By Robert Selwitz
Home to more than 26 million and increasingly popular with visitors who travel long distances to get there, Australia is the world’s smallest continent and sixth largest nation by land area. Whether visitors have come to begin or end a cruise, are headed to explore the Great Barrier Reef, or seek unique flora and fauna encounters, they’ll also want to make time to explore Australia’s largest cities. They will find many reasons to spend the time and multiple types of experience.
Sydney, now home to some 6 million, was the landing site in 1788 of a fleet of British convicts sentenced to “transportation”. While many were sentenced for crimes that included stealing loaves of bread, the punishment actually gave birth to a new option for people to restart their lives.
The Rocks, where those first ships docked, is today a lively, modern area that combines restored historic structures, fascinating museums, and plenty of dining and drinking options. Adjacent to a deep-water harbour, it’s less than a mile’s walk from the Sydney Opera House, the iconic cultural complex that comes to mind when we think of Australia.
World-class opera, theater and symphonic music performances make a visit a must. Ideally, you should come at least twice: first for one of the many daily tours of the site, and then for a live performance.
A 90-minute boat ride in the harbor is a wonderful experience, with tours leaving regularly from the harbor docks. Along the way, you’ll cruise under the impressive 3,770-foot-long Harbor Bridge that links the Rocks area to the North Shore. This bridge can also be crossed via a footbridge next to the road, as well as by climbing the arch itself. This can only be done through a special tour, very demanding and expensive.
The boat tour also sails into Darling Harbour, passing a wide variety of vessels, from sailboats to ferries and cruise ships. On a clear day, this respite from walking is the perfect change of pace.
Sydney is also home to a host of intriguing dining options, especially if you appreciate authentic Southeast Asian cuisine. One of the best is Mamak for Malaysian food.
Other Sydney highlights include the world-famous Bondi Beach, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Queen Victoria Building dating from 1898 and home to some 190 outlets, and Taronga Zoo, whose residents include koalas, kangaroos, emus and ghouls. Tasmania.
Sydney is also a great place to enjoy Australian rules football. Seemingly mixing rugby, soccer and American football, the action is furiously non-stop and requires extraordinary stamina. Your hotel concierge should be able to tell you when and where to go and if the season is good during your stay in Sydney.
Melbourne, 640 miles to the southwest with a population of 5.3 million, is a remarkably user-friendly city. Founded in 1835 on the Yarra River, it rose to prominence due to the great wealth of the nearby gold rush of the 1850s. Today, although ideal for strolling, Melbourne is also crisscrossed by overground trains, which in the central heart of the city are free to use. Fares are paid for out-of-core travel only.
A walk along the Yarra River is a great way to see modern Melbourne, admire its extraordinary examples of modern architecture, and sample some of its charming places to eat and drink. As you cross the river, you’re quickly at the Arts Center Melbourne, home to a superb symphony, excellent theater and the National Gallery of Victoria, showcasing Australian and indigenous art.
Throughout the older northern sector are many elegant Victorian-era structures. Among the most attractive are the superbly preserved and restored shopping arcades, none better than the Royal Arcade and the Block Arcade. Here one can shop, pause for a variety of meals or snacks, or simply admire the artistic and architectural details that seem to be everywhere. .
Other top attractions include the exterior of Flinders Street Train Station, which runs through the vast Queen Victoria Market, a walk down Hosier Lane, famous for its street art, and Parliament House and the old Melbourne Gaol, where he was executed. the infamous Ned Kelly. It’s also fun to explore Lygon Street, home to dozens of Italian restaurants and the memorable Pakistani restaurant, Ziyka.
Plenty of options for sports fans include the world famous Melbourne Cricket Ground. It has the largest seating capacity in the southern hemisphere and is a key venue for cricket and Aussie football matches.
In both Sydney and Melbourne, credit cards have virtually replaced cash for all purchases. Whether buying an ubiquitous latte, using public transportation, or making any type of purchase, there are no minimum amounts required to use the card.
Along with many short daily flights, lovely scenic train options also link Australia’s two most dynamic hubs. The trips usually last about 11 hours.
WHEN YOU GO
Mamak Sydney: www.mamak.com.au
Flinders Street railway station is a significant piece of architecture in Melbourne, Australia. Photo courtesy of Barbara Selwitz.
Sydney offers many options for enjoying the dynamic Australian Rules Rules. Photo courtesy of Barbara Selwitz.
Robert Selwitz is a freelance writer. To read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.