Sydney Opera House and Bridge, photo by Mike Keenan
An athletically-fit-looking husband and wife team, Jamie and Alex Creer, pick up my spouse and me at our hotel in King's Cross, a former red-light district, now home to some of Sydney's best restaurants and trendy nightspots. On our first Australian visit, we have booked their "Local Eyes" day-long tour ($185 per person) - thankfully - mercifully - in an air-conditioned Mercedes van - because it's the hottest day experienced by me at 42.5C! Gees!
Jamie describes Sydney's history and the fact that many buildings were erected through the services of convict architects as Sydney started out as a penal colony. We check out its geographic origin, the happening Rocks precinct adjacent to the harbour which boasts a wonderful weekend market that we attended offering everything from souped-up motorcycle rides to left-handed boomerangs.
The Rocks offers a dynamic blend of old and new from cobblestone laneways to stylish modern bars, some of Sydney's finest restaurants and the fantastic Museum of Contemporary Art which sits a stone's throw from our cruise ship. We see Australia's oldest colonial buildings and view its newest development at
Barrangaroo Point as the morning temperature dramatically jumps 10 degrees from 22C to 32C under a powerful sun.
Seemingly oblivious to the heat, fanatical tourists tethered in groups of 10, bravely climb the formidable
Sydney Bridge as Jamie relates the intriguing story of the sail-shaped
Opera House at Bennelong Point. Norwegian architect,
Jørn Utzon, didn't finish the inside nor return for the opening in 1973, leaving the project in a huff under a newly elected government that was unhappy with escalating costs. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, it houses Opera Australia,
the Australian Ballet, the
Sydney Theatre Company and the
Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Utzon's magical submission was one of 233 designs from 32 countries, many from the most famous architects of the day. The Opera House was opened by Elizabeth II, but Utzon was not invited to the ceremony, nor was his name even mentioned during the speeches. He was ultimately recognized later when asked to design updates to the interior of the opera house.
The massive steel bridge itself, dating back to 1932, is an architectural marvel which can rise or fall up to seven inches depending on the weather, and which requires 80,000 litres of paint per coat, always grey because no other colour is available in such a large quantity!
We continue through the Botanic Gardens, 30 hectares of outstanding greenery shaped in the very heart of the city, to
Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, an exposed sandstone rock cut into the shape of a bench, offering stunning views of Sydney Harbour. This vantage point was hand carved by convicts in 1810 for Governor Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth. We stop there as she did to capture some iconic Sydney views, but we are armed with cameras.
We drive through Woolloomooloo via the Finger Wharf Pier with its world-class restaurants that enjoy stunning skyline views. We tour the pretty streets of
Paddington, (referred to as Paddo by the locals) lined with historic terrace houses and boutique shopping - including Australian designer labels such as Banjo and Matilda, Easton Pearson and Leona Edmiston. At Barry Stern Galleries, we are treated to an exhibit of many vivid and colourful paintings.
Jamie formerly distributed flowers throughout the world and Alex, a local TV personality, is also a relocator of business types, perfect guides for their native city. We cover a wide spectrum - the exclusive Eastern suburbs of Double Bay and Rose Bay, through some of Sydney's most affluent residential streets. We stop at
Vaucluse House to view the gardens and historic estate, surrounded by some of Sydney's finest homes. It's an historic estate in Gothic Revival style with house, kitchen wing, stables and outbuildings, surrounded by 9 hectares of formal gardens and grounds. It is managed by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. The original Vaucluse House was built by Sir Henry Brown Hayes, who had been transported to New South Wales in 1802 for kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy Irish banker! There must have been some eccentric characters living those days in Sydney!
Watsons Bay we stop for lunch at The Tea Garden Café, and afterwards take a walk around South Head to enjoy spectacular Sydney's harbour and ocean views.
Bondi Beach like Watson's Bay is covered with Aussies desperately trying to remain cool, many surfing the steady waves at the former, and I admire them all from a great vantage point beside the Lifesavers' Swim Club and their large pool high up on an adjacent steep hill, as the temperature climbs to its highest point, and I am anxious to get back into the air-conditioned Mercedes.
Later in the day, Jamie and Alex drop us off at
Circular Quay, a transport hub, which is always action packed as we take the recommended ferry to
Manly which offers us the best panoramic views of Sydney harbour.
The next day, we can't board our cruise ship, Holland America's MS Noordam until 1 p.m., so we visit the
Contemporary Art Museum for free, located conveniently by the Overseas Passenger Terminal. From the museum's dining room, we can see our imposing, soon-to-be-boarded ship.
The museum offers us terrific views of the harbour from our newly acquired "local eyes," and we vow to soon return to enticing Sydney which has evolved agreeably from its penal past.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, photos by Mike Keenan
Besides writing for the five Niagara Postmedia newspapers, Mike has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of four thousand viewers.