Take a harbour cruise to appreciate hidden beaches, islets, mansions old and new, even a couple of unsung bridges.
Various companies run half-day and full-day excursions. Or you can rent a boat of your own in which to weave around the rest of the nautical traffic. Fort Denison, situated on a small island, is graphically nicknamed ‘Pinchgut.’ Before the construction of a proper prison, the colony’s more troublesome convicts were banished to the rock to subsist on a bread-and-water diet.
In the middle of the 19th century the island was fortified to guard Sydney from the far-fetched threat of a Russian military strike. Ironically, the only attack came in World War II when an American warship, conducting target practice, hit old Pinchgut by mistake. You can visit Fort Denison, but only as part of a guided tour conducted by a national parks ranger (to book. tel: (02) 9247 5033). Taronga Zoo (open: daily gam-5pm, till 9pm in Jan). a 12-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay, has an excellent collection of native and non-native animals in a superb setting. Over the heads of the giraffes you can see across the harbour to the skyscrapers of Sydney.
The zoo’s Nocturnal House features indigenous night-time creatures illuminated in artificial moonlight, unaware of onlookers. The Rainforest Aviary houses hundreds of tropical birds. If you arrange your visit around feeding times, you can watch the keepers distribute food while they deliver talks about their charges. Vaucluse House (open: Tues—Sun and Bank Holiday Mon 10 am-4.30pm), a stately home with its own bcach, adds its mock-Gothic turrets and battlements to the skyline. The splendid, 15-room mansion, begun in 1803, is run by the state’s Historic Houses Trust. It can also be reached by bus or taxi.
Surf Beaches Further afield, both north and south of Sydney, are miles of inviting beaches. Manly got its name when the first governor of the colony thought that the Aborigines sunning themselves on the beach looked manly. This pleasant north-shore resort, reached by ferry or Jetcat from Circular Quay, has back-to-back beaches — a sheltered harbour beach on one side, an ocean-facing surf beach on the other — that are linked by the Corso, a lively promenade full of restaurants and tables for picnickers. Bondi (pronounced bond-eye), is a favourite with surfers and an Australian icon.
The varied characters on the sand range from ancient sun worshippers to topless bathing beau-ties, and include a remarkable number of British backpackers. Families tend to congregate at the northern end,where there is a popular wading pool. Bondi’s main promenade, Campbell Parade, is lined with dozens of restaurants and one pub, the Bondi Hotel, open until 4am six days a week and until midnight on Sundays. A string of lesser-known but lovely beaches stretches to the south of Bondi. These, including Tamarama, Clovelly and Bronte, are well worth seeing, and can be reached on foot by a scenic coastal walking track that starts at the southern end of Bondi beach.
The Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games are history but the euphoria lingers as Sydneysiders fondly remember their city’s moment in the limelight. Athletes coined the phrase ‘the Games of Smiles’. Observers from around the world remarked how Australians cheered spontaneously for all teams and competitors, not just their own side. Now the Games are over. Sydney’s magnificent. purpose-built Olympic Park is somewhat under-employed. Critics call it a white elephant, and say it will be at least a decade before the facility becomes self-sufficient and can cover its costs. Other cities have encountered similar post-Games challenges.
The Park is still fun to visit and you can swim at the excel-lent International Aquatic Centre. Allow a full day if you want to visit each venue at the site; otherwise, half a day is probably enough. The best way to get there is to catch a Parramatta Rivercat ferry from Circular Quay. These depart hourly and give a 50-minute scenic river trip before you alight at Homebush and catch an Olympic Explorer bus. The graceful. parabola-shaped centrepiece of Olympic Park. Stadium Australia (hourly guided tours 10.30am-3.30pm), was Sydney’s premier Olympic venue, hosting the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the track and field programme and the closing stages of the Marathon. The Stadium is the largest ever built for an Olympic Games.