Contrary to what many people all over the world think, Sydney is not the capital of Australia. Nope. But it’s Australia’s most populous and probably the country’s best known city. Who hasn’t heard about Sydney and seen pictures of the iconic Opera House? Postcard pictures however, only show you one side of the story. We had to go and have a look ourselves.
Sydney city center
Sydney is huge – over four million people live in this city – and, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of traffic. It seems that the major roads are always jammed but away from those roads, in the suburbs, it’s surprisingly quiet. We had the amazing opportunity to stay at a friend’s place (thank you once again!) and to get to know Sydney a bit differently than most tourists.
Unsurprisingly for a city the size of Sydney, the center is big. You walk, and walk, and get nowhere. A better and more relaxed way to get around and see the city from a different perspective is by ferry; it also offers you wonderful views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
For a traveler, there are sights that, no matter how touristy they are or how many pictures you’ve seen of them, are a must-see. They’re high on your bucket list; you want to be able to say “I’ve been there, I’ve seen it”, and have your own opinion and story about it. Such a sight makes you anticipate the moment when you’ll finally see it for real. Sometimes, you’re totally overwhelmed by the real thing because it’s so much better than the pictures. And sometimes, you’re totally underwhelmed.
That’s what happened when we saw the Opera House. It’s supposed to be huge and shiny and so impressive. Well, to be honest, it’s not, at least not from the outside. Actually, it’s rather small and it does look its age (it was built over forty years ago). But that’s our opinion and, as I said before, you better go and see for yourself. I have to say, though, that it definitely is a very distinctive building and it does look really nice from the Harbour Bridge, with the city in the background and all the ships, big and small, speeding around the harbor.
On the southern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge there’s the Rocks, the site of one of the first European settlements. Only a few of the old buildings remain but it’s a very popular spot with tourists. You can wander around, eat or have a drink in the many restaurants and pubs, and learn about the history of the Rocks. In the 1990s, the so-called “Big Dig” took place where foundations of old houses and many artifacts from the time of the first settlers were unearthed and found. The site has not been covered up again and can now be visited around and under the YHA Hostel. Exactly, under it: the hostel is partly built on stilts so the foundations of the old houses remain visible.
The blue, blue mountains
Drive an hour west from Sydney and you’re in a different world: The Blue Mountains. Starting from several villages, bushwalking (“hiking” in Australian) trails lead through the mountains. Around 100 years ago, in order to attract more tourists, the communities of the Blue Mountains tried to build ever more spectacular walking trails; it was like a competition. Thanks to that effort, today there are many trails to choose from, and really amazing ones, like for example the National Pass. It was one of the best walks we did in Australia. There are several beautiful waterfalls, a really steep stairway, and the amazing path cut into the cliff face. And, of course, there are the views. Do I even have to tell you that they’re absolutely stunning?