This article is part of our OBT series.
Although we came here on our honeymoon 25 years ago, I remember little of it. My recollections are of cool animals in the zoo, a beautiful, active waterfront and walking around the Opera House. Not much else.
The city is taller than before with many high-rise buildings have been erected in the past quarter-century. The pulse is active and vibrant and the people are neither young or old, just a nice mix of all ages. There is a lot of green space. Happily, the exchange rate to the US is attractive, prices are pretty good for a world-class city. Winter here was colder than we expected.
Locals complain the city is not fun anymore, hence more tame. Frequent bar brawls and related deaths finally pushed civic leaders to shut down the worst establishments not long ago. Still, I found the bar scene inviting. Of course, a brawl has never been on my agenda. My only complaint is the beer. For a country that loves beer, the generally available beer is lighter in color and strength than I prefer. Typical beer here is 4.5% ABV and it takes a lot to feel any effect.
The Opera House
This time around we went to see an opera at the opera house. I won’t bore you with a review of what turned out to be a tedious opera. (I know, many think opera is another word for tedium, but there have been a number we have enjoyed elsewhere). The uncomfortable chairs didn’t help our overall opinion of the opera either.
The building itself is interesting on the inside, perhaps more so if we had taken an official tour. The views from inside the building, out into the harbor are unmatched. A nice performance can be made a great experience in such a setting. Sydneysiders are lucky for the foresight their leaders had in greenlighting the creation of such an iconic building and locating it directly on the harbor.
Since our last visit, they have started allowing people to climb the Sydney Harbor bridge. Although pricey, I highly recommend going all the way to the top. We all enjoyed the experience more than expected. The tour guide was knowledgeable and funny and the views were fantastic. We lucked out to get a sunny day in winter. Fast and normal pace tours were offered and the normal pace tour was not too strenuous.
I should mention that there is a fairly long pre-flight check-in for the bridge climb. You remove everything except your clothing and glasses, no watches, no bracelets, no phones or cameras. They provide you with a hat that includes a plastic loop because EVERYTHING is tethered to you, on your stylish blue and gray jumper. They also breathalyze you, the limit is 0.5% BAC. Bear this in mind when choosing your tour time.
One-stop on our hop-on hop-off bus tour was Bondi Beach (pronounced bon-dye). Since it was winter break for schools, they had put up an ice-rink next to the arcade on the beach. It was funny to see the skaters 100 yards from the bathers and surfers. I was also reminded of Bondi Rescue, a long-running reality show here. It strikes me as a cross between Bay Watch and Deadliest Catch. The beach looks much smaller in real life than it seems on the show, but that is true for most things.
The Blue Mountains
Everyone says “go to the Blue Mountains,” first stop was Scenic World. They have a series of “rides” that provide dramatic views of the mountains and canyons. The first ride was a gondola that crosses a huge canyon, the second ride was down the “world’s steepest railway” into the rainforest. Then after a walk in the eucalyptus forest with giant tree ferns, we rode back to the top of the canyon on a very steep tram. After Scenic World we stopped at a number of viewpoints. The first scenic point on the tour was impressive and windy, the second, a bit less so, the fourth got a bit tiresome and gustier and the fifth was downright pointless. We did get to see the blue hue from the eucalyptus vapor for which the mountains are named, which was cool. I advise ensuring your tour doesn’t provide quite so many vista point visits.
Featherdale Wildlife Park
Thankfully, our Blue Mountains tour included a stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park. In my mind, this was better than the zoo. There were many marsupials you could feed and touch. The bird collection was great. And there were Dingo puppies! I wish we had skipped a few vista points in the Blue Mountains in favor of more puppy time.
Our Sydney visit was fun. The city has a nice vibe if a little tame for the late-night crowd (read our kids). I would consider roving here another time for an extended stay to take things in at a slower pace. Spring or fall would probably be a better option than winter. However, then I wouldn’t be able to learn how to ice skate with penguins by the beach.
Which of these places appeal to you?