Sydney, Australia (Day 1)
We got up very early on February 10 to see the sail-in to the legendary harbor of Sydney, Australia, thought by many to be the best harbor in the world. We got our first view from the ocean threshold before sunrise & it became more beautiful as we sailed in. We had our first view of the famous Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.
We sailed under the bridge and on to our berth at White Bay, within view of the bridge but about 45 minutes drive by shuttle bus. Last year the world cruise docked at Circular Quay, right next to the Opera House, but when there are larger ships in town that can’t fit under the bridge, smaller ships like Amsterdam are banished to White Bay. It seemed to us that the site must have been selected by someone trying to find the most inconvenient spot for cruise passengers & little has been done to provide efficient transportation (our cab driver that night had been driving here for 5 years and had never been to White Bay). But despite this, we were very happy to be here.
After breakfast we set out on an excursion that took us first to Koala Park, an animal park (ie. glorified zoo). After all, you can’t go to Australia & not see koalas and kangaroos! Despite its name, the park only had one koala. Koalas sleep about 20 hours a day because the eucalyptus they eat gives them very little energy, so this little guy must spend all his waking time on duty. In Queensland it’s permissible to have your picture taken holding a Koala, but here in New South Wales it is illegal to touch a koala. But people lined up to have their picture taken standing in front of the koala anyway. It looked like a hard way to earn a living.
While there was only one koala, there were a lot of other interesting animals. We have been told that 90% of the species of animals and insects In Australia are found nowhere else, so Australian zoos are pretty exotic to Americans & Europeans. Among the birds we saw here were the Laughing Kookaburra, the Blue Peafowl, the Double-Wattled Cassowary, a White Cockatoo & the Emu. There were also some creepy looking bats called Grey Headed Flying Foxes.
We saw Dingoes, which looked a lot like our son’s Australian Cattle Dog but for their yellow color, and seemed much nicer than portrayed by Rudyard Kipling in the Just So Stories, oh best beloved. We even got to pet one that was being walked on a leash. There were some Blue Tongued Lizards, although we didn’t get to see their tongues. We saw part of an Echidna (a spiny ant-eater and egg laying mammal), who was hiding with only its back showing. And there was a Wombat, but it took one look at the approaching tourists and retreated into a barrel & covered itself in straw. I am including a picture of its face taken while it was inside the dark barrel, even though it is pretty hard to discern.
And finally, the Kangaroos & their smaller cousins, the Wallabies. There were two species of Wallaby in this park, Wallaroos & Red Necked Wallabies. They seemed very active, hopping here & there, very suddenly and very fast.
The kangaroos were in a sort of corral which visitors could enter to interact with the kangaroos. You could feed them (they eat grass & leaves) or pet them, and they were quite used to people & very friendly. One was a mother with a joey in her pouch; all you could see of him or her was the long legs sticking out of the pouch. We were told that kangaroos are born very tiny & somehow manage to climb into the mother’s pouch, where they latch onto a nipple & stay attached until ready to emerge many months later.
The flora here was interesting as well, including very large-leafed ferny plants & a variety of Eucalyptus whose bark appears to fall off, leaving a white trunk.
The next thing on the advertised agenda was lunch at the top of the Sydney tower. But it turned out that our guide hadn’t made reservations ahead of time & the restaurant wouldn’t take us until 2:00. So we had to drive around town for a couple of hours, seeing some of the city but mostly to waste time. This was a problem for a few of us who had opera tickets for that night & were relying on the published return time of 5:00 to make it to the show. We made it back only 15 minutes late despite all this delay, but it made the rest of the excursion a little nerve-wracking for us. Our first stop was in a park on the opposite side of the Harbor Bridge from the Opera House.
We drove through the Royal Botanic Gardens to its furthest point, where there was a nice view of the Opera House & the bridge (I hope you aren’t sick of them yet, there is more to come). We also saw Mrs MacQuarie’s Chair, a bench cut into the stone wall in 1816 by convicts at the behest of the Governor’s wife, who liked to sit here and enjoy the view. There was a group of tourists on the very top of the bridge. For about $250 you can join a bridge climb to the top, dressed in a special suit of overalls and tethered to the bridge so you can’t fall (you can’t bring a camera either, since it could be dropped & hurt someone below). We didn’t do that.
We finally made it to the Sydney Tower at about 2:00 for lunch. This is similar to the tower in Auckland, prominent on the skyline from many areas of town. We had lunch here in a revolving restaurant: the windows & central kitchen area are stable while the table area rotates at about one revolution every 1.5 hours. The buffet had quite a lot of foods available, & Rick had crocodile & emu sausage, and a sort of kangaroo stew. Not all that great, so fortunately there was other food available too. The views were very far-reaching.
Our last stop was for a tour of the Sydney Opera House. The story of its building is long and complicated, but basically this design was chosen from a worldwide competition after initially being rejected. No one knew how to make a building with this design actually stand up, but after a lot of experimentation the original architect hit on the idea of using sections of a sphere for the sail-like structures & that turned out to be the breakthrough. It ran way over budget (doesn’t everything?) which led to the original architect being ousted from the project, & he never saw the building in person, though there was some reconciliation before he died.
We visited the major performance spaces. Best was the Concert Hall, huge & beautiful with outstanding acoustics. Our guide said there are no bad seats here, so you may as well buy the cheapest ones. There are also seats behind the orchestra on stage. Above the stage is a series of large hanging discs. These are raised and lowered to improve the acoustics for the performers: low for a string quartet & high for an orchestra, for example. And in the middle is a huge pipe organ, with several thousand more pipes behind that you cannot see, from small enough to hold in your hand to several stories tall. Quite impressive.
That night we went with another couple to an opera in the Opera House. Originally operas were expected to be staged in the concert hall, but that didn’t work out (can’t remember why), so another smaller space was converted into an opera stage. The orchestra is beneath the stage with the conductor standing up through an open space in front; there are TV monitors so that orchestra members can see what he is doing above his knees. The opera was Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and it was fabulous. They played it for laughs, & the biggest joke was all of these magnificent voices in the service of low comedy. In the other performance venue was a show called Blanc en Blanc. A number of other passengers attended this cabaret style show, complete with hot tub & full frontal nudity. Sadly, there was no nudity in Barber of Seville.
We made it back to the ship late, but it was a lovely night so we went up to the top deck for some final photos from a very full day. And we weren’t through with Sydney yet.