Beyond the Opera House
by Allan Rogers
Australia, as they say, is 'only a day away' but that day can mean a twenty-two hour flight plus two refuelling stops. If you have to drive when you get there, be sure you know exactly where you are going.
It is difficult to grasp, until you actually experience it, just how vast Sydney's sprawling suburbs are. It really is 'bungalow land'.
Once you've knocked the jet lag out of your system, hop on a local train and go down to Circular Quay where you can bask in the brilliant sunshine. Once you are between the twin symbols of Australia, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House you will really know you've 'arrived'.
Boats shuttle back and forth across the harbour with a commuters (and tourists). They have been working the waters since 1861 and it has the edge on the usual way of getting to work.
The scheduled boats can take you to Darling Harbour, Taronga Zoo and superb beaches at Watsons Bay, but to really get your bearings take one of the Captain Cook Cruises.
Don't be surprised if all the other passengers are from Japan or Indonesia, they're much closer to home than any wandering Scot.
The natural harbour has a 250 mile coastline.
As our boat ploughed along fellow shot past on water skis and I envied him for a moment, but only a moment, then I recalled the morning news on the radio. There was an item about 9 sharks being chased away from Manly beach by a helicopter patrol.
A harbour cruise is a definite “must” for any visitor and as you explore the coves and inlets it helps you get your bearings.
Australians will tell you that the city has more accessible beaches than any other and later I frolicked in the surf with the best of them, secure in knowing that the lifeguards were keeping a look out.
I must admit my macho image took a bit of a dent as I swam out through the surf.
My stroke has all the grace of a beached whale and I was diverted from my course by a seven year old riding a foaming roller on a surfboard with the sure-footed poise of a ballet dance.
Sydney spreads out to the West to the foot of the Blue Mountains range while to the North, the main highway out of Sydney leads up to the Hawkesbury River (45 miles)
There I rented a dinghy and stopping the outboard engine drifted down the Hawkesbury River through untouched bush to the sound of squawking parrots and gullahs .
When eventually we docked at a riverside pub for some of the 'amber nectar' the fellow who brought the glasses out to our table said "Kin I borrow yer boat mate?"
I agreed and, mystified, watched as he pottered out to the middle of the empty river. A moment later a sea plane came round the headland and touched down with a couple of customers. Now that, I thought, was 'style' so later we abandoned the budget, flexed the credit card and took to the air.
The seaplane flight gave us a magnificent view of the coast leading down to Sydney.
For our last day in Sydney we opted for some real luxury and took a room at the Hotel InterContinental. On the top floor there's 'a pool with a view' and between swims I looked down on the harbour as a cruise liner docked, nudged into place by three diminutive tugs. Just across from her the white tile roof of the Opera House glinted in the sun and it was at the Opera House that we brought the curtain down on our visit.
The lasting memory is of interval drinks on the terrace, enjoying Sydney by night, sipping a glass of wine and watching the reflected lights of the city swirling the water.
"....we drifted down the Hawkebury River through untouched bush amid the sound of squawking parakeets and galaas
A bus service runs from the city to all the Northern beaches. Public transport is good and you can get to most places around Sydney without hiring a car but if you want to have one for part of the time, think about arranging it before you arrive.
Big companies like AVIS can give up to 30% off the local price if you book before you go. It's also worth getting a hold of a Sydney Travel Pass. This three day ticket gives unlimited travel on buses, ferries, the Explorer tour bus and the Airport Express.
To find out about prices, tours, where to stay and what to see try the Australian Travellers Guide
Accommodation prices vary. Given the choice, for charm and a reasonable price I'd suggest looking for something in the Surrey Hills area of the city.