Testing for vertigo in Sydney

by John.Law

From climbing the bridge to following ghosts to sipping Shiraz, Sydney has endless ways to keep its visitors entertained

What’s the best cure for jet-lag after a 24-hour flight to Sydney?  On my last visit to Oz I bravely resisted the urge to take a nap, donned a boiler suit and safety harness and tackled the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.
The trek takes you over catwalks, through arches and up and down ladders. It’s not as scary as it looks from the ground. You can watch the road and water traffic passing beneath, but the 360° view from the top across the harbour, the soaring skyscrapers and Opera House is stunning. The whole experience, including a thorough briefing, takes 3½ hours and tickets cost from about £88.
Too expensive? Then there are lots of other attractions in this great, buzzing, friendly city that won’t wreck the budget. Biggest money-saving tip is to invest in a See Sydney and Beyond Smartvisit Card. With prices ranging from about £37 (child £27) for a one-day card, rising to £111 (£79) for seven days, the scheme offers free access to 40 major attractions in and around the city. Pay extra – £86 (£49) for two days up to £148 (£98) for seven days – and bus, train and ferry travel is included too.
Having gone over the bridge it’s interesting to go under it by getting a free Smartvisit ferry ride from Circular Quay to explore the beautiful harbour. For an idea of what goes on under the surface, use the card to visit Sydney Aquarium, one of the world’s best for showing the more exotic creatures of the deep. In the underwater tunnels, fish, rays, turtles and huge sharks swim all around you.
Check out the kangaroos, koalas and wallabies at Taronga Zoo or Sydney Wildlife World and flash the card again for free entry to The Museum of Sydney. For a more grisly glimpse into the past try the Justice and Police Museum by Circular Quay. This 19th-century former court and police station has a scary collection of weapons, gangster mug shots and relics from Ned Kelly’s and other notorious crimes.
Equally creepy – and fun for those like us who don’t care for conventional city bus tours – is an entertaining evening spent spook-hunting around the historic Rocks area. Ghost Tours charges £17 for the two-hour walk. We heard blood-curdling tales of murder and mayhem as we wandered around narrow cobbled streets and down dark alleys to learn about the colourful past of the area where the first convicts were landed. Up on Observatory Hill, where public hangings took place two centuries ago, one poor lad was strung up for stealing a measly portion of salt pork. Thankfully, the only spirit I encountered was a large whisky at the Harbour View Hotel, where the tour ended.
Next day we headed for the spectacular Blue Mountains, just outside the city, where we used the Smartvisit card again to join a red London bus at Katoomba for a next-to-nature, hop-on hop-off tour. We walked through the wilderness, trekking through a rainforest gorge and climbing to view the Three Sisters rock formations. Afterwards we recovered with a 'Devonshire' cream tea in Leura village, which set us up nicely for another evening’s feasting in the city.
If you enjoy your tucker, you’ll love Sydney’s seafood and oriental-style Pacific Rim dishes. But before you book, check if the restaurant is a BYO (Bring Your Own) and save money by taking along your own Aussie Riesling or Shiraz from a local wine store.
We encountered some of the best pizzas outside Italy at Arthur’s in Oxford Street, which serves huge ones for sharing for £12. At Doyle’s at Watson’s Bay we ate wonderfully fresh fish at the water’s edge while admiring the Sydney skyline in the distance. Back in town we savoured terrific flame-grilled steaks against a backdrop of the Opera House at the trendy Wildfire at The Rocks. At both expect to pay about £40 a head or more with wine
At Longrain in Surry Hills we sat at long communal tables to enjoy great Thai food. Prefer Japanese? Then try the more affordable Uchi Lounge, where starters like mussels or sushi cost about £5 and a beef sashimi main course £9.
Sydneysiders are pretty laid-back, but there’s plenty of big-city bustle about the place. After a busy morning’s sightseeing or souvenir-hunting at shopping complexes like the grand old Queen Victoria Building, we relaxed over a dim sum lunch at the tranquil Chinese Gardens by Darling Harbour, or a picnic at the glorious Royal Botanic Gardens next to the Opera House.
If you need to get away from the buzz of city life, try those famous beaches at Bondi or Manly. Farther afield, wine lovers should head north to the Hunter Valley for a day or two spent swilling the shiraz and gargling the gerwurtztraminer on a tour of the vineyards. The countryside here is green and gently undulating. And yes, they really are kangaroos you can see bouncing over the horizon – and not some alcohol-induced mirage.

Where to stay

The InterContinental Hotel is nicely located, with sweeping views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. For summer 2009, it costs around £136 per night for a double room with breakfast. 

Less expensive – and particularly good value if you are taking children – are Quest serviced apartments. The Quest World Square property is set in the heart of the city and charges from around £92 per night for a studio for two people, and from £170 for a two-bedroom apartment sleeping four.

Tour operators

Recommended specialist Australia tour operators include Austravel and Bridge and Wickers.