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Published: November 25th 2014
The drive into Sydney was enjoyable, with The Pacific Highway cutting through largely undeveloped forested land right up until the Sydney suburbs. Once we were off the highway it was a case of following satnav very carefully, I didn't fancy having a wander around the city in our big van, which was great going forward, but I'm not convinced I'd be quite as confident having to do u-turns and so on. The route took us right through the city centre and under Sydney Harbour, via the tunnel; it was exciting to see the iconic landmarks for the first time. Big praise goes to the Australian drivers, they seem collectively to be calm, considerate and patient, which is helpful to visitors like us. It was good to return the beast intact ( and get the bond re credited to my bank account).
A chatty taxi driver dropped us at the Sydney Harbour YHA, our base for the 5 night stay. The hostel was pretty new, having been built above an archeological site, with many of the exposed features still visible, which made it fascinating. Located in the centre of The Rocks it was the perfect base for our stay, with pretty
much all of central Sydney within walking distance. The historical/archeolological thing gave us something to dip into on each day. The Rocks was the site of he first European colonisation of Australia, it being on the edge of Sydney Harbour. The first fleet of convict ships arrived here in 1788 and the convicts were housed in tents initially. In a sense the country developed from that time, from that location. Prior to that the area had been home to one of Australia's Aboriginal tribes, the Cadigal people.
After checking into the YHA, the first job was to explore the Rocks generally. It being a Friday evening the bonus was that there was lots on in the surrounding streets, ranging from food markets, general markets to all sorts of live street entertainment. By the end of the evening it was good to collapse into bed.
The Saturday was dedicated to following one of Sydney's heritage tours. Lots still remain from the early days of the new country. Much of what remains is built from the lovely rich sandstone rock that literally underpins the area. It was fascinating to build up an impression of what life was like for those
early settlers. Although life was inevitably hard, for many it offered great opportunities, probably better than existed back in the UK. The convicts were not locked up, but were put to work. Outside of that work they were able to utilise their particular skills to build a life. People opened shops and other businesses, for example butchers, bakers, pubs and were able to buy land and build houses. With brains overloaded, after a rest it was time for something less strenuos, a walk to Darling Harbour, where all the young pretty things hang out. I don't think I've ever seen so much body restrained by so little clothing, one of the big "places to be". That led in to ChinaTown, which as always with such places ended in a very pleasant and not rediculously expensive tea.
Being awake bright and breezy, we decided we couldn't miss out on the opportunity to run over the bridge. Much better that than to take the climb over the bridge tour, which sets you back something like 140$ . So, that was a good start to the day. Over time we have discovered that one of the best ways to get a feel for a place is to pay up and enjoy the open top bus tour. So we did and enjoyed it (and sitting down). It took a good couple of hours to get around just fairly central Sydney. By hopping off one bus and getting on another we were able to head out to Bondi Beach. Unlike Surfers Paradise, they haven't allowed this iconic destination to become over run with high rise buildings. There's plenty of shops just behind the beach with houses and accommodation at the outermost points of the bay, but it doesn't look like it's changed much over the years. The beach was really busy, as was the sea. It was lovely just to lie on the beach and have a swim. No need to display our collective ineptitude and hire a surf board, that was left to the young people.
Food that night was eaten in The Australian, a pub, right next door to the YHA, which has the distinction of being Australia's longest established licensed premises. Very nice too.
All the reviews, from friends and family, said that a trip to The Blue Mountains was a must do. So we did. We signed on a group tour. Bits were a tad rushed, but it got us to see: the mountains; ride on the World's steepest train; experience a thoroughly enjoyable Aboriginal experience; visit Sydney's Olympic Park; get photographed with a Koala, at Featherdale Wildlife Park; take a river cruise back into Circular Quays, at the heart of Sydney Harbour. What a busy old day, great fun and not dampened too much by a rainstorm of near tropical proportions (unexpectedly). By the end of all that it was necessary to feed up, in The Australian.. again ( not influenced by the fact that they have an extensive range of Australian beers, honest).
One of the places we came across on the bus tour was the Queen Victoria Building. Back in the day this had been a warehouses and shops. The building itself is magnificent, as with most of the other 19C building, built from sandstone. At some point in the 20C it had been destined for demolition, but fortunately was saved from that. A great place to wander through on our last day in the city. For our very last jolly we took a trip out to Manly. 30 minutes from Circular Quay, by ferry. We decided that this was our spiritual home. In a people watching exercise we noted that you could not count more than 5 seconds without someone either cycling, power walking, running or skate boarding past you. The whole place was a buzz of activity. On the way back in to Sydney we got the treat of seeing the whole city scape nicely lit up. Just for a change we had tea in The Australian.
Next stop Melbourne and a drive down The Great Ocean Road.
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