City Portrait: Sydney, Australia

Text: Christian Neuhauser • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

Before riding on a recent tour that extended up the east coast of the fifth continent, I took some time with my brother Daniel and friend Peter to explore a special site, Sydney, Australia's largest city and the home to those sun-filled summer games the whole world watched in 2000.

Some history
In 1300, Marco Polo murkily described for Europeans a southern land later added to Renaissance maps as Terra Australis. It then took 316 years for the first European to step on Australian soil. Dirk Hartog sailed from Amsterdam and nailed a pewter plate to a pole when he landed on the western shore. The first Englishman to arrive was privateer William Dampier who made landfall in 1688. Almost 100 years later, in 1770, James Cook planted the Union Jack on the east coast and took possession of the land for England. Sir Joseph Banks, a botanist on Cook's ship, Endeavour, recommended Botany Bay for the first new settlement, founded at Port Jackson, and later renamed Sydney Cove.

Today, like New York, Sydney is a multicultural melting pot, a great flourishing city that never sleeps. Surrounded with bays and beaches this pearl on the Pacific Ocean is easily compared to its eastern neighbor San Francisco, with its hills, beaches, the cosmopolitan atmosphere, and then there's the presence of "the Bridge," symbolizing another strong link between the two.

The Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge, colloquially known as the "Coathanger," spans 1,650 feet from the city to the south side of the harbor. An economic feat of derring-do, given the depressed times, it's also hailed as an engineering triumph. Over 150,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, approximately 15 times more than on a typical day in 1932 when the bridge was completed. Riding a bike over this bridge is the same breathtaking experience one has when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. It presents a wonderful view to one of the most outstanding buildings erected in the last century, The Sydney Opera House, which took $ 102 million (Aus) to construct and 14 years to finish. The bridge and the Opera House are the city's most popular tourist attractions. When we reached the other side of the bridge, we turned around to ride for The Rocks and Circular Quay.

The Cliffs
This area played a vital role in Sydney's development. In 1788, the First Fleeters under Governor Phillip's command erected makeshift buildings here. English convicts established more permanent structures to line the rough-hewn thoroughfare, a street chipped from solid rock with only hammers and chisels. It took 18 years to finish the project. Known as The Rocks, the area was overrun with disease, crime, and gangs by 1900. Now the neighborhood is a popular hangout for locals and tourists. We stopped there for a moment of picture taking and had a coffee before taking a trip to South Head.

Bays and Beaches
Toni, our tour guide from Twin Blue, leads us carefully through the heavy, left-hand traffic to pass the Port Jackson area, including Farm Cove, Woolloomooloo Bay, and Elisabeth Bay. On New South Head Road we cross the inner city limits between Elisabeth Bay and Rushcutters Bay. Toni opens his throttle a bit more and Daniel, Peter, and I follow suit. We feel pretty comfortable on the left side of the road and eventually swing through the wide sweepers like we were born down under. Of course we're always alert to the oncoming traffic knowing that there are quite a few twitchy Americans and Europeans cruising about in rental cars. Passing Double Bay, Rose Bay, and Watson Bay we turn on Military Road, chasing our Beemers toward Bondi, and stop in Coogee Beach for a snack and a couple of soft drinks. It's winter here but the sun is still powerful. Our Gore-Tex gear is hot and we're close to dehydration before taking this welcome break beside the beach.

"The thirty beaches in and around Sydney make this city a mecca for water-sport freaks," Toni explains.

"And it's definitely a paradise for girl watchers, too," a leering Daniel adds, scanning the scantily clad throng.

Toni laughs, "We'd better start out again, before Daniel screws up totally."

City Centre
On Elisabeth Street we pass Hyde Park. In the past it held a racecourse and plenty of gambling taverns. Today it provides a peaceful oasis near the city's commercial center, an area of international boutiques, department stores, and arcades. We park our bikes and walk through the vivid downtown scene. The Queen Victoria Building, the Strand Arcade, and the Skygarden, a newer arcade with its popular food court on the top level, are some of the places you should visit here.

The Queen Victoria Building, dating from 1898, is a former produce market. Lovingly restored, this entire city block is now an upscale shopping mall. Another restored reminder of the Victorian era is the marvelous Strand Arcade.

One can't miss the AMP Tower. The tower tops the city skyline and offers a 360-degree overlook from a vertiginous height. It rises 305 meters (1,000 feet) and can be seen from as far away as the Blue Mountains. The highest tower in the southern hemisphere, its observation deck houses a coffee shop, a buffet restaurant, and an a la carte restaurant. The double-decker lifts can carry 2,000 people per hour up the tower and in only 40 seconds you're standing on top. Instead of walking back we take a leisurely trip on the monorail for a last look around before taking our seats on the bikes.

Darling Harbour
What to do, what to see? Back in our hotel in Darling Harbour we decide to visit the Harris Street Motor Museum where more than 150 classic motorcars, commercial vehicles, and motorcycles are displayed. Among the gleaming exhibits you'll see a unique Delorean, a Model T BP tanker, Anthony Quinn's 1959 Chevy, and an Edward VII Gardener's Serpollet steam car. After this exiting and informative day the wide range of restaurants convince us to stay in the area for dinner. First we stroll over the Pyrmont Bridge down to Cockly Bay and then we find ourselves in a gustatorial paradise. Restaurants and bars line the way and it isn't an easy decision to find the right place. We settled on a nice Italian restaurant for dinner and carried on into the night at a variety of hot spots near by.

Friendly and Fun
Frankly, Sydney was a surprise. I didn't expect a wide-open, 24-hour town. The people are quite friendly, more so than in other big cities, and the rich history of Sydney should keep a traveler well occupied in its numerous museums. And, of course, there are always the attractions of 30 beaches and the many fun places to hang out and pass the time. Something is always going on because Australians do love to celebrate practically anything at anytime. All of which makes Sydney a new favorite of mine and I certainly hope I'll have occasion to return soon.