Sydney’s iconic landscape, splashing out on the Rocks – and a sweet serenade…
Sunday 15th March 2020. A new city. A new place to wake up in the morning. We were getting used to this transient life – and loving it. Living out of a suitcase was the new norm, even if there was still more packed into it than we actually needed… Our stay at the Woolbrokers included breakfast, but nothing on the scale of the Glenelg Motel. It was a help-yourself scenario: cereal, fruit and toast, washed down with juice or a hot drink. A dining room with many more tables than guests (two other couples about to finish when we came down), but a surprising volume of really useful tourist leaflets and magazines available in the adjoining hall. I pounced on a handful so that we could plan our day properly.
We were staying just to the left of Darling Harbour on the plan above, which covers most of the iconic locations for which Sydney is known. Elaine had a list of preferences to work on, and right at the top were the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge – conveniently close together. How to get there? With our Opal cards already devalued by the journey from the airport, we were conscious of the need to use public transport (including ferries) sparingly – at least until we could see how our budget was stretching. On with the comfortable shoes then.
Our route took us across the Pyrmont Bridge to George Street, in the centre of the CBD, where we caught the tram to Circular Wharf. It was only three stops up the line, so an ideal opportunity to see what impact that made via Opal, and hasten our journey to the hot spots at the same time. A scan of our cards on the platform as we got out indicated we’d used a little over two dollar’s worth… Better.
We were now in the thick of it. The hustle and bustle that surrounds any city tourist spot was all around us. Five sets of wharves for the operation of the ferries met an overhead train station, a bus terminus and our own Light Rail stop. The sweep of the harbour held a huge cruise ship (Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth) at berth, and in the far distance beyond stood the famous bridge. Concrete and glass office blocks towered above us, behind and to the right, hiding our view of Elaine’s first objective.
Our first glimpse of what Linc calls “that building with the funny roof” immediately made me reach for the camera. Everyone else was doing the same, or showing off with an iPhone.
What to do first? Perhaps go on a tour inside (ideal if the promised rain showed up), or make the most of the sunshine that warmed our shoulders. We decided to check out what an Opera House tour involved, but three hours of our day plus the $49 ticket price each seemed a tad over-exuberant. Instead we had a quick peek in the foyer and moved on.
That roof is what draws everyone’s attention – rightly so. Clive James once likened the Opera House to ‘a portable typewriter full of oyster shells’, but what would he know? Its architect, Jørn Utzon, designed the shells as sections of a sphere, and constructing them in the late 1950’s proved difficult and expensive. That held up completion of the building until 1966, during which Utzon fell out with the politicians holding the purse strings. His designs for the interior were not used, and he left the country in disgust – never to return. But his legacy was as spectacular close-up as I expected.
Okay – no more documentary stuff. Having circled the whole thing once, we made our way to the Royal Botanic Gardens – or, at least, we walked along the side of them by the harbour’s edge. I was fascinated by what appeared to be a giant chandelier, sitting atop a floating dock across the water.
I wonder what it’s for? Maybe it’s an Aussie version of a posh lighthouse… STOP PRESS: Wait – I have a guide book that tells me this is the site of an outdoor opera, where “a giant chandelier shimmers over the harbour stage with 10,000 Swarovski crystals”. I knew I should have packed my tuxedo.
We were distracted by a first flurry of rain. Out came the brolly from the backpack for the first time, and we sheltered briefly near a coffee bar at the far end of the gardens. Deciding that standing with a hot drink during a rain shower in Sydney was not a good look, Elaine elected to walk on into the Gardens and try for a cold beer somewhere by the harbour. It doesn’t take much to persuade me of how good some of my wife’s ideas might be, but we took the scenic route.
The Gardens cover about 30 hectares (the guide books tell me), with 9,000 plant species. I didn’t feel inclined to count them myself, but there were a heck of a lot, including some very impressive bamboo.
Try getting lost in that lot. Personally, I was more impressed with the trees. I am unaware of the particular variety, but this one (below) was truly awesome. (Yes, that’s Elaine in the centre!)
Another feature of the Gardens I found unusual was the number of these white birds I so nearly tripped over. Almost as common as British pigeons, and similar in habit, they are often described by Aussies as bin chickens, tip turkeys or dumpster divers – which says a lot about their occupation. Their proper name is the Australian White Ibis.
We walked back through the Elizabeth II Gate, bypassed the building with the funny roof, and were just a hundred metres away from the high-end shops and bars of Circular Wharf when the rain made a come-back. This was no light shower, and Elaine curiously found an excuse for investigating a large Ugg store to check out the new line in fur-lined boots, plus their over-priced T-shirts. But the rain did ease eventually, and left us with the opportunity to sit awhile over two (over-priced) cold beers. Mind you, it was a good view.
Our exercise continued past the busy wharves to where a group of people were enjoying music (of a sort) and the antics of three colourful characters – one of whom was persuading a sound out of something I am reliably informed was a didgeridoo. Elaine offered to show him what else he could do with it, but he declined.
Alas, such exertion was not for us, as Elaine does suffer from vertigo, and we could see what was involved from afar… (see those ants below).
No, all we wanted to do was walk across it – which is easier said than done. We had to ask directions how to reach road level, then do a bit of climbing up a million steps (who’s counting?) until we found ourselves in the middle of a wedding celebration.
A photographer was capturing some portraits of a bride and her retinue with that icon in the background – so I did my bit too! After all, how often do you really get the chance to see five girls that can stop traffic?
But not to be distracted, we pressed on and finally found ourselves at The Bridge. Aside from its impressive size, we didn’t really need to be at the top of it to have some spectacular views.
Our bridge expedition was limited to just after the second set of ‘pylons’ that form the bridge supports, where we turned back. Rain was still threatening, and tummies were rumbling…
Target for tonight was a Bavarian themed restaurant in The Rocks, the Munich Brauhaus. We found a table in a corner under cover – which was just as well, the rain doing another encore within ten minutes of us ordering a plateful of barbecued rack of ribs and some German lager. Was it delicious? Does an aborigine come from Australia?
Dessert followed further up The Rocks at an Italian restaurant – strawberry cheesecake – where we were serenaded in style by a harpist and a guitarist.
Well and truly chilled, but pleasantly full, we ambled back to the Woolbrokers via Pyrmont Bridge and Darling Harbour.
Sydney was looking very good indeed, and we’d covered over 23,000 steps (ten miles) to prove it. Pass the footbath…
What's it about?