Three days in Sydney

posted in: Down Under 2024 | 4

I spent three days in Sydney and I just left this morning. I wrote a little of this each day and finished it today in Cairns.

Three days was definitely not enough. I will have to come back and spend a lot more time here. But for now, here are the highlights of my short visit.

If you don’t want to read, you can skip right to the photo album.

Thursday 28 March

I had a very early start this morning. My flight from Nadi, Fiji, to Sydney was at 9am. Since the resort where I was staying was on an island some distance away, I had to take a ferry departing at 5:45. I made it to the mainland (which is what they call Viti Levu, the largest island) by 7:00, and to the airport by 7:30. The flight was a little over four hours, and we gained an hour, so we arrived around 12:30.

Getting through immigration and customs at SYD couldn’t have been easier or quicker. The train from the airport took me to Wynyard Station, and my hotel is adjacent to the station. I was checked into my room by 1:30.

My hotel

The Little National Hotel is a little too high-tech for me. Starting with the elevators. There are no buttons in the elevator. You scan your key card, and a panel shows all the floors you can go to. (From reception, my options were Ground, 3, and 11 (rooftop bar). I selected 3 and it told me which elevator would take me there.

In lieu of standard light switches, my room has panels with buttons labeled for what they turn on or off. I don’t know why this is an improvement over standard light switches. You can’t read them in the dark or go by feel. So I have to shine my phone’s flashlight to see what button to push.

The one by the entrance has a button for “Do Not Disturb.” This turns on a read light outside the room. There’s also a tablet in the room:

I did figure out how to connect my phone to the Bluetooth speakers, greatly enhancing my listening pleasure.

It’s now 7:30 am Friday morning. I was going to go to a cafe across the street from my hotel for a bit of breakfast, but this being Good Friday, the cafe was closed. So I came up to the rooftop bar, which has a high-tech espresso machine and serves light breakfasts.

My first exploration of Sydney

There was no reason to do anything in my hotel room other than drop my luggage, so I set out to explore. I had a ticket to West Side Story at 7:30 at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair (at the far right of the map), so I walked from my hotel (by Wynyard, at the very bottom of the map) up to The Rocks, where I found a nice outdoor eatery, and then spent the afternoon in the Royal Botanic Garden. (I should mention I also had an ice cream, so I was never hungry for dinner.)

The botanical garden was really pleasant, and the weather was perfect. It was not too hard to fill the afternoon just wandering. The birds, none of which I’ve ever seen before, and the flowering plants were a feast for the eyes, and the views of the harbour and the Opera House made me verklempt.

This doesn’t happen as often as it used to when I travel, but every once in a while I have a moment of great joy when I encounter something that I’ve dreamed of seeing. I remember when the Sydney Opera House was built (it just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year). Now, finally being here just gave me a moment of awe that raised goosebumps and brought a tear to my eye. It’s even more impressive in person than the pictures suggest. I only wish I could see a performance, but unfortunately nothing is playing while I’m here.

The Australian White Ibis seems to be the Sydney equivalent of the New York City pigeon. They are everywhere, nearly oblivious to nearby humans.

The other bird I saw a lot of in the Botanic Garden was the Noisy Miner. These birds certainly live up to their name. They are loud!

I was admiring the plant when this one landed just a few feet in front of me.

West Side Story

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this performance. Would Australians be able to pull of a very New Yorky show?

The answer was a resounding yes. This was a top notch production in every respect. The voices were fabulous, not surprising since it was produced by Opera Australia. The dancing definitely evoked Jerome Robbins’ balletic choreography while still feeling fresh and new. And the entire production was accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra that played brilliantly.

I could nitpick. Riff didn’t really pull off the New York accent or attitude as well as some of the others. And for some reason, Anita danced in tennis shoes, while all the other Puerto Rican women were in heels. Maria had a gorgeous voice, but maybe a tad too operatic. Tony, on the other hand, was absolute perfection. And what a great setting to watch a show!

The challenge was how to get back to my hotel afterwards. The Botanic Garden was closed, so I couldn’t walk through to get back. At the end of the show they announced a shuttle and a water taxi to Circular Quay, and from there I could take the train to Wynyard, so I followed the crowd to the shuttle bus.

Give the long day, I was quickly asleep.

Friday 29 March

Last night after I got back from dinner, I started organizing my photos, but my eyes were closing and I barely finished before I collapsed into bed. It’s not Saturday morning a little past 5am. (My sleep hours are still skewed to the early side, but this morning I have a reason for being awake early, which I’ll write about later.)

The day started yesterday with the “Free Walking Tour” (which of course isn’t free, but you pay what you want at the end).

We started at the fountain at the very bottom of the map, next to St James train station. We walked up along the side of the Botanic Garden and then zagged over to the west, ending at The Rocks.

This was an excellent tour, with a lot of history and a few hidden gems. Even though the group was large, our guide managed to keep us moving at a good pace.

A few interesting tidbits of history

  • Aboriginal peoples have inhabited the region for at least 30,000 years. Today, all over the city are signs acknowledging that the lands where various historical sites are located belong to the Gadigal clan. (At the start of West Side Story on Thursday night, an announcement was made to the same effect.) Greater Sydney covered the land traditionally owned by a total of 28 aboriginal clans.
  • James Cook landed at Botany Bay, about 13 km south of Sydney, in 1770.
  • In 1788 the First Fleet, eleven ships, arrived and established a British penal colony here in the area known as The Rocks. 
  • In the first half of the 19th century, Sydney grew to include many settlers from Britain. Lachlan Macquarie, governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1826, built the city, establishing a bank, roads, a hospital, wharves, churches, and various public buildings. They are all named for him and his family. (Our guide referred to him as the Donald Trump of his day because of his enormous ego.) 
  • The semi-circular quay at the harbour was built in the 1830s. It was circular in shape. It was redeveloped in the 1950s and squared off, but it’s still called Circular Quay. 
  • Sydney was declared a city in 1842. When Australia federated in 1901, it became the capital of the state of New South Wales.

A moving work of public art

Edge of the Trees
Sculptural Installation by Janet Laurence and Fiona Foley, 1995
sandstone, wood, steel, oxides, shell, clay, honey, bona, zinc, glass, sound
Commissioned for the site of the first Government House
Edge of the trees evokes a pivotal event in our history with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. The sculpture is an artistic acknowledgement of the ancestors of the Aboriginal people and their ongoing spiritual connection to this place. It also reminds us of the layers of memory on this site.
The environment, Aboriginal experiences and colonial history are brought together in a ‘forest of 29 pillars signifying the 29.local Aboriginal clans. The pillars are made from different materials: sandstone and wood for the country, and steel for the built history of Sydney.
Engraved on the pillars are nomes of Aboriginal people and places, of First Fleeters and of plants from this area, Materials such as shell, pipe clay and honey are embedded in some pillars, recalling earlier ways of life. You can also hear recordings of place names in the local Aboriginal Sydney language

After the tour

I had lunch at a spot in The Rocks and then walked across the Harbour Bridge. (I did not do “The Climb.”)

Then I took the ferry back across the harbour and visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is right at the harbour adjacent to Circular Quay. Not my favorite kind of museum, but there were some pieces I really admired. And a lot of work by aboriginal artists.

I got back to my hotel for a rest around 3pm. At 6:00 I had a Zoom call with the Tour Experience Leader for my upcoming OAT tour in New Zealand, and then I walked to Barangaroo to eat Thai food, which I’ve been craving. (Even though there are three Thai restaurants in Ajijic, none of them lives up to the average Thai restaurant in Seattle.) This place was excellent, and the neighborhood is a delightful waterfront area lined with outdoor eateries.

Saturday 30 March

I’m in Cairns now and it’s Sunday 31 March, but I will get caught up on yesterday before I start writing about this part of my trip.

Sydney Opera House Backstage Tour

The day started very early. I signed up for the backstage tour of the Sydney Opera House, and it started at 7:00. It was still dark when I left my hotel, so I got to see the Opera House at first light. (By the way, if you look at my photos, you’ll see that there is no limit on how many photos one can or should or feels moved to take of the Opera House from various angles and in different light.)

The tour was excellent. It was so cool seeing all the stuff you wouldn’t see if you were going to a performance. Our guide, Bruce, was funny and interesting and full of factoids, and the other people on the tour were almost all singles and were really interested in the arts. Among the group were an oboist and a dancer. 

There are actually many different theatres in the Opera House. The biggest is the Concert Hall, and the second biggest is Joan Sutherland Theatre, where Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet perform. Then there are a number of smaller theatres suitable for dramatic performances in various configurations. Interestingly, there are no resident art groups at the Opera House. These are all performing partners with nine-year contracts to lease the various spaces. Other groups, of course, perform there as well. I wish I could have been in the audience for something. I will have to plan my next visit at a different time of year when the Opera or Sydney Symphony Orchestra are in season.

Joan Sutherland Theatre. There are just 1,507 seats, so it’s not nearly as big as a lot of other opera theatres.
Nowadays the lead female singer in each opera gets this dressing room.
The Concert Hall, where the SSO performs, seats 2,670.

Museum of Sydney

There are a lot of museums in Sydney, but I couldn’t visit them all, and I didn’t really want to. But this one was nearby where I was headed next, and it was free, so I dropped in.

It sits on the site of the original Governor’s House. The Edge of the Trees sculpture, which I saw yesterday, is right in front of the museum.

I didn’t spend a lot of time here, but I did read about the First Fleet, the eleven ships that sailed from England and established the penal colony here in 1788. There were models of all the ships with a lot of historical background.

The other exhibit I liked was a collection of art from the Coomaditchie Community.

Manly Beach Bike Tour

Later in the afternoon I went on a bike tour to Manly Beach. There were just three of us, me and a couple from Texas, plus our guide, Tony, who not only led us on the bike tour but gave us a lot of background information about the history and geography of the land and the sea. We took our bikes on the ferry and enjoyed a cruise to the beach, and in addition to riding along the beach, we rode up through various neighborhoods and to a fabulous viewpoint in time for sunset before riding the ferry back to Sydney. A long the way we saw some interesting buildings and some birds and other wildlife.

Manly Beach
Australian Water Dragon
Australian Brush Turkey
Yellow-crested Cockatoos

Farewell Sydney

With that, I’ll close out this post on my far-too-short visit to Sydney. Except for one more photo, this morning I got one more awesome view of this fabulous city.

If you haven’t looked at my photos yet, now’s your chance. There’s a lot more than what’s in this post.

4 Responses

  1. Trudy Crippen

    I am happy and relieved that you took the ferry to Manly. That particular ferry is wonderful because of all you pass. Did you notice the zoo on the north side? It had magnificent views.

    • Lane

      I saw where the zoo was. It was a nice ferry ride, but the views from Manly at sunset were the best!

  2. Tammy Vig

    What a great post! One of my big travel mistakes in 1992 was spending all my time in Cairns (which I loved) and I never made it to Sydney. Need to get back there to OZ!

    • Lane

      Sydney is one of my new favorite cities. I need another few days there, and my appetite is whetted to see lots more of Australia.

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