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Sydney Lives Up To The Wildest Expectations

Oz's hottest city delights first-timer Malcolm Handley

Written by . Published on September 10th 2012.

Sydney Lives Up To The Wildest Expectations

MY descent into Sydney had played through my mind a hundred times before – the intricate bays and islands of the harbour, the magnificent span of the Harbour Bridge, the stunning white-sailed roof of the Opera House. I’d never seen it but I knew it like the back of my hand.

As we descended toward the city, Sydney was lost beneath a summer storm with more clouds and rain than the leaden Manchester sky we had left behind 24-hours and 10,000 miles ago – I couldn’t see the aircraft’s wingtips.

Rain doesn’t bother me too much – I’m Lancastrian after all – but the Travel Gods might have made a warmer gesture of welcome. Still, here, on the other side of the world, no amount of rain would dampen my enthusiasm.

Sydney %26#8211%3B Amazing CityscapeSydney  – amazing cityscape

 Sydney is a city of contrasts – modern, historic, European and Asian influences, the magnificent engineering of the no-nonsense Harbour Bridge (the Old Coat Hanger) the near-ethereal, flight-of-fancy of the Opera House, iconic hotels, superb bars – it all merges into “Australian” – how could you not be enthusiastic?

If, like me, this was your experience of a lifetime then start in some luxury. I was determined to and chose award-winning Etihad Airlines Pearl Business Class, directly from Manchester – excellent food, superb seating, entertainment and service you rarely experience in-flight – starting the journey in a five star hotel in the sky is a fine choice. Just go for it.

After arrival we drove through the storm to our hotel, Sheraton-on-the-Park (www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton) a celebrity favourite overlooking Hyde Park – and a great place to find your city feet. It was also the first of what was to become a recurring, warm welcome. “You’re from England?”. “Like football?”.  “Who do you support?”

Sydney ObservatorySydney Observatory

If it’s raining on your first day in a city what do you do? It’s either culture or pubs. We decided on both. A short walk away are Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Observatory, The Mint and, also on Macquarie, Parliament and State Library of New South Wales, all leading toward the wonderful Royal Botanic Gardens, Government House and your first views of the Opera House... and this is only our first day.

Later that week, during the interval in a Pinter play in the Opera House, we  strolled around its harbour terrace sipping something cool, sparkling and west Australian – when in Sydney!

Hyde Park Barracks is where we encountered our first glimpse of Oz humour. “You’re from England?” asked a guide. “Well, you may know of our criminal history?” His wry smile spoke volumes. It’s an excellent place to discover some of Australia’s complex history – and a great place to dispel long-held myths.

Observatory Hotel, SydneyObservatory Hotel, Sydney

The next stop was The Rocks, birthplace of the nation and where Sydney’s non-Aboriginal history began and, as advised strongly by an Oz bar-friend, where you will find, great bars, pubs and restaurants, all with the backdrop of the Bridge and Opera House. He was right, we returned, often. It is a lively place.

The rain ceased and we headed for a pub with great views, The Australian with Scharer’s Lager, Kangaroo and Salt Water Crocodile pizzas. Despite its new site, it claims to be the oldest Sydney pub.

Lord Nelson Hotel %26#8211%3B HistoricLord Nelson Hotel – historic brewpub

Not too far away a more traditional pub, The Hero of Waterloo,claims a similar title. As does The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel on Kent Street, with beers brewed on the premises and fine food – “Sydney’s oldest licensed hotel“. Even on the other side of the world it seems, you pays your money and...

Kent Street was also the location of our next hotel, the excellent, Observatory (www.observatoryhotel.com.au), oozing Orient Express quality and style with service and food to match. Do not miss the breakfast. Then our next hotel experience, the superb Shangri La (www.shangri-la.com/sydney) with its rightly acclaimed Altitude restaurant and views over the harbour, Bridge and Opera House. A wonderful hotel with a great reputation – excellent food, five-star service and jaw-dropping views of Sydney Harbour. Could anything match that, I wondered?

Shangri-La Hotel Restaurant Has Tremendous Harbour ViewsShangri-La Hotel's restaurant has tremendous Harbour views

Well, there is the Bridge climb – but then you view the city, not the Bridge! Whatever, it’s up to you and Sydney still has far more to offer.

We did at one point drag ourselves away from the city and headed to Hunter Valley and that great Aussie export, wine, to discover boutique wineries where wine is tasted, explained and loved – a great trip.

Our final hotel in Sydney was Blue, (www.tajhotels.com), an award-winning Taj Hotel and former wool handling wharf jutting out into the bay at Woolloomooloo – a slice of Aussie history meticulously preserved, now housing this iconic hotel which looks just as great from the outside.

A New Female Elephant Calf At Taronga Zoo. Picture- Rick StevensA new female elephant calf at Taronga Zoo. Picture: Rick Stevens

Do take a short ferry ride across the harbour to Taronga Zoo, a special place to visit – even for non zoo fans like myself, (who normally would rather trim the privet hedge with a knife and fork) – board the cable car to the hill-top and walk back down to the waterfront past sleepy koalas and nosey kangaroos. Great fun.

Our final nights in Australia were spent in Manly and another stride into Australia’s intriguing history. A hotel built from a former quarantine landing for ships heading to Sydney and within Sydney Harbour National Park.

Nowadays eyebrows would lift at this idea but, in the late 1800s, for a young country, a necessity. If disease broke out on the long sea journey to a new world, ships were diverted here to the Quarantine Station, where infected passengers were treated and others kept under observation.

The accommodation – split into first, second and third class dormitories – offered similar class divisions, if not levels of luxury, as on-board. Parts of the quarantine station have been preserved to tell the story but much has been upgraded into a series of excellent rooms and balconies – Q Station – with wonderful views across the bay.

Sydney HarbourSydney Harbour with the Opera House and Bridge

Q-Station (www.qstation.com.au) is where we met a new friend who will live long in the memory. A kookaburra, who decided that our alfresco breakfast was a sharing experience... with him. He swooped, he ate, he conquered. A sausage and rasher of bacon later and he was off. Australia’s national bird is protected – clearly, our breakfast wasn’t.

Down in the city the rain returned, driving us into a great microbrewery, Four Pines, on Manly Esplanade - you see, even on the other side of the world, every cloud has a tasty lining.

Sydney offered so many great expectations. Not forgetting the contrasts of Bondi Beach and, in the city, Susannah Place, a terrace of mid-19th Century Oz history. Then there was Paddy’s Markets in Market City and some great restaurants, are now colourful memories of our first trip to Sydney. It won’t be our last.

Fact file

Return fares (including all taxes and charges) on Etihad Airways, 0845 608 1225, www.etihad.com. Manchester to Sydney, from £1,039 Economy, Business class from £3,712.
For information on Sydney and New South Wales, www.nsw.com
Additional information - Lonely Planet - Sydney www.lonelyplanet.com

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