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 pristine relief by the 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.
The newest branch of the Wentworth Gallery (1 Martin Place, Tel.  2-9223-1700) occupies a grand Renaissance Revival space in Sydney’s former General Post Office. It has the best collection of Aboriginal painting I’ve seen outside a museum, intermingled with an excellent selection of other contemporary Australian works. My favorite artists included Kudditji Kngwarreye, whose canvases glow with Rothko-like intensity, and Polly Ngale, whose joyously colorful abstract works recall Impressionist flower gardens.
A Perfect Day
Winters in Sydney (June and July) are often bright, sunny and cool. I remember one Sunday lunchtime with particular affection. Having taken a ferry across the harbor under a cloudless sky, we enjoyed a fine lunch at The Bathers’ Pavilion (4 The Esplanade, Tel.  2-9969-5050) at the edge of Balmoral Beach. The temperature was in the low 60s, so we sat beside a woodburning fire, nursing the last of an excellent Hunter Valley Shiraz. Afterward, we ventured outside with a Marc de Bourgogne and discussed moving to Sydney.
The Opera House
Jørn Utzon’s masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House (Bennelong Point, Tel.  2-9250-7111) is one of those buildings that people either love or loathe; personally, I am an enthusiast. Various tours are available. For example, the 7 a.m. Backstage Tour finishes with breakfast in the green room (the performers’ lounge), and the four-hour Taste of the Opera House tour includes a cocktail-making class in the Opera Bar, a sushi-making class in the Opera Kitchen, lunch at Portside Sydney and dessert at Bennelong.
A Fascinating History
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.
An Enchanting Day Trip
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 (Governor Phillip Park, Palm Beach; Tel.  2-9974-5440).