Sydney is known as the Gateway to Australia. The city was founded on January 26, 1788, when 11 ships bearing 1400 people — convicts, soldiers and a handful of other settlers — arrived from England to establish a remote new colony.
Sydney is a city of spectacular natural beauty and stunning architecture. My introduction to the city began with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The 75-year-old bridge, affectionately called the ‘Coat Hanger’ by Sydneysiders, majestically stood against the horizon. The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge is a double-hinged, steel arch bridge, and at the time of its completion in 1932, it was considered the epitome of engineering ingenuity.
The best way to experience the magic of the harbour-side is to take up BridgeClimb, an exciting guided adventure. It offers a three-hour guided climb to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. What seemed an impossible climb, initially, turned out to be the most exhilarating one. Standing atop the bridge, at a height of 134 metres, a spectacular panorama spread out before me. The quay and the sailing boats, afloat on the blue waves, flanked by the famous contours of the Opera House, were an unforgettable sight. In an instant I forgot all about the arduous climb.
Despite the exhaustion after the climb, I couldn’t resist a visit to the Opera House, which stood invitingly nearby. Sydney Opera and the bridge face each other across the Circular Quay. The Sydneysiders call the Opera House the symbol of their nation. There is no doubt that the unusual architecture of the Opera House is quite awe inspiring. In fact, it is one of the top 10 tourist destinations, along with the famous ones like the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building and Taj Mahal. The Opera House has been built with 1,056,006 roof tiles, and 6,223 square metres of glass on 1.75 hectares.
Inside the Opera House are seven performance venues – Concert Hall, Opera Theatre, Playhouse, Drama Theatre, Forecourt, Studio and Utzon Room. Interestingly, one of these theatres allows the visitors to take their pet dogs. And if the pets get agitated and need to be taken out for a walk call, they are taken out by trained dog- menders.
Exhausted after the climb and the Opera House tour, I settled down for high tea at the dining room with its magnificent view of the city skyline and the harbour. What followed was an unforgettable culinary experience as platters of the daintiest sandwiches, exquisite pastries and petit fours were placed before me.
Refreshed and refuelled, I made my way towards the bustling Darling Harbour. It is a great place to spend a day. Whether it is a dining experience, or a visit to the Sydney Aquarium or Sydney Wildlife World, or the innumerable bars, Darling Harbour has something for everyone. The King Street Wharf is famous for the waterfront bars, bistros and its vibrating energy. Sitting on the waterfront, I watched the excited crowd passing by with sea gulls screeching in the background. It was time to move to the Bondi beach.
The word ‘bondi’ is the aboriginal word for the sound of surf and that explains why it is so popular with the surfers. The beach, with its golden sand and green-blue water, is one of the safest beaches for surf boarding. Sitting on the sands, it was spectacular to see the sun go down. It was getting dark and I was hungry. It had been a long day. A few seconds later I was sitting at Nick’s Bondi Beach Pavilion Restaurant, just across the beach. The seafood platter, with the king prawn, crabs, and oysters, was an epicurean delight.
The next morning I set out for the Rocks. This is the city’s oldest ‘village’, so named because of its rocky shoreline. It was founded when the first convict tents were erected here in 1788. Today, it is a popular hangout of the tourists. The Rocks Market is Sydney’s premier weekend market. It is here that you can pick up indigenous artwork, didgeridoos, jewellery and gourmet food. The market is housed under a canopy and houses over 150 stalls every weekend.
By this time I had explored the outer parts of the city without venturing into the core of it. That evening I decided it was time for me to see the core CBD (The Central Business District), as it is called. The city centre has buildings with interesting architecture, the old Victorian ones rubbing shoulder with the high-rises. The Queen Victoria Building held my attention. Popularly known as QVB, it was built during 1890s at the time of the Great Depression, as Sydney’s main market. Restored in 1980s, it has about 180 chic stores. The stained-glass windows, Byzantine arches and plaster ornamentation make it a great place to visit. Pierre Cardin, the famous designer, called the QVB the most beautiful shopping centre in the world.
Another interesting place to visit is the Strand Arcade with its Victorian elegance and grandeur. The ornately adorned interiors with cast iron balustrades and opulent glass lantern roof houses some of the top Australian designers like Lisa Ho, Allanah Hill, Von Troska and Zimmerman. These are great places to shop at if you have deep pockets.
Time had flown and it was time to bid goodbye to Sydney, which I did with a heavy heart, carrying innumerable images of the place.