A Marvelous Australian Experience

SYDNEY – The Opera House is awesome. The Harbour Bridge is a beauty. And the harbour is sensational.

by: Jim Byers

But one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most in Sydney over the years is simply walking. Just below Victoria St. in the Darlinghurst area is a street called Nimrod. A small road runs off Nimrod called Caldwell, where you’ll find stairs that lead to one of my favourite neighborhoods in the city, if not the world. There are tiny gardens and stately yellow homes with black, wrought iron railings. You’ll find flowering pink bougainvillea and perhaps hear chattering cockatoos as you peer over into backyards where locals are sharing a bottle of white wine on a sunny afternoon.

I stayed at a hotel on Victoria Street (since converted to a condo) when I was here for three weeks covering the first of six Olympic Games I attended for the Toronto Star and felt at home. I had a view of the Harbour Bridge down the hill and off in the distance, which was lit up like Canada Day gone mad at the end of the Games. More than the fireworks I remember a couple I met at the sleek coffee bar on the hotel’s ground floor. I had three kids back home and they had a small child with them and would gather for coffee each morning, so we got to know one another a bit and had several engaging chats about the Olympics and life and children and Australia and Canada.

I can’t promise you the same experience, but there are a million great coffee spots where you can order a “flat white,” which is more or less a café latte with Australian nomenclature, and chat up the locals.

Like any great metropolis, Sydney is a city of neighborhoods. Kings Cross was once the lower Yonge Street of Australia, filled with massage parlours and erotic clubs and adult movie theatres. You’ll still find a bit of that there (and only a bit on Yonge St., come to think of it), but mostly you’ll find a lot of young folks milling about and some reasonably priced, fun bars and restaurants.

Just down the road a bit is Potts Point; a marvellous collection of boutiques, book stores and a world’s selection of restaurants, many with great patios and BYOB policies with no corkage fee. Oxford Street in Paddington has tons of trendy and one-of-a-kind stores.

One of the great walks in Sydney is through the lush Botanical Gardens. I was there during jacaranda season a few years ago and couldn’t stop admiring the blossoms poking out into the blue Australian sky. Down at one end of the park you’ll find a stone bench called Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair; a sort of scooped out, smoothed over portion of the aforementioned Elizabeth Macquarie used to nestle into to watch the boats go by in the harbour. Nowadays it’s a great spot for that perfect Instagram photo of the Opera House or the Harbour Bridge.

If you’re in the area you’re not far from perhaps the most iconic food spot in all of Australia, if not the entire southern hemisphere. Harry’s Café du Wheels is a marvellous spot for Australian meat pies, which come in assortments such as lamb, beef and, naturally, kangaroo (it’s good but, no, it doesn’t taste like chicken). It’s super casual and fun and the food is filling and good.


You don’t want to miss a tour of the Opera House, which is almost as stunning inside as it is glorious on the outside. You’ll hear the usual stories from civic folks who thought the whole thing overpriced and ugly and ridiculous; the sort of thing Frenchmen said about that small edifice called the Eiffel Tower. And you’ll marvel at the acoustics. If your favourite singer or musician is playing that night, you’re in for the treat of a lifetime. Then again, if you happen to be there on a night when the South Africa kazoo orchestra is performing Pink Floyd’s The Wall, you should open your wallet and buy a ticket. The place is that cool.

Full disclosure: I’ve never done the famous Harbour Bridge climb. I’m not big on heights, so I figure I’d rather save my money for the kazoo show and stick to admiring the bridge from the safety of Mrs. Macquarie’s chair, or from a seat on whatever ferry I happen to be riding that day. For the ferries might be this city’s best feature. To me, there are few things finer than sitting on the top of one of the boats that ply this magnificent, natural harbour; watching the famous monuments slide by as you soak in the view of gleaming white sailboats filled with people who look like they walked out of a Nautica or Tommy Hilfiger ad; all blue stripes and matching blue deck shoes and perfect white teeth, with perfectly dry martinis in hand. You’ll also pass beautiful, Oceanside homes with no doubt dizzying price tags and sail past empty headlands of dun-coloured stone with tiny wildflowers.


Not only do you a get a great ride if you head to Manly Beach or Watsons’ Bay, but you’ll end up at a fantastic destination with cool, blue-green water, endless coves for shelling and lovely, seaside cafes where you can sip your flat white or Victoria Bitter (real Aussies don’t drink Fosters, you know) and watch the world slip past. You’ll also find sensational seaside hikes that go on forever, with massive, crumbling cliffs that plunge into the Pacific and whirling, skittering sea birds riding the endless thermals.

Another great walk is along the water from famous Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach and beyond. They do an annual art exhibit along the walk (this year’s runs from Oct. 22 to Nov. 8), with fantastic designs that might include metallic British bulldogs or what look like bright orange hair curlers. The bronze-gold rocks and the rolling blue surf and the passing parade of people will be there even if the art exhibit isn’t on.

If there’s a cooler, more attractive city in the world, I’ve yet to find it.


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Photo credits: Jim Byers

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