Leaving Cairns was the most difficult aspect of the tour. We huddled like penguins hoping our resistance outside the coach would delay departure, intent on stretching out our last moments in Cairns as long as possible. We all knew entering that coach would take us on the last leg or our Very Best of Australia Tour, so we huddled. The end of the trip was not something any of us was ready to acknowledge. I dragged my heels as I climbed the stairs, feeling sadness and took my seat before we set off to the airport. A few hours later we were in Sydney.
During our travels we heard more than once about the intense rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, vying for position like petulant children, as the capital city of Australia. In the end the government declared neither was suitable and the status of capital went instead to Canberra, created for the purpose in 1927 in the style of an authoritative parent. Sydney, however was the location where the first settlers arrived and its status and integrity as a candidate for Capital was certainly due in part to the development of the City by its first Scottish Governor Lachlan MacQuarie. The City has many grand buildings thanks to his influence on its design and grandeur.
In the history of Sydney Harbour we learned that in 1780 Captain Cook actually missed the harbour berthing instead at Botany Bay. On his recommendation this became the site for the penal colony and in 1788 the first fleet arrived with over 1000 prisoners. Life was hard, Botany Bay was not the ‘fine meadows’ Captain Cook billed it to be, it had little to sustain the early settlers and no freshwater. Actually Commander Arthur Philip later moved the fleet south beyond South Head Cliff and located the most natural and largest harbour in the world. He named it Sydney Cove after Viscount Sydney the Secretary of State for Great Britain at the time.
Port Jackson, home to the indigenous people at the time, carves Sydney in two halves linked by the Harbour Bridge since 1932. The South Shore contains the city centre, while many of the main attractions are within sight of Circular Quay. We were resident in the Harbour View Hotel on North Shore directly above Lavender Bay where several little yachts were moored adding a seaside charm to the city. There were additional coves, bays and harbours around the sprawling city, accommodating business, wharf developments, bars, restaurants, tourist attractions and residences. A one bedroom flat overlooking the harbour would set you back around $1 000 000 AUD.
Our coach made it’s way over the famous Harbour Bridge as we entered the North Shore, many business blocks here rose into the horizon just like those in the business district of the South Shore. The visitor attractions were less evident here, it was more of a suburb for working and living. Our Hotel was aptly named Harbour View, stretching its foundation over the railway line its curved convex line hugging the hillside, with every window afforded a sensational view of the Harbour Bridge and South Shore. It was a prime view you would never tire of. Many of our group left the curtains open in deference to its majesty letting it fill the window frame with its grandeur, the entire time we were there. At night the twinkling lights of the City and Circular Quay, the Super-Cruise ships docked at Campbell Cove, added a layer of magic to the vista but the camera flash prohibited you from capturing the mesmerising image with any quality.
The rail link between North and South Sydney runs under the hotel, this meant frequent earthquake like vibrations every time a train arrived or departed the station. We hoped for a higher floor given the vibration was so noisily close on the first level bar floor. However even from the 8th floor the rumble was apparent and we were grateful they ceased running between midnight and 4 in the morning. Staying on the North side had the major advantage of the view, but really you want to be on the South side where the attractions lay. Our day would inevitably begin with a walk downhill and over the bridge taking around 40 minutes, a short ferry to Circular Quay or a two stop train ride changing at the first station before traversing to the South Shore. Over 30 000 cars per day make the journey across the bridge to the west or eastern side of the City.
To use public transport here you need an Opal card, available at the little convenience stores these can be used on the trams (not free here like Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne), trains, buses or ferries. You can top them up as required and need to tap them off and on each journey to ensure you pay the right amount. If you have a pre-paid card or debit card then you may also use those instead. Those in our group who bought a card with $20 dollars each (you need one each) did not use it to its full advantage since many enjoyed wandering around the city on foot. If you want to travel to Manly beach or by any of the ferries it’s a great advantage. We opted for walking and debiting the costs on our pre-paid card.
On our second day in the City we took a dinner cruise around the harbour. Near the entrance to the Harbour lies Fort Denison completed in 1887 a formal penal site it was used as solitary confinement for prisoners not toeing the line. Nowadays it is a national heritage site, more used to monitoring tidal patterns and as a navigational aide. Should you wish you could be married there. Along the shores we saw the Royal Sydney Yacht club, of which the Duke of Edinburgh is patron. Our ferry navigated each of the coves and bays as we tucked into a two course lunch of Barramundi or Tenderloin followed by chocolate bombs or lime cheesecake. A narrator provided points of interest and stories of past events surrounding the harbour, while we sat a top of the boat enjoying the scenery along with a chilled glass of sav blanc.
As we sailed back to Wharf 6 at Circular Quay we observed Admiralty House home to the Governor of Sydney, guns still evident from the gardens pointing out to the harbour to protect the owner, redundant now and like large cigars propped against the wheels long extinguished and forgotten. Port Jackson, once home to the aboriginal people of Sydney welcomes around 2 500 ships a year into the harbour which is 9 km deep even at low tide. In Welsh bay we heard of the importance it played in the development of Sydney as a busy wharf area where cargo was loaded and unloaded and how in the early 1900 the bubonic plague took its toll decimating the area. The wharfs lay derelict for many years but have been revitalised in pursuit of prime locations within the City, it is here Russel Crowe’s apartment worthy some 13$ AUD is located, with his super yacht moored along side. The revitalisation of the wharf’s largely occupied by art and cultural exhibitors are there for everyone to enjoy, with theatre, 99 art galleries, bars and restaurants.
As our boat transversed the harbour back to our dock, we caught sight of the two icons of the harbour; the Sydney Opera House and the Bridge. Soon we would see both of these icons up close…. one a bit closer than the other.