Friday, February 10, 2012

My favourite Sydney Sightseeing Walk

I love this walk and recommend it regularly. It's a great way to explore some of the wonderful parts of Sydney. I have treated the walk as one long exploration which can be done over a few hours or across a whole day depending on where, and how long, you stop along the way. You could also split the walk up, perhaps by simply heading straight to Hyde Park and starting there.... so off we go on a somewhat eclectic, one born and bred Sydneysider's view, of a slice of our harbour city... grab a cuppa, if you follow the links this could take a while!

I have chosen to start the walk at Town Hall. You can take tours of Town Hall, though they are not always available and require some advance planning. To the west of Town Hall is St Andrews Cathedral, see of the Archibishop of Sydney and the home of the Anglican church in Sydney.  They don't seem to be all that tourist oriented, tucked away as they are, but they do have a program of events that might be worth checking out if you're into things like organ recitals and choral evensong.. both of which occur on most Thursdays.

Cross over to the QVB.  This magnificent Sydney retail palace was saved from demolition by one of many Green Bans implemented by workers under the leadership of the legendary and still influential Jack Mundey who has made an enormous contribution to the preservation of Sydney's heritage and earned himself a slot as one of the ten Sydney visionaries celebrated at the Museum of Sydney (which is not on this walk).

The QVB could consume some time if you like to browse the shops, or stop for morning tea, but even those who loathe shopping should at least walk through and look up and around as you wander. You won't be short of options for indulging in some guilty pleasures along the way. Darrell Lea is an iconic Sydney purveyor of confectionary.  You can see from the feedback about Bo Peeps on their website, that emotion runs strong among Sydneysiders when it comes to Darrell Lea's favourites! The other absolute Darrel Lea classic is the Rock Lea Road. I would also recommend a couple of other recent additions.. the distressingly delicious Brazil Toffee, Fruit Jubes and of course the milk chocolate bilbies, which in the run up to Easter includes our increasingly popular Easter Bilby. It's a fair generalisation that Aussies tend to HATE rabbits due to the damage they have done and continue to do to our ecology, so certainly here in our house.. the easter bunny has been sacked.. definitely our eggs are supplied by an Easter Bilby!

Emerge from the QVB onto Market Street. Head to the east to George Street and then start heading north. Cross the road. You pass by the Galeries Victoria "a lifestyle and cultural destination for fashion art and music".

If you don't lose yourself in the Galeries.. perhaps in Books Kinokuniya (which seems to have a devoted set of disciples).. soon you will come to Dymocks. Dymocks is a Sydney institution and (like Kinokuniya) one of Sydney's best book stores... Plenty of Australian literature and kids books can be found here.

Continue walking north along George St to the Strand Arcade an atmospheric and beautiful high end retail arcade.. and by far the loveliest way to get across to Pitt St Mall and on to our next destination... which is...

Sydney Tower Eye for an overview of our beautiful harbour with all it's winding nooks and quiet (and some not so quiet) bays..and across to the coast of golden beaches interrupted by craggy cliffs and headlands creating a string of sandy smiles for hundreds of miles north and south.  Access to Sydney Tower Eye  is conveniently located in Westfield Sydney which can be accessed from Pitt St Mall.

With your feet back on the ground, before we move on, I must point out that another of the heritage glories of Sydney - the State Theatre is located to the west along Market St. Still an active performance venue you can also do tours on Mondays, Tuesday or Wednesdays.

We have places to be so walk straight up Market St to Hyde Park and the Archibald fountain and it's lovely backdrop of St Mary's Cathedral. You can visit the Cathedral which is the "spiritual home of Sydney's Catholic community".  They are more geared up for casual visitors than the Anglican counterpart and offer a program of choral services and events. St Mary's is home to Australia's oldest ringing society in Australia the St Mary's Basillica Society of Change Ringers. Practice night is Thursdays, and there are regular ringings for services listed on the website.

Back to Hyde Park: you have an option here to explore the park and take a loop down to the Anzac Memorial Hyde Park. It is a very beautiful memorial full of symbolism and has a small museum onsite. It is well worth your time. You can save time on the day by pre-reading about the memorial. Honouring and remembering our service men and women is a fundamental element of Australian culture.

As we have included some of the largest Christian places of worship in our notes, it's also worth mentioning that just across the road from Hyde Park on Elizabeth St (west of Hyde Park) is the entrance to The Great Synagogue. "One of the finest Synagogues in the world" at the time of writing, tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12 noon, but do check the website.

Moving on from Hyde Park, it's simply a matter of crossing the road to get to St James Church, Sydney's oldest church and one of our most significant historic buildings designed by convict architect Francis Greenway.  Not so long ago a British TV series was made about amazing buildings, wonders or something like that... for Sydney they passed over the Opera House and chose St James's Church because they felt it astonishing that it was built when and where it was. It demonstrated an awe inspiring ambition and confidence in the future of young Sydney town. Both St James's Church and Hyde Park Barracks (another Greenway building) were built in the Macquarie era. Lachlan Macquarie was a great visionary and the people of Sydney still hold him in great esteem. He (and his wife) are commemorated in many names and places in Sydney and across NSW. Macquarie's Grave, on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, is maintained at the expense of the National Trust of Australia and is inscribed "The Father of Australia".

Next on our agenda, is of course the World Heritage Listed Hyde Park Barracks. I would recommend allowing at least a couple of hours for exploring this site. Many early immigrants to Australia passed through the doors here, including two of my own forebears, my great great grandfather as a convict, and ten years later my great great grandmother, a free Irish orphan brought out under the Earl Grey Scheme.... both were shipped on to Moreton Bay (now in Queensland) where they married in 1850.  You will learn about both these (and more) uses of the Barracks during your visit.  Even if you choose to simply walk past the Barracks, do have a look at the memorial to the Irish orphan girls and their contribution to this country which forms part of the walls of the barracks compound.

Follow the road as it sweeps around to the left / north and into Art Gallery Road. In addition to my commentary you will find interpretive information about features of this area at the Domain Walk. You will walk under the beautiful shady canopy of an avenue of Port Jackson fig trees through the Domain. As you pass, keep an eye out for the speaker's podiums on your left. These commemorate Sydney's Speaker's Corner.

Shortly thereafter, you arrive at the Art Gallery of NSW. Plenty there for art lovers, but the minimum (in my opinion) is to stroll through the galleries nearby the entrance and take in some of our most iconic works of art by artists such as Tom Roberts or Frederick McCubbin.. or one of my favourites, E Phillips Fox. Also you should seek out the Australian Indigenous artworks. My favourite is the Hills hoist with flying foxes all over it! The Hills hoist has a special place in Australian iconography.... along with the Victa lawn mower..and other strange things that must surely have puzzled the world but made locals laugh (proudly) at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. ... of course one of my favourite starring roles for the Victa is in relation to the puzzle of Bazza the Cane Toad!

Moving right along now.. when you've had your fill of... or perhaps at.. the Gallery  - the restaurant there is lovely and has beautiful views over Woollomoolo Bay and the historic Finger Wharf.

Yes, moving right along we move from Art Gallery Road into Mrs Macquarie's Road.  Follow the path as it veers down to the foreshore of Woolloomooloo Bay. Don't neglect to explore the little nooks and crannies along the way as they lead down to some surprises, such as the sculpture, Dual Nature, by Nigel Helyer. Along this way you will also find the Andrew (Boy) Charlton pool. Boy Charlton was a champion Australian swimmer, born in North Sydney, who won the 1500 metres title in 20 minutes 6.6 seconds, setting new Olympic and world records at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.

It's a lovely walk down through an area where they have been re-establishing original vegetation, to Mrs Macquarie's Chair. Though many locals use "Mrs Macquarie's Chair" as a general reference to the area as a whole (the official name is Mrs Macquarie's point) Mrs Macquarie's Chair is actually a stone seat carved into the headland. 

Only a few steps now and the vista opens onto what has to be the most iconic view of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour bridge. It is also one of the most attractive views of the Sydney skyline as the modern towers hover above the green of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney as it hugs the headland and foreshores of Farm Cove.

Take your time and take a stroll admiring the stunning Sydney views as you walk along the delightfully level foreshore pathway into the botanic gardens. There is plenty of scope for exploring in the gardens, or having a lie down on the grass, a meal in the cafe or restaurant, or simply use the facilities. There is a significant colony of flying foxes (large fruit bats) in the gardens. At the seasonal peak they can currently number more than 22,000 animals. In the evening there is a "bat flyover" as they head out across Sydney to feed on (mainly) blossoms of native trees.  The flying fox camp is around the cafe area and the bats are not hard to see. However the gardens has been granted permission to move the bats along due to the enormous damage they are doing to heritage landscape of the gardens. The relocation is scheduled to take place in May 2012. This is the time that is considered to cause the bats the least stress. The bats should no longer be camping in the gardens with a month or so from then.  However, there is an alternative place to view the bats if you really want to see them. Read about the bats and visiting the other Sydney flying fox colonies here.

The obvious next stop on the walk is the Sydney Opera House. The Opera House is on a promontory called Bennelong Point. Bennelong was one of the most notable Aboriginal people in the early history of modern Australia. Spare him, and his people, a thought as you contemplate the modern metropolis. You can learn more about Sydney's first people here.  By all means take a tour, grab a bite to eat at the Opera Bar or the Opera Kitchen. Pause for a while on a seat along the Opera House forecourt and admire "the coathanger" as Sydneysiders affectionately call the bridge, Luna Park (a beautiful spectacle of light in Sydney's night-time sparkle); and Pinchgut (Fort Dennison) out in the harbour.

You can end the walk here, or you can continue around Circular Quay past the various street performers, enjoy the atmosphere created by didgeridoo players, or sometimes saxophone players or other performers. Beyond the quay you reach the Rocks which demands a whole discussion of its own.

As evening moves in, you can continue around the foreshore all the way around Dawes Point, under the bridge to Walsh Bay for access to more theatre complexes such as Sydney Theatre or The Wharf that provide a home for the Sydney Theatre Company (who also utilise the Drama Theatre at the Opera House).  The land around Walsh Bay,  Millers Point and Barrangaroo  once the scene of  intensive marine industry, ship building and repair, and the home and workplace of the first of my forebears to emigrate to Sydney* will, in a few years, have become a new jewel in Sydney's crown.

*He was a shipwright from the London docklands and he emigrated with his wife and elder children in 1832.  I'm very proud him and of all my forebears as you can no doubt tell :o)

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