Open-top bus tours of Sydney and Bondi Beach plus a cruise of the Harbour
20.04.2013 - 22.04.2013 24 °C
With only a limited amount of time in Sydney (and having got the Blue Mountains out of the way), I signed up for 2 days of touring Sydney and Bondi Beach by bus followed by a cruise of Sydney Harbour. Unfortunately for the open-top bus tour of Sydney it was raining, not only making the top deck seats wet but also weighing down the branches of the trees causing them to sweep the top of the bus! Sometimes when it rained we braved the weather, sometimes we dived downstairs for cover.
The tour started from the currently being restored Sydney Town Hall just across the road from the very ornate Queen Victoria Building, built in 1898 and full of speciality shops. The first place of note awe passed as we got underway was Scruffy Murphys, an Irish Bar on the edge of Chinatown. When I returned later in the evening it turned out to be a very friendly but basic rough local with good Guinness and lots of impromptu Irish singing and dancing!
Hyde Park (named after the famous park of the same name in London) is the oldest public parkland in Australia and marks the eastern boundary of Sydney's Central Business District (CBD). The focal point of the park is the Archibald Fountain overlooking the Roman Catholic St Marys Cathedral. The spine of the park is a pretty impressive looking avenue of fig trees.
On the south side of Hyde Park is the ANZAC War Memorial and Lake of Reflections. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915 during World War I and the day has been remembered as ANZAC Day in both countries ever since. Nearby there is a statue of Captain Cook to commemorate his discovery of the east coast of Australia in 1770 and there are also very good views of the 1,014 foot (309 metre) high Sydney Tower Eye amongst the city's skyline.
Heading east out of the CBD we passed through Kings Cross, Sydney's red light district. It was originally named Queens Cross in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 but nearly everyone got it confused with Queens Square on Kings Street so it got renamed. Dominating the area is the iconic 42 feet (13 metre) high Coca Cola Billboard sign originally erected in 1974, it's apparently the largest billboard sign in the Southern Hemisphere but isn't heritage-listed as most people assume. Kings Cross itself surprised me with how narrow its tree lined streets were although as expected nearly every second building seemed to be a strip-club or bar touting for business!
Continuing north towards the Harbour, we passed the main east coast base of the Royal Australian Navy on the east side of Woolloomooloo Bay and also past a peculiar piece of street art of a car crushed by a large rock in the middle of the roundabout. We then caught our first sight of the two big Sydney iconic landmarks of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge although I was to get a much better view of both of these while on the Harbour Cruise the following afternoon.
Close by where the Hyde Park Barracks, built with convict labour in 1819 and now a world heritage site. Between 1819 and 1850 over 50,000 convicts passed through these barracks on their arrival in Australia, including potentially one of my ancestors (I found 2 convicts sharing my surname amongst the database of former inmates!). I also found the gallery on the Irish orphan women particularly interesting because of it potential relevance to my own family history. In the walls of the barracks was the An Gorta Mar, Australia's national memorial to the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1852.
Moving back towards the city centre is the Circular Quay, Built by convict labour in the 1850s this was the original main port for Sydney. Today it is mega busy with tourists boarding ferries going to all the different parts of the harbour as well as being where the big cruise ships (such as the "Carnival Spirit" that arrived while I was there) moor up when they are in town.
By the following morning the weather had returned to normal for Sydney without a cloud in the sky so I was able to take the open-top bus tour to Bondi Beach, 4 miles (7 kilometres) to the east of the city and one of the most famous beaches in the world. After enjoying a stroll along the beach for a couple of hours I caught the bus back to Sydney, catching fleeting glimpses of the city views that are the reason why this area has some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
Once back in Sydney I boarded a catermaran in the Circular Quay to do the Sydney Harbour Cruise. The first stop was Fort Denison, a martello fort about kilometre offshore built in the mid 19th century to protect Sydney. From there we sailed onwards towards the ocean past the net-protected Sharks Beach in Vaucluse before reaching the affluent suburb of Watsons Bay.
Watsons Bay was the furthest we travelled east towards the open ocean before we turned around. The views of Sydney, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as we made our way back were stunning.
After brief stops at Taronga Zoo and the Circular Quay we passed under the Harbour Bridge and turned into Darling Harbour opened in 1988. The National Maritime Museum with its impressive fleet of historical ships (including a replica of Captain Cook's HMS Endeavour) occupies the west side of the harbour while the Sydney Aquarium, Madame Tussaud's and more tourist boat jetties occupies the east side. Sydney also has a monorail which runs across Pyrmont Bridge at the bottom of Darling Harbour but this was due to close in June 2013 so I was probably one of the last to ride on it.