Seeing the world, one country at the time

Easter Weekend in Sydney

Good Friday: Palm Beach sailing

On Good Friday we drove to the exclusive neighborhood of to Palm Beach where the Jenkins, our hostess Felicity’s parents live. Flic had bought hot-cross buns, which are only made and sold on Good Friday. These delicious cinnamon pastries were accompanied by the view of the Pittwater bay below. Their house overlooks both the bay and the ocean. We spent the afternoon on Peter Jenkins’ 36-foot sailboat, where he coached Lars on crewing, for his future trip around the world on a sailboat. It was slow going with little wind, but we sailed up Pittwater past Barrenjoey Head, and looked back down Sydney’s coast toward the city, before turning and heading inland toward Hawksbury River. Katie put together a sublime buffet brunch on board, a trick learned after decades of sailing days. Back at their place in the evening we watched playful Rainbow Lorikeets as the sun set over the ocean while drinking tea and coffee. We could easily get used to this lifestyle!

Saturday: Sydney CBD and Watson’s Bay

Saturday saw us up before sunrise and perched on a lookout near the city to see the sunrise over the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, also known as the “coat hanger”. Sydney Opera House, constructed between 1959 and 1973 by Danish Architect Jorn Utzon, is Australia’s most recognizable icon. It is breathtaking with its gleaming white sails where it sits on Bennelong Point, against the backdrop of the harbor.

You can conquer the Harbour Bridge’s imposing size by walking across it to the south-east Pylon Lookout, or climbing it on special tours. Walking the bridge was on Lars’ to-do list until we found out the price and learned that no camera was allowed up there. As we stood there, we could see the silhouettes of dozens of others with deeper pockets, standing on top. Our location was the perfect vantage point to contemplate the Sydney Harbour foreshore, which extends for 317 km. and has magnificent beaches, beautiful bushland and trails, historic sites, palatial harborside homes in elegant suburbs, manicured gardens, quiet bays, and breathtaking ocean views. It has it all, including people of over 200 nationalities speaking over 20 languages in a city of four million.

While Lars captured the sun rising over the Opera house on film, Flic and I went for a walk through Australia’s first official farm established in 1788, which was located in what is now the Royal Botanic Gardens. We saw countless cockatoos, Flying Foxes (freaky!) and other animals. We circled the wishing tree six times as legend dictates. For breakfast we drove to Sydney’s oldest neighborhood “The Rocks”, named for its rocky shoreline. This birthplace of European Australia was founded when the first convict tents were erected here in 1788. On this rocky peninsula, convicts replaced the traditional way of life of the original inhabitants, the Cadigals, who were, you guessed it, wiped out.

With Sydney being a port city, the Rocks thrived as a port, welcoming sailors from all over the world to haunts of entertainment and friendly company. This led naturally to alcoholism, crime and poverty. After some decades of ill-repute and decay, restoration has made the Rocks one of Sydney’s most popular neighborhoods, nestled in its ideal location beneath the Harbour Bridge, with views of the harbor. With its cobbled streets, sandstone buildings and stories of merchants and convicts, the Rocks maintains its historical, maritime atmosphere. Its restored buildings are infused with a cosmopolitan ambiance offering visitors fine restaurants and cafes, upscale shopping, museums, galleries and street markets. The galleries have anything from Aboriginal to modern art, sculpture and photography. We shopped, looking in the photo galleries and walking through the market full of exotic crafts, homewares, jewelry and Australian-designed wares.

In the afternoon we drove to Watson’s Bay, with its irresistible water views, great seafood restaurants and infamous suicide site, The Gap. The gorgeous neighborhoods of Vaucluse, Rose Bay and Double Bay we passed through reminded me of San Francisco or Seattle. On the way we stopped at Sydney’s oldest lighthouse with a striking view of the thick, syrupy, indigo ocean and Sydney Harbor on the other side. Watson’s Bay was flanked by a green park and flustered by strong wind. Lunch was fish and chips take out from Doyle’s, one of the best. We maneuvered through the crowds and took our packages to the beach and within minutes drew the attention of a dozen seagulls that landed all around us. One was a real bully, chasing away all the rest if they got within ten feet of us, puffing up its feathers, flapping its wings, hoping we’d feed it. But we don’t cater to bullies.

We walked off the delicious meal nearby, in the Sydney Harbor National Park. It was packed with Asian tourists snapping photos of its ocean and harbor views. Ironically, it used to be an off-limits military area that had defended Sydney from the Japanese and now here they were, in droves. As we walked to South Head, we saw traces of the canons and bunkers. Where a ship had been wrecked on the rocks below, they built a lighthouse. They had the anchor from the ship as a reminder. The water was turquoise blue in places, midnight blue in others, and crashed against a natural shelf below. We all had the urge to swim there. In some places the rocks seem almost chiseled into perfect rectangles by the water. The sandstone that comprises Sydney’s coastline was used for building old homes and government buildings in Sydney. What was once taken for granted is now the source of great pride in the beauty of their Central Business District (CBD), where these buildings still stand.

We walked up to the Gap, a dramatic cut in the cliffs, which was Sydney’s suicide spot of choice until it was surrounded by four-foot high fences, which are so far from edge that you can’t see anything. One couple had managed to climb past the fence at the lookout and was standing out on the ledge. I think it was the guy’s attempt to impress a first date, as she stood nervously in her perfect girlie outfit while he talked and gestured confidently. Everyone else just stared at them as if they were crazy. Flic told us about a girl who had “fallen” off (It’s hard to fall over high fences) and whose boyfriend is suspected of the misdeed.

From the Gap we walked back down to Watson’s Bay and got on a fast smooth ferry to Circular Quay, with its colorful street performers and other free entertainment. This is the gateway to Sydney; it is where the ferries arrive and depart next to the CBD and where all the famous Sydney sights are located. On the crowded quay, aboriginal and white musicians played didgeridoos. We walked to the opera house and bought gelato at a café next to the water.

For a little history we headed to Macquarie Road, originally swampy mangrove land on the banks of the Tank Stream, the colony’s first water supply. Today it is headed by Hyde Park and filled with historic sandstone buildings, such as the Mint, the Sydney Hospital, the State Library and the Parliament House. The Obelisk marks the point from which distances to all places in the colony were measured. This sandstone monument was actually designed by a convict named Francis Greenway, who became Sydney’s first colonial architect. His legacy is visible in many of Sydney’s best-loved convict buildings. The 1850’s Government House is on the Botanic Garden side of the street, beside the Conservatorium of Music. The governor General (the Queen’s representative in Australia) is no longer in residence so it is open to the public. Its ideal location overlooking the opera house and harbor inspired fantasies about living there ourselves. We got the ferry back to Watson’s and watched a beautiful sunset over the bridge and city from the water.

Easter Sunday: Bondi Beach and Market

On Easter Sunday I was up at nine to lay the Easter egg hunt. Made “brekkie” (Australian breakfast) and sat outside in the warm sun while the chocolate eggs melted before sending Flic and Lars off on the hunt. They had a lot of fun racing each other and fighting like kids. The afternoon was spent at the Bondi Beach markets. Flic loves markets and they are a great way to measure a city’s pulse and see its people. We headed to Campbell Parade, the road in front of Bondi Beach, where the popular Sunday markets are held at the Public School. I bought an Australian book from nice guy at a bargain price, which I can exchange for another one too! Bondi Market is the place to find up and coming designers before they open expensive boutiques in Paddington, but even the cheap stuff was out of my league. We watched a drumming circle before hitting the beach, where it was cool and windy as the afternoon wore on. Lars jumped in the surf and played in the crazy waves while we sat and watched and laughed that the water was full of men, but no women, doing the same.

Easter Monday: National Park and Aboriginal Paintings

Flic’s last day off was spent at Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, an unspoilt wilderness less than 30 km from the city center. The highlights include pristine bushland, waterways, native fauna, Aboriginal carvings, beaches, bays and headlands, walking tracks boating and superb water views. We bought fruits and food for a picnic and drove down to the park, where we hiked an easy three-hour trail that took us by aboriginal rock carvings of fish, people, and animals. The Cadigal people who had lived in the Sydney area twenty thousand years were friendly and welcoming to the Europeans, but were wiped out by smallpox the whites brought. No good deed goes unpunished.

While we walked the trail, Flic told us about a dream she had had about the aborigines and her interest in the culture and love of the outback. She felt called to head out there on and worked for several months in Alice Springs. She hasn’t been back but she thinks about returning, as if something is missing that she needs to complete. We also explored a couple of the caves where they had lived when the Europeans arrived. They were natural formations the Cadigals used for shelter and cooking as well as sacred rites. The walk was beautiful, taking us by lots of Pittwater Bay views, looking toward Palm Beach past all the white boats cutting through the azure. As an added bonus, we spotted a goanna, a huge lizard–like creature.

With a built-up appetite demanding to be satisfied, we found a spot to eat our picnic lunch, surrounded by wild turkeys. It was the first time we saw the Australian picnic spots with its coin-operated, electrical barbecues. We were impressed. Our last hike took us to secluded beaches where we dipped our feet in the water and looked across at Palm Beach and the Jenkins’ home where we had just been days earlier. We had just gotten a taste of what Sydney has to offer and had another week during which to discover it further, but the rest of the week we would have to find our way around without our fabulous guide Felicity.