Sydney Part 2: In a Class of Its Own
In an attempt to summarize what Sydney was like to family and friends back home, I tried to compare it to other cities they might have been to themselves. Walking around the central business district felt like walking in other large cities I have visited. Certain neighborhoods reminded me of New York City, particularly in the historical areas like The Rocks. George Street reminded me of parts of Broadway, albeit on a smaller scale. The city as a whole reminded me of Seattle or San Francisco with the numerous waterfronts, an iconic bridge, and landmarks. To me, it had more American characteristics than European. But Sydney is quite diverse and has people from many backgrounds and nationalities. As I spent more time here, Sydney began to show me its own vibe and turned out to be a city quite different than anywhere else I had been before.
On weekends, tourists flood the city and massive cruise ships coming to port instantly adds to the crowds. Weekdays sees a lot of tourism traffic but adds the additional few hundred thousand people who work in the towering office buildings. It is a bustling place and people are in a hurry.
Traffic and congestion can be a problem. It is not a city I would like to drive in. Luckily, public transportation seemed to be reliable and efficient. The rail system can get you many places around the city. And where it can’t, the city buses will. The one thing I loved most about the public transit was the ferry system. Throughout the day, large double-decker ferries would come in and out of Circular Quay to take people from place to place around Sydney Harbour.
Manly & Manly Beach
One day I took the ferry to Manly in the northeast part of the city and home to Manly Beach, one of the more popular beaches in Sydney, the other being world reknown Bondi Beach, famous for its surfing and about five miles due east of the central business district. Manly seemed more unique to me so I chose to go there.
The name Manly was given by then British Captain Arthur Phillip (later the first Governor of New South Wales) in the earliest period of colonization after an encounter with an Aboriginal clan who resided here, noting their “confidence and manly behavior…”. During his visit a confrontation with a tribesman ensued and Phillips was speared in the shoulder. Injured, he however refused retaliation and returned to Port Jackson.
The ferry ride starts from the hub at Circular Quay where even the large double-decker ferries, some capable of carrying over a thousand passengers were still no comparison to the cruise ships which berthed at the terminal adjacent to the wharves where the ferries come and go at regular intervals. Surely I thought there would be no room for all the passengers who had gathered in the boarding area awaiting the boat to arrive. But I was pleasantly surprised at the vessel’s capacity and there was more than enough room to spread out on the inside while finding spots on along the edge was a little more difficult. Before I knew it we were off and immediately the cameras came out to capture views of the Sydney Opera House. The ferry ride to Manly is a short 25 minutes and is a great way to see the harbor and get some fresh air. The water was quite choppy as winds had picked up some and clouds rolled in with brief light rainfall.
Arriving at the terminal in Manly you come to a pedestrian plaza called The Corso which is lined with numerous stores and restaurants. I was quite impressed with the abundant choices of restaurants as I felt the Circular Quay area and many parts of the central business district were quite lacking in this regard. Prices seemed much more reasonable in Manly as well.
After a short walk from the wharf along The Corso you come to the Pacific Ocean and Manly Beach. This resort area has been the site of recreation since the 1850s. The beach is lined with Norfolk Island Pine Trees, first planted over 150 years ago and sets this beach apart from the others in Sydney. Other smaller beaches can be found both ocean and harbor side and there are numerous trails to explore as well as the nearby Sydney Harbour National Park, giving you a glimpse at the area’s natural history as well as early structures. I highly recommend a day trip to Manly to anyone considering visiting Sydney.
Immediately on the other side of Habrour Bridge is Milson’s Point. It offers a good vantage point to see the city. Aside of taking the bridge to get here, one can take a ferry directly from Circular Quay, which is what I did on a few occasions during my visit. The trip is short and like other ferry cruises in the harbor, gives excellent views. This route also passes directly under the bridge, allowing you fully see what an impressive structure it is.
One of my visits to Milson’s Point was more memorable than the others. I had visited Manly earlier in the day and was the only day with rain in the forecast. Rain had been off and on but light and nothing to stay indoors for. But one storm took me by surprise as I shortly after stepped off the ferry at Milson’s Point and it began to downpour. I took refuge under the Harbour Bridge for 10-15 minutes until the storm passed. A rainbow came out and spanned across the harbor much like the steel bridge aside it and not long after the sun set.
Also at Milson’s Point is Luna Park, a small amusement park. Originally opened in 1935, it has been rebuilt several times since then. It is hard to miss, even from the other side of the harbor with its bright lights and large “face” marquee, smiling and staring down at you as you enter the premesis.
Royal Botanic Gardens & Hyde Park
In the heart of the city and adjacent to the opera house is the Royal Botanic Gardens. While the area was admired for its natural harbor, its lands were overgrown with trees and soil was not as fertile when colonizers first arrived. Built atop a failed farm in 1816, the gardens were built to discover how to cultivate in the area. It features 74 acres of gardens, lawns, wooded areas, science research facilities, and Government House, the residence of the Governor of New South Wales. Next to the gardens is Hyde Park, named for the other famous park in London. It is 40 acres and is located near other prominent historical landmarks in the city.
Darling Harbour is situated near the central business district of Sydney. Historically, it was the commercial seaport of the city. The last few decades the area has been undergoing urban renewal into modern commercial, residential, and tourism developments. A weekly fireworks show can be seen on Saturday nights. Chinatown is located nearby.
The Rocks, Sydney Cove
My last morning in Sydney I took one last stroll from Circular Quay into the neighborhood I had wandered when I first arrived four days earlier. The Rocks is the historical district of the city and was the location of the first colonial settlement in Australia, Sydney Cove. Many archeological sites have been discovered here where the indiginous people once lived. While an important commercial port and hub in early Sydney, the area had been considered a slum for most of the city’s history until the late nineteenth century and by this time, the poorly constructed buildings were falling apart. In 1900, a bubonic plague outbreak hit Sydney. As a result, the city underwent widespread decontamination of buildings with the government eventually purchasing much of the land and structures in the area. Much of the area was razed and rebuilding began but only slowly with the onset of the First World War.
In 1923, with the city’s population growing at a rapid pace, the need for a bridge to connect opposite ends of the city became a necessity to ensure future growth. The Harbour Bridge design was inspired by the Hell Gate Bridge which crosses the East River in New York City. Many buildings in The Rocks were again torn down to make way for construction which lasted until 1932. On opening day of the bridge, a crowd of over 300,000 people came to watch the ceremony. The event was interrupted just as Jack Lang, Premier of New South Wales, was about to cut the ribbon to formally open the bridge when Francis de Groot, a World War I veteran and political activist, rode up on a horse wearing his military uniform, drew a sword, and cut the ribbon himself. He was protesting the fact the Governor, of an opposing political party than the Premier, was not given the honor of declaring the bridge open.
The bridge is the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world. It spans 3,770 feet, reaches a height of 440 feet, and gives a clearance of up to 161 feet below it depending on the tide, allowing large ships to pass below. It accommodates eight lanes of traffic, rail lines, and pedestrian walkways.
Today the bridge is an iconic symbol of the city. If the view from the pedestrian walkways are not good enough and you are of the daring type, the public can partake in the “BridgeClimb”, where visitors adorn safety gear and climb the arch structure with the aid of a guide. On New Year’s Eve, Sydney gives a masterful fireworks show from the bridge.
Looking back now at my visit to Sydney and what I’ve learned, I would say I realized it has its own identity and cannot compare to anywhere else I have been before. There is no one place I would say it is most like despite the bits and pieces it reminded me of. That is a good thing. Would I go back? In a heartbeat.