The best time to visit Australia is over Christmas and New Year AND it helps that the Ashes are in full swing too! So our tailor made tour bloggers, the Woodroffe’s, timed it perfectly to experience both! Here they share their experience of a warm Christmas and discovering the sights and fabulous flavours of Sydney.
The Solstice berthed at Macquarie Wharf, Port of Hobart, Tasmania on a day that was overcast and cool. The day before had been 35 degrees Celsius but the Antarctic winds had blown in and it was cooler, about 20 degrees. We decided to visit Richmond in our hire car, a historic town, about a thirty minute drive from Hobart. Entering the Coal Valley Wine district we passed several vineyards and made a note to call in on our way back.
We travelled through a mix of Welsh countryside and English parkland. All that was missing were the baronial mansions and the oak trees. The trees were of course Eucalyptus. Many of the trees appeared to be burnt around their lower trunks. This was no accident but planned husbandry. For the trees to provide seed they apparently have to be burnt. We passed notable sites on the road such as “bust me gall hill” and “break me neck hill”.
Richmond is a tourist paradise, a long street with small old colonial buildings, most with tin roofs. Many have ornate metal balconies or other ironwork. These have been fashioned out of the iron ballast from arriving ships. Many of the buildings now house shops of many different hues, some with names like “Ewe Nique”. Gift shops, Christmas shops, antique shops jostle together. It’s a bit like Broadway or Stow on the Wold.
Richmond gaol is the earliest and best preserved of the penal colony jails. All the other big gaols, such as Port Arthur, are still impressive but are ruins. The gaol was needed to cater for the misdemeanours of the convicts who were brought in to help establish Richmond. It dates back to 1825 and what a miserable place to be locked up. If you were unfortunate enough to be subject to solitary confinement you were incarcerated in a cell with wooden walls 2.13m x 1m. No windows and a bucket provided for necessary bodily functions. I entered and closed the heavy door and I found 20 seconds was more than enough let alone 21 days! A typical sentence was given to ‘Peter Donolly’ on 24 December 1837 “for absconding from his master” - 36 lashes and 21 days solitary. Christina had fellow feelings for an ‘Emily’, who had been placed in solitary confinement for 23 days for ‘insolence’.
We travelled further north to Orford, an idyllic spot on the coast with a long white beach fringed with trees. Here we saw our first kookaburra proudly sitting on a fence. We retraced our steps back to the wine lands of Coal River. Harvesting was in full swing with large and small bales of hay being produced. Rather dirty looking sheep and cattle grazed contentedly. Cherries and raspberries were for sale. Though there were signs warning us of kangaroos, none came out to play.
We entered the premises of the Frogmore Creek Winery and sampled an excellent 40*S Sauvignon Blanc and a couple of cheese platters. I will never again complain of the cost of the cheese platters at our local hostelry. Our cheese cost £48. We had been warned Australia was very expensive but if this carries on Christina and I will be out washing dishes.
I pulled back the curtains and there we were just below Sydney Harbour Bridge! We stood on our cruise balcony gazing at the marvellous vista as the ship executed a ninety degree turn and slowly reversed into the Circular Quay Cruise terminal. This manoeuvre brought us our first glimpse of the Opera House with its iconic roof. It looked magnificent.
Through immigration and out onto Australian mainland for the first time. The waterfront was beautiful, with all the old buildings cleaned up and sparkling. The old names proudly proclaimed their past heritage. The “Rawson Institute for Seamen” and the “Sailors Home” amongst them.
Retail Trivia - The process in an Australian Post Office is very interesting and different. Customers turn up with their unwrapped parcels and consult with staff as to the best form of packing and paper. Sellotape etc is provided as part of the service. The postmen dress in yellow and ride around on bikes with yellow saddlebags and fly a yellow pennant at the back.
I delve deeper into my research on life in Australia and go in search of a supermarket and liquor store. The same rules seem to apply as in the USA whereby alcohol is only sold out of specialist outlets and not in the supermarkets. After negotiating a very complicated discount if I spent $30 I emerged with 6 bottles of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. A tried and tested winner and deemed suitable for our ex NZ hosts.
Another retail experience was a trip to the Pendle Hill Meat Market, specialising in pork and hams. A huge store packed with delights such as Easy Carve Banjo Hams and Leg Ham Primals - no I don’t know what this means and our hosts were puzzled too.
A visit to “Woollies” to get the fish! This is not related to the “Five and Dime” stores beloved of the Americans, but a store which took the same name. Founded in 1924 it has expanded from a basement in Pitt Street, Sydney, to a presence in every metropolitan area in Australia and New Zealand. They have specialised in fresh food for the last 60 years, since refrigeration techniques improved. The fresh food and fish looked excellent and we purchased seventy fresh prawns. While we are talking about refrigeration, a house-keeping note - left-over food waste, e.g. the prawn heads, shells, etc. have to be frozen and only put in the bin on the day of refuse collection, otherwise the locals will complain vociferously.
Highlights of a Sydney Christmas
An apology to all those in the Northern Hemisphere! We dined outside for a pre-Christmas supper surrounded by solar powered Christmas lights, which worked beautifully - demonstrating just how powerful the sun needs to be to ensure effectiveness. We rose from the table at 23.45 and the temperature was still a very pleasant 23C!
- A visit to the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) at 756 Pennant Hills Road, Carlingford. A few years ago they started putting out a few coloured lights at Christmas and every year the display got bigger and is now a blaze of colour and also displays a complete, life-size nativity tableaux. The area was packed with people, many young, so they must be doing something right. The Church was founded in 1820 by Joseph Smith. It is claimed that God called him to be a prophet and in 1829 he received the same authority that Jesus had given to John the Baptist and was then directed to reorganise the Church of Jesus Christ on earth. We strolled to view the private house illuminations and the prize goes to a house on Marcel Place.
- Christmas morning service at St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Parramatta. This parish is one of the oldest in Australia, as Parramatta was the first administrative centre for the new country. The church was proclaimed by Governor King on 23 July 1802 and opened in 1803. It boasts a number of firsts - The site is the oldest continuous church site in Australia, hosted the first Sunday School and the first Confirmation in Australia took place here. A large airy cathedral, we sat with all the doors open and people came and went. The service was communion and loosely followed the Anglican service used in The UK. The hymns were classical with some variations in the words.
- Christmas dinner - A prawn starter, followed by turkey, pork and ham, potatoes, sauces and gravies and salads - pumpkin, beetroot and lettuce and Vietnamese mint. A selection of puddings followed, including a lovely Pavlova.
Sydney Landmarks in 2-Days - when travelling, we often take a trip on an open top city tourist bus and this is what we decided to do in Sydney. We walk along “Ladyboy Road” to the bus stop. That is not its name but Christina has christened it thus for obvious reasons I do not need to explain. We are in Kings Cross! Although that is not strictly accurate either because when the area was demarcated the monarch was Victoria and the crossing used to be “Queens Cross”. Then Edward became King and the name was changed and has remained so ever since.
The route criss-crosses the city, taking in all the significant landmarks. Old colonial buildings mix in with a modern high rise city. There are lots of green spaces, the largest of which is Hyde Park, and an abundance of trees. Some of the original cottages are “Heritage Status” which means nothing can be done to alter the exterior. This instruction seems to be taken literally as the fabric on most buildings needs some TLC. Most of the cottages boast Paddington Lace ironwork.
We pass a block covered in vegetation and the brass pig outside the old city hospital. If you rub the nose of the boar (and put a donation in the box) you will get good luck. The nose was very shiny.
We do the complete circuit passing along streets with names so familiar- George St, Wentworth Rd, Victoria St, Albert Place, etc. and hop off at the stop we boarded. We decide to resume after lunch and do the Bondi circuit. You cannot come to Sydney and not go to Bondi! However after waiting for some time the first bus was full and the next one did not arrive so we changed our plans and went to Manley for the afternoon!
Circular Quay Wharf 3 is where you go to catch the ferry to Manly. The thirty minute crossing on the Narrabeen was smooth with lovely vistas of the harbour. The waterside is lined with houses, giving way to the Naval Base at one point. The ferryboat is a clever design with a bow at each end. Manley is situated on the North Head entrance to Sydney harbour. As a consequence you land on a narrow spit of land with the town beach on one side and the rollers of the Pacific Ocean on the other. We strolled along The Corso, the pedestrianised street, linking the two beaches. At the New Brighton Hotel at the Pacific end we sat sipping our drinks and people watched as we waited for our food.
On our return to the hotel we get the hang of the transport network. Indeed it is a pleasure to ride on the double decker trains. Even on NYE, when we were on a very full train heading towards Bondi, but it did not feel oppressive like the London Underground.
Day 2 - After breakfast we tried the Bondi route again. A repeat failure at the bus stop on William Street - full again - so we moved to Central Station and after a wait managed to get on the bus. Bondi (Aboriginal term meaning ‘rushing water over rocks’) is south of Sydney on the Pacific coast of the South Head of the harbour entrance. We saw many old colonial houses here. The road dipped down to Bondi Bay, a golden beach about 200 yards long full of sun worshippers, surfing dudes and swimmers. A typical metropolitan beach which could have been at any number of destinations. We did not get off but continued the tour round the South Foreland. We were informed that Dover Heights was a sought after location but we preferred Vaucluse and Rose Bay, down on the water’s edge.
Before an evening visit to the Opera House we enjoyed dinner al fresco at a marvellous Italian restaurant at East Bank, overlooking Circular Quay and the Cruise Ship Terminal. The food was excellent but special mention must be made of the tiramisu which just melted in the mouth.
Sydney Opera House, commissioned in 1957, designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth on 20 October 1973. The sails are covered by one million ceramic tiles. When in operation the facility consumes enough power to service twenty thousand homes. That power was used tonight.
From the opening bars of “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” were treated to 120 minutes of Beatles nostalgia. The audience clapped, sang along and generally got into the mood all the way to the final rousing encore of “Get Back”. A marvellous evening in a stunning venue.
An Australian Ashes Experience! – My “Bucket List” include the desire to watch a cricket test match in the sun and warmth and what better place than the final Ashes test at the Sydney Cricket Ground? The ground looked marvellous, with the iconic Members’ Pavilion standing proudly with its green roof between the newer stands. The grass an exquisite patchwork, like a chess board, testament to the groundsmen. When the players came out to battle it was like the Globe Theatre with the actors on the stage and the 45,000 strong audience, constantly on the move, taking seriously the request to keep hydrated but not the one to refrain from moving during overs! Many pints of beer were very keenly consumed during the day. Even with all this alcohol I did not witness any problems and the Barmy Army were as usual in good voice.
You meet all sorts of spectators at Cricket matches. That day Richie Benaud came to watch the match. In fact 300 identical Benauds came, all with the same grey wig, cream jacket and sporting a Channel 9 microphone. Sad to report their idol, now aged 84, was in hospital having crashed his sports car. About five years ago twelve replicas came, and they have increased their number at every test match since. They made a lot of noise, which was heightened when a suited man raised his glass to them. It turned out this was Bob Hawke, “the best PM Australia has ever had” volunteered an Aussie to my left.
If you want additional excitement you can be hoisted 200ft into the air in the Sky Box for 20 minutes to view the match!
The home side led by 320 runs with six second innings wickets standing. This total was already more than has ever been scored in a run chase at Sydney. A lot of the tourists looked weary and ready to go home, but the third day of the last six Test Matches is Pink Sunday memory of Jane McGrath, the wife of the famous Australian fast bowler Glen McGrath, who died at a young age from breast cancer. They set up the McGrath Foundation before her death to ensure every Australian woman diagnosed with breast cancer has access to a specialist nurse and also to promote breast awareness amongst women. Throughout the whole test match every four or six scored contributed $100 to the fund. McGrath Day was a special occasion and I felt privileged to be there. The cricket was another matter - a series whitewash. Only the third time it has happened in Ashes history. Changes will have to be made before the Australians return to defend The Urn in the summer of 2015!
Wining & Dining Highlights
Petrol in Springfield, Kings Cross is a fusion restaurant of “Moroccan meets Asia”. We dined on the outdoor terrace and enjoyed a lovely meal of Nepalese chicken and walnut dumplings, slow cooked beef and noodles and a smoked salmon seafood risotto bowl. I indulged in a blueberry and apple crumble. Certainly different!
Old Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo Bay has in recent years been rescued and turned into luxury apartments favoured by the rich and famous. “Gin Palaces” are moored alongside this charming Wharf and half the length of one side now houses an array of upmarket restaurants. We sat at a front table on the water’s edge at the Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse restaurant. With the setting sun on our faces we enjoyed a superb eye steak with Béarnaise sauce and Mash. The steak truly melted in the mouth.
Destroyer of the English cricket team Mitchell Johnson sat three tables away in a delightful Italian restaurant situated aptly at the corner of Nurses’ Row and Surgeons’ Court. We lunched under the spreading branches of a sycamore tree and Christina declared the bacon, hammer crab, zucchini and passata risotto absolutely beautiful. The area seemed to attract cricketers because we also saw that old British cricketing Bulldog of the 1980s, Mike Gatting.
The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, where the settlers first came is a charming area of narrow cobbled streets, with many open air cafés, some hidden away, but all with seating under parasols, and a good class of shopping.
We lunched at the site of the first hospital started in February 1788, built by 12 convict carpenters and 16 men from the First Fleet. Demand for medical care meant an enlargement was necessary and a kit hospital, rather like a large Ikea flat pack, was made and shipped with the Second Fleet in 1790. It continued to be used till 1816 when the hospital moved to the New Sydney Hospital on Macquarie Street. A shortage of trained nurses, the first ones were convicts, led to an appeal from the Governor of NSW to Florence Nightingale, who in response dispatched Lucy Osborne and five nurses from where else but St Thomas’ Hospital. Lucy Osborne set about successfully founding the Australian Nursing Profession.
The narrow alleyways of the 1800s took their toll on the drunken sailors who came ashore after long months at sea. The dark corners were a natural refuge for thugs and especially so in the 1870s and 1880s when the rival gangs, the Orange and Green Pushes fought bitter battles over the ownership of the Rocks.
A further refreshment break was taken on the rooftop terrace of the Glenmore Hotel, with views over the harbour and Opera House. We sipped our drinks and watched the ferries come and go from Circular Quay.
We wandered past Sydney’s Oldest Hotel, The Lord Nelson, and reached Wynyard to sit for a while in a square contemplating the openness and greenness of the city, with Ibis pecking around our feet.
We are very impressed with the helpfulness of the locals - the response to a question ‘which way to go’ was invariably “I will walk along with you”. Well done Sydney and thank you.