A way to Start a G’day
If you are just joining in, this is part of a series of blog entries about my trip last month that first took me to New Zealand and continued on to three other countries. The trip was a challenge I gave myself to cover as many miles that I could and visit as many places that I could in a two week time frame while still being able to see beautiful places and landmarks while gaining an appreciation of these places. It picks up leaving the South Island of New Zealand…
Departing out of Queenstown Airport was pretty exhilarating. It was probably the closest thing to being on a rocket ship I’ll ever get to experience. After climbing from the short runway and with a steep climb to navigate through the mountainous terrain, I felt like I should’ve radioed Houston mission control for a status update once we leveled off. It was beautiful. After seeing the last bit of New Zealand from the corner of the window I knew it was time to get ready for the next destination in my trip.
Something about Sydney and Australia has allured me for some time. I think the first time this city got my attention was when I was a kid and I watched the animated movie The Rescuers Down Under. It’s been many years since I’ve seen the movie but from what I remember only a brief part of it actually takes place in Sydney and the rest in the outback. I remember the depictions of the city and the Opera House intrigued me.
This was about the age when I began my phase of reading the Encyclopedia on a regular basis. Although I guess it’s not really considered a “phase” if it never stopped. I’ve always had a curious mind and learning about different cities around the world was high on the list. My siblings might remember a time when I had just about memorized the populations of every major city there is. Throughout my childhood and even now, learning and researching is one of my keen interests. It is one of the reasons why I feel I am an efficient traveler as I always have a plan and background on what I am doing before the trip even begins. The aviator in me is responsible for my wayfinding and situational awareness skills, also handy.
In 2000, I remember watching the Olympics which were held in Sydney, the last games prior to the ones held in my home city of Salt Lake. The Olympics are always a favorite thing of mine to watch but I seemed to fall in love with the city as I saw it shown on television. I remember the fireworks from the Harbour Bridge at the closing ceremonies. Ever since then I made a commitment to myself to visit one day.
The flight from New Zealand took about three hours. Technically this was my second time on Australian soil, as I had transited through the Brisbane Airport several days earlier when connecting to New Zealand, but I won’t count that. We landed just before six in the evening, shortly after a storm had passed through the area. Clearing customs was relatively painless and I was able to purchase a prepaid SIM card for my phone in the arrivals area. I decided being able to use my phone while traveling was a necessity as it saved a lot of time and hassle by being able to look things up, find my way around easier, and make phone calls. The trip would not run nearly as efficiently otherwise and SIM cards are fairly inexpensive and readily available. A portable USB charger was also much needed as I was draining the battery from using the maps so much.
One nice thing about Sydney is how quick it takes to get from the airport to the heart of the city. I obtained an Oyster Card, a reusable fare card which is good on most of the local trains, buses, and ferry boats in the city, from a gift shop at the airport which I *could* have gotten free because the cashier forgot to ring me up for it until I informed him of his mistake. Sixty Australian Dollars (about $47 USD) was just enough to cover the fares I would need for four or five days. Fares in the city are very reasonable however if you embark or arrive at the airport stations, a $12 fee is also assessed. The double-decker trains are spacious and comfortable and I didn’t need to transfer trains. Overall I was impressed with the ease and comfort of the train and it was a much nicer experience than riding the train from Heathrow Airport into central London which seems to take a long time (about an hour) and is cramped and hot. Before I knew it I was at the Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) station, basically a stone’s throw from the Sydney Opera House and right where the cruise ships port.
I checked into my hotel a short walk away and decided to go explore the city. It was about 7:30 on a Friday night. I walked into the district known as The Rocks which had a lot of night life and restaurants but the streets still seemed somewhat uncrowded, possibly given the earlier rainfall. I settled on a quick burger and decided to walk around some more.
The Rocks is the historical district of the city and is situated on a fairly steep hillside that juts out from downtown into the harbor known as Miller’s Point, and is the location where the Harbour Bridge enters the central business district. It had a lot of old architecture with narrow streets and walkways. It wasn’t exactly organized, but not many old city layouts are. It reminded me somewhat of the French Quarter in New Orleans, but that could be just because Mardi Gras flair decorated some of the lamp posts and night clubs in the area.
Unlike New Zealand, Australia and the Sydney area has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years. The natives (or Aborigines) formed clans in the area of Sydney but never any large settlements. They lived undisturbed from explorers until Captain James Cook, of the British Royal Navy, and his first sea voyage spotted the Australian coastline on April 19, 1770, exactly 245 years ago to the day I am writing this. Cook originally set out from New Zealand intending to return home to Britain but took a more northerly track to put to rest whether the fabled Terra Australis continent really existed or not. Only Australia’s Tasmania, an island south of the continent and named for Dutch explorer Abel Tasman had been previously discovered. On April 29th, contact was made with the natives who were hostile towards Cook’s crew in the area of what is now called Botany Bay, named for the abundance of flora and fauna, on the south side of Sydney. The visit was short but was noted as a possible location for a future colony.
The area remained free from Europeans until 1788 when a thousand settlers arrived, three fourths of whom were convicts sent to establish a penal colony. After an eight month journey from Britain and upon arriving at Botany Bay on Cook’s recommendation, the crew commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip relocated just a little further north to Port Jackson, what is now Sydney Harbour. It was quickly noted how natural a settlement would be here. Prisons weren’t built for the convicts as the relocation to the new colony was considered their punishment, however camps were built to house them. In the few years after Sydney was first established, thousands more convicts arrived however populations struggled with problems with disease, droughts, and nutrition. Like all other instances of colonization, the natives also took a major hit, dwindling local native population largely due to lack of immunity to disease brought by the colonizers.
Sydney would soon transition away from a penal colony in the early part of the nineteenth century and was aided with economic prosperity after a series of gold rushes in Australia in the mid 1800’s. From the beginning of that century to the end, the population went from a few thousand to over a half million. Although Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city benefited more from the gold rushes and maintained a higher population until just after World War I, about the same time the Harbour Bridge was built. Today Sydney is a cosmopolitan city, the eighth largest city south of the equator and is home to 4.8 million people. It is the capital of the state of New South Wales as well as the nation of Australia.
I started following signs to the bridge, although I felt I was being led astray by the confusing signage and numerous alleys and paths one has to take. I thought I would go and see the view before calling it a night after another long day. The path along the bridge gives you a good view of the city skyline, harbour, and the opera house sticks out very distinctly. I spent some time just looking at the city, getting my bearings, coming up with a game plan for the next few days, and sending some messages back home from my phone.
I never really adjusted much after being jet lagged so I ended up waking before sunrise almost every morning. It was Saturday and I decided I would go find somewhere to see the sun come up. The streets were deserted. I thought I would walk towards the large botanical gardens that were near the opera house. To my disappointment they wouldn’t open until 7:00 so I walked to the opera house itself. It sits right on the waterfront with good views of the harbour and the city skyline. It was almost deserted aside some construction workers who were just showing up to work, the occasional jogger, and the several hundred birds sitting along the wide steps to the opera house.
The Opera House, one of the most iconic architectural landmarks of the world, sits right on the waterfront on Bennelong Point, named for an eighteenth-century Aboriginal leader who after being captured by the British would become somewhat an ambassador between Aboriginal and British relations. The location became a battery and later a tram depot before being leveled to construct the Opera House in the late 1950’s. It was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, though he left the project during construction amid controversy. It was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II (also the Queen of Australia) in 1973, ten years behind the original intended opening date and vastly over budget. Nevertheless, it now draws millions of people each year and is seen as a symbol of the city and country.
My first sunrise in Australia was as beautiful as it was peaceful and shimmered brilliant gold tones right off the water. The morning continued to leave some great light for photos so I took advantage of the quiet venue as I thought traffic would pick up later in the day especially with cruise ship tourists.
One thing that I noticed in New Zealand and was starting to notice in Australia as well is how friendly people are and how casual, long conversations with complete strangers was commonplace. I recall one nice elderly gentleman who sat on a bench as I worked on taking the panorama photo below of the bridge and opera house. Arnold was a local who walked every morning out along the harbor. He was sitting, waiting for his friend to come join him but in the meantime he shared some of his adventures of travel from years past with me including about how he traveled through parts of southern Utah on one of his visit is to the US and how he thought it was beautiful, to which I agreed. He loved the US but was unable to travel far anymore due to poor health. He said he loved Sydney too but that it was so isolated from the rest of the world in terms of distance that traveling was much harder to do. I had never thought about that perspective of feeling isolated here. I thought about how lucky I was to live somewhere where there are endless places to explore and even more glad I was taking the long journey to see this part of the world while I was somewhat young as then it did hit me that one day I might not be able to. After several minutes of talking, Arnold gave me some good advice on places to visit and where to get good views of the city from the other side of the bridge and we parted ways.