In 1770, Captain James Cook became the first European to set foot on the Australian continent at what is now Sydney. Eighteen years later, eleven British ships arrived at Botany Bay to establish the first British settlement and penal colony in Australia.
Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is arguably the most well-known city in Australia. With nearly 5 million people, it is the nation’s largest city and its airport is the country’s key international hub. Sydney, however, is perhaps best known for its iconic Opera House and the nearby Harbour Bridge.
For a large city with towering skyscrapers, Sydney has lots of parks and green space including Hyde Park, the Royal Botanical Garden, and The Domain, a park that dates back to the city’s founding. The Parramatta River flows into Sydney Harbour and a large fleet of ferries provide frequent and inexpensive travel to 40 destinations.
I found it easy to get around in Sydney; I walked throughout the central business district and to the waterfront and I used trains and ferries to travel to more distant locations, including to and from the airport and out to Manly. My self-directed, multi-day walking tour took me through the parks (points A, B, and C on the map below), to the Opera House (D), and then out to the waterfront (E, F, and G).
The Royal Botanic Garden, The Domain, and Hyde Park are a chain of parks that stretch from the Opera House south into Sydney’s Central Business District. Collectively these parks provide 200 acres of green space; at 40 acres, the rectangular Hyde Park is the smallest of the three.
At the southern end of Hyde Park is the ANZAC War Memorial (point A on map above), a monument to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought in World War I including at the Battle of Gallipoli. Completed in 1934, the Art Deco building is clad in pink-toned granite with a white marble interior. On the 85 foot tall domed ceiling are 120,000 gold stars, one for each of the troops. Below the dome is a sculpture representing a dead soldier lying on top of his sword and shield that are held aloft by his mother, his wife, and his sister.
There are several statues in Hyde Park including one of Captain Cook. The Archibald Fountain, which commemorates Australia’s alliance with France in WWI, sits at the northern end of the park. Apollo, the son of Zeus and god of light, truth and the arts, stands on a pedestal in the middle of the fountain; on his right is Diana, goddess of the hunt; on his left is Theseus, founder of Athens and slayer of the Minotaur.
St. Mary’s Cathedral (point B on map above), the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, sits between Hyde Park and The Domain. Constructed of a golden sandstone sourced locally, the 350 foot long Gothic structure has twin towers in the front and a large bell tower above the intersection of the nave and transepts.
Immediately north of St. Mary’s is The Domain, a large park that initially served as a buffer between the governor’s residence and the penal colony. At 84 acres, it is the largest of the three parks. The Sydney Mint, Sydney Hospital, Parliament House, and State Library are on the western border of The Domain; the Art Gallery of New South Wales (point C on map above) is located within The Domain on its eastern edge.
The Art Gallery was established in 1880 but most of the collection burned in the Garden Palace Fire in 1882. The current Neo-Classical building was opened in 1897 and today it houses a collection of 30,000 items, about half by Australian artists. To the left and right of the museum’s main entrance are two sculptures of horsemen created by Gilbert Bayes in 1923 entitled Offerings of Peace and Offerings of War.
The Royal Botanic Gardens is the oldest botanic garden and scientific institution in Australia. As can be seen on the map below, the gardens are surrounded by The Domain on the east, south, and west sides and by Sydney Harbour on the north. Signs throughout the gardens encourage visitors to “Please Walk on the Grass”; pets, however, are not permitted. About 30 sculptures and memorials have been erected on 74 acre site.
Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House (point D on map above) must be among the most readily recognized and most photographed sites in the world. I know that I have probably 100 pictures of it including close-up shots, pics from the ferry boats, and photos from across Darling Harbor. The Opera House was conceived in the early 1950s and an international design competition was announced in 1955. In 1957, the design from Jørn Utzon, a Danish architect, was chosen from the more than 200 entries. The government’s initial estimate was that the Opera House would cost $7 million and take six years to build; it should surprise no one that these estimates were wildly of the mark. The project ultimately cost $102 million and took 16 years to complete. (Far be it from me to draw the likely parallels with Obamacare!)
The roof sails posed the biggest construction problem since no one knew the best way to make them. Ultimately, Utzon and his team found the solution: to cast all fourteen sections from a sphere of 75.2 meters in radius. This meant that the exterior shells would have a uniform curvature and, more importantly, arches of various length could be fabricated on the construction site from one common mold. The sails are covered with over one million white and cream color tiles that are cleaned solely by the rain; only 40 to 50 tiles need replacement each year.
The facility houses seven performance venues: the Concert Hall with nearly 2,700 sets, a 10,000 pipe organ, and home of the Sydney Symphony; the 1,500 seat Joan Sutherland Theatre home to Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet; and the smaller Drama Theatre, the Playhouse (formerly a cinema), the Studio (formerly a library), and the Utzon Room; and the open-air Forecourt. The complex has five rehearsal halls, four restaurants, six bars as well as about 1,000 offices.
Circular Quay, The Rocks, and Darling Harbour
These three areas are located on the waterfront just north and west of Sydney’s central business district. Residents and tourists alike flock to the bars, restaurants, museums, and other recreational venues located here. I had dinner al fresco at one of the many restaurants along the waterfront every evening. While the temperatures were a bit cool, the restaurants all had portable gas heaters to take the chill out of the air.
The city’s main ferry terminal is at Circular Quay (point E on map above) although some ferries also serve Darling Harbour (point G). The Rocks (point F) was one of the first settlements in Sydney, but as home to many sailors, it was a pretty rough area. Between 1900, when there was an outbreak of bubonic plague, and World War II, many of the original building were demolished. From the mid-1970s, the area began to be gentrified. Today, it is a prime tourist destination not only because of the historic buildings but also because of its proximity to the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay.
Kop Khun Krab
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.