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DO you – as a Canberran – ever think about Sydney as a tourist destination?
I’ve been there more times than I can count for various reasons and, yes, sometimes I’ve included tourist destinations, but I’d never been to our “global city” as a tourist.
So when the opportunity arose to parlay a one-day business trip into a four-day break, my wife and I decided to be tourists in Sydney. We set one simple rule: other than for the Royal Easter Show, we would avoid locations we’d done on previous trips to Sydney.
First up – accommodation. Sydney accommodation prices have risen dramatically in recent years, especially close to the CBD if you want a certain standard. We went hunting and picked up a good deal at the Rydges Sydney Central, which used to be one of the famous Sebel properties in Sydney. There was even a book detailing the story of the now-closed Sebel in our room.
I won’t dwell further on the hotel other than to say there are renovations taking place to bring all rooms up to 2017 standards.
After arriving late Monday afternoon, we dined at R K San in Surry Hills. This was the best Japanese I’ve experienced since visiting Japan a couple of years ago. It’s not 100 per cent Japanese cuisine – there are clever elements of fusion with Australian and other cultures, crafted under the hand of a Nepalese-born chef – but for flavour, presentation and creativity, I couldn’t find fault.
A couple of highlights: a dish called “The Cigar” – tuna sashimi encased in fine pastry, served with a malto “ash” and sushi made with a crispy fish skin instead of the more regular nori roll covering. All this at a $10 cab fare from Central Station.
Tuesday was business in the morning, and tourism resumed that afternoon. Despite lingering showers, we took the hop-on, hop-off Sydney Explorer on-top buses. There are two fleets, one does the city sightseeing loop, the other to Bondi and back. Tickets, good for 24 or 48 hours, let you board and depart either bus as often as you like during that time.
In short, these are a great way to see the city. Had we been on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Sydney, we would have been on and off the city loop at almost every stop around Darling Harbour, Circular Quay and the Opera House, but as we were taking things in a more leisurely fashion, we soaked up some new knowledge of Sydney via the on-board commentary.
Tuesday night was Darling Harbour for dinner. Tricky, due to previous visits, but we discovered numerous restaurants on the waterfront at the Harbourside Shopping Centre, almost all offering a dinner special with the bonus of a great view of the Sydney CBD across the water.
On Wednesday we hit the Explorer Buses again, this time to Bondi and surrounds and, yes, stroll on the famous beach, which was much smaller than I thought it would be.
It was amazing how quickly the day passed as we took in the sights, and some of the opulence on display around Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
With a big day looming, a relaxing Wednesday evening was called for. We looked at a dinner cruise, but opted for a ferry to Manly, where a small restaurant called Jamtown had been recommended to us. It was worth the trip. Ten minutes after disembarking, we were sipping rum-based cocktails, followed by Caribbean-inspired dishes with reggae beats completing the mood and complementing the dishes.
We topped off our evening by returning to Circular Quay on the fast ferry, sitting in the open air, under the stars, watching the Harbour Bridge get ever closer.
So, did I enjoy the Sydney tourist experience? Yes. Did I learn anything? Yes – primarily, that it is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t really want to live there. I’m too much a dyed-in-the-wool Canberra boy now.
Chris Coleman presents “Canberra Live”, 3pm-6pm, weekdays on 2CC. He also has a podcast called “Travel First” available at bitesz.com