Sunday, 23 August 2015

Sydney, you really impressed me!

Being from Melbourne I have always been a champion of the ‘Melbourne is better than Sydney’ debate. Countless hours have been spent arguing over culture, coffee, shopping and sport, with Melbournians and Sydneysider confidently arguing their respective city is superior. Well it is with shock and dismay to my family and friends in Melbourne that I have to confidently say Sydney has won me over. Don’t get me wrong, excluding Sydney, Melbourne is by far a superior city to that of any other Australian city, with its culture, parks, architecture, cosmopolitan atmosphere and sporting calendar. However I think it is relatively easy to argue that Melbourne is Australia’s number two city, with Sydney easily offering more, with the exception of shopping and sport. I hear you, why the sudden change in opinion after years of advocating for Melbourne’s superiority? Well, I let Sydney transform my opinion by experiencing parts of Sydney I had not fully discovered or explored. 

I don’t think many Australians would disagree with the idea that Sydney’s number one attraction and natural asset is the spectacularly beautiful harbour. Walking through Sydney’s historical botanic gardens gives you awe-inspiring views over the harbour, including the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The two iconic man-made structures are not only Australia’s principle and quintessential attractions, they are globally known and recognised. I know what you are saying, ‘Melbourne has the Yarra River, the MCG and the Arts Centre’, and yes I agree, they are beautiful and iconic attractions, but come on, not even slightly comparable to the natural wonder of Sydney’s harbour and its historic and iconic infrastructure. The beauty of such views are further enhanced as you walk along the foreshore, through Potts Point, and other small bays and villages. 

What really impresses me about Sydney is the close proximity the CBD is to breathtaking and stunning nature, national parks and historical establishments. What other city can you take a short train ride to then walk across the road and surf in the Pacific Ocean? Only a 15 minute bus trip from central Sydney, through the beautiful Northern Suburbs, perhaps some of the most beautiful suburbs in Australia, if not the world, is Sydney Harbour National Park. I know cities such as Stockholm, San Francisco and Hong Kong have beautiful bays and national parks that are in walking distance to the central city, however you can not compare them to the stunning natural settings of Sydney Harbour National Park. 

After spending approximately 15 minutes on the bus, I arrived at The Spit. Lush Australian bush land, with large houses built strategically into the side of hills and mountains in order to take advantage of the scenery, filled the area. It was here, no more than 15 kilometres from the CBD of Australia’s largest city, that I was to commence a 10 kilometre coastal walk to Manly. The Spit to Manly coastal walk hugs the coast, passing small and intricate bays, incredible view points, historical buildings and military infrastructure, enormous cliffs, beautiful homes, subtropical rainforests and iconic Australian bushland. A view of the Sydney skyline is evident for a majority of the journey, as is the constant passing of the Sydney to Manly ferry. I have been to over 62 countries and hundreds of cities, always seeking out a good walk and view point, and I can easily say The Spit to Manly walk offers views that are equal, if not better, than any view I have seen, especially a view in close proximity to a large city. A point that is even more incredible and hard to fathom is that on the entire walk I passed very few people and I am assuming almost no tourists. Why!? 15 minutes from Sydney, it is free, and perhaps the most spectacular activity one can do in Sydney. Travel priorities are all so wrong!

Upon arriving in Manly, a metropolitan beach suburb of Sydney and one I travel to often, I decided to continue walking along the coast to Northhead Sanctuary, a large historic park that is managed by the federal agency, Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. Again the views are truly astonishing, with enormous cliffs and superb bushland greeting the abrupt and dangerous heads that open up Sydney Harbour to the enormous Pacific Ocean. The park, although really in a Sydney suburb, is rich in flora and fauna, with Banksias and Bandicoots commonly sighted. It is also rich in history, with a large sandstone built Quarantine Station and cemetery, that was active between 1881-1925, still available to explore. Many people who suffered with deadly diseases were stationed in the Quarantine complex and upon their death were buried in a small cemetery, on the edge of large and spectacular cliffs. During World War Two the area became a major Australian defence base, evident through the numerous forts and small gun huts scattered throughout the park. From 1946 to 1998 the area hosted the Royal Australian Army’s School of Artillery. The large military barracks is now open for all to explore and there are impressive and moving tributes to Australians who served in past conflicts. A path titled, ‘Australia’s Memorial Walk’, contains thousands of names of lives lost from the Boer War to current day conflicts Australia has been involved in. Incredibly impressive and moving, and other than the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the most in-depth defence memorial in Australia, and one I am assuming most Australians don’t know about. 

Although only a small taste of why my opinion has changed and why I now categorise Sydney as ‘Australia’s better city’, it is clear Sydney, naturally, has more to ofter a visitor. I know it is all pending on what one wants to do, however in general the natural beauty and close proximity to national parks gives Sydney a significant edge over Melbourne. It is understandable to argue that Melbourne has superior shopping and sporting events, and Sydney has a long way to go if it is going to catch up to Melbourne there, but shopping, really, is that why you visit a city? It is also evident though the amount of cranes and construction sites throughout Sydney, that the city is dramatically changing, developing and working on areas it lacks when compared to Melbourne. Melbourne has no where near as much construction as Sydney nor large scale projects in the pipeline, thus further adding to Australia’s already dominant city. Other than being from Melbourne, in the past why did I advocate Melbourne over Sydney? Well, I would have previously said culture, food and Melbourne’s cosmopolitan city life. However, Sydney offers all of this now, perhaps not as well established, primarily due to the smaller inner-city population Sydney has, but still fairly comparable. Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising Melbourne, and I still think it is a world class city and easily ahead of cities such as Brisbane and Perth, I am just highlighting, for the first time, my opinion that Sydney wins out when compared.

The Spit, only 15min from central Sydney 
Sydney Harbour - from walking track 

Beautiful and iconic Australian bushland

Looking out over the heads. Entrance to the Pacific Ocean. 

Sydney in the distance. Haze produced from back burning in NSW

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