Oct 06, 2008
Visiting Sydney? Here’s a few things that newcomers to Australia’s largest, oldest and busiest metropolis may care to know.
Firstly, Sydney is big. The metropolitan area (population 4.2 million) stretches well beyond the famous harbour vicinity, reaching 60km west almost to the Blue Mountains. The geographical centre, Parramatta, began as a separate town and is the second oldest European settlement in Australia, with several fascinating historic buildings open to visitors. One in five Australians lives in Sydney and almost a full third was born overseas – most commonly Britain, China, New Zealand, Vietnam, Italy and Lebanon.
Residents are called Sydneysiders, which sounds odd until you realise it once meant anyone from the state of New South Wales – the Sydney side of the Murray River bordering Victoria. But forget that alleged inter-city rivalry with Melbourne; you’ll find scant evidence for it these days, despite the innumerable media beat-ups. Oh, and no-one ever really calls Sydney the Emerald City – or even the Harbour City, come to think of it, unless perhaps they find themselves using the word Sydney too many times in a magazine article.
If you’re having your first fling with Sydney, there are several classic must-dos to choose from. If you’ve been here and done that, rest assured there’s always something new. And those who enjoy a longstanding, committed relationship with this city can always revel in Sydney’s infinite capacity to surprise.
The bush beckons to nature-loving daytrippers from all directions; Sydney is surrounded by several magnificent national parks, such as Ku-ring-gai Chase (north), Royal (south) and Blue Mountains (west). And Sydney Harbour itself is a national park, with a surprising amount of preserved inner-city bushland and many rewarding waterside trails: Dobroyd Point, North Head, and the 10km Manly to Spit Bridge walk are just some.
Step into a Cadillac hearse to ride the wilder side of Sydney’s seamy past. Weird Sydney Ghost & History Tours visits the sites of famous crimes, scandals, hauntings and other extreme happenings. Departing nightly from a Kings Cross car park, it may be the only hearse tour in Australia.
At 283ha, Rookwood Necropolis is one of the largest cemeteries in the Southern Hemisphere. The original 81ha part (1868) is among the world’s biggest and best preserved grand Victorian cemeteries.
The Royal Botanic Gardens reluctantly hosts 11,000 grey-headed flying foxes – numbers have tripled in the past decade and they’re overwhelming and killing off historic Palm Grove, a world-renowned tree collection dating to 1828. Gardens authorities are determined to uproot them, so marvel at Sydney’s largest concentration of wild native mammals while you still can. Don’t let the crowd fool you; this is a protected species, classified vulnerable due to habitat loss.
The James Craig (1874, restored 2001) is the only 19th-century tall ship still going to sea regularly. After 23 roundings of Cape Horn, the former merchant vessel now sticks to daytrips just beyond Sydney Heads. $160. Moored at Wharf 7, Pyrmont; onboard tours daily.
In recent years, the slow recovery of humpback whales from decades of slaughter has allowed whale-watching to surface as a viable tourist attraction. Migrating humpback whales pass Sydney from May to July, and again from September to mid-November. Several whale-watching boats operate from Darling Harbour and Sydney Cove, although northbound whales (May-July) are often visible from shore.
Sydney has more indigenous rock engravings than any other urban area in the world. Some harbourside examples can be found at Berry Island Reserve (it’s not an island) and Balls Head Reserve, headlands just west of the Harbour Bridge; and also Grotto Point at the entrance to Middle Harbour. Other sites include Jibbon Point at Bundeena, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Bondi Golf Course and the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk near Tamarama.
Source: Qantas The Australian Way July 2008