The ferry ride to Manley, a town near North Head, takes about twenty-five minutes, and it’s a terrific introduction to the massive estuary that is Sydney Harbor. From the Manley Cove ferry wharf one can hike the bush trail to its spectacular terminus, at a promontory jutting into the Pacific at the harbor mouth. Anyway, I dash through the turnstile at the quayside ferry terminal just in time. The guys are waving me on board as they cast off.
Sydney, situated a third of the way up Australia’s east coast in the state of New South Wales, and home to 4.2 million, is a jewel. It enjoys a balmy, temperate climate and is pretty darn nice most of the time. Today on this blue sky spring day I may zip up my jacket against the cool breeze off the water, but the warm rays of the sun feel good on my face.
The hike out to North Point takes me through derelict facilities of a former military installation and I think about the gun emplacements manned during the scary days of WWII – big guns aimed seaward towards the Japanese threat. The lookout at the very apex of the point is situated on the edge of a 400-foot precipice. This time of year Humpback and Southern Right whales are common sights along this coast, the majestic cetaceans headed south to Antarctic summer feeding grounds.
As the ferry returns me to Circular Quay, the inner harbor of the city, I spy the Endeavor docked at the Australian Maritime Museum pier. This reproduction of the ship that Capt. James Cook sailed on his first Pacific voyage, begun in 1768, stirs my imagination as I contemplate the Australia that Cook “discovered” during his audacious journey. By the way, Aboriginal people had been living here for – get this – over 30,000 years, albeit in numbers sparse, prior to Cook’s visit. Funny, Cook and his men discovered and charted many prominent features of Australia’s east coast, including fine Botany Bay, south of modern day Sydney. However, they completely missed the big one, arguably the best harbor in the world. Nevertheless, in the early 1770’s Europeans, principally of course the English, began to arrive and settle in the Sydney area.
Now I’m walking through an historic part of the city known as “The Rock.” Now a prime section of real estate, The Rock is the site of the first European settlement in Australia. There are a few pedestrian-only streets here where cafe tables spread in random bunches on the cobblestone and vendors ply their foods from open-air stalls. It’s all rather cosmopolitan, the scene decidedly relaxed. Earlier this morning I ducked into the Hyde Park Barracks Museum and learned more about the settlement of the Rock and the rest of the region, about the interesting heritage of convicts brought from England to help colonize, mainly through manual labor on public works projects, her new “possession” starting in the late 1770’s. A zealous museum interpreter pointed out to me that Australia’s English settlement is closely tied to the American revolution since at that time the crown switched from sending convicts to the troublesome American colonies to Australia instead.
Now in a more nitty-gritty part of town, I sample a meat pie from a street vendor. I’ve sampled a lot of this bit of decidedly English cuisine lately, and this one is especially savory. It features lamb chunks with beets and egg, not an unusual combo here down under. The guy selling the pies tells me, in that endearing Aussie accent, that he emigrated from Vietnam as a young man several decades ago. Asians make up the majority of immigrants since WWII, although like the US it continues to be a melting pot, with immigration policy debates and challenges to go along with it.
Walking the length of Sydney’s famed Harbor Bridge is a must, so here I am, accompanied by “Sydneysiders” as well as tourists from all over the place. There’s lots of pausing and snapping of photos. The view out across the harbor to the Opera House and beyond is fine indeed. When I reach the north end of the bridge, a suburb called Kirribilli, I stroll the Jeffery Street Wharf, and check out the swimming pool used in the 2000 Olympics. I pause at a small grocery store to pick up a roll of Arnott’s Orange Cream Cookies – a personal favorite if not a national one – before heading back across the bridge in time to catch the sunset.
From the center span of the bridge I watch as the sun settles into the big continent sprawling westward. The last gleam dances off of the waves below, and I can feel the sentiments of the saying I heard about Sydney Harbor: That it really is the city’s shimmering soul.
– Johnny Robinson