Tucked away at the edge of a lonely continent, Sydney has been something of a neglected travel destination for Americans. On a map the city looks to be in the middle of nowhere, slipping off into the South Pacific.
Its unfamiliarity has also nurtured stereotypes — a land of Crocodile Dundees, kangaroos, boomerangs, sun-worshipping surfers, and lager in very tall cans.
But Sydney is a lot more than the sum of its parts. As the 2000 Summer Olympics draws closer, many will explore a city that provides a perfect combination of urban flavor and surfer vibe, a mix that most Americans have not enjoyed since San Francisco and Seattle were still cool. Those in the know agree; it’s been voted the world’s best city by Travel and Leisure the last two years.
Located on the shores of Port Jackson, Sydney specializes in the outdoors and prides itself on a penchant for the unusual. The city began its life as something of a British gulag but has transformed into a multicultural city that cannot easily be defined. Its beauty and contrasts make it one of the quirkiest places on the earth. You can go bushwalking in the Sydney National Harbor Park in the day and bodysurfing at Bondi Beach, then head to Kings Cross at night and trawl for seedy entertainment and excitement.
What other major city advises visitors to wear boots because of deadly snakes, but also has one of the biggest gay and lesbian Mardi Gras celebrations outside San Francisco? So throw out the cartoon caricatures and the beer-guzzling, sunburned, potbellied images of Australians, and head to the real Sydney.
When in Sydney …
Sydney Harbor is the defining locale of this sprawling metropolis, and also the place to catch the Olympic sailing competition for free — just find a spot on the shore and watch the yachts sail by. The harbor’s multiple sandstone headlands, dramatic cliffs, rocky islands and stunning bays and beaches make it one of the most beautiful stretches of water in the world. Officially called Port Jackson, the harbor stretches about 12.5 miles inland to join the mouth of the Parramatta River. The most scenic area is on the ocean side of the bridge. Visitors to the Sydney Harbor National Park can explore scattered pockets of bushland around the harbor.
Sydney’s once thriving dockland area had declined to the level of an urban eyesore before being reinvented as Darling Harbor. In 1999 more than $1.5 billion worth of construction had been completed on a rehab project started in the early 1980s. This huge waterfront tourist and leisure park is comprised of walkways, gardens, museums, an aquarium, convention center, casino, eateries and shops, where the emphasis is on casual fun and enjoyment of the kind appreciated by families with small children and coach tourists. The highlights are the Sydney Aquarium, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the water sculpture, the Chinese Garden, the massive IMAX cinema, and the nearby Powerhouse Museum.