November 30 - Canberra to Sydney

The bus to Sydney left early and we settled in for a two and a half hour journey. About thirty minutes out of Canberra it started to rain, one of only a few downpours during our time in Australia.  The scenery along the highway wasn't anything special and by the time we pulled into the Central Station in Sydney, the rain had stopped

 On the bus from Sydney

We last visited Sydney seventeen years ago and stayed  out at Manley across the harbour and took the ferry into the city every day. This time we decided to stay in the Central Business District and experience "city living". The studio apartment at the Mantra on Bond Street was privately owned and managed so we had to stop on the way to collect the key. When we arrived at the apartment  we found that the previous tenants had left their luggage along with a bag of groceries and unopened bottles of Jack Daniels and Baileys Irish Cream.  We called the agency and told them to come and take the luggage but to leave the liquor. Then we went out to grab some lunch and explore the neighbourhood. Our exploration confirmed that our choice of location was good - walking distance to everything of interest downtown..

Our small apartment in Sydney

That night, it was cold and it was trying to rain. We quickly discovered that everything (well almost everything) in the CBD closes once everyone goes home, so rather than exploring, we were happy to eat dinner at a chinese restaurant just across the street. When will we learn that you only need one main course between two people ?

December 1 - Sydney

 Sydney has fantastic public transportation and we found that the free bus within the central business district was a great way to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the city and after a short tour of downtown, we got off at the Circular Quay.  The quay is located between the city side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and is a hive of activity with ferries, trains and buses coming and going.

We decided that rather than take a Harbour Cruise, we would take a ferry to one of the more distant communities. We chose Rydalmere which was about an hour's ride with stops at many harbourside communities along the way. The weather was lovely and we thoroughly enjoyed watching the boating activity in the harbour and admiring the fabulous homes dotted on the hillsides overlooking what is in our opionions the most beautiful harbour in the world. We had no idea what we would find at Rydalmere and as it turned out we had made a bad choice as the wharf was surrounded by light industry with not a coffee shop in sight. Luckily we only had to wait a short time for the next ferry and we were soon on our way back across the harbour.

                     The ferry at the Rydalmere pier  

                     Typical houses facing the bay

 December 2 - Sydney

 We brought a $17 full day unlimited transportation ticket, a great deal as it includes all forms of public transportation. The ferry to Manley from the Circular Quay took 30 minutes and although the weather was good, the waves were very rough as the ferry passed by The Heads to the open sea.  The ride became pretty exciting for about ten minutes as the ferry climbed the waves and crashed down the other side making you wonder what it's like in really bad weather.

 The Manly Ferry going in the opposite direction. Our ferry was doing the same thing !

The ferry wharf at Manly is located at one end of The Corso, a pedestrian street lined with retail stores and restaurants leading to a very nice surfing beach. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours exploring Manley before heading back to Circular Quay.

The Corso at Manly Beach

Manly Beach

So named because Captain Cook thought the natives here looked "manly". Perhaps he had been at sea just a little too long !

Paul & Kristine at Manly Beach on a rather windy day

 There are ferries leaving the Circular Quay to many different communities, all of which looked equally interesting. We decided on Mosman Bay

. We were fascinated as the ferry slowly passed many anchored boats in a pretty estuary surrounded by cliffs populated with upmarket condos. We got off at Mosman and took a walk through a small park and past the Rowing Club before returning to the ferry.

Back at Circular Quay we walked to the Sydney Opera House to take a behind the scenes tour. Construction of the Opera House took fourteen years and was almost 1500% over budget. The Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, quit half way through construction and left Australia in disgust, dying in November 2008 without ever seeing his masterpiece. Interestingly, he made his peace with the city authorities during the last years of his life and his son, who is also an architect, is now working on designs for renovations to the interior.  

Making full use of our unlimited transportation ticket we took another ferry to Darling Harbour, home to the Aquarium, Maritime Museum, IMAX theatre, convention center, shopping mall, hotels, casinos and numerous clubs, restaurants and bars. It was starting to get dark and the bars and restaurants were doing good business, but we didn't linger and took the last ferry  back to Circular Quay and our hotel.

December 3 - Sydney

 The Australian Maritime Museum had caught our eye the previous evening so we returned to take a closer look at the exhibits.  Highlights included: The HMAS Vampire, last of big gun ships built in Australia served in the Australian Navy from 1959 - 1986:

HMAS Vampire (behind the smaller naval vessel)

 HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook's famous vessel of discovery. Presented as if Captain Cook and his crew had just walked off sometime on their epic 1768-1771 circumnavigation.

HM Bark Endeavour with Kristine "at the wheel"

The weather was perfect so we chose a table at a quayside restaurant and had a relaxed lunch, people watched and both agreed that eating lunch in Darling Harbor was really a pretty cool experience.

Darling Harbor with downtown Sydney as a backdrop

Fish & Chips at Darling Harbor

That night, we attended the first of two shows at the Opera House. We had bought tickets a couple of days earlier and the show had sold out since.  It was called "Good Evening", a review of sketches by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore starring Shaun Metcalf and Stephen Curry (both popular Australian television personalities). As we both remember Pete & Dud, we thought it might be fun although we didn't realize they were popular (or even remembered) in Australia. The jokes were a bit dated but the audience seemed to enjoy it, as did we.

"Good Evening" program

December 4 - Sydney & The Sydney Harbor Bridge

 One of the "must do"activities when visiting Sydney is climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We had expected to be part of a large group but when we arrived we were asked if we would join an earlier group, which turned out to be one other person. The organization and security precautions were very impressive and as we were provided with jump suits we were told that we could not take anything with us onto the bridge apart from our sunglasses. ("You can keep your underwear on, though.")

 After changing and storing our belongings in lockers we were led to another area with bins containing equipment for our climb. Everything had to be clipped to our jump suits: sunglass tethers, caps and fleece jackets. They even had hankerchiefs attached to elastic wrist bands. Our guide explained that because we would be climbing to the very top of the bridge a falling object could do a lot of damage to cars on the bridge below. Forget about an object falling, what about us climbers! Luckily they had thought about that and tied each of us into a very sturdy waist harness. The guide then gave us each a headset and radio receiver and after a sound check we were ready to ascend to the top of the bridge. As we walked out onto the first catwalk we snapped the harness tether onto a guide wire on the bridge and set off. The climb was not as difficult as we had expected as we stopped several times to admire the views and for the guide to explain the construction techniques and other information - and to take pictures !

No cameras allowed so this is the "official" $25.00 photograph from the climb.

 The climb up and down (together with some hanging around time at the top of the bridge) took about three hours and we were glad to get back to earth and to get the damn suits off !

 That evening, we walked down to The Rocks, one of the oldest areas of Sydney built mostly with convict labour. There are some very attractive shops and restaurants in renovated colonial buildings. Every Friday they have a street market with food and arts and crafts stalls. It was a short walk from our apartment and as it was a lovely evening we wandered down there for dinner. Hundreds of other people had the same idea too and some of the stalls were running out of food. What a catastrophe ! We might miss a meal! Fortunuately, three muslim ladies in white selling filled pancakes came to our aid and we did not go hungry.

The Rocks during the day

 December 5 - Sydney & The Blue Mountains

 The last time we visited Sydney we took a bus tour of the Blue Mountains but  unfortunately that day the mountains were covered in mist and our guide spent the entire time telling us what fabulous views we were missing. This time, we woke up to a lovely sunny day, perfect for viewing the magnificent scenery. We boarded a train from Central Station and settled into our seats on the second level for the journey to Zig Zag, home of the Zig Zag Railway. After a three hour journey with many stops along the way we got off at Zig Zag and walked across the track to the small station at Bottom Points. 

 The "Station Master" was an elderly gentleman who clearly enjoyed overseeing the arrival and departure of the train more than the other part of his job description, selling ice creams, souvenir and tickets.  The Zig Zag Railway website promised an exciting journey by steam train up the switchback track to Clarence. As Paul purchased the tickets he made a comment about the fact that we were really looking forward to riding the steam train. The Station Master replied brusquely that the steam train would not be operating today. We were clearly disappointed and asked why? It turned out that because the fire hazard alert was high, it was not safe to operate a steam train. The possibility of a bush fire was a perfectly valid reason for not operating the steam train, but Paul pointed out that he had checked the website and there was no mention of not operating the steam train today. Oh well ! We sat on the platform for about thirty minutes with nothing to do but swat the flies.

One of the Zig Zags

The train journey to Clarence and back took about an hour and a half - with stops to move the engine from end to the other at every "zig" and "zag". Although technically, it was very interesting, the absence of a steam engine did somewhat spoil the experience. There wasn't much to see at Clarence and we realized that we might miss the next mainline train, which would have meant a two hour wait at the foot of the line. Fortunately, we made it in time and rejoined the mainline train from what must be the shortest platform in the world !

How much longer do I have to wait?

Riding the Zig Zag

Zig Zag mainline platform - stops by request only !

We took the train to Katoomba, a couple of stops down the line and the center of the Blue Mountains. It's a small, pretty town and we took the local sightseeing "trolley" to see as much as we could, including some impressive views across the Blue Mountains

However, it had been a long day and we finally abandoned the trolley in Leura, another small town, to take Devonshire Tea at Bygone Beauty's Antique Shop and Tea Room - and we got a 50% discount ! Now this was more like it.

       Sightseeing Trolley     

                 View across the Blue Mountains  

  They claim to have the largest collection of teapots in the world      

                     Kris digging in to her scones, cream and jam

After filling up on scones and tea, we made our way back to the station to catch the train back to Sydney.

December 6 - Sydney - The James Craig, 1874 Tall Ship

 Another sunny day with good winds, perfect for a day sail on The James Craig, a beautifully restored tall ship originally built in Glasgow in 1874. The ship took nearly thirty years to restore and was only completed in 2001. The hull was made of wrought iron and it was originally used for hauling bulk cargo - primarily coal, so speed was never an issue. In it's later years, it sailed with a crew of only seventeen men, which seems almost impossible. On this day, the ship was crewed by a team of about forty volunteers plus an additional twenty teenagers who were learning to sail and whose job it was, along with some of the more atheletic volunteers, to climb up the rigging to man the sails.  We used the (modern) engines to get out of the harbor and through The Heads, the entrance to Sydney harbor and then raised sail. Hoisting the sails was quite an exercise with the entire crew pulling on the lines. As everyone was a volunteer, it didn't always go smoothly as some lines had to slackened as other lines were tightened and sometimes the "slackers" weren't slackening when the pullers were pulling. Made for a good show, but in the end all the sails were raised.

     The James Craig   

       Raising the Sails

    Kris enjoying a hard days sailing

      Under sail outside Sydney Harbor       

We sailed for about three hours in a stiff breeze. Although the ship wasn't exactly racing along, it was very satisfying and we felt as through we were really sailing - which of course, we were. As passengers, we were told that we could help if we liked,  but with the teenage crew as well as the volunteers, they seemed to have more than enough hands and most of us just watched. At lunchtime, we were served a very nice box lunch (with wine - see picture above) and then afternoon tea after the sails had been taken down and were cruising through Sydney harbor again. As we sailed into the harbor all eyes (and all cameras) we on us. There was even a TV helicopter flying around us taking pictures. For once, it was nice to be ON the boat that was getting all the attention !

Heading back to the dock with the sails down

 Later the same day, we walked back down to the Circular Wharf and explored restaurants for the next evening.

Kris and the Opera House as the the sun was setting

The Opera House and The Harbor and Bridge at night

December 7 - Sydney - Bus to Palm Beach

 We used our last day in Sydney to explore some of the more distant suburbs, in particular Palm Beach which was a ninety minute bus ride from downtown Sydney. It turned out to be a pretty surfing beach on one side and a small harbor on the other side of a peninsula. Obviously very desirable although perhaps a little TOO far to commute to the CBD.

Palm Beach Harbor and Wharf

By the time we got back to Sydney ( we kept missing the bus) it was time to go out for dinner and to the Opera House for the last time. Dinner was at a restaurant called Aria very close to the Opera House (we were afraid of being late for the show) and was excellent.

Dinner at Aria

                   The Princess falls asleep under a spell          

  And awakes after sleeping for 100 years

Our final event that night was "Sleeping Beauty" - the traditional ballet performed by The Australia Ballet. Although ballet isn't our usual preference (we prefer Opera) it was very pretty and VERY traditional. Lots of tutus and tights. The stage at the Opera House is remarkably small, so there isn't a lot of room for big leaps and grand displays of athleticism, but the show was very enjoyable, if perhaps a bit too long. Still, who are we to criticize Tchaikovsky (who wrote the score) ?

So with images of dancing pussycats and fairies in our heads (no comments please) we headed back to our hotel for our last night in Sydney.

December 8 - Bondi Beach

 Although we were leaving for Auckland today, our flight wasn't until the evening, so we spent the morning visiting Bondi Beach, which is a short train and bus ride away from the CBD. Of course, it's a famous surfing beach but because the waves weren't that great and it was a weekday, not that many surfers were out. It was a good day for learning though and there were several school groups on the beach.

         Surf School

        Surfer Dudes - included at Kristine's request     

Bondi Beach mural - probably not approved by  The Walt Disney Company!

Having spent the morning at Bondi, we headed back to our hotel to pack and then took a very crowded and very hot shuttle to the airport for our flight to Auckland.

COMING NEXT - New Zealand