It doesn’t matter how many times you fly into Sydney, that first glimpse as you make the big sweeping bank to the left is always breathtaking. The wake behind the ferries and yachts crisscrossing the Harbour sparkles in the low, early light. The soaring white sails of THE Opera House cast shadows over the blue, clear water. Her gracious curves remind me of an old lady in a wedding gown. Thank goodness Utzon persevered despite the criticism back in the day.
You hear your fellow travellers oo-ing and arh-ing and trying to get photos. While a nuisance most of the time, getting stuck in a holding pattern over Sydney is a good thing as it gives you time to pick out more and more landmarks. Bondi ahead of you, Westfield Tower, the Botanic Gardens, Garden Island, Fort Denison to name a few. If you fly in at night, the view out the oval window is even more dazzling. Strategically placed lights shine and twinkle like stars beaming down on the city. Sydney seems to stretch out forever to the west. The inky smudge of the Blue Mountains is way off yonder and the words of Paul Kelly’s “red roofs of Sydney catching the first rays of the morning sun” perfectly describes the suburbs in their endless and relentless effort to accommodate a relatively small population in their own individual, freestanding homes. The Great Australian Dream.
Customs and Quarantine
The curfew at Kingsford Smith International Airport means that if you are coming in from Europe you nearly always fly in very early in the morning with the sun fresh for the day or if you are lucky – just rising. On the downside, you’re in for a long day, a tad jet-lagged after an 11 to 13-hour flight. (More if you’ve come from the US) Your first encounter with an Aussie accent (unless of course if you flew with Qantas) will be the friendly people from Borderforce. (You’re on your own here – since I have an Australian passport I don’t get to chat with them at this point and just breeze through the “Australian citizen” line).
Then, while you wait bleary-eyed at the carousel for your bags to be spewed up you may get quizzed by the people from AQIS (The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service). “Anything to declare?” they’ll ask as they look you up and down to decide if you are lying or not. For us Aussies, this is a welcome step that ensures we keep our island home safe from all sorts of greeblies. As Johnny Depp discovered, we take it pretty seriously, so it’s best to leave your pets at home!
The best way to see Sydney (the city itself) is, like in most places, on foot – so I hope you brought your walking shoes! You’ll find some treasures as well as the usual tourist traps.
From the Rocks, underneath the Bridge follow the narrow sandstone alleys along the Nurses’ Walk and the Surgeons’ Steps and find the Button Shop and an archeological dig under the youth hostel. Keep heading uphill and you’ll get to the Observatory and then down the steps to Millers Point.
Names like the Hungry Mile conjure up a bleak history of times of convicts, early settlers and famine. The sheer sandstone quarry walls give you a good idea where all the stone came from for our early civic buildings.
The new but controversial foreshore development of Barangaroo serves to remind locals and travellers alike that this is, was and always will be Aboriginal Land. (A word to the wise at Barangaroo – make sure you don’t look like a professional photographer or use a tripod. It’s a commercial site and you need a license to take photos if you are using them for profit. Snap away with your little point and shoot but keep the big DSLR in your bag.)
Continue your walk around to Cockle Bay Wharf for a sneaky beer. Perhaps catch a ferry – anywhere is good if you just want to take in the Harbour. Head back north along George or Pitt Street to get back to the Bridge. If you’re lucky one of the big cruise ships may be in town.
The circuit is around 10km but there are plenty of places to catch your breath and get a bite along the way. If you are so inclined, I’d recommend a “pub crawl” from one old pub to the next. The Nelson’s Arms, the Harbour View Hotel and the Hero of Waterloo are a few places to watch out for.
Take in the Seven Bridges
If you are really energetic and have plenty of time you can retrace the route of the thirty (Yes I said 30!) kilometre Seven Bridges Walk which circumnavigates the Harbour crossing seven bridges (der!) and passing through a wide variety of inner-city suburbs.
Take your time – maybe even do it over two days, so you can stop and sample the urban spaces more closely. If it’s summer, you can cool off in one of the many Harbour-side sea pools. In winter, you can get a great vantage point for the lights of Vivid.
The Seven Bridges Walk itself is held on the last Sunday of October and raises funds for the Cancer Council. With over 15,000 people tramping the route it’s a fun day with sausage sizzles from local community groups and an ever-growing number of young entrepreneurs selling snacks and drinks along the way. Free buses will take you back to your starting point if you can’t make the distance.
Once you’re back at the Harbour avoid the 5-star hotels and stay in one of the “quaint” (read not flash but has character) old pubs like the Australia Heritage Hotel (100 Cumberland Street, The Rocks). Sit back enjoy the Aussie chatter, order a schooner, feast on some pub grub which is likely to be fresh fusion cuisine and know that when we say “no worries” we mean it.
 Lyrics by Paul Kelly
 Only free on the day of the walk.
 385 mL glass of beer