Depart: Christchurch NZ (CHC), 18th Apr 2013 14:30 New Zealand Standard Time (GMT+12) Arrive: Auckland NZ (AKL) Terminal D, 18th Apr 2013 15:50 New Zealand Standard Time (GMT+12) 464 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
Followed by 1 hour 40 minutes transfer from Auckland Airport Terminal D to Terminal I
Depart: Auckland NZ (AKL) Terminal I, 18th Apr 2013 17:30 New Zealand Standard Time (GMT+12) Arrive: Sydney AU (SYD) Terminal 1, 18th Apr 2013 19:00 Eastern Standard Time (GMT+10) 1,342 miles (3 hours 30 minutes)
The one place outside the city that seems to be on everyone's bucket list when they visit Sydney is the stunning Three Sisters sandstone rock formation in the Blue Mountains about 40 miles (60 kilometres) inland at Katoomba on the Great Western Highway.
The Three Sisters Rock Formation in the Blue Mountains
Me by the Three Sisters Rock Formation at the Echo Point Lookout
The Jamison Valley and Blue Mountains
According to legend (and immortalised by statues outside neighbouring Scenic World) the three rocks are three sisters from the local Katoomba Tribe who were turned to stone by their tribe's sorcerer to protect them from the unwanted advances of three young men from a neighbouring tribe but that the sorcerer himself was killed in battle before he could turn them back to life again.
Statues of the Sorcerer and the Three Sisters outside Scenic World
Me beside the statue of the Sorcerer outside Scenic World
Scenic World itself began life as a coal mine in the 1880s. In 1928 a funicular railway was built to transport miners down the Jamison Valley side to the mine in the rainforest below which turned out to be the steepest passenger railway in the world (52 degrees contained within a total incline distance of 1,316 feet - 415 metres). When the mine closed in 1945 the funicular railway remained as a tourist attraction which became the Scenic World Railway we see today.
The Scenic World Railway about to leave its Top Station for the Rainforest floor
On our way down to the Rainforest floor aboard the Scenic World Railway
Coal Mine entrance on the rainforest floor at Scenic World
The walkway through the Rainforest on the valley floor at Scenic World
Since then the railway has been upgraded (including quite recently in early 2013) and the Scenic Skyway across the valley and Scenic Cableway back up from the rainforest floor added. The Skyway passes across the Katoomba Falls and includes a glass floor that defrosts as you set of so you can look down on the tree tops of the rainforest below.
The Scenic World Skyway making its way across the Rain Forest
The Katoomba Falls from the Scenic World Skyway
The floor of the Scenic World Skyway defrosts to reveal the Rain Forest beneath us
Looking back at the Rainforest on the way up to the Top Station on the Scenic World Cableway
On the way back to Sydney we stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park, an award winning zoo that opened in 1972 containing the world's largest collection of Australian native animals. Many of them such as Quokkas, Kangaroos, Emus and New Zealand Blue Penguins I had already encountered earlier during my round the world trip.
A pair of Quokkas at Featherdale Wildlife Park
An inquisitive Kangaroo at Featherdale Wildlife Park
An Emu on the prowl at Featherdale Wildlife Park
The Penguin enclosure at Featherdale Wildlife Park
However there were plenty of other types of Australian animals at the Wildlife Park I had not yet encountered including the ever adorable Koala, Swamp Wallabies, Dingoes and the Tasmanian Devil (and a lot more besides).
Koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Swamp Wallabies at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Dingoes at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Tasmanian Devil running around his enclosure at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Of course this time the animals were up close and personal so you were often also able to pet and feed them; although like my previous encounter with one outside Perth I still did not trust the Emu!
Me with a Koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park
Me with a friendly Swamp Wallaby at Featherdale Wildlife Park
This Emu was so enthusiastic pecking the food I gave I feared he would get my hand!
In addition to the native Australian mammals there were also native Australian birds such as Pelicans standing still like statues, brightly coloured Macaws and impressive looking Sea Eagles.
Pelicans at Featherdale Wildlife Park
A pair of Blue and Yellow Macaws at Featherdale Wildlife Park
White-bellied Sea-eagle eating a fish at Featherdale Wildlife Park
When we left Featherdale Wildlife Park the Sydney road network was totally gridlocked. To avoid spending the evening stuck in traffic we managed to get on a ferry near the 2000 Olympic Stadium and travelled down the river for a hour and a half to Darling Harbour in the centre of Sydney. As it got dark, the views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour all lit up were amazing.
Approaching the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a ferry at night
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.
Open-top double-decker bus tour of Sydney - in the rain!
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!
Sydney Town Hall being restored
Inside the Queen Victoria Building on George Street
Scruffy Murphys - the most famous Irish Bar in Sydney
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.
The Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park in Sydney
St Marys RC Cathedral with the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park in the foreground
St Marys RC Cathedral (note the fleet of vintage Rolls-Royce cars outside awaiting a wedding party!)
The fig tree lined avenue through the centre of Hyde Park in Sydney
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.
The ANZAC Memorial and Lake of Reflections in Hyde Park
Inside the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park
Captain Cook's Statue in Hyde Park with the Sydney Tower Eye amongst the skyline in the background
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!
The Coca Cola Sign at Kings Cross, the largest billboard in the Southern Hemisphere
Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross - Sydney's Red Light District
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.
HMAS Newcastle and HMAS Sydney moored up at the Naval Base on Woolloomooloo Bay
Street art in Sydney
The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge
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.
Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks where 50,000 convicts were landed between 1819 and 1850
Convict uniform on display in Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks
Convict hammocks at the Hyde Park Barracks
The Court Room at the Hyde Park Barracks
An Gorta Mor - Australia's National Memorial to the Irish Famine
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.
The Circular Quay from the Sydney Opera House
The view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Circular Quay
Aboriginal Cultural Performers on the Circular Quay
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.
My first view of Bondi Beach
The Lifeguard Lookout and Pavilion on Bondi Beach
Me by the Lifeguard Lookout on Bondi Beach
Lifeguards on duty on Bondi Beach
Millionaires Row view of Sydney on the way back from Bondi
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.
Sydney's Circular Quay
Fort Denison in the middle of Sydney Harbour
Shark Beach protected by nets
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.
Looking beyond Watson Bay towards the Ocean
Looking towards Sydney on the way back from Watson Bay
The replica of HMS Endeavour beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Me sailing past the Sydney Opera House
The 'Carnival Spirit' Cruise Ship berthed at the Circular Quay next to the Sydney Opera House
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.
Replica of Captain Cook's HMS Endevour in Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour and the fleet of historical ships of the National Maritime Museum from the Pyrmont Bridge
The Sydney Monorail coming into its Darling Harbour Station on Pyrmont Bridge