Sydney

Sydney Skyline

The city of Sydney is Australia’s largest and most populous city.  It is also home to two of Australia’s most iconic features, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The way these two incredible man-made marvels frame Sydney’s central business district is simply beautiful.  Their juxtaposition, one spanning the harbour and the other perched on a peninsular as is if guarding the harbour illustrates what a remarkably attractive place Sydney is.

I know a bit about Sydney.  I was born and raised there, and I was fortunate to grow up in one of Sydney’s harbour side suburbs, yet I never grew tired of watching that amazing body of water.

Sydney is the Capital of New South Wales; it is also Australia’s oldest city, and the place where European occupation of Australia first began.

What is, perhaps, the most remarkable thing about Sydney is that it is just over 230 years old – the First Fleet landed here in 1788 – and when you consider just how humble its beginnings were, the detritus of Britain’s gaols were sent there for punishment, to look out at the marvellous city is to wonder just how great Britain could have been if it had actually put those unfortunate miscreants into worthwhile jobs instead of piling them into dirty, disease infested prisons to rot.

Anyway, Britain’s loss was definitely Australia’s gain, as it turned out her prisoners were a hard-working and hardy lot.  It is these humble beginnings that have formed much of the Australian character, particularly our disrespect for officialdom, and our dependence on mateship – forming a bond with others during times of turbulence, trouble or simply neighbourly need – that has served our country well.

Sydney’s greatest natural feature is its harbour and its beaches.  In fact, it is water that delineates the greater Sydney area.  To the north of Sydney, the Hawkesbury River forms an attractive border, to the west is the Nepean River, forming a barrier between the Cumberland Plain, upon which Sydney sits, and the rugged landscapes of the Blue Mountains; to the South is Port Hacking, which forms the boundary between Sydney’s suburbs and the Royal National Park.

Sydney Harbour is the world’s largest natural harbour, and to my mind, the best way to see Sydney is from its waterways.  I grew up in the suburb of Mosman, and whenever I return to Sydney I still love to take a trip on the Mosman Ferry to Circular Quay or vice versa.  Circular Quay is the busy ferry entry point to Sydney, above the ferry wharves is a railway station, and above that still an expressway; so it is loud and bustling.  Within 15 minutes of catching the Mosman Ferry you are slowly sailing into peaceful Mosman Bay which seems to be completely cut off from the outside world.  Mosman Bay is not alone, there are many of these Harbour communities that are, literally minutes from the CBD, yet remain so serene.

The harbour really comes alive on a weekend, when the boaties get out.  It awash with colour, as sailboats of all sizes compete in their various regattas, but the ones to watch are the 18-footers, which is the fastest class of sailing skiff, and has been a feature of Sydney Harbour since 1892.  To see the way these hi tech boats skim over the water with the crews of three hanging out over the water to give the boat balance is thrilling, even if you know nothing about yachting.

In Sydney, beach life is one of the main pastimes.  There are three distinct areas of beaches:  harbour beaches, where the water is still; the southern beaches and the northern beaches, which all experience surf.  There’s a reason why Sydney’s northern and southern beaches have little commonality – Sydney’s immense harbour neatly divides the city in two, and life in the south is simply different from life in the north.  That’s not to say that one side is better than the other, it’s simply that if you live south, you head to a beach that’s easy for you to reach.  Same for the north.  When you’re chasing the surf, it’s a long deviation to get from Manly, the southernmost of the northern beaches, to Bondi, the northernmost of the southern beaches.  To get from one to the other, is about an hour’s drive.

Because of the harbour and beaches Sydneysiders have a relatively laid back lifestyle.  True, times can get tense when you’re battling traffic jams and crowds just to get to work, but Sydneysiders live for their leisure.  Sydney has a pretty good climate, so having a life outdoors is easy.  Even so, there are hundreds of restaurants, pubs, bars and clubs where you can find good food and plenty of entertainment.

Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, which was named after one of the world’s greatest aviation pioneers, is Australia’s busiest commercial airport, and the airport at which most foreign travellers enter Australia. There are three terminals, two domestic and one international.  Transport to and from the airport is easy, as the train connects all terminals and it is a reasonably fast trip into the city.  Taxis are plentiful, as are shuttle services to various parts of Sydney, which have standard prices, depending on distance travelled.  Limos and hire cars are also available.  If you are going to hire a car, be aware that Sydney has many toll roads, and you will need to make arrangements to pay for your tolls.

You’ll find every type of accommodation in Sydney, it just depends on your budget, and whereabouts you want to stay.  Where you stay depends on the experiences that you want to have.  There’s city accommodation, plenty of hotels and hostels near the major beaches, lower North Shore at Kirribilli or Milson’s Point, where you look out over the city, Kings Cross for its nightlife and bohemian feel, or down near The Rocks, an historical part of Sydney that is nestled almost underneath the Harbour Bridge.

The best times to visit Sydney are, I believe, either in spring or autumn (fall) when the temperature is at its most comfortable.  Winters can get very cold (but you also get wonderful sunny winter days), and summers can be both hot and humid, but you can also get some heavy rain in Sydney in summer. Having said that, even a bad summer is better than most summers you’ll get in most parts of the world.

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