BOB BONE'S TravelPieces  

Sensational Sydney

 

Text and photos by Robert W. Bone

 

SYDNEY - Bob Weiss, sole proprietor of Sydney Mainsail, dropped anchor in Sydney Harbor, across the water from downtown Sydney. In a moment, his guests were over the side, laughing and swimming between the boat and a small sandy beach, not far from the landing for the Taronga Park Zoo.

"A few years ago this would not have been possible -- or irresponsible," the catamaran captain explained. Sydney Harbor, always one of the most beautiful in the world, nevertheless was not clean enough for anyone to swim safely so close to the CBD -- an abbreviation for the Central Business District, home of the Opera House and the famed Sydney Harbor Bridge.

The resurgence of life in the clean water of the harbor is symbolic of Sydney itself. The city is sprucing up to withstand the scrutiny of the world on what it calls Sydney 2000, the upcoming Summer Olympics.

During the games themselves, most of which run from September 15 to October 1, accommodations, transportation, and other logistics of visiting the city are expected to be difficult and probably expensive for those not directly involved in the contests.

But today, in advance of the hoop-la, the city is bursting with freshly scrubbed pride and boundless optimism, and not just because of their traditional rivalry with Melbourne and other major Australian cities. Residents -- called Sydney-siders -- say the city has convinced itself that it is about to take its rightful place alongside the great cities of the world.

With plenty to see and do it's a good bet that the travelers who jump the gun on the Olympics will find the city a winner. It's even easier to get into the CBD, these days. The brand new railroad link from Sydney International Airport is about to open, cutting an expensive half-hour cab ride through the suburbs into a cheap, 10-minute dash.

Qantas airways, Australia's international flag carrier, has already inaugurated several new flights to Sydney, including those coming direct from New York, via Los Angeles. First and business-class passengers are treated to meals planned by one of Sydney's most well-known chefs.

The number of things to see and do in Sydney has also increased mightily over the past couple of years. Besides scores of new small operations like Bob Weiss's tour boats, advance guard visitors will find sites, sights and other activities things to do that no one dreamed of a few years ago.

On one of these, travelers can get an idea on what the life of actor Paul Hogan ("Crocodile Dundee") must have been a few decades ago when his talent was discovered while he was a maintenance worker far above the water on struts of the "old coat hanger," the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Now almost anyone can take part in the "Bridge Climb," a three-hour experience with more safety measures than you can count, for a cool $100 in local currency. (The Aussie dollar has been running at about 75 cents American, which makes everything seem like more of a bargain when converted to the Yank dollar.)

Be ready for a lot of rigmarole to do the climb, however. An hour's training sessions includes donning special jump suits and learning how to hook onto special railings so that there is no chance of falling into the traffic far feet below. Cameras and other loose objects are not allowed, and all climbers must take a breathalyzer test just to make sure that no one has shown up at the bridge after a binge at the local pub.

Other Sydney-siders have come up with additional creative things to see and do. Another new and unusual tour is aboard the "Aussie Duck," an odd-looking amphibious vehicle which begins a conventional excursion through city streets only to dive suddenly into the water the harbor to continue the experience as a local cruise vessel.

For those who want to get into the Olympic spirit early, there are bus tours and ferry trips out to Homebush. There the former industrial neighborhood of brickyards and rubbish dumps has been converted into a wetland preserve (protecting, among other things, the endangered Golden Bell Frog) while it was constructing the stadiums and several other structures needed by the modern Olympics.

In contrast to other Olympic cities, Sydney had had all facilities ready months in advance, and has been using them successfully for local athletic contests.

You can buy Sydney 2000 souvenirs already at the official Olympics store on Pitt Street, which has been turned into a mall in the middle of the CBD. (Don't take a camera in the store, however. Photography is prohibited because organizers don't want to find cheap knock-offs created in the ubiquitous factories of Taiwan or the Philippines.)

Visitors also enjoy climbing aboard the monorail -- a convenient station is right outside the Hilton's second floor -- and taking it to Darling Harbor, a former industrial district that has been redeveloped into almost a world's fair of museums, theaters, specialty shops, restaurants, clubs, and the like.

Star City, Sydney's only official gambling casino, opened out there recently, too, replacing a raft of illegal casinos. Besides the traditional games, you'll find a few that are distinctly Australian, like "Two Up," where two large, old-fashioned pennies are tossed in the air, and bets are made on exactly how they land.

Sydney-siders today are serious when they claim their city is an exciting rival of the great metropoli of the world. Some of this has even been done by decree. Recently the City Council adopted a resolution encouraging bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues remain open until midnight or later in an admitted effort to imitate some of the sophisticated late-night ambiance of Paris, Rome, and Vienna.

Speaking of restaurants, many have been attracting or training gourmet chefs to cater to ever more sophisticated Australian tastes. The current leader in Sydney is Post, in the newly restored 150-year-old central post office. Other big names are Banc, Lucio's, and Wockpool.

Australian author and well-known social commentator Hugh Mackay recently sat back and took an inspired look at the Sydney scene:

"Australians are now eating food that 20 years ago, they wouldn't have been able to pronounce," Mackay said.

 


IF YOU GO

For further North America information on travel to Australia and on the Sydney 2000 Olympics, contact the Australian Tourist Commission, 2049 Century Park East, Suite 1920, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Phone (310)229-4870. The ATC's consumer website is http://www.australia.com.

Other web sources: Sydney Convention and Visitors Bureau -- http://www.scvb.com.au, Qantas Airways -- http://www.qantas.com, Sydney Mainsail -- http://www.sydneymainsail.com.au, Bridge Climb -- http://www.bridgeclimb.com, Aussie Duck -- http://www.aussieduck.com, recent pictures of Sydney by travel writer Robert W. Bone -- http://robertbone.com/sydney.htm.


This travel piece appeared in several publications: Information

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