YOU can take the Northern Girl (that’s me) out of the northern hemisphere and plonk her firmly and squarely in the middle of Sydney, upside down and thousands of miles from home, and she’ll still yearn for pie, peas and gravy.
And that’s exactly what I got. My first meal in this welcoming, blue sky, crisp, clean, friendly city was eagerly grabbed from Harry’s Café de Wheels; a stop-by-and-be-tempted kiosk which has been frequented by the great and the good.
I know this, because their pictures were on the walls.
I was as giddy as a kipper. Not just about the pie for lunch (it was scrummy) but because I’d arrived in this city on the eastern coast of Australia just a couple of hours earlier and was excited to discover its secrets.
Jet lag? I was snoozy but I’d been told to treat the beginning of the day like any other and forge onwards. So I did. I headed to my hotel, Parkroyal Darling Harbour, the name being a giveaway to its location, a hotel as central as you can get for a few days exploring Secret Sydney.
Darling Harbour is minutes away from the main shopping area and, more than once, I left base to saunter up George Street, snapping photos of the stunning dynamics of the geometric skyline along the way.
Back to my morning and the first step. which was pie. Second step I came face-to-face with a baby koala.
He looked at me, I looked at him. His mum looked at us both. This was beyond cute.
Taronga Zoo is the city zoo of Sydney but remove the word “city” and replace with “amazing”. I enjoyed an Animal Encounter tour and was oh so close to my baby koala and his mum but wasn’t allowed to touch. Rightly so.
I also saw a platypus, lots of other Down Under creatures and a mouse-like animal (whose name I’ve forgotten) which tinkled a little animal encounter of its own in my palm.
I left the zoo via a chairlift, with terrific views over to Sydney Harbour Bridge. Ah yes, the bridge. Roll on 24 hours and I’m standing on top of it.
My day to the top of the bridge began with a breathalyser test. I’d been “sort of” good the night before, despite being tempted by wonderful Australian semillon wines. The folks at The Bridge Climb experience have created an amazing adventure and it’s ultra-safe, too.
Not just for the climbers but imagine all those motorists below. The last thing they needed was aforesaid Northern Bird causing clumsy havoc above them. I can trip over a feather.
We each said 1-2-3-4-5 into a digital breathalyser to make sure we were sober. I was then handed a bridge suit and stored all my belongings in a locker. No cameras allowed, nothing that could drop onto the road below.
Even hankies are provided by the Bridge Climb team, looped on your wrist with an elastic band.
We practised up and down ladders in Bridge Climb HQ; headphones were carefully attached to our suits so we could hear our guide’s commentary; then, climbing clips safely hooked onto rails, off we went; a conga line without the music.
It’s a gently curving bridge with a couple of ladders to negotiate upwards, then a couple more to negotiate down. The view is worth everything.
People have married up there; a mere 1,332 steps up and down ladders towards the rest of their lives.
You can call me daft if you like – and you wouldn’t be the first – but I’d always thought of Sydney harbour as one harbour, one inlet.
As you climb the bridge a vista unfolds before you; beautiful bays, rocky outcrops and not least the iconic Opera House.
Our first steps across the bridge took us above The Rocks, site of Sydney’s first settlement. Its first prison, barracks, hospital and store, were all located there. Around three hours later, I sat quietly in that same spot, looking up at the bridge in all its steel glory, thinking ‘Did I really walk up there?’
The river traffic bustled in front of me. I was a day in, and falling in love with this captivating city.
Later, I was hungry. I’d heard of Captain Cook and it appears he has a cruise company which runs trips around the harbour. I wandered down to Circular Quay (15 minutes’ walk from the hotel) and collected tickets.
People hopped on and off ferries in their daily pursuit of Sydney routine but I joined a queue of jostling tourists waiting to board the Captain Cook early evening dinner cruise.
It was pleasant enough, gliding past the Opera House as the starters were served. I was dining solo on a table for two, but the waitress poured two glasses of wine – everything has a bonus! If it’s ‘a hold-your-hand’ tourist thing you want, then all well and good, but I found it like a conveyor belt.
In fact, my favourite boat trip was on a public ferry from Circular Quay down to Darling Harbour, waves churning up at the back of the boat, sploshing over me.
As we pulled out of Circular, the Opera House sat majestically to the side; we stopped for people to jump on and off at Luna Park, an amusement park with a huge wacky face which beams across the harbour waters. Then off again and we roared under the bridge towards Darling Harbour’s bars, restaurants and its many places for family fun.
The simple things in life are often the best.
Such as Bondi Beach, 20 minutes’ drive from Sydney. I watched deep blue foaming waves crashing and scurrying on the rocks, their excited white crests bright and eager in the sun. The next point of land, other than skimming the tip of New Zealand, was way out there in South America. I love the sea and rocks, the sound of them meeting each other and the romance of a distant land.
But reveries have to be broken and returning around the coast, I went to Rose Bay. By this point I’d walked on the bridge, steamed under it, and now I was going to fly over it. In a plane that takes off and lands on water…
Sydney Seaplanes operates from beautiful Rose Bay. A Corsair Cessna took off from the bay and flew a tiny group of us down the Hawkesbury River for 20 minutes, where a local boatman then hopped us from the plane to the Cottage Point Inn for lunch. Not a piece of Tarmac in sight. Water all the way. And, wow, was it stunning… simply magical.
A three-course lunch, with gorgeous wines, followed and even a kookaburra came calling, prompting a waiter to surrender little morsels to his feathered friend.
Rippling river; gentle restaurant chatter and beautiful perfect calm.
Then we hopped back to the plane, rumbling along the water for take-off and, a few minutes later, there we were banking over and around the Opera House; the Harbour Bridge beneath us. I saw it through the seaplane’s window.
I’ve been there I thought; and you know what, I can’t wait to go back there again.
The Secret Sydney facts
- I travelled to Australia courtesy of McGuigan Wines (mcguiganwines.co.uk) and Destination New South Wales (destinationnsw.com.au). You can follow McGuigan Wines on Facebook (facebook.com/McGuiganUK) for the latest news on wines, competitions, or to find out more about its partnership with celebrity chef John Torode.
- The itinerary was supported by luxury travel agent Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk).
- In Sydney, I stayed in a club room at the Parkroyal Darling Harbour (parkroyalhotels.com).
- There are several Captain Cook cruise options to be found – for more information see captaincook.com.au
- Find out more about Taronga Zoo at taronga.org.au
- For the Sydney Bridge Climb visit bridgeclimb.com and for the seapland trip to Cottage Point Inn. see seaplanes.com.au.