Suzi Petkovski maps out an inexpensive romp through Australia’s biggest tourist magnet, Sydney- on a budget.
Seductive Sydney is Australia’s top tourist magnet. It’s also top-dollar. Parts of the Harbour City scream: “You can’t afford me.” But Sydney can be an inexpensive date. In this extravaganza of a town, as in life, the best things are free … or pretty close to it. Assuming the extraordinary charms of Pittwater and the far northern beaches (Whale and Palm) are a bit beyond the scope of the short-term visitor relying on public transport and shoe leather, you could do worse than try these cheap thrills …
1. Splash and trek from the Spit Bridge to Manly
The first beach you come to on Middle Harbour is Clontarf, site of an assassination attempt on Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria, in 1868. The shooter, an Irishman, was summarily hanged a month later. The prince recovered but the incident shamed the colony and inflamed anti-Irish sentiment. It also fanned interstate feeling when it was discovered that the would-be assassin was “a foreigner” – from Melbourne! A plaque at the eastern end of the beach marks the fateful spot.
The trail then heads south to Grotto Point and its 1911 lighthouse, which once guided ships through the harbour. Across the water is beautiful Balmoral. Heading north, before Cutler Road Lookout, are Aboriginal rock engravings in the sandstone. The track then climbs onto the bluffs of Sydney Harbour National Park, with giddying views out to the Heads and Manly. Descending again, you pass Reef Beach and Forty Baskets Beach, curving around North Harbour to Fairlight Beach, within sight of Manly Wharf.
2. Walk across the Harbour Bridge
3. Be dazzled by the QVB
Completed in 1898 as Sydney’s central market, it fell into neglect a mere 20 years later, as traders squabbled over rising rents. In the 1930s, the Queen Vic received an Art Deco face-lift to bring her more in line with the evolving skyline. In 1959 came the first call for demolition, then for years this jewel languished until Malaysian company Ipoh won the restoration contract (and a 99-year lease) in 1983. At the ceremonial reopening in November 1986 (after a $75 million makeover), the grand old lady was described by Pierre Cardin as the world’s most beautiful shopping palace.
Beautiful but not intimidating. Beneath the QVB’s massive central dome, in fin-de-siecle splendour, you can shop for prosaic PJs and smalls. Many of the 200 or so shops are chain stores (Country Road, Esprit, adidas, Body Shop, ABC Shop, etc), although, as you ascend the five levels, so do the price tags.
Even if you buy nothing, you can spend hours walking the endless galleries and marvelling at the mosaic tiles, the gleaming joinery and leadlight windows, the pretty paint-job and the painstaking attention to detail in this architectural behemoth. Guided tours, taken twice daily, can tell you more.
4. Wander around The Rocks and its weekend market
Creepy night tours of this once rough and raucous precinct bring to life the ghosts of its violent past. Bubonic plague in 1900, spread by ship rats, saw the razing of several large areas, and the construction of the Harbour Bridge, starting in 1924, led to the demolition of many more blocks. The “green bans” by building unions in the early 1970s helped ensure more wasn’t lost. You’ll be thankful for that as you peruse the quality crafts at the weekend Rocks Market, which starts just under the Bridge at the top of George St.
On the western side of the Bridge is the less visited but no less charming Millers Point district. Here you’ll find the convict-built Garrison Church (1848), the oldest in Australia, and Argyle Place, set around a village green. Nearby, the Lord Nelson and the Hero of Waterloo both claim to be the oldest pub in Sydney. Give them both a shot and call it a win-win. Post-refreshment, head up to Observatory Hill, the highest point in the city, with (yawn) yet more wonderful views. You can wander the observatory and its grounds for free during the day.
5. Tour the Opera House and cross the gardens for a ’loo stop.
6. Mingle with the multicultural mob in Bondi
7. Ogle the passing parade at Paddington Market and Oxford St
8. Cruise Vaucluse
9. Watch the sun set from Watson’s Bay
10. Plod through Paddy’s Markets, then chow down in Chinatown
By Suzi Petkovski
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This article appeared in Issue 1 of Australian Traveller.
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