Seeing the real Sydney – by leesan

The columnist gets a high from climbing one of the world’s most iconic bridges.

Sydney has been named as the best city in Australia for quality of life and the 10th best in the world, in a global survey examining 450 cities. There’s plenty of reasons to absolutely adore Sydney!

IF I were to choose a place to settle down, Sydney in New South Wales, Australia will most definitely be my first choice. I am completely bedazzled by the unparalleled charm of this city.

Sydney is a waterborne city with strong cultural vibes. The stereotypical impression most people may have of Sydney is that it is a modern metropolis erected by Westerners, probably with a couple of beautiful churches and museums to boot. While that may be true, there is more to the city than that, of course.

To get a really good look at Sydney, head to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and climb all the way to the top – that’s 134m high, to be exact. The bridge, built in 1932, provides climbers with a 360° bird’s eye view of the metropolitan area, all 1,687sq km of it!

When you’re up there, you are guaranteed a powerful visual impact of the city.

I love the topographic features of Sydney’s CBD or central business district – the undulating terrain that’s centred in Hyde Park down town. The city has developed a sort of gradual slope along the northward thoroughfare that’s criss-crossed by several roads in the East-West direction, where it then meets the jetties. This is flanked by clusters of modern buildings interspersed with plenty of masterpieces by great architects – a scene that underscores the harmonious coexistence between man and the environment.

I am also enthralled by the captivating aroma of coffee from the cafes dotted along the road, alongside some of the city’s top Asian eateries.

It is veritably a land of many treasures. From what I understand, under the city lies a wealth of mineral ores, including coal and gold. That said, the soil here is mostly hard granite, which explains why large-scale mining activities are unsuitable here. This in turn allows the city to retain much of its original topographic splendours.

Begin the climb of your life at the iconic Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb! You will soar 134 metres above sea level to enjoy some of the best views money can buy, absolutely a world-class and truly unforgettable experience.

Get that high
For our Sydney Harbour Bridge experience, we opted for the most popular Twilight Climb package as it is the one that offers the most mesmerising sunset and night views of the city. We assembled at 4.15pm and changed into our safety gear. After some basic safety briefing and training, we started our climb at 5pm, one after another as we made our ascent step by step.

It was still bright at the time and under the clear blue sky and pristine white clouds, we managed to catch the entire Sydney panorama under our very eyes.

From high above, we marvelled at the unrivalled beauty of the Sydney Harbour waterways, embellished by the azure blue sea and vast expanses of green, with the Blue Mountains hundreds of kilometres away barely visible that day. We were almost able to visualise the fleet of Admiral Arthur Philip from Britain slowly making its way into Port Jackson back in 1788 … although in reality, all we could actually see were modern ferries.

Climbing ahead of us, our knowledgeable guide stopped at certain spots to explain to us the history of the magnificent bridge and helped take pictures for each of us. We were climbing slowly, and factoring in all the stops and breaks, soon the sun began to set.

This was not worrying to us as the night glow made the after-dark vista of Sydney all the more alluring. What was even more eye-popping were the millions of city lights accentuated by the glorious light show from the Sydney Opera House, the brightly lit Sydney Harbour and seemingly endless lines of city traffic.

The Sydney Opera House is perhaps the most iconic building in Australia. Thirty-four years after its completion in 1973, the imposing structure finally made it into the Unesco World Heritage List in 2007. This speaks volumes about the unique characteristics and symbolic significance of the Sydney Opera House that not only showcases the best of 20th century architecture but also unreservedly manifests its infinite and sustained artistic essence.

With the help of the state tourism board, Destination NSW, the Malaysian travel buddies were able to tour the opera house. We were led into two main auditoriums, some smaller halls as well as the peripheral amenities for an invaluable lesson in aesthetic appreciation.

As I was quietly sitting inside the main auditorium – which has a seating capacity of 2,679 – my eyes glued to the world’s largest mechanical pipe organ, I promised myself I would come back one day and sit at this very place as an audience member, and enjoy an epic orchestra performance.

As it was a Saturday, our hosts suggested that we visit The Rocks Market, a sort of flea market that sells artisanal goods including handicrafts and souvenirs. It is said that the granite rock at The Rocks was the point of landing for Admiral Philip back in 1788. That explains why the old buildings here are so majestically elegant.

Instead of shopping, I chose to rest my feet at an eatery nearby, one that’s full of character and has a cool vibe. With a cup of coffee in hand, I sat down quietly, watching and admiring the lovely sight of passers-by walking under the buttress of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Later, we slowly strolled down the slope towards the promenade, and snapped some more pictures of the Sydney Opera House from across the water.

We walked further along and stopped at Tetsuya, Australia’s first top-rated omakase restaurant. Some 18 of us were delighted and honoured to have been able to dine at this multiple award-winning establishment.

The St Mary’s Cathedral was constructed starting in 1868, with work continuing until 1928. This Gothic Revival-style cathedral is home to gorgeous stained-glass windows and a crypt with a stunning mosaic floor depicting the Creation, as well as bishops’ tombs and occasional special exhibits.

Scenic, vibrant and full of character, The Rocks Market comes alive in the weekend sunshine, bursting with local characters including artists, chefs, craftsmen, small business owners and city explorers.

Nature calls
After Sydney, we made our way to the Blue Mountains, which was about two hours’ drive away. This is a Unesco World Natural Heritage Site, covering a million hectares of forested land dotted with sandstone cliffs, canyons and waterfalls.

Although it was raining at the time, the incline railway, cable car and skyway within the Scenic World Blue Mountains were still operational. We were taken aback by the stunning natural beauty of the misty Blue Mountains, even in the light drizzle. Here you can walk along the rainforest trails and admire the gum and eucalyptus trees that abound.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the famed Three Sisters from the observatory at Echo Point, but our guide still gave us a fascinating account of the three pretty sisters who fell in love with three brothers from a different tribe.

We truly enjoyed our time in NSW, both in the city and the mountains. Sydney is always vibrant no matter what time of day or what day of the year it is, while the Blue Mountains was simply mesmerising.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

Published in STAR 2, 21 May 2022