Filled with Warmth and serenity, Sydney offers an exciting must visit invitation
No worries mate! That phrase probably sums up Australians and their attitude to life. You could have asked for help, you could have thanked your interlocutor, you could have said sorry or could have simply lost your way and approached someone in the street. This is the response that puts you at ease when you are exploring Sydney—on foot, by train, ferry, bus or cab.
There are many reasons for visiting Sydney. In the case of my colleague Swati and I, it was an invite from the Australia Council for the Arts to attend the visiting international publishers publishers’ programme alongside the Sydney Writers’ Festival held in mid-May. Nothing comes as close to a workmeets-pleasure trip (being involved with literature has its attractive points) than this.
When we landed, Sydney was abuzz—the city was also getting ready for another gliitering offering—Vivid Sydney— an annual festival of light, music and ideas. The festival is a smorgasbord of cultural events; lighting of public spaces and points of tourist interest and Sydney becomes a brilliantly lit fairground in the 23 days of the fest. The glow stays on for much longer.
Thanks to the Australia Council for the Arts, we were booked in at the Four Seasons Hotel that overlooks Sydney Harbour. Depending on which wing you are in, you could have the view of the Opera House or the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Four Seasons, situated on Sydney’s busiest thoroughfare, George Street, is just minutes away from the Rocks and the Circular Quay ferry terminal. The Rocks area has more than 100 heritage sites and buildings including the oldest house, Cadman’s Cottage built in 1816. The Rocks comes alive at all times with food courts, music and markets. The Rocks is also home to the oldest pub in Sydney, Fortune of War. Not too far away are the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney Observatory, the Sydney Tower, Hyde Park, Hyde Park barracks, the Town Hall and Darling Harbour.
While the Opera House (you cannot miss it in any case), the Sydney Tower Eye (the entrance takes a little bit of searching if you are walking) and Darling Harbour are on the checklist of every tourist, others like the Observatory and the Hyde Barracks may not be. The Circular Quay ferry terminal is where one heads to catch the ferry to Luna Park, Taronga Zoo or Manly Beach. Buying an Opal card is a hassle-free way to use public transport. You just tap on to start a journey and tap off at the end. Tapping off is a must for all journeys by bus, train or ferry (except on the Manly Beach ferry service).
Exploring on foot
Walking is the best way to let Sydney sink in. An early breakfast at the Opera Kitchen after watching the sun rise behind the Opera House (you may want to book a tour of the House too), an evening on Hyde Park’s beautifully manicured lawns waiting for the lights of St Mary’s Cathedral to come on, and a stroll along St James Church next to the Park will stay with you for a long time. If you are around Hyde Park, a visit to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum is a must.
As the museum closes at 5 PM and it will take a good one hour to tour the place, make sure that you get there on time. The Barracks was a convict institution for pickpockets, pirates, confidence tricksters and conspirators from England in the early 19th century. It is now on the World Heritage List recognised among the world’s most important cultural heritage places linked to forced migration, colony building and convict culture. Impeccably maintained, it is at the same time an oasis of calm as well as a repository of trauma and silent angst.
The 200-year-old Royal Botanic Garden is yet another open space worth a visit for nature lovers. The Garden itself is 30 hectares and has nearly 9,000 species of plants with some of Australia’s oldest street trees. You could also consider a guided walk and the aboriginal heritage walks.
The Sydney Observatory has guided tours at fixed times, although you can walk in and explore it yourself. The lawns of the Observatory overlook the magnificent Sydney Bridge. Just watch the traffic pass on the bridge as you laze on the lawn at the edge of the hill after a tour of the Observatory. There are family night tours too.
The Sydney Tower Eye is another on the been-there-donethat list. The tallest observation deck in Sydney offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the city. The powerful telescopes placed at strategic spots around the dome can zoom in on the point of interest. Visits to the tower are ticketed and if you visit the site before a trip you can get discounts by booking online. For cricket lovers, there is the Sydney Cricket Ground and Don Bradman’s boyhood home in Bowral (an hour’s drive from the CBD).
One with nature
We took the north and visited the Lane Cove National Park. Just about 30 minutes away from CBD, it is a haven away from the city yet close to the city for picnicking and bird watching. Weekdays are peaceful and a long, leisurely walk through the forest along the Lane Cove River is soothing if you take your time. A two-hour walk is par for the course.
A visit with the children to Luna Amusement Park, located in Milsons Point, is exactly four minutes by ferry from Circular Quay. It has everything that can excite a child including the ubiquitous Ferris wheel and the aptly named Hair Raiser. All rides have to be paid for though the entry to the Park is free. And then there is Taronga Zoo. Again, the Ferry is a fun way to get to the Zoo, although the entry tickets to the Zoo are a bit steep. Taronga’s inhabitants include the koala bear, the Australian sea lion, the emu, the giraffe and the gorilla (hard to spot as they are so shy).
Darling Harbour with its ships and food joints is another popular attraction. The Saturday night fireworks show is worth going miles to see. Though you will be spoilt for food, a short walk away is China Town where you can taste the best Chinese food.
To come full circle, it is back to square one. Sydney, like the rest of Australia, is not a patch to the aggressive Aussies you watch playing cricket. The people here deserve a second mention—most of those you encounter will go out of their way to help you. Here’s looking forward to another visit and beyond Sydney.
M Venkatesh is co-founder and festival director, Bookaroo Children's Literature Festival