It is the most visited city in Australia: a glowing, eclectic and warm place with easy transport and family activities; welcome to Sydney.
Lived in by aborigines for over 40,000 years, the winds of change blew to the Australian continent in the 1700’s when Englishman Captain James Cook sailed up the east coast and claimed it for the British Crown, who subsequently set up a penal colony. The legacy of convict and pioneer settlement has given Australians a sense of independence and larrikinism that most people, except the really uptight, find relaxing and fun. Children especially love Australia and its wide open spaces and the spectacular Sydney Harbour provides a playground for sailing, cruising and sightseeing.
Sydney Attractions by Sea & Land
We were keen to have a look at Sydney’s waterways and joined Captain Cook Cruises (61 2 9206 1100) for a lunch tour. One can only envy the lifestyle that harbor households enjoy by the sparkling warm waters (at least it was sparkling when we sailed). The spectacular views of water, hills, ocean and cityscapes from the hills surrounding the harbor command some of the most expensive real estate prices in the country. We could see why.
As we munched on fish, chicken, salads and pastas, thousands of yachts floated by, testimony to an active outdoor lifestyle for the residents. The visiting Danish Crown Prince and Princess were racing each other and much color and pomp surrounded the two yachts. Promenades swirled along the edges of the harbor, parks offered picnic areas and outcrops of rock stumbled into the water.
The harbor is dominated by the Sydney Harbor Bridge, locally known as The Coathanger, referring to its arched shape. Passing under it, we could see little ant-like people puffing up the rim of the arch on a walk to the top of the bridge. Due to this adventure tour’s success with the public, the 75-year-old bridge can now be explored more intimately on a Discovery BridgeClimb.
We decided to walk into history, and the place for that is The Rocks, a preserved patch of Sydney that gives a glimpse into the ‘how it was’ ambience of early colonial living. We set off with an outfit called The Rocks Walking Tour (61 2 9247 6678; a self-guided tour booklet is available at the Sydney Visitors’ Centre), dove into forgotten alleyways and learned about the secret escape routes that drunken convicts used to get out of the old hotels. Churches and brothels jostled for the moralities of colonials (has anything changed?) and terraces of brick revealed the small hovels of the poor. It was a fascinating look into historic Sydney, without being too strenuous or too long.
Sydney’s Animal Attractions
It’s hard to get away from a city without visiting zoos and fun parks, so we trooped over to the harborfront and grabbed a ferry for the Taronga Zoo(61 2 9969 2777). We found a teeming, active smorgasbord of talks and shows to give us a feel for the animals and the challenges of keeping them. Not far away, Luna Park offers the usual rides and thrills that keep kids engaged for hours. Being pregnant, I felt sick just looking at those heaving, spinning wheels where the blur of contorted faces amid a cacophony of screams and yells, made me wonder just what evolution has in mind for the human species. The kids, of course, adored the place.
A far more interesting and balanced establishment is the Sydney Aquarium (61 2 8251 7800). Here underwater creatures of all sorts are on display and it’s an amazing tour of the diversity of life in the sea. This was where the adults tried to lengthen the visit, with the kids having had enough by the end of the second hour.
On our last day, we rocketed up the Sydney Tower to the highest point in the city. Around the circular observation deck are 360-degree views of Sydney, the harbor and beyond. We got a real sense of the city, the beautiful parts, the parks, the industrial sections and the grimy poorer areas. The waterways stretched and snaked shiny blue tentacles everywhere and it appeared such a vibrant, colourful city from up above.
Accommodation in Sydney varies. Everything from budget to sumptuous is on offer and we went middle-of-the-range, staying at one of the apartments at Star City (61 2 9777 9000). Centrally located, it was the perfect place to visit all attractions, and had views across the city and over a bit of the harbor. We were somewhat apprehensive as a family staying there, as it is also a casino. But the gambling areas are discreetly tucked away from the accommodation areas, and our own gamble that this was going to be family-friendly paid off. Star City has many useful services and facilities, as well as shops, ice cream bars and fantastic restaurants, conveniently located within the complex.
Sydney is serviced by an effective system of public transport including trains, buses and a monorail, which is useful as most Australians shudder at the traffic congestion on the city’s streets. Shopping, dining, information and entertainment abounds, making Sydney a great starting point for your Australian holiday.
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