Since Australians refer to their country as Oz, surely they must have an Emerald City. They do, indeed, and it is Sydney, a metropolis filled with as many wonders as Dorothy and her cohorts found at the end of the Yellow Brick Road.
Suddenly Sydney is hot. Even before it won the bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games, it was rapidly climbing to the top of the charts as a desirable spot to vacation. Last year 350,000 Americans visited. To those who stayed home because of distance, Sydneysiders readily state, "Its only two meals and a movie away."
Almost no one goes to Australia without spending a few days in the largest and most sophisticated center Down Under and presently the number one convention destination in the world.
It may be the only metropolitan area on the planet where, because of its ragged boundaries, an introduction to the look and feel of the town ought to be undertaken by helicopter, rather than by motor coach. The marvelous contours of the irregular coastline are abstractly drawn, as though an artist painting colorful shapes on a canvas outlined them. Soaring above the harbour, but not so high as to lose the photographic opportunities, passengers sight the imposing peaks of spectacular bluffs, the golden sands of Bondi, Coogee and Manly Beaches, and the famous iconsthe Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
|Skyline, Sydney (credit: Vivian Fancher)
Sydney is a city of extraordinary aerial vistaswinding roads that twist around the water, national parks heavy with green carpet and bays crowded with small craft resting so quietly on still water that they seem permanently berthed there.
For another stellar view of Sydney, join the BridgeClimb, an exhilarating three-hour ascent to the top of the arch, which overlooks a 360-degree city span. Participants wear "bridge suits" and follow a catwalk while harnessed to a static line. Although you ought to be reasonably fit to attempt this adventure, it is not as difficult as it might seem.
Many believe that all harbor cruises are alike and that once off shore, there is not much to see. They havent sailed Sydneys coast. Whatever your choice of craft, be it sailboat, yacht, catamaran, ferry or the flagship of the Captain Cook Cruises fleet, MV Sydney 2000, which can feed 700 diners, the perspective from the bay defies comparison. The black-wire uprights of the bridge, called "the Coat Hanger" by the locals and the flying scalloped roof shells of the Opera House appear repeatedly framed against each other. Not only will you enjoy the majesty of the harbour, but many of the vessels crews provide commentary about the history and character of Australias first city.
To shift from land to sea on one jaunt, climb aboard the Aussie Duck, a luxury 50-seat coach, that converts from a conventional four-wheel drive vehicle to a jet powered boat. Offering 80-minute tours of the Central Business District and the harbour, the newly-constructed transport drives over and sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
For an earthbound tour, choose the Sydney Explorer, a bus, which circles the city, allowing you to get off and to reboard at 26 popular locations.
No trip to Australia would be complete without experiencing the culture of the indigenous people. At the Gavala Aboriginal Art Centre you can share the spirit of the aboriginal community. Lectures about art, traditional dance and story telling take place at this colorful centre where paintings and artifacts are on display.
|Aboriginal Dancers, Gavala Aboriginal Art Centre, Sydney
(credit: Gavala Aboriginal Art Centre)
Many of Sydneys great monuments are natural onesfrom the Royal Botanic Gardens, a tropical oasis concentrating exotic flora and fauna within city limits to the well-landscaped Tarango Zoo across the water where feathers, fur, fins and fangs live in picturesque bushland habitats. Some of the native animalsdingoes, Tasmanian devils, koalas, kangaroos and the Olympic mascots, the kookaburra, echidna (spiny anteater) and platypusare housed at this zoo as well as at the Australian Wildlife Park and Warath Park.
In October of this year Sydney adds yet more amusements to an already full slate. Fox Studios opens its Backlot for behind the scenes self-guided discovery tours that provide hands-on activities in film craft, animation, costume, make-up and special effects. The project will incorporate 16 cinemas, restaurants, retail outlets and stages for live shows.
No swing through Sydney is complete without a long gawk at the lavish world-famous Sydney Opera House, which hunkers on Bennelong Point in the harbor and houses a complex of five performing arts stages. One of the greatest examples of 20th century architecture, it is a triumph of engineering skill. The wide top made of a series of shellsmore than a million tiles were used to build itrests on a narrow base and informs that the future is here. Two tours for visitors are conducted daily. The Front of House showcases the auditoriums and instructs about the history of the SOH. The Backstage Tour provides an opportunity to experience lighting, sound, staging and production.
Sydney is a place where the land and the sea merge. Since it is a "water, water everywhere" town, many of the exciting attractions sit on the shores. Darling Harbour can be likened to a permanent Worlds Fair. It is the place where Sydneysiders and tourists go to stroll, to shop, to enjoy cafés and restaurants and to take part in festivals and special events. Darling Harbour houses the Imax Theatre; the Aquarium; Sega World, an indoor theme park with rides and games; the Exhibition and the Convention Centre; and the Chinese Garden, the largest traditional garden of its type outside of China. It is also the site of two museums, the Maritime and the Powerhouse, which chronicle social history, science, technology and decorative arts using high-tech and interactive exhibits.
Darling Park, located between the Central Business District and the "harbour" is home to Cockle Bay Wharf, a fusion of food, music and art, reflecting the best of the towns sophisticated lifestyle, Also in the harbour area is Star City, another entertainment complex with a casino, theatres, clubs and more.
If the whole town seems like a party venue, that perception is not far off base. The Rocks, where Sydneysiders go to play, hugs the shores, too. On the site of the first European settlement, many of the historic buildings are intact and in use today due to a sensitive preservation program. The recent refurbishment, which restored the 150-year old Custom House to its former glory, provides a setting that befits the "Djamu" collection, curios from Australia and the South Pacific.
The streets in The Rocks are filled with wandering performers, galleries and boutiques that showcase the finest antiques, one-of-a-kind merchandise and made-in-Australia products. Choice cuisine abounds all over town, but dining in the old pub bistros, award-winning restaurants and al fresco and courtyard eateries has a special cachet.
|Stadium Australia, Homebush Bay, Sydney
(credit: Olympic Co-ordination Authority)
And, of course, Homebush Bay, the main competition site for the 2000 Olympics should be on everyones must-see list. Whether youre headed Down Under before or during the big days, September 15 through October 1, 2000, all the newly built arenasthe dazzling Aquatic Centre; the double complex International Athletic Centre; the Tennis Centre with show, match and practice courts; the 110,000-seat Stadium Australia; the Superdome, the countrys largest indoor sports and entertainment facility; the State Sports and Hockey Centre; the Showground Exhibition Complex; and the Golf Driving Rangeare all open for inspection or use.
The parklands and wetlands of Bicentennial Park, adjacent to the Olympic area, can be surveyed on the Wetlands Explorer, a train, which travels through the mangrove forest, home to over 140 species of birds. Climb the Treillage, a tower and the parks icon, for panoramic views or wander along the forests floating boardwalk.
The Paralympic Games, the elite world competition for athletes with disabilities, October 18 to 29, will use 14 venues at Olympic Park as well as four satellite sites.
In preparation for the Olympics, 4,000 hotel rooms are being added to the present stock. In the luxury category many hotels stand out. The Inter-Continental, combining Colonial and modern architecture, once housed the Treasury. However, raves also go to Nikko, Sheraton on the Park, ANA, Ritz-Carlton, Regent, Observatory, Star City, Park Hyatt and Westin.
Since Sydneysiders are said to be among the friendliest people in the world, expect a very warm welcome from all hotelkeepers.
Sydney is the gateway to the stunning landscapes and country heritage of New South Wales. Everyone venturing this far will want to see other parts of the island continent. NSW and Queensland are highlighted here because of their proximity to Sydney.
Australias founding state, NSW, contains snow-capped mountain ranges, sublime beaches, emerald rainforests and desert outback. In its midst stand towns of timber and stone and a captivating wilderness parkthe Blue Mountains. Rising to a high plateau riven with canyons, the color and the name derive from the blue haze created by a thick wall of eucalyptus trees.
Hunter Valley also represents the best of NSW. The name itself sets fire to the senses as it is the countrys premier wine producing region. With more than 50 boutique wineries, many with historic homesteads and riotously colorful gardens, wine related activitiestouring the vineyards by horse and carriage, tasting, buying, dining and picnickingfill the visitors day. And what could be more thrilling than gliding over the beautiful valley in the early morning in a hot air balloon while sipping local wine.
Just above New South Wales and stretching north and east to the sea is the state of Queensland. Brisbane, the capital and a short hop by air from Sydney, anchors the Sunshine and Gold Coasts, known for their bright days and balmy nights. Although famous for its surrounding beaches, lakes and resorts, the metropolis is not bereft of other enticements. Gleaming glass towers mix with early sandstone buildings, and the city, infused with culture, museums and nightlife, is cosmopolitan to its corners.
Farther up the coast in the subdivision called Tropical North Queensland is Cairns, a major entryway for two miraculous listings by the World Heritage Society, the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Before exploring the rainforest, spend some time at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park where 40,000 years of history and indigenous civilization are uniquely recreated. Enter a magical, mystical realm and watch the legends of Dreamtime come to life with spectacular effects. Interact with the community by playing didgeridoo and throwing a boomerang.
From the Aboriginal Park take the path to the Caravonica depot of the Cableway Skyrail whose gondolas glide 4.7 miles above the rainforest canopy and make two stops before terminating at picturesque Kuranda, meaning village in the rainforest, on the edge of the Atherton Tablelands. Alight at Red Peak Station and, accompanied by a ranger, tour the boardwalk or stroll on your own to study 160 plant species identified and described by markers. At Barron Falls observe the stunning views of the waterfall, river and gorge. At the Interpretive Centre learn about the environment by using colorful and imaginative interactive displays, such as a touch screen to activate bird and insect sounds and to see the habitat at dawn, midday, dusk and at night. After disembarking at the last stop, board the Kuranda Scenic Rail, departing at 2:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m., to return to Cairns.
Port Douglas, just north of Cairns, is another jumping off point for an expedition to the Great Barrier Reef, the only living structure on earth that is visible from the moon. Take a boat out to the edge of the Continental Shelf running parallel to Australias northeastern shore and bordering the Coral Sea to experience this astonishing natural wonder, which is not just one structure, but a maze of more than 2,900 reefs and countless islands. It is also more than a collection of corals. Natures largest marine park, it is a whole ecosystem of fish, mollusk species, sponges, anemones, birds, marine worms, crustaceans, seaweed, snakes and turtles. Quicksilver, one of the companies arranging day cruises, brings its passengers to Agincourt Reef where they can swim, snorkel, scuba dive and explore the sea with a marine biologist in a glass bottomed boat. For a more spectacular look at the jewel-like ribbon reefs, take a helicopter ride from the platform where the vessel moors.
For another special travel experience visit the Whitsundays, tropical islands lying in the Coral Sea between Queenslands coast and the reef. Hamilton and Hayman with eponymous five-star resorts are among the most well-known of the group.
As Sydney and surroundings get ready for the Olympics, they are preparing to receive about 20,000 American tourists. And as Australians say, "Its only half a day from L.A. to Gday."
Qantas Airways currently offers award-winning
service four times daily to Australia. Beginning October 31, 1999 the airline
will have direct service from New York to Sydney via Los Angeles, non-stop service
from Los Angeles to Melbourne and direct service from Los Angeles to Brisbane
via Auckland. Its recently reconfigured first-class cabins have restaurant-style
dining and recliner sleeper seats that convert to 6-ft. 6-in. long beds. Qantas
also offers domestic flights within Australia, including Sydney to Brisbane
and Cairns. 800-227-4500. www.qantas.com.au