7 Outstanding Things To Do On A Sydney Stopover
Chances are if you are on a sojourn to Australia, you would not want to miss out Sydney, the vibrant commercial centre of the country. Its renowned beautiful harbour and surrounds are unmissable and here are some fun things to pack into your itinerary on a Sydney Stopover.
1. Sydney Harbour Cruise With Captain Cook
The breathtaking harbour is picture postcard perfect. Sydney Harbour is the largest natural harbour in the world and one of the most scenic and vibrant waterfronts. It is the most iconic landmark of Australia. Set on Port Jackson, an inlet of the Tasman Sea, it is dotted with several outlying small islands with palatial harbour-front properties hugging the shoreline. Cruise ships, ferries and pleasure crafts berth cheek by jowl on the calm blue waters. Swanky glittering buildings and retail outlets nestle on the harbour front and along the quays. The promenade is heaving with people, enjoying the picturesque vista and dining alfresco on the plethora of restaurants and cafes.
To enjoy the harbour scene, embark on a Captain Cook Harbour Story Cruise with afternoon tea, one of the main operators on the waterfront. The enjoyable two-hour cruise on a boat with lovely spacious decks and large viewing windows, navigate around the harbour with running commentary of the places, people and history. It cruises past iconic landmarks such as the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Royal Botanic Gardens, the Government House, Taronga Zoo, old forts and other attractions. It is a good way for reconnoitre of the harbour attraction to combine with a Captain Cook Hop-On-Hop-Off cruise on a two-day pass that allows you to stop at the various attractions on the route. We stop at Watson Bay for lunch, a bustling enclave with sweeping sandy beach and lovely park frequented by both locals and tourists. It is famous for its seafood at Doyles, a restaurant operated by the Doyles family since 1885. The fish and chips are delicious.
But the two most iconic features of the harbour are the imposing Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House that sets it apart from all the other harbours in the world.
2. A Day At The Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House sets the bar for modern architectural designs and is lauded as the most distinctive building in the world. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The multi-venue for performing arts host more than 2000 performances every year with world-class shows from all over the world. Designed by Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect who won the international design competition in 1957 to design the proposed opera house, it was officially opened in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. It covers an area of 1.8 hectares with a length of 183m long and 120m wide at the widest point. It has been described as an “expressionist design” set on a monumental podium with a series of sail-like panels clad with chevron patterns of 1,056,006 tiles in two colours of glossy white and matte cream. Join a tour to see the impressive interiors of the various venues inside the Opera House. It is a phenomenal experience to be inside the sails of the state-of-the-art building. Guided tours are available daily www.sydneyoperahouse.com
3. Feel The Thrill On The BridgeClimb
Sydney Harbour Bridge is a giant arch of steel spanning across the harbour linking the north to the south of the city. It became the lifeline that shaped the fortune of the city as it stood today. It opened up the land surrounding the harbour and beyond for development and settlement. It was inaugurated in 1932 and was quite an engineering feat in those days with limited equipment and depended mostly on sheer manpower, blood, sweat and tears. Standing at a height of 134m with a length of 1,149m and 48.8m wide, it has been called the “Coat Hanger” due to its arch-based design.
I salute the men who risked their lives building this bridge and in their honour, I decide to experience the BridgeClimb (www.bridgeclimb.com), the top unmissable activity in Sydney. After a pre-climb preparation on health and safety and adorning our special climbing gear and protective clothing, our small party of four middle-aged climbers led by our climb leader Scott, step on the gantry and begin the ascent to the upper arch. After negotiating several gantries, steps and ladder, while being tethered to the railing for safety reason, we reach the summit of the bridge.
OMG! What a stunning view of the harbour with the Sydney Opera House taking centre stage of the seascape. As no camera or mobile phones are allowed during the climb due to safety reason, Scott took our pictures at the summit as a memento of our climbs. It could be my adrenaline pumping, but I really enjoy the climb and forget my fear of heights. We are awarded a Climber Certificate after the climb. I would highly recommend the BridgeClimb if you are ever in Sydney. This is the highlight for a Sydney Stopover.
4. Discover Sydney Beyond The Harbour
Sydney is a prosperous city with a thriving Central Business District (CBD) with lofty skyscrapers soaring to dizzy heights. We explore the city and suburbs with Helen, a local guide from Ultimately Sydney, an upscale tour company that conducts tours in and around the city with less touristy sites.
First stop is Mrs Macquarie’s Point where a bench known as Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is carved out of a rock by convicts in 1810 for Mrs Macquarie, the wife of the then governor Lachlan Macquarie who was the last governor of New South Wales from 1810-1821. It was said that Mrs Macquarie would often sit on this bench and watched the ships coming into the harbour from Britain. This is the best vantage point to view Sydney Harbour.
We venture into the outskirts including some affluent parts such as Double Bay, nicknamed Double Pay, reputedly the most expensive real estate in Australia with fabulous homes and upmarket shopping precincts. Watson Bay and Vaucluse are other affluent suburbs with great views of Sydney Harbour. We take a short stroll along The Gap, a scenic ocean cliff walk with views of the tempestuous waves bashing against the jagged rocks, an ominous place notorious for suicide. The gentrified suburbs in these areas bear testament to the wealth of Sydney. The visit to the residential areas gave a true picture of the city away from the tourist traps.
5. Light Fantastic At Vivid Sydney
If you happen to be in Sydney in the Australian winter at the end of May till mid-June, you would be able to see the annual Vivid Sydney. It is the world’s largest festival of lights, inaugurated in 2009, showcasing spectacular light installations projected on buildings like night canvas around key points in the city concentrating on the Sydney Harbour. It is billed as an immersive experience of lights, music and ideas featuring local as well as international creatives.
It is a sense and visual overload notably the awesome light projections on the Sydney Opera House that change pattern every few minutes. The yearly festival usually runs from the end of May to mid-June for 23 days. Unmissable attraction. In 2018 Vivid Sydney will light up the city from 25 May until 16 June. www.vividsydney.com
6. Journey Into The Blue Mountains
A visit to Sydney is not complete without exploring the Blue Mountains region, about 50km west of the city. The highlight of the excursion is the Scenic World at Katoomba where the panoramic vista of the mountains and valleys of the Blue Mountains is breathtaking. True to its name, a blue haze permeates the atmosphere created by the droplets of oil released from the vast forest of eucalyptus in the valleys when they catch the sunlight. The approach to the viewing point was by the Scenic Skyway gondola with glass floor is suspended 270m above the ravine and forest canopy across the Jamison Valley. It is a thrilling ride to the viewing platform where the famous Three Sisters rock formation at Echo Point came into view. Aboriginal Dreamtime legend told of three sisters who turned into rocks while fleeing from their abductors. It is the most famous landmark in the Blue Mountains.
A descent of 545m via a Scenic Cableway takes us to the temperate rainforest at the Scenic Walkway, a 1.8km elevated boardwalk in the Jamison Valley. It is amazing to stroll among the cool eucalyptus forest with a hint of Jurassic Park. We even spot the rare Lyre bird which local legend said is the father of the Three Sisters. To get back to the top station, we ride on the Scenic Railway, the world’s steepest railway at a 52˚ incline, climbing at 400m up a steep rock face.
7. Animal Magic At Featherdale
We leave the best for last in this Sydney Stopover when we pay a delightful visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park (www.featherdale.com.au ), home to the world’s largest collection of Australian native animals including some of the rare and endangered species. There are 1,700 native animals from 250 different species including, dingos, echidnas, wombats (my favourite!), Tasmanian devils, koalas, kangaroos and wallabies among others as well as birds and reptiles. There are photo opportunities with koalas as well as other immersive experiences; hand feed kangaroos and wallabies or watch the feeding times. Pure animal magic!
Sydney has come a long way from a penal colony to become one of the greatest cities in the world thanks to its splendid harbour, beautiful hinterland, world-class hotels and restaurants.
Some Useful Tips
Tours by Locals offers private and personalised tours in Sydney (and worldwide) with great guides.
Ultimately Sydney offers personalised tours of Sydney with experienced local guides.
Captain Cook Cruises offers daily harbour cruise, dinner and special occasion cruises and whale watching from May to November.
We stayed at Marriott Sydney Harbour Circular Quay, the ideal location for Sydney Harbour attractions and surrounds.
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