Seeing the world, one country at the time

Beach Bumming in Waterworld


City Tour

Sydney can seem overwhelming with all there is to do there. There are myriad walking paths all along its long coast and the views are so beautiful that each walk merits some time. Yet there is no time, not as a tourist. And those who live there never take the time to see it all. We started with something simple – the original Sydney, the Rocks neighborhood, home to the first sailors, merchants, convicts and British soldiers to populate the country, before it fell victim to criminality and its classy inhabitants moved further afield. One full day is not enough to see it all, but we walked a bit and visited the visitor’s center and the Rocks Museum, which tells the interesting history about the area and its colorful inhabitants.

The stereotype of convicts living in barracks weighed down by ball-and-chain is exaggerated and does not really apply to Australians. Most of the convicts worked for the government during the day and worked for themselves the rest of the time, building houses, opening shops, running pubs and creating a new life in the Rocks. Today its crooked streets and narrow alleys are a living museum. Cadman’s Cottage, the oldest residence in the Rocks was built in 1816. The cottage is now the Sydney Harbour National Parks info center. George Street, Sydney’s oldest street, was originally a cart track used to convey fresh water.

With a week-long ferry pass and a packed picnic basket, we headed to Circular Quay and took a boat out to Cremorne Point and around. It took us past Fort Denison, once known as “Pinchgut” due to the meager rations given to prisoners. At Cremorne Point boasts one of prettiest walks along the harbor. Our picnic lunch overlooked the harbor and Central Business District. We returned to ferry docks at Circular Quay, for a ferry to the zoo, but we were told it was too late to see much and were given Darling Harbor as an alternative. Darling Harbor is meant to be the tourist’s Sydney, but I can’t confirm that, as the ferry we took never arrived there but instead took us past it and on toward towards Balmain where it turned right round and ended up back at Circular Quay. Oops.

Our last ferry went to Kirribilli Point where we chatted with friendly guards outside the Kirribilli house and found out that the Prime Minister lives there when in Sydney and next door to him is NSW’s Governor. It was a very quaint neighborhood with houses we wouldn’t mind owning. We found a perfect, hidden park next to the Kirribilli house where we sat on wave-lapped sandstone ledges as the tide rose. After watching a gorgeous sunset we got the last ferry back to Circular Quay.

Outside the Customs House by the ferry terminal we watched street performers, while inside, its awesome state of the art library, café, pc consoles, free email, and international magazines room beckoned to Lars. I dragged him away to the very chic Café Sydney on the 5th floor for a gorgeous view of the harbor, but windows were off-limits for those just coming for a drink. We had a date with Flic and her brother Llew and wife Diana at the Art Gallery of NSW featuring the exclusive Archibald Prize Exhibit of portraits, landscapes, and subjects as well as a photo exhibit. We met Llew and Di there. I hadn’t seen him since he was a pre-teen in Bangkok when we all lived there. I couldn’t believe how much he had changed, for in my mind, he was still that little kid. Guess I am getting old.

Bondi to Bronte

One of top five walks in Sydney is Bondi to Bronte along the cliff tops of the Eastern Suburbs coastline. We walked from Bondi to Bronte one fine morning, crossing the cliffs past the Icebergs club to reach the trails that line the coast. They are so beautiful, well-organized and maintained. Along the path, are historical markers relating facts and showing old photos of the area. Each beach we passed had an accompanying park with free changing rooms and showers, picnic tables, lots of benches and awesome public saltwater baths. They were also big on wastebaskets, and a whole campaign against littering used clever slogans like “don’t be a tosser”. The views are gorgeous, as are the sandstone cliffs dropping into the ocean. As we walked we found that each beach has its own personality and demographics.

We entered Hunter Park and continued past Mackenzies Point, with its great views of Mackenzies Bay. All along the way we passed fit people exercising. The women are striking. Below us the waters are also filled with men surfing. We came to the verdant Gaerlock Reserve and tiny Tamarama Beach, empty and quiet, sparsely populated with mostly women and children. This is a far cry from the Tamarama of the past. In 1887 the valley of Fletcher’s Glen became home to the Royal Aquarium and Pleasure Grounds, with exhibits and roller coasters, sword contests, tightrope walkers and roller skating rinks. In 1906 this became Wonderland City, featuring a miniature railway along the clifftops and an “airship” suspended above the beach. In 1920 it became Tamarama Park after Wonderland closed in 1911.

The water is crystal clear. We left the path to walk on the rocks and followed a guy who walked his dog to a swimming hole where tidal waters rushed in and out. After standing at the edge for a minute he jumped in, then swam up and down the crack in the rocks as if it were an endless pool, swimming with and against the current. It looked treacherous and his nervous dog stood on the rocks pacing and barking at him. Of course Lars wanted to jump in after him. Or so he said.

Arriving at Bronte Beach, we passed all sorts of blond, tanned teenage surfers and marveled at the Australian lifestyle and beach culture. Dark spots on the water were long distance swimmers. They all seemed to start and end their swims at public pools, which have steps down to the surf through rocks leading from them (This would be considered far too dangerous in the US). The pools are completely open and people climbed in and out, so we decided to go local and stripped down to jump into the COLD water. Imitating others, we lounged along the edge looking out toward the beach and ocean, amazed at the view and the accessibility to the outdoors. We love it. With its freshwater creek, wooded gully and abundant sea life Bronte Park must once have been a little paradise, and some of that feeling survives. The Bronte Baths where we found ourselves, were built by the Waverley Council to cater to the new “sea bathing” fad, with Sunday and public holidays reserved for men. The rules have changed a bit since then.

Past Nelsons Bay and Bronte Beach is the Waverley Cemetery, a great place for views. It is one of the world’s more scenic cemeteries. The first burial took place in 1877, and graves of famous Australians can be found here. From there the trail continues to Coogee Beach, where there is good snorkeling. We didn’t go any further, but dried off and ran back to Bondi, feeling inspired by all the fit Aussies, and jumped into the water. It was not as cold as the public pool and it had good surf. The turquoise water is so unbelievably clear you can see the sandy bottom and see right through the waves. We walked home along the water watching the beautiful people.

Girl’s Night Out

I went to meet Flic at the Shangri-La (again) and this time I was dressed for the place. As I waited for Flic I looked out at the water, the national historic trust buildings and the observatory until she showed up. We got a table near the harbor view and ordered two very expensive drinks. Expensive is a relative term there, as you can also order a Diamond martini for $10,000 with a diamond at the bottom. We toasted our birthdays and enjoyed the view before heading to popular Harry’s Café de Wheels in Wooloomooloo, famous for its mushy peas and pie (mashed peas piled on a meat pie.) Just the name of the neighborhood was enough to lure me. Since the 1950’s, this has been the home of the Sydney version of a pie floater, a meat pie swimming in pea soup. It was simple, delicious and filling, a far cry from the Shangri-La’s exclusivity.

We sat by the water to eat but it was freezing. Taking shelter next door at the Blue, we returned to chic in this very funky large old wharf they’ve converted into a large boutique-hotel. Our bartender Peter asked what we wanted and I told him “tropical” and he came over with the best damn drink I’ve ever had. Bloody expensive, but SO good that I had two. It cost me the equivalent of an expensive dinner, but it was worth it. Peter even gave me the recipe, which I guard carefully.

Paddington Markets and Parramatta

Flic and I went visited the Paddington boutiques and weekend markets to window shop. It’s no fun to shop when I can’t afford anything. At one shop a bottle-blonde coaxed us in with lollipops. We couldn’t resist her rah-rah attitude and the sugar. I got my hands on the most beautiful red velvet dress with matching shoes. I was tempted to bring out the credit card and make it mine. Every shop was filled with gorgeous designer pieces. At the market I got my shopping fix by buying a cheap photo and magnet for our collection.

From the market we drove to Circular Quay and got the ferry to Parramatta, which is a long but lovely trip up the Parramatta River among mangroves and canals and past the Olympic Park, home of the 2000 Olympic Games. It reminded me of southern Florida’s waterways. We disembarked and followed the Riverside walk, an evocative artwork, which incorporates a painted pathway, interpretive plaques and native plantings, meandering 800 meters along the river. The Walk tells the rich history of the region and its people from an Aborignal perspective. The Darug people were the fist inhabitants and have been the traditional custodians for over 40,000 years. The head of the Parramatta River was home to the Burramatta, a clan of the Darug people whose name means “the place where eels lie down”.

At the end of the walk we crossed Lennox Bridge, built by convicts between 1836 and 1839, it is a graceful sandstone bridge and Parramatta’s oldest. Parramatta was actually NSW’s second established city and has a rich history. It was the seat of Colonial Government from 1788 to 1857. European settlement of Parramatta began in Nov 1788 when Governor Arthur Phillip first named the area “Rose Hill”. By 1790 a town began to take shape. In November 1790, it had 552 inhabitants, 500 were convicts. For a short period of Sydney’s early history, the settlement of Parramatta had a larger population than the fledgling colony in Sydney Cove. The fertile soil provided the fledgling colony with a reliable food source. Farming flourished and so did the settlement, with expanding trade up and down the river. It was renamed Parramatta in June 1791, the name given to the area by the Burramatta.

Today, this modern city has more heritage-listed buildings than the Rocks. Old Government House, built between 1799 and 1818 by Governors Hunter and Macquarie has the finest collection of colonial furniture in Australia. Experiment Farm Cottage, developed by ex-convict James Ruse as the first private farm in 1791, was where he grew the first successful grain to feed the starving colony. Elizabeth Farm, the oldest farmhouse in Australia and home of Australian wool industry, was built by John Macarthur who, with his wife Elizabeth, came to Sydney in 1790 with the Second Fleet.

We missed most of it. We had to rush from the ferry to find some food on Church Street and never had time for all the historical buildings in the Parramatta Park. We rushed back in time to make the sunset ferry ride. The beauty wasn’t even lessened by the cold and wind. When the sun goes down the air is chilly. Sailing under the Harbour Bridge at sunset was magnificent. Back on land we warmed up with hot chocolate and at home Flic treated us to her curried prawns made from scratch. It was one of top three delectable meals we have had on this trip.

Manly Beach

The invitation for Sunday brunch at Manly beach came from Llew and Di. It was a phenomenal BBQ knitted together by equally phenomenal hosts. They had a slew of friends over and somehow we all squeezed around their patio table eating a huge meal of BBQ bacon and tomatoes, bread, tart and scrambled eggs. After long conversations we walked down to the beach where the boys played in the waves, as usual, while Flic and I watched from shore. Manly is another famous beach in Sydney for surfers and the “it” crowd. It was named by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1788, due to the “manly” appearance of the local Aborigines. Manly today has wonderful restaurants, sidewalk cafes and fabulous beaches. Its length is lined with Norfolk Island pine trees.

Manly has a palpable beach culture atmosphere with everyone in swimsuits, towels and bare feet. Flic loves the surfer kids and thinks they are adorable as they lie around on their boards with their salty long blond locks. The iconic Australian lifeguards dress in red or blue and white and have red/yellow beanies. If they’re not on the beach, they paddle in the water near the surfers on their own “malibu”, or long boards, which they use for rescues.

As we watched, a surfer got in trouble for crossing over into the designated swimming area between the red/yellow flags. That is a big no-no, as a runaway surfboard can break an unwitting swimmer’s spine. The lifeguards pulled him out, lectured him and escorted him off. Everybody watched the guy take a lesson in humiliation. The lifeguards often fine surfers or relieve them of their boards. There’s a whole room in the back of the surf club with confiscated boards and the fines don’t come cheap. Our group returned commenting on the surfer, explaining dismissively that he was a “pom”, or a Brit, and had been telling everyone including the lifeguards to “f-off”. Bad idea. That by itself is enough for a fine. Aussies take their water culture very seriously.

We went back to Llew and Di’s for wine, cheese and grapes with the beach in view over the patio wall. To end the evening we headed out to North Head cliffs to catch the sunset in the gorgeous light looking across the southern headlands toward Watson’s Bay, where we had been a week before.

Departure

On the day of our departure from Sydney, we meant to leave by three pm, but we had no van. Luckily, Lars was able to get one and we picked it up at three, when we should have been on the road. We found our way back with our new campervan and home for the next month. After we packed the car, Flic came home and we had champagne and Thai food before saying goodbye. It was only a farewell, as we would be back in a month. At ten pm we were finally in the car and Lars drove half asleep for two hours toward Canberra. After a nap we kept going until we reached Canberra at 4:30, ready to head straight to the ANZAC day celebrations.