Situated on the country’s southeast coast in the state of New South Wales, Sydney was the original British settlement and remains the primary gateway to the continent. A diverse and sophisticated metropolis with a virtually inexhaustible array of attractions, it is one of the great modern cities of the world. Sydney’s iconic Opera House, with its gleaming white sail-shaped roofs, is an appropriate emblem of the city’s appeal: clean, modern, cultured and thrown into relief by the pristine blue waters of the surrounding harbor.
The warm South Pacific beaches are a paradise for surfers. The historic Rocks district is packed with shopping opportunities. Darling Harbour is a lively and engaging precinct, with museums, restaurants and a fine aquarium. The famous green-and-cream ferries that ply incomparable Sydney Harbour are a wonderful way to experience the city’s waterfront grandeur.
One of the two branches of the Wentworth Gallery occupies a grand Renaissance Revival space in Sydney’s former General Post Office. It has the best collection of Aboriginal painting we’ve seen outside a museum, intermingled with an excellent selection of other contemporary Australian works. A few of our favorite artists included Kudditji Kngwarreye, whose canvases glow with Rothko-like intensity, and Polly Ngale, whose joyously colorful abstract works recall Impressionist flower gardens.
Opera House Tours
Jørn Utzon’s masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House, is one of those buildings that people either love or loathe; personally, I am an enthusiast. Various tours are available. For example, the Beyond the Stage tour (Saturday at 9:30 a.m.) takes small groups to areas normally accessible only to performers, and the monthly four-hour Taste of the House tour includes a cocktail-making class in the Opera Bar, a poke-making class in the Opera Kitchen, lunch at Portside Sydney and dessert and live jazz at Bennelong restaurant.
Wine Country Day Trip
The Hunter Valley is about 150 miles north of Sydney. The easiest way to begin a vineyard tour is to take a 30-minute flight by floatplane from Sydney’s Rose Bay. The valley is noted for its bottle-aged Sémillons. Of the many wineries in the valley, there are three that I recommend. Brokenwood Wines has gained a following for its reds, but I have developed great regard for its Sémillon as well. Tyrrell’s Wines dates to 1858 — always under the direction of the same family — and I especially like the Sémillon and the Shiraz. And Audrey Wilkinson has one of the most appealing settings of any winery in the valley, along with notable Chardonnay, Sémillon and, oddly enough, Gewürztraminer.
Rather than produce a dry history of the city, in “The Birth of Sydney,” editor Tim Flannery assembles a fascinating collection of firsthand descriptions dating from its founding in 1788 to New Year’s Eve 1895, when Sydney was apparently already celebrating the holiday with gusto.
Our most memorable excursion from Jonah’s was a hike in nearby Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, which encompasses a peninsula surrounded by tall bluffs sheltering marinas and housing enclaves accessible only by boat. Disembark the ferry at The Basin, where a trail leads uphill into the park. Afterward, have lunch on the overwater terrace of The Boathouse in Palm Beach.