Sydney has two icons that make the tourist’s heart skip a beat when they are first sighted: The Sydney Opera House and The Harbour Bridge. Our daily bus trips to the city dropped us at Circular Quay, minutes from these two gems so we were able to enjoy them in all types of weather and have them framed by blue skies, rolling gray rain clouds as well as soft fog. As well as observing the bridge from the Opera House, we ferried under it, walked across it and drove back and forth over it a few times. Others paid big bucks to hike up into its upper structure for the ultimate Sydney view and bragging rights.
Views from the bridge…
Oh, and the Harbour Bridge Walk is easy to find just follow the signs, if you can see them!
Downtown Sydney offers great architecture, Victorian and Modern; wonderful shops, bars and restaurants as well as parks and the Royal Botanical Gardens brimming with incredible trees and flowers. We were visiting in the fall season but one would never know it with the lush greenery and scenery all about. It rained most days but the sun did make a few stellar appearances.
The Banksia Tree, like many Australian tree species rely on fire for its survival. The furry pods that had us calling this “the kitten tree” grow each year but stay dried on the branches for as long as fifty years. The heat from bush fires releases the seeds that drop and grow in the ashy soil. The pods have a beautiful wood grain and are utilized by artists in many ways. There are over seventy species of Banksia throughout Australia.
Marilyn and I ventured back into the 1900’s where the Susannah Place Museum provides visitors a window into the modest lives of the working class people. The Rocks, located on the south shore of Sydney Harbour was reputed as a slum for many years. The poor, the working classes, sailors and prostitutes made up its population. Sandstone housing was created in the late 1700’s and the gang called “Rocks Push” dominated the area. The Rocks were devastated by the arrival of Bubonic Plaque in the 1900’s and many derelict homes were demolished in an effort to redevelop the area. World War II halted progress but it began again in earnest in the 1960s. Susannah’s Place is a block of four houses showing the layers of paint finishes, wallpapers, wall coverings and furniture showing years of use. The exterior brickwork and outdoor privies and open laundries are all original. Our passionate young tour guide brought the past to life with her vivid descriptions and personal stories about the former tenants. The current gentrified Rocks area is now a hub for tourists and locals who are drawn to its mix of trendy and historic pubs, restaurants, shops and homes.
Surfing and Australia are a natural fit. Within the suburbs, only a short bus ride or ferry trip from downtown Sydney, are two great beach communities: Bondi Beach and Manly Beach. Both areas are host to seaside- loving residents, beachcombers, artists, surfers, cyclists, musicians, runners and tourists. Amenities are handy: cafes, surf-shops, health food stores, beach-wear boutiques, galleries, bars, hair salons, ice cream parlors, book stores and hotels. Sidewalks are wide and treed with benches, street art, water bottle-filling stations, children’s play areas and even low, foot-level fountains to rinse off the beach sand! There are a few dangers at the beach: sharks that are kept away with fencing, undertow in some weather conditions, sunburn, seagull splat and budgie smugglers (old men wearing speedos). Beach Bums Beware!
We took the ferry to Manly Beach. Those born in the 50’ s or 60’s will understand that Chris and Mike enjoyed it but Marilyn and I said the beach was “Manly Yes, But I Like it Too!” What ever happened to Irish Spring soap? Ferry fares are covered by our transit pass so we took them as often as possible. You get to your destination but the boat ride allows a harbour tour too! On the way to and from Manly, we passed the main entrance to Sydney Harbour and enjoyed views of the cliffs and giant waves, sail boats of all shapes and sizes, Sydney’s Naval Yard as well as other ferries.
Yikes, even the trees are watching all the action at Manly Beach!
City by the Sea means fresh seafood and our visit to the Sydney Fish Market was fascinating. Fish of all sorts are artfully displayed on ice for restaurants and the general public to purchase. The huge Asian population in Sydney can be observed there with their families seated around tables heaped with gigantic bowls of steamed and fried fish and mystery fish soup concoctions. Communication is with nods only as heads are down and hands are maneuvering chopsticks at high speed.
The tables outside provided a view of the docks and the fishing boats heading in and out with nets at the ready. Unfortunately the Gulls, Terns and Ibis are on the lookout for scraps and we witnessed a feeding frenzy when the folks at the table next to ours, vacated the patio and left all their scraps and litter behind! Inside, we watched two “shuckers” opening oysters as if they were in a marathon. Counters displayed packages of a dozen oysters on the half shell and they were being purchased as quickly as they were being prepared. One of the vendors told us that 90% of the daily fresh catch is sold by the end of the day and the leftovers are flash frozen. A gorgeous fruit and vegetable shop provided everything necessary to prepare a seafood meal.
Another ferry journey took us past harbour-side condos, businesses and personal homes of the wealthy. Luna Park and a variety of boats either passing our “cruise-ship” ferry or tethered to the city docks along the route. Luna Park is amusement park built in 1935 whose colorful facades and rides are classic in design. The park has an interesting history with neglect and accidents closing it down a few times since its inception. The gigantic smiling moon-face on Sydney’s north shore entices guests to Luna Park. Its most recent renovation was in the 1990’s and it’s original motto”Come and Have Fun” is being celebrated once again.
We wandered about the docks at Sydney’s National Maritime Museum where we observed the reproduction of the HMB Endeavour, a variety of tugs, harbour patrol boats, pleasure craft, fishing boats and an retired Navy Ships. We read that the museum is worth a tour but time restraints had us put that on hold for a later visit.
We made it to Bondi Beach (pronounced Bond-eye) after a long day of activities, the sun was low and cast luminous colour across the surf. We peeled off our socks and shoes in order to get the full salt water and sand experience. Marilyn and I got more than that while posing with our backs to the ocean, we watched photographer Chris’s expression change to one of shock and delight as a giant incoming breaker drench us to our hips! Mike was home sick that day so missed out on a great adventure on Bondi Beach.