Sydney, capital of New South Wales, is home to the world’s largest (and in our opinion, most spectacular!) natural harbor. Founded as a penal colony in 1788, Sydney is probably best known for its crown jewel…the iconic Sydney Opera House. Ironically, we learned that Jorn Utzon’s design for the opera house was the result of a competition, and his design was initially discarded! Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its distinctive sail-like design is a signature landmark for the city. There’s so much to see and do in Sydney, so we split up for part of our three-day visit to pursue our own interests.
Doug spent almost an entire day experiencing the majestic Blue Mountains, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a result of a two day torrential rainstorm (which we sailed through to get here!), the Katoomba Falls were raging, and the bush fires that had threatened much of the Jamison Valley were extinguished. From Echo Point, he was able to take in some magnificent views of the valley from high above the clouds. He also captured an etherial shot of the famous Three Sisters before making his way to Scenic World where he experienced the thrills of traveling the world’s steepest scenic passenger train at a 52 degree incline; gliding between cliff tops in the glass-bottomed scenic skyway, Australia’s highest cable car; and descending 545 metres into the Jamison Valley in the scenic cableway. He learned that this area was named Blue Mountain because of the blue hue created by the evaporation from the eucalyptus trees, which are very prevalent throughout the lush area.
While Doug was enjoying the mountains outside the city, Denise took a photographic walking workshop with professional travel photographer Alfonso Calero, owner of Alfonso’s Photo Tours http://www.alfonso.com.au Alfonso led us on a 3-hour walk around Sydney, and freely shared his expertise about camera settings, composition, lighting, and creative camera angles (full disclosure…the image above is my work, but his idea!) We started off in The Rocks – Sydney’s oldest village named for the sandstone from which its original buildings were made, where we played around with angles and leading lines. This area, once home to drunken sailors and ex-convicts, now hosts harbor side boutiques, craft shops, cafes, and interesting markets. We moved on to the Sydney Opera House, one of the most photographed points of interest in the city. We were inspired by the Sydney Harbor Bridge, where we experimented with light and angles, and we were lucky to capture some walkers high atop the bridge. Alfonso gave us some “cheat sheets” to help us tell our travel stories more vividly, and we celebrated our new knowledge over an authentic lunch of meat pies with mashed potatoes and peas and beer at the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, Sydney’s oldest continually licensed pub. There’s much debate about which pub is oldest, but the Lord Nelson is a favorite with locals, and definitely has yummy food and delicious beer.
After lunch, Denise continued on her own walking tour of this beautiful city, where she got lost no fewer than 10 times! Along the way, she logged in over 20,000 steps and visited St. Mary’s Cathedral; the QVB – Queen Victoria Building (an incredible indoor shopping mall built in 1893); the Sydney Tower Eye Observation Deck (Sydney’s tallest structure and the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere); and the opulent State Theater and adjacent QT Boutique Hotel which is housed in the State and Gowings Buildings. It’s really wonderful how sleek, modern skyscrapers have been incorporated into the skyline alongside historic, beautiful sandstone structures from Sydney’s earliest days.
We both enjoyed a visit to the Featherdale Wildlife Park, where the highlight of our day was holding a baby koala! We also saw kangaroos (some moms with joeys in their pouches, and one adorable albino joey nursing with its mom), sassy pelicans, wombats, fairy penguins, echidnas, a brahminy kite, and dingos, to name a few.
On our third and final day in Sydney, realizing that we were NEVER going to see everything we wanted to see, we took a guided half day panoramic tour and saw and learned so much! Our lovely guide Hayley shared fascinating stories about Sydney’s past and present, and introduced us to some of its historic and colorful characters. We traveled to Circular Quay above Sydney’s picturesque harbor on a peninsula that juts out over the sea. From there we enjoyed great views of many of Sydney’s top attractions. We found historic Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair and Denise took a seat. Formed of exposed sandstone that was hand-carved into a bench by convicts in 1810, it was built for Governor Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth. According to legend, she spent a lot of time sitting on the rocks and gazing out to sea, spotting ships that were sailing from Great Britain (her home) into the harbor. From her timeless chair, you can cast your eye over the skyline, the opera house, the harbor bridge, and the rising mountains in the distance. You can also admire Pinchgut Island and the Navy dockyards at Wooloomooloo (which means place of the baby kangaroos in Aboriginal.) From there we headed to the cliffs of Sydney Heads with its own breathtaking views, and learned that the cliffs often lured people in search of their final few moments of life. It is said that a gentleman living nearby kept watch on the Head, and invited some of these people in for tea, thereby saving many lives by his selfless acts of kindness. From there we traveled to the sweeping white sand of Bondi Beach, where young and old were enjoying a beautiful summer day on the sand, in the water, on the walking paths, and on two, three, and four-wheeled vehicles. We also learned about the often treacherous currents that can be deadly to surfers unfamiliar with the area. To address this issue, Waverley Council employs a corps of elite paid lifeguards to protect beach visitors. The professional lifeguards wear blue uniforms and work 365 days a year. In addition to the professionals, Bondi is also home to a dedicated corps of volunteer lifesavers who wear red and yellow uniforms and assist the lifeguards on the beach on weekends and public holidays during the summer. The volunteer members of the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club and the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club have been saving lives since the early 1900s. Bondi Rescue, an Australian TV program also available on Netflix, follows the daily lives and routines of the lifeguards at Bondi Beach.
Later that day, we took a ferry across the Sydney Harbour to Manly. Sandy, tree-fringed Manly Beach is one of the city’s famed surf spots, and there are broad coastal views on the oceanfront walk to sheltered Shelly Beach. Although signs posted that the beach was closed, we spotted several surfers out there practicing their sport. The Corso on Manly is a buzzing pedestrian strip lined with laid-back pubs and family-friendly eateries, where we sat across from the beach and enjoyed a delicious lunch of fresh oysters and fish&chips at the Manly Grill. We also picked up a few mementos of three beautiful days in Sydney before heading back to the Viking Sun.
We can’t say enough good things about our visit to Sydney. The sights, sounds, and the warm hospitality left us wanting to stay a bit longer, but that’s just one more reason to add “return to Sydney” to our bucket lists!