied coastline with glimpses of subtropical foliage and the site of a popular Australian soap opera, filmed on Palm Beach. It got pretty windy, despite the warmth of the day, but the chance of sunburn is still high. We saw a very practical but unexpected way of storing boats in a marina.
The City itself
There are a number of interesting buildings (old for Australia, at 200 years) and architecture. Hyde Park, Queen Victoria Building and the Royal Botanic Gardens are all lovely and the old wharf is packed with boutique, expensive bars. Maps of the city are easy to follow and public transport is readily available. There are some free buses to main areas, such as Bondi Beach.
The Fireworks and Balmoral Beach
One of the highlights of the trip was to catch the famous New Year’s Eve fireworks. My camera hasn’t caught it well, or the million people crowded but orderly as we head for the available train stations. There is nothing like the sounds of a million people “AAAHHHing” at fireworks. We spent New Year’s day on Balmoral Beach, with views to the North and South Heads. It is a lovely, family-friendly beach with good facilities.
Accommodation can be expensive, but it is like anywhere – you can get some amazing deals, too. Transport is made cheaper by buying an opal card and putting money on it- but remember to validate it on and off. This is a remarkable city. We didn’t visit the zoo this time, but it is quite good – the views are perhaps its best point.
Manly is a very nice spot for cafes and a good ferry trip. The city is filled with pubs and bars that are going at all hours, but that’s not really my scene, so I can’t recommend a particular one or area.
Our friends had done it – we now think of Sydney as beautiful, exciting and full of adventures.
Travel safe, talk to people, take your hat, some water and your camera.