By the time I arrived in Sydney, I had covered half the continent by air in two weeks…not much time to see all I had hoped but probably enough to learn something about its people and how this strange land, its history, and its location have helped shape people into what they are today. This is especially true for their cities considering that about 80% of the Australian population live in them with most located along the coast.
Before I landed in Sydney, I got the impression from various people I know who have been there as well as Aussies, themselves, that there was no reason to stay for long as it was just another big city. I would be wasting my valuable time there when there are so many other gorgeous places to visit. True enough but I was finding it tiring and expensive moving around this vast country so was happy to stay ‘put’ there for the week.
And yes, Sydney is a huge city of over five million people when you consider the entire area composed of the centre or CBD and all its precincts….but then so is Melbourne. Yet, I never once heard any disparaging remarks about that city. On the contrary, the reaction of most who had visited Melbourne was that it was their favourite city. Perhaps this is an example of the rivalry that has and still does exist between these two dynamic cities.
My other reason for choosing to stay longer than most was because not only was it my place of departure, but also because I had friends I wanted to visit near Bathurst, a town about 200 km southwest by train. I would have time to actually see and get to know Sydney as well as have a quick visit to the Blue Mountains which were on my list of ‘must sees’.
Fortunately, my Sydney arrival was a breeze compared to the experience I had in Melbourne. To learn more about this you can go to my recent post First Stop – Melbourne, Australia. The Airbnb place where I had booked a room was located in the precinct of Leichhardt, Sidney’s “Little Italy” which was about a half hour from the CBD (Central Business District) by bus and train. The check- in procedure was similar to what I had with Little St. Kilda in Melbourne. However, this time I had clear and copious instructions from the owner on how to get there and most importantly how to get in and find my room. The whole thing went without a hitch, and the next day the owner came to introduce himself and answer any questions I had. This made my stay so much more enjoyable knowing I had an actual person I could call upon if need be.
With this hassle free arrival, I was ready to tackle Sydney and its sights the next day. After perusing all the brochures I had picked up at the Information Centre in Central Station the previous day and taking the time to read up on the expert advice of my Fodor’s guide-book, I decided the best place to start would be at the Circular Quay train stop which serves as a link for ferries, trams, and buses. Faced with a multitude of kiosks selling sight-seeing tours, I decided to not waste any time looking around but just go ahead and book the Zoo and Eco tour with Manly Fast Ferries. This family owned company offered me the two things I wanted to do: a trip to the Taronga Zoo which requires a ferry ride to reach and a two-hour tour of Sidney Harbour with commentary which would give me a birds’ eye view of the whole harbour area. Since the tour was good for 24 hours, I was able to do the zoo on the first day and leave the harbour tour for the following day.
This turned out beautifully because the cruise stopped at several places with the option to disembark at whichever one you wanted and stay for as long as the last ferry of the day departed. I am usually against taking a tour but in this case with the amount of flexibility and freedom to set my own pace, it fit my needs at the affordable price of $59.
The Taronga Zoo covers a huge unspoiled piece of land built on the side of a mountain overlooking Sydney Harbour with an impressive view of the Opera House and Harbour bridge. All the animals are housed in a large space providing the kind of habitat they need to be happy. I could have taken a cable car up to the top (included in the price) but because of the long line-up….it was Easter Monday so many families with children were there… I opted to walk which allowed me to go at my own pace, stopping along the way to view the animals of Australia, such as the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, the platypus, echinadas, and emus. I saw them all including the shy koalas, or at least one of them, who deigned to wake up long enough for me to capture him on camera. Now I could have had my picture taken with a koala who has the special task of staying awake to have his picture taken by those who like to fork over $25 for such a privilege, but I was not that desperate to cuddle such a cute animal for that price.
The following morning I was up early for my two-hour cruise at 9:30. I say early because I had to have breakfast as well as leave at least a half hour to get there from my place which entailed a bus ride to Central Station and then the train from there to Circular Quay. I have to say that Sydney’s transit system was much easier to navigate than Melbourne’s. I bought an Opal card which worked the same way as the Miki but in general their whole system was better laid out and organized with people who knew how to help. In retrospect, I think Melbourne’s is in a bit of a mess because it’s been experiencing monumental growth of late. One Aussie told me that they have over 1500 people a week now coming to live there, a fact which was later backed up by some research I did.
After an hour of cruising, I decided to spend the rest of my day in Manly and even though it was overcast and threatening rain, I still wanted to see why Manly Beach was considered by many as one of the best beaches around. Who knew that Sydney and its environs has over 100 beaches from small, maybe just a few feet, to very large up to more than several kilometres long? Fodor’s claims they have over 30. Whoever is correct, there is no denying that Sydney has its pick of fine beaches.
I loved Manly, a separate village and perfect seaside resort with gorgeous beaches. It’s considered as the birthplace of surfing in Australia. Manly Beach is just minutes from the centre, linked by the Corso, a wide boulevard lined with numerous cafes, restaurants, and shops, leading to the beach promenade flanked by lovely homes and stately Norfolk pine trees. The promenade eventually hooks onto some excellent trails to the north where there is a National Park and views to die for. To me Manly looked like the perfect place for the well-heeled and those looking for a slower more laid back style of living.
My one regret…. not bringing my bathing suit! When I left so early in the morning, it was cool and looked like rain. Moreover, I wasn’t too clear on how the cruise worked or where it was taking me. It was a last-minute decision to get off at Manly. Less than an hour later, the sun came out as I was walking the Cabbage Tree Bay trail a short hike along the coast. Later, over a big all-day breakfast special of egg and bacon on a black bun with a rocket salad, I had regained my energy so decided to go for the longer trail that would take me to North Head at the northernmost part of the peninsula where Manly is located offering some more of Sidney Harbour’s gorgeous views. In my eagerness, I really overdid it because it took longer than I thought leaving me to have to rush back to the wharf to catch one of the last ferries going back to Circular Quay…my only way back unless I had a car. There was no bus service as far as I could fathom from those I asked. Despite this one blip in my lovely day, I was totally satisfied with the tour and the choices I had made.
The next day I decided to make an easier one with little walking so didn’t go back to the CBD or anywhere near a train or bus. I stayed right where I was in “Little Italy” drinking cappuccinos, people watching, and reading in a nearby park in preparation for the next day when I would be travelling by train to the town of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. I am saving my report on this trip for my next post.
After returning from the Blue Mountains, I spent my remaining day and a half in the CBD exploring the downtown putting me in the midst of the business and high-end shopping area. I wanted to see this part of Sydney where some of its most beautiful old buildings are located, namely the Queen Victoria Building built in 1898. It’s noted for its architectural beauty which sports a huge clock tower in the centre. Today it’s a classy shopping arcade with a host of high-end shops and cafes. Someone recommended I take in a High Tea while there but after seeing the price, I declined and settled for the Aussie version of an iced coffee made with milk, coffee, of course, ice cream all topped with a good dollop of whipped cream. Yummy!
Since Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden wasn’t too far away, I took my remaining time to walk around taking in The Calyx, a world- class exhibition featuring a colourful display of how pollination and colour play such an important role in the world of plants. I could have spent all day there because there was so much to see as there seems to be in all the botanic gardens in the places I visited in Australia. It really is a country of varied flora which they showcase so well. Finally, the fact that from the gardens you can get another fantastic view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge is another reason to visit.
My last day in Sydney presented me with a difficult choice. There was so much I hadn’t seen. In the end, I chose to make my way out to Bondi Beach, which is the one that everyone goes to. You simply don’t go to Sydney and not go to Bondi even though there are more than a hundred to choose from. Why Bondi? Well for starters, it’s probably one of the largest and has everything that beach goers want in the way of sand, surf, lots of places to eat, close enough to the city and easily accessible by bus, and of course, the people who flock there in droves giving it a carnival type of atmosphere. People draw people, and especially in Australia where biggest and best seem to be king. I would loved to have had the time to walk along the coast to Bronte Beach which sounded so much nicer but… At least I was able to put on my bathing suit and get half way into the water. It was very rough and unless you are a surfer or strong swimmer, you had to be careful not to get swamped. Even though it was a Tuesday when you would think that everyone would be at work or in school, such wasn’t the case. The part at the other end of the beach (it’s about 7 kms. long) had the flags up telling bathers there was less current, but it was so crowded I didn’t want to go near it. There were no lifeguards on duty since it was off-season.
I left Sydney with a good feeling and was glad I spent as much time as I did there. It really does have so much to boast about, and I can understand why Melbourne is striving to match it. They could very well do that too except they are missing one important component which they will never have….the most beautiful harbour in the world. Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet to arrive in Sydney in 1788 said it best: “Here lies the finest harbour in the world.”