We opted for the least expensive sea-view cabin we could get. It had a porthole on the lowest passenger deck. But after a night at sea, I opened our curtains and there was the iconic Sydney Opera House. The Opera House, opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1973, was derided but is now one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture and engineering in the world. What do critics know?
We docked in Circular Quay, the ideal location to see Sydney. On the other side of the ship was the “coat hanger” bridge built in 1932 and still the world’s widest bridge.
1986 view of Sydney with the Opera House in the upper center and the “Coat Hanger” bridge beyond it. Our hotel that year wasn’t in as good a location as our 2011 ship.
We took a bus tour of the “Blue Mountains,” actually steep valleys cut into an ancient sandstone plain.
Going out of town, we crossed the ANZAC bridge, the only place in Australia that flies both the Australian and New Zealand flags perpetually. The bridge has two high pillars holding up two massive sets of triangular cables; it was locally known as “Madonna’s Bra.”
We stopped at the 2000 Olympic stadium, site of a recent Rolling Stones concert; Our guide referred to the band as the “Strolling Bones.” Nearby was a field of poles inscribed with the names of seventy-five thousand volunteers who helped during the games. The old press and media quarters were now used for annual cattle and sheep shows which struck me as particularly appropriate.
The “blue” in the mountains, like the U.S. Blue Ridge Mountains, comes from a haze, but this haze is aggravated by the presence of eucalyptus oil from the hundreds of varieties of eucalypts.
It is a very suburban area. The boundaries of Sydney extend an hour and a half out from the main harbor on a main road, and driving up the hills through villages reminded me of I-78 coming out from New York through the towns of New Jersey. These towns, however, faced the danger of huge brush fires fueled by eucalyptus oil. [Fires subsequently burned 46 million acres in 2019-2020.]
In 1994, they found a stand of 38 Wollemi Pines which previously had only been seen in 65-million-year-old fossils; they were thought to be extinct. Genetically identical, they seem to propagate through stems and new cuttings. Since 2006, the Australian government has made cuttings available, and we later saw one near Circular Quay.
We stopped at Echo Point, a look out where we saw the steep canyons on the western side of the mountains and the “Three Sisters” rock formation before going on to lunch at “Scenic World.” Despite the obvious tourist trap nature of the place, we had a wonderful buffet lunch and then took their funicular, at fifty-two degrees the steepest in the world, down into the valley for a walk through the temperate rainforest.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Commemorating the mines
The cars drop 206 meters over a 415-meter track starting down through an 80-meter natural tunnel. As we entered the tunnel, speakers played the theme from “Indiana Jones.”
In 1878, there were about forty coal mines at the bottom. As we walked along the trail, we saw a magpie, the ruin of an old mine and a rusted out “rope car” used to haul up oil shale, and a fascinating ribbon gum tree. The bark of the tree naturally peels off in ribbons – another contributor to fierce brush fires.
We ascended by way of a modern cable car and went to the touristy town of Leura whose buildings all seem to date from 1910 to 1920.
Unlike most cruise ports, we were docked in Sydney for two days. That evening we took a cab to Sydney’s Chinatown for dinner at the New Tai Yuan Restaurant,” a restaurant that had more Chinese than tourists which we considered to be a plus. Then we walked to see the bright lights of Darling Harbor, an old port area that has been renovated with restaurants, bars and entertainment.
Date of our visit: 20 Feb 11
We spent a few days in Sydney in 1986. It was interesting to see the changes, especially the vibrant Darling Harbor area.