Across the Ditch
I settled into my window seat, excited about the days ahead of me. I was on the right side of the plane and I was sure that this would offer me a great view on the descent at my destination. Smiling as a woman placed her young child on the middle seat next to me before taking her own in the aisle, I read my magazine distractedly, waiting for the plane to get ready for push back, impatient to get going. Out of the corner of my eye, the woman gave her child something to eat and then all of a sudden the child projectile vomited all over herself, the seat, and her mother. The smell of sour milk hit my nose and I didn’t know whether to laugh or retch. There were several minutes where the woman feebly dabbed with wet wipes, not sure what to do, before the air stewards realised the conundrum and sprang into action. I have a soft spot for my national carrier, Air New Zealand, and it was fascinating to watch them deal with the mini crisis, which had to be handled swiftly and with minimal damage before the flight could take off. The seats were dismantled and the various components bagged for cleaning and I was requested to be moved, getting sat on the left side of the plane, and upgraded to thank me for my co-operation. I was a little gutted to lose my vantage point for arrival, but I felt extremely sorry for the frazzled mother and it was an interesting start for the fun days ahead.
I’d heard about Sydney’s annual light spectacle Vivid Sydney some years ago, and having previously visited the city in Spring, Summer and Autumn, it made perfect sense to complete the seasons with a Winter trip to coincide with the event which was celebrating its 10th anniversary. With my best friend living there too, it was also a great excuse for a catch-up. Having taken the morning flight, I arrived early on a Thursday morning, and headed straight to my favourite hostel YHA The Rocks, where I stay every time I visit the city, to dump my stuff. I rushed up to the rooftop for my beloved view over the Rocks before heading down to the harbour. The sun was out but low and Circular Quay was partly in shadow when I arrived to make the oh-so-familiar walk around the waterfront. As always, Circular Quay was a very busy place to be, and I was hungry, wandering past the expensive waterfront eateries, trying to decide where I wanted to grab a snack.
I was distracted from my search for food for a while as I ogled over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House on my way to the Botanic Gardens. I could see some of the Vivid Sydney displays in the distance but my grumbling stomach led me down the steps to the Opera Bar and eateries just below the Opera House itself. I ordered a coffee and toastie and took my seat in the sun, watching the Sydneysiders going about their day. I was amused as a few people got mobbed by seagulls trying to steal their food. My coffee arrived first and I enjoyed it, laughing as someone got their food stolen, reminiscing about that time I got hit on the head in Southland earlier in the year. My toastie finally arrived and I greedily stuck in to it, breaking it into pieces to help it cool whilst I started to devour it. On my second bite I got whacked on the back of my head and couldn’t believe that for the second time that year, I’d been hit from behind by the wing of a bird trying to steal my food! Clearly it was time to get on the move again.
The Botanical Gardens were just as busy as Circular Quay had been, and even although the displays were not lit up, there were so many people taking in the Vivid Sydney displays in the daytime. It might have been winter but it was a gloriously sunny day with enough warmth to be in just one layer. I don’t always go to the Botanic Gardens when I visit the city, so it had been a while since I’d taken the promenade round the waterfront. I briefly cut away from the water, following the Vivid Sydney displays round the back of a small wooded area, framed by the city’s skyscrapers. I could only imagine how these would all look lit up in the darkness.
I was in the process of cutting back to the waterfront when I noticed a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos crowding round a couple. It turns out that you can buy little cups of cockatoo food to feed the birds in the park, and as such the couple literally had birds on top of them, eager to grab some of the mix that they had on offer. I hovered around, taking the opportunity to take some close-up photos, when suddenly after bending down, a cockatoo jumped up onto me. It was an awesome experience until it started trying to eat my clothes, and biting at my neck, threatening to get a little rough with its annoyance at my lack of food offerings. Still, it didn’t drive me away and I hung around with them and the couple of corellas that were there too, for as long as I could before eventually dragging myself away and heading onwards.
It had been a nice break from the sun, but now I was out under the orb continuing my way around, past a statue I’d never noticed before and round to the flower fields offering a floral-framed view back across to the Opera House. There’s also a stunning vista of the cityscape as you reach the point where Mrs Macquaries Chair can be found. There was a good crowd here as this point has become a bit of an Instagram location, and there were many people rock hopping in order to get their own shot across the harbour.
As I continued around the headland, I discovered a swimming pool that I didn’t remember from my last time round there in 2012. The dominant structure in Woolloomooloo Bay though is the long building of expensive apartments that juts out on the pier. It was easy enough to cut back into the Royal Botanic Gardens from here at the Lion Gate entrance, and I took in the succulent garden and through to the lotus pond where there was a lot of bird activity to catch my eye. It was a chance to get a close up with some ibis which are quite big birds, but yet scavenge like pigeons.
Built since my last visit, the Calyx was an interesting structure hidden near the back of the Botanic Gardens. A circular structure, it contained a massive living wall inside which was fascinating to look at both close up and from the far side of the room. Spelling out the word Pollination, the wall was covered in a plethora of plants and there were displays about the role of bees in pollination and the threat that bees are under worldwide. Back outside in the warm sun, I cut up to the Governor Phillip fountain which I’d never seen before, walking around it as office workers were coming out for lunch. The shaded benches and grassy spots started to fill up with those seeking shade to enjoy their food, and as it got busier here I moved onwards. I skirted past the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Government House to Bennelong Lawn where you can look down onto the front of the Opera House.
Back at Circular Quay, the sun was now higher in the sky, removing the shadows from that morning. As there often is, a large cruise ship was docked and there was a hive of activity around the wharf and on the water. Climbing the many steps up the steep face of the Rocks district, I found myself at the Sydney Harbour bridge. I’ve previously climbed the bridge twice but never actually walked across it, so it seemed about time to do so and I joined the mix of locals and tourists on the footpath. It is a noisy affair being so close to the passing traffic as well as the intermittent addition of a train on the far side, but looking east, the view on crossing was of the city, the Opera House and the myriad of boats that plied the harbour.
Kiribilli on the north shore reminded me a bit of a district in London where my friend used to live. That same friend also briefly lived in Kiribilli (and in fact I saw in New Year here a few years ago). I mainly just wanted to hang around the waterfront though, so I passed under the bridge and cut down to the baths behind Luna Park, and then the promenade itself. I headed west for a bit then turned and headed east under the great arch. As the afternoon was wearing on by now, shadows were creeping in again, and I watched the harbour goings on for a bit before my hungry stomach kicked me into gear.
Once back across the bridge I headed for an early dinner at the Australian, an iconic pub in the Rocks district. I had gotten a sweet deal at the hostel which had included a discounted meal here, and having been here before, I knew I was in for a tasty pizza. Unfortunately my best friend had twisted her ankle, meaning our planned days of walking had to be curtailed. Instead I was to head to her place to catch up at home where she could rest. With a bit of time free prior, I took a long walk as darkness fell round from the Rocks and past the Barangaroo Reserve into Darling Harbour.
Whilst the main Vivid Sydney lights were around Circular Quay and the Gardens, there were a handful of displays in Darling Harbour. The most striking one was a large moving creature that was propelled by a couple of helpers. There was a large crowd as the creature interacted with some diners at a local restaurant. In the water, there was so much light and there was a general buzz in the air. Eventually though, I had to leave and I set off to catch up with my friend ahead of much more activities to do over the coming days.