Welcome back to this continuing series of articles on Australia, matter of fact I’m just getting started! You’ll see much more in the next several weeks with a one week pause for my annual year end Reflections and Resolutions post.
This week I’ll take you around the neighborhood where I stayed while in Sydney, then on a walking tour of the Rocks, followed by a visit to the South Pylon on the Harbor Bridge, and over to the Royal Botanic Gardens for a trolley tour.
My day started a bit slow as I had taken over 32,000 steps the day before and I was still adjusting to the sixteen hour time change from Central Time in the US to Australian time. I caught up on some emails and made a few Skype calls and then walked to the nearby Woolworths (Woollies as it’s called locally) grocery store to purchase a few items for my trip to the Red Center of Australia the next day. Besides the water bottle, bug spray, skin moisturizer (for very low humidity) and lip balm, I bought the best pint of blueberries known to mankind! They were huge and bursting with flavor, it was hard not to eat them all in one setting. Then I went in search of a post office for some post card stamps, fyi they were $3.00 Australian (AUD) to the US or about $2 American (USD). On this little walk around the neighborhood, I couldn’t help but gaze at these murals, the second one garnering an out loud chuckle!
With those tasks out of the way, I was ready for more exploring of the area around the Sydney Harbor. My guide the previous day recommended taking a walking tour of historic Rocks. Fortunately, I arrived just as the only tour of the day offered by Big Bus was gathering. After quickly paying the $30 AUD fee, we met our guide, I believe her name was Vicky. She stood out with her red hair and her entertaining gift of gab, I think she talked 90 minutes with hardly a break! She also declared that she took a great deal of pride in being a descendant of a convict sent from England.
The Rocks is tucked in between the Harbor Bridge, the Bradfield Highway, the Harbor itself, and the Central Business District. It was established shortly after the First Fleet arrived and built with the abundant sandstone from which it derives it’s name. Even from it’s earliest days, it was considered a slum and an area frequented by visiting sailors to the houses of prostitution. It was home to some of the local aborigines and gangs controlled the area for years. While many of the original buildings were torn down or destroyed in the building of the Harbor Bridge, the remaining buildings have been restored and The Rocks has become a tourist destination. The Rocks are loaded with cafes, pubs, art galleries, some high end shops, and hotels. With that background, we made our way around The Rocks with Vicky as our guide.
The narrow streets and steep walks made for some interesting place names. This one is called the Suez Canal, likely because when it rained, the water poured down the passage washing away everything and everyone in the way.
There was a narrow path called the Nurses Walk where the nurses used to walk to and from the hospital. Very ingenious name! There was also a Doctor’s Walk but not as prominent, maybe as it should be!
The story of the role Jack Mundey that played in saving The Rocks from total destruction is interesting. He was an activist and labor leader who rallied the workmen to protect the remaining historic buildings from being torn down. He was famously carried away from construction sites by the Sydney police, this photo that appeared in local papers further garnered public support for historic preservation in the city. In recognition of his efforts, a portion of a prominent street in The Rocks was renamed Jack Monday Place. I so admired his energy and vision that I had lunch on that street!
On our tour we stopped to rest for a few minutes along the promenade below The Rocks to view the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge and pedestrian walk along the harbor. Vicky entertained us with more stories about The Rocks and their historical significance while I shot a few more photos
One of our last stops on the tour was at Cadman’s Cottage, the second oldest surviving home in The Rocks. Built in 1816, it has served as a sailor’s barracks, the headquarters for the water police, an old sailor’s home and now a historic site.
Here are some additional photos of some of the restored buildings and narrow passageways you can see in The Rocks.
During our walk, we saw a couple of groups of schools kids on field trips to The Rocks such as this group with their cute hats.
It was a fun tour and certainly worth the cost of admission. On the tour, I met a couple from Brookfield, Wisconsin who were on an eight day trip to Australia with their twin toddlers, not sure I would be sane after an trip like that! After those several thousand steps, it was time for a light lunch. As I mentioned above, I found a deli on Jack Mundey Place with an open courtyard to enjoy the pleasant weather. Here was my companion during lunch. He/she didn’t say anything, just stared a lot!
After lunch, I found the Argyle Cut that was built by convicts in the mid-1800’s. Before taking the stairs up to the Harbor Bridge level, I enjoyed the coolness of the shade by taking a few photos.
The day before due to time constraints I skipped the tour of the Harbor Bridge Museum on the South Pylon Lookout. Here’s the Lookout from the street level.
So I climb the many steps to the entrance hoping the view would be worth the agony. (It was!) The two nice young fellas at the ticket booth asked if I was over age 60 and with a yes reply the price of admission was quickly reduced to $12.50 AUD. My bonus for the day! I decided to the head for the observation deck and save the museum for later. Here were my first views looking over the bridge. You’ll note in the top photo, there are people walking on top of the bridge. Yes, there are guided tours that cost up to $200 USD per person depending on the length of the tour. When I learned that there were strict rules about taking anything such as cameras on the tour, I quickly lost interest. Besides that and the price, at times heights give me a queasy stomach. Wouldn’t want to upchuck on the cars traveling across the bridge! The Harbor Bridge is also affectionately known as the “coathanger” because of its arched design.
The views from the observation deck are spectacular. Below is a look at the surroundings. From up here, one has a great view of the Sydney Opera House, Ft. Denison, the ferry docks, the many boats plying the harbor, and Sydney’s Central Business District.
After a respectable time gawking at the views and talking to a couple of young women both from the US, it was time to learn more about the building of the bridge. The well done museum had some very nice exhibits and lots of explanation including an excellent film with period photos and video at the exit from the museum. Not only does this bridge provide for auto traffic, there are is a pedestrian walkway, a bicycle path and a couple of railway lines. A bridge from the south to the north side of Sydney Harbor was first proposed as early as 1815. Serious planning began in the early 1900’s but was interrupted by World War I. After the war ended, the chief engineer traveled abroad to view completed bridges, based on his visit to New York City, it was decided the arch design would be the most suitable and it was less expensive than other types of designs. Construction on the bridge finally began in 1923 with the grand opening held in 1932, attended by hundreds of thousands of people almost the entire population of Sydney at that time.
After viewing the film and exiting the museum, I crossed about half way on the pedestrian walkway and of course took some photos.
Before leaving the bridge behind, I have to quote an observation made by Bill Bryson in his book “In a Sunburned Country.” Quote: “you can see it from every corner of the city, creeping in at the oddest angles, like an uncle who wants to get into every snapshot. From a distance it has a kind of gallant restraint, majestic but not assertive, but up close it’s all might…… This is a great bridge.”
Another thing on my Sydney to do list was to spend more time in the Royal Botanic Garden. I made my way around the promenade past the Opera House shops.
Near the entrance to the Botanic Gardens is a choo-choo train that one can ride for the price of $10 AUD. While they said it was a hop-on, hop-off train, there were no guarantees of an empty seat. Seeing that the train was nearly full, I decided to ride all the way through and then walk back to areas of interest. Well, it was quite a ride lasting only about 20-25 minutes. The driver was funny and entertaining but kept driving past what seemed to be some interesting spots and there was very few opportunities for photos or enjoy the scenery. It’s not something I would do again or recommend to fellow travelers. I did walk back into the gardens and enjoyed the many spring flowers and landscaping.
The shadows were getting long and I was ready for some dinner before heading back to my Airbnb to prepare for the next leg of my Australian journey. But as I was making my way back to The Rocks for some food, I came across this sign honoring the first settlers, the indigenous peoples, a good reminder for all of us.
Join me next week for The Trail to Uluru and the Red Center of the continent of Australia.
Until then, happy travels!