Helen O’Neill 0000-00-00 00:00:00
You don’t do anything halfway in this glorious city– and the Opera House is just the beginning. Big, bold and brilliant, Sydney Is a mass of contradictions—ostentatious yet laid-back, carefree yet hardworking, dazzling yet demure. Its population bubbles at around 4.3 million and it can boast of being one of the most multicultural places in the world. This summer that boast will never be truer: Lions will meet there June 28-July 2 for the 93rd International Convention. Sydney is framed by beauty. To Sydney’s north roams the Hawkesbury River; the east opens out into the Pacific Ocean; to the south sits the Royal National Park and the west rises up into the magnificent Blue Mountains range. It is renowned for being sunny, urbane, culturally thriving and having more than 70 beaches. Even so, the first port of call for any new visitor has to be that jaw-dropping harbor. Step onto Circular Quay, the main ferry port of Sydney Harbour. This is where, to the husky rhythms of didgeridoo- playing buskers, thousands of locals travel to and from work every day. Jet-boats, yachts, tugs, floating taxis and cruisers dart about these sparkling waters; so clean that sharks and whales still swim across them. Private helicopters sweep overhead. And etched out across the spectacular skyline is one of the most famous buildings in the world—the Sydney Opera House. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon (who famously become so infuriated with the whole process that he refused ever to set sight on the finished result), this extraordinary edifice’s signature silhouette is something even Sydneysiders never tire of. It opened in 1973, won World Heritage listing in 2007 and is, by any standard, a very busy place indeed. Sitting inside its sweeping white sails, visitors can watch everything from cutting edge, contemporary performances to the classics of ballet, theatre and—of course— opera. The complex’s lower level houses a particularly good drinking hole, the harbor-hugging Opera Bar. Even its forecourt regularly takes centre stage—as a venue for raucous rock concerts and as a crowded vantage point during the Australia Day celebrations (every January 26) and the spectacular fireworks that light up the harbor on New Years Eve. There is nothing like getting up close and personal with the SOH (the behind-the-scenes tours are particularly good fun) but arguably the best view is to be had by traversing the city’s other great icon—the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Locals dub this bridge “the coathanger” and scaling these huge arches (it involves steeling your nerve, slipping into a grey safety suit and attaching yourself via safety wire to its railings) takes over three hours. The adventure climaxes at 134 meters above sea level and the view is phenomenal—an unparalleled 360-degree, harbor-city panorama. Restrictions prohibit personal equipment, including cameras, so every climber gets a souvenir photograph of themselves at the bridge’s zenith to take home (www.bridgeclimb.com). Visitors with vertigo need not worry as the other million-dollar image of Sydney Harbour is much easier to snap. All that requires is a ride on a ferry. Time-strapped tourists have a special trick—buying return tickets to the lively beachside suburb of Manly or to Taronga, home of Sydney’s impressive zoo, and then coming straight back. But Circular Quay harbors more than just views. This is a gateway to the kind of good living that Sydneysiders revel in. Sydney is often called a cultural melting pot (its denizens hail from 180 countries and speak 140 different languages)— and no where is this more obvious than in its much-celebrated cuisine. This precinct alone offers some of the best modern Australian restaurants (think Asian flavors, super-fresh seafood and exquisite European know-how) in the country. The Opera House’s own acclaimed restaurant, Guillaume at Bennelong, Quay and Aria are just three—but expect price tags to match. Views and expertise this spectacular do not come cheap. The lush greenery of the Royal Botanic Gardens (home to the Wollemi Pine, dubbed a long-lost “dinosaur” tree), is an easy stroll away, and here lies another tasty Treasure, thanks to both its restaurant and café—perfect for watching fruit bats flap lazily around the manicured tropical rainforest. Coffee, cocktail and mocktail-lovers are all well-served here, thanks to water-view bars and cafes such Aqua Luna, ECQ, and the New York-style Blu Horizon situated inside the Shangri-La Hotel. Those yearning for lager and lederhosen tend to make a beeline for The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest town quarter. Tucked along the cobblestone streets, inside pictureperfect colonial architecture, are boutiques, opal outlets, cozy pubs and European-style beer kellers. Cadman’s Cottage, the city’s oldest building (circa 1816) is in George Street, and Sydney’s quirky, historic Observatory is just a short walk up a nearby hill. This side of Sydney’s harbor is also a mecca for culture vultures. Aboriginal and modern art fans head to the Museum of Contemporary Art, while performance arts are on show at the nearby Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Dance Company. Darling Harbour, Sydney’s newer waterside development, is just a few blocks away. Sydney Aquarium (think penguins, sharks and dugongs—the mysterious “mermaids of the deep”) is a family favorite but this area is also dotted with nightclubs and yet more harborside cafes, restaurants and bars (the funky Cargo Lounge on the King Street Wharf offers mango daiquiris, Cuban cigars and sunset water views). Those cruising for the best bite in Australia need not look much further. Tetsuya’s, generally regarded as the best restaurant in the country, is just around the corner at 529 Kent St. The Japanese-French, seafood-orientated degustation menu is legendary in culinary circles and advance booking is absolutely essential. If more wallet-friendly fare is on the menu, make a beeline for Sydney’s bustling Chinatown precinct. A particular favorite among the busy yum-cha outlets and noodle houses is BBQ King (18 Goulburn St.)—a multi-level restaurant famed for its chili salt prawns, street-side queuing and opening hours so long it attracts many latenight revelers from the clubs of Oxford Street and the City. Sydney by day offers a host of delights. With one easy walk through the city, visitors can enjoy the effortless grandeur of Macquarie Street (New South Wales’ parliamentary and legal HQ) and Hyde Park Barracks (designed by convict architect Francis Greenway, this houses a Museum which stands as testament to the excesses of Australia’s colonial past). Stretched out opposite is the large, manicured green walkways of Hyde Park— home to joggers, picnicking families and a seemingly endless stream of outdoor chess players. And from here Bondi Beach, the most famous patch of sand in Australia, is just a 20-minute express bus-ride away. Finding it is as easy as buying a pre-pay ticket from a news agent and jumping on bus number 333—a ride that is a tour in itself. First stop is Oxford Street, full of bars, clubs and the site of Saturdays’ Paddington arts, crafts and design markets. Here too lies a string of classic Aussie outlets: Dinosaur Designs (who craft distinctive, chunky jewelry out of multi-colored resin) and top fashion labels including Akira Isogawa and Alannah Hill. The 333 then glides past Centennial Park (a huge circular sprawl of woodland, lakes and playing fields), beyond Bondi Junction (another vibrant shopping district) and then heads straight down Bondi Road to the vast Pacific Ocean. Some come here for seaside saunters, and the cliff top walks north to Watsons Bay and south to Coogee Beach are both spectacular. But Bondi has a character all its own. This place is a magnet for Sydney’s beautiful people, be they models, actors or well-muscled surfers. The cafés (try Speedo’s at the beach’s north end) offer silky-smooth espressos and fruit-packed smoothies. Those after a good feed, as they call it here, can do worst than feasting on gourmet fish and chips from Fishmongers (42 Hall St.); best eaten on the grassy park overlooking the sand. The beach’s south end is dominated by the Icebergs complex— the wind-swept ocean pool, a high-end restaurant frequented by celebs and executives, and the familyfriendly Icebergs Club, which caters for everybody else. Carry ID with your address on it for free visitors’ entry; those living within a 5km radius have to join to get in. In Bondi, as everywhere in Sydney, it pays to push past the obvious. Gould Street, a short one-way lane running parallel to the beach, has top-notch organic fare, funky surf shops, and an eclectic rack of designer outlets (cult boutique Tuchuzy even carries cuttingedge kiddie wear for tiny beach babes). But more lies beyond Sydney’s eastern beachside suburbs. Kings Cross, long-known as Sydney’s red light district, is a nexus of backpacker hostels, wild nightlife and some seriously stylish restaurants. Newtown, in the city’s inner west, boasts a bohemian blend of grunge and urban chic, plus a wealth of well-priced, multicultural eateries, quirky cafes and funky retro clothes stores along its central thoroughfare, Kings Street. Glebe, a touch further south-west, houses street-side cafés, a great bookstore (Gleebooks at 49 Glebe Point Road) and an eclectic Saturday market. Balmain, west of the city on a peninsular and easily accessible by ferry from Circular Quay, also has a Saturday flea market, a wealth of hip cafes and eateries and historic, character-filled pubs rivaling those of The Rocks. As befits a city that adores its food, some districts are draw cards for gourmands— including Pyrmont (site of Sydney’s breezy fish market), Haberfield and Leichardt (for those enamored of Italian cuisine), and Cabramatta (home to so many Australian- Vietnamese the street signs are in two languages). Waterloo, situated between the city and the airport, has good food, too, (check out Dank Street Depot) but is best known for having morphed from warehouse wasteland into a hub of art and design. Here large antiques showrooms rub shoulders with contemporary and indigenous art galleries. Rosebery, the neighborhood next door, holds a particular treasure: the design house Signature Prints (3 Hayes Road; http://www.signatureprints. com.au). Drop in and get the lowdown on Florence Broadhurst, who since her mysterious murder in 1977 has become one of Australia's most influential and exotic image-makers. It all makes for a heady mixture. “Where else in the world can you catch a ferry, ride a roller coaster, eat a five-star meal, see an opera, visit an art gallery, see where Sydney began— all with harbor views?” says author Erin Vincent, who was born in the southern Sydney suburb of Beverly Hills (“Nothing like the LA version,” she laughs) and moved back to the city in 2007 after 13 years in Los Angeles. Born in the Australian state of Victoria, Noel Hodda has lived in Sydney for more than 35 years. “Sometimes I’ll go to another city for work or a visit and think, ‘Gee, maybe I could live here’,” he says. “I entertain the thought until the plane sweeps in over the ocean or the Blue Mountains to land in Sydney, and I see, from above, the white surf breaking out of the blue sea against the sandstone cliffs. Any thoughts of moving are blown away as if on a spray of cool salt water on a hot day.” This article first appeared in SKY. Helen O'Neill is a Sydney-based journalist whose articles appear in the USA, UK, Australia and Asia. Her latest biography about Australia's most enigmatic designer is Florence Broadhurst–Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives.
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