In my misguided youth, I had thought that the capital of Australia was Sydney. Obviously, Sydney isn’t the capital – but it is the most populated city of Australia and all Oceania. Known for its expense, its fabulous New Years Eve Celebrations and its harbour, we had come to spend a week in the famous Emerald city of Oz.
One of the first things we wanted to do in Sydney was get a sense of the country’s history – and there is no better place to do it. A lot of Australians we met were a little obsessed with history. They seem almost jealous of the fact that European history stretches far beyond 200 years, so they are fiercely proud of anything that represents the birth of their modern nation – which is why The Rocks is a good place to start when re-tracing Australia’s first steps.
The Rocks (the area next to Circular Quay on Sydney Cove) is the site of Australia’s first European settlement in 1788. It’s now an urban tourist precinct, but cheerfully shows off its colourful history with public artwork and memorials that hint at the area’s past as a rowdy, raucous settlement of convicts, soldiers, sailors and street gangs.
Hyde Park Barracks Museum is a great place to get a sense of what it must have been like to arrive on Australia’s shores 200 years ago. Originally built to house convict men and boys, it has been reinvented as a museum showcasing how these people lived.
Celebrating the city’s beginnings as a criminal penal colony, Sydney’s Justice & Police Museum was holding a very interesting exhibition telling the story of nine of the city’s most notorious criminals. The exhibition, stretching from the 1860s to the 1990s, is set in the same courtrooms and prison cells that many of these notorious people would have spent time in.
It’s not all history and museums in Sydney though. There’s plenty of great walks to be done too – including those in the city’s beautiful botanic gardens…
… and a coastal walk that stretches from Coogee Beach to perhaps the city’s most famous beach – Bondi.
Being a harbour city, we wanted an excuse to get a boat – so we decided to take a day trip to Manly Beach. We took one of the regular ferries from Darling Harbour and got a perfect view of the city skyline as we left the harbour and lots of the city’s suburbs on the way.
Unlike packed Bondi, Manly beach was a bit more relaxed and the precinct around the beach had some invitingly trendy and modern eateries and shops to explore. We spent the majority of our visit watching the surfers try their luck on the waves while lapping up several tasty ice creams!
One thing Sydney has no shortage of is tourist attractions. The Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Luna Park, Tauranga Zoo – the list is endless (and expensive). We decided to pick one of these ‘premium’ tourist magnets to explore and eventually decided on the Sea Life Aquarium.
The highlights were definitely the platypus tank (I had no idea they were so small!) and Dugong Island – we had never seen these creatures before (and were unlikely to anywhere else) so were happy with our visit simply because we saw them.
On the last night of our trip, we decided to go and see a film (not having done so for more than nine months!). To take advantage of the fact that we were in Australia, we picked up tickets for the country’s longest-running open-air cinema – the Moonlight Cinema in Centennial Park. It was a new and enjoyable sensation to lie back and enjoy a film in the balmy summer evening with giant flying foxes flapping about overhead.
Overall we had a great time in Sydney. We were pretty lucky with the weather while we were there and managed to see and do pretty much everything we wanted. Even though it is a bit costly compared to other places, it’s an iconic modern city that is worth at least one visit.