Natasha is cruising again; this time to Australia and New Zealand, including stops in Tasmania. We flew in yesterday on Air New Zealand directly from Houston to Auckland, New Zealand. After a short layover, we flew to Sydney, Australia where the boat is docked in the White Bay Terminal. In the evening we transferred to the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay, passing under the Harbor Bridge and getting our first view of the Sydney Opera House.
After a quick breakfast this morning and a visit with the tourist rep in the ship’s lobby, we are off to catch the hop on/ hop off bus and tour Sydney. From our berth at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay, it is a short walk by the Museum of Contemporary Art to wharf 6 and the buses on the main street outside. This is the starting stop for the tour.
Although I am a big proponent of these buses and the Sydney version had 24 stops, it covered a relatively small geographical area and at 40 Australian dollars (adult/ one-day ticket) was more expensive than most buses of this type. I didn’t see much competition, so they may simply we able to charge whatever they like.
The city has an eclectic blend of architecture representing the various periods of growth of the city. Unfortunately, there was an overabundance of unattractive 60s-type buildings.
We passed first by Hyde Park before making our way to Woolloomooloo (name for baby kangaroo in the native tongue) and Kings Cross. At the El Amamein fountain a crafts market was set up on this summer Saturday. The Kings Cross area was lively with lots of pedestrians including families. The area blends cafes, boutiques, sex shops, and McDonalds. There was no need for the audio to refer to the area’s “underbelly”; it was quite evident.
Sydney boosts many finger wharves jetting out into the water. The largest is found in Woolloomooloo. Nearby some of the Australian naval fleet was anchored. A lively nightlife is found in this area, with naval personnel some of the common patrons.
We passed next by the Royal Botanical Gardens, before returning to Circular Quay for the stop for the Sydney Opera House. Since we are planning to tour the Opera House in the afternoon, we stayed on board the bus to make the circuit.
Passing the attractive State Library, we made our way to the central railway station. Like the Hyde Park stop where people made their connection to the “Bondi Beach and Bays Route”, lots of guests got off at the railway station for bus transfers and trains.
We next rode through the unattractive university campus to the fish market stop and views of the Anzac Bridge; this is the area we were docked at yesterday.
Next we went through Chinatown and passed the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Center, a 40 million dollar public swimming facility named for their Olympic champion. Boris didn’t care for the building, but I rather liked it. In Chinatown, we also passed by unique homes that I photographed, noting that it was a shame they were not better preserved. The audio eventually identified them as historic “terrace cottages” which are under heritage protection. Although they can’t be torn down, it is disappointing that they are not better maintained.
Finally we rode around Darling Harbor where a new convention center is under construction. This is home to the world’s largest IMAX and a harbor side Ferris wheel. The area is highly attractive to tourists, not only for the water setting but the many entertainment options in the area. Unfortunately, the construction made this area less picturesque than it might otherwise have been. A return visit when the convention center is complete will be in order.
The bus’s last stop led us directly to the Overseas Passenger Terminal so he hopped off there to grab lunch before our afternoon excursion. We ate on the ship on the outdoor terrace with a view of the Harbor Bridge to our left and the Sydney Opera House on our right; doesn’t get much better than this. Boris decided he had “done” Sydney, so he bailed on me after lunch.
I walked around circular Quay, passing the Contemporary Arts Museum and water taxi stops. At wharfs 1-6, you can find ferries or water tours going just about anywhere. The set up looked more like a train station and I guess with its water setting, travel around Sydney requires water transportation and convenient and stocked water terminals. Buskers of all types also fill this area.
Heading up the other side of the Quay, I passed sidewalk cafes, bars, and shops before reaching the peninsula that is home to the Sydney Opera House. This was my activity of choice for my remaining type in Sydney, although I did consider the walk on the top of the Harbor Bridge. You’ll pay about $150 to make this walk, although a straight shot on the level pedestrian walkway is free if you just want to get across.
Doubling the space for bodies outside the opera house, a lower level houses more bars and restaurants and it is on this concourse that you find the ticket office for the opera house tours. Cost is $37 for an adult ticket for a one-hour tour. There is a live tour guide and you are given headsets so you can hear her over the crowds and as to not disturb others once inside. You are asked to take a photo that is later worked into a souvenir book you can buy at the end for a hefty $50. You can carry a small purse and camera, but you have to check larger bags and backpacks.
The opera house’s iconic design by Danish Jorn Utzon was chosen in 1957 from 233 blind submissions from architects worldwide. Utzon’s design was originally set aside before being later selected. The white roof sails, that looked more like fans to me, are recognized all over the global. The opera house, dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973, took 14 years of construction and two planning years to complete at a cost of $102 million. Originally, it was thought the building could be completed in three years at a cost of $7 million. One of the interesting facts that we learned is that it was paid for by the sale of lottery tickets. So successful was the lottery ticket sale that the structure was paid for 18 months after it was completed. The State of New South Wales owns the Sydney Opera House.
Actually a more appropriate name for the complex would be the Sydney Performing Arts Center. It has 6 performance venues (plus the outside main steps and forecourt where concerts are held), multiple concession areas and a restaurant. The two large theaters both face the water, a unique aspect of Utzon’s design. We began the tour on the waterside terrace of the Concert Hall where specially situated glass allowed you to look up and see the reflection of everything along the waterfront.
We toured the Concert Hall, the largest venue, seating 2,679 patrons. This theater is used for symphony performances. To provide year-round employment for the musicians, the symphony alternates between Melbourne and Sydney on a three-month basis. The symphony is currently in Melbourne; opera performances were taking place in Sydney.
Natasha loves purple, but the bright foyer carpet surprised me. Our guide said it was a reflection of the 60s when the building was constructed. The interior of the foyer also had special glass imported from France and installed so that you could see through it at night. Both the terrace and this upper foyer provided incredible views of the waterfront and the Harbor Bridge.
The concert hall featured lots of native woods. The ergonomically designed seats (which actually are quite comfortable) are made from white birch, a wood so light at first I thought it was plastic. Seating goes around the entire stage, although it is closed off in the back for some performances. Another unique feature of the theater is the glass rings that can be lowered to just above the orchestra so the sound is returned to them quickly.
Utzon did not consult an engineer when designing his sketches, so much of the technology to complete the opera house had to be developed. The concrete solution to construct the sail framing that we saw in the stairways just outside the concert hall was one example of this new technology.
A matinee opera performance was taking place, so we did not tour the smaller Opera Theater, now called the Joan Sutherland Theater. The ballet also performs in that venue. We did go outside the building to the area between the two theaters where you could touch the sail roof where it meets the ground. I had no idea that the structure is covered with tiles, 1,056,006 tiles to be exact. The tiles come in two colors-cream and white-and are arranged in a chevron pattern. They are self cleaning, needing only rain water which drains off and back into the sea.
The other theaters are special performance venues. As it is summer, there are several children’s productions going on, including one outside in a terrace café. Our final stop was the Utzon Room for very small gatherings. Originally covered in dark paneling and carpet, when Utzon was brought back to the project in 1999 he asked that the paneling be removed to expose the concrete as he had originally intended. The carpet was also removed from the untreated wood floors. Utzon won a prestigious award for his design late in his life, but is said to have been most proud of having this concert venue named for him.
The Sydney Opera House became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, one year before Utzon’s death. It is said to be the most iconic building of the 20th century.
I loved the tour. Afterwards and wandered around the area a little, checked out one of the many benches, and popped in the UGG store (unfortunately none of my selections were available in my size during this summer sale). In the evening before dinner, I enjoyed the sail-a-way up on the deck, getting a different perspective on some of the sites identified on our morning bus tour. I would definitely recommend a harbor tour if you are not visiting Sydney by cruise ship. Welcome to Australia, Natasha. Next stop Melbourne.