The city’s vibrant culture and vivacious people make for a bedazzling visit.
OKAY, so you have had selfies taken at all the prerequisite Sydney landmarks, from the Opera House to Darling Harbour. That, unfortunately, does not mean you can say “been there, done that” as there are so many other ways to explore the city that produced hotties like Hugh Jackman and Miranda Kerr.
So pardon me for having the bragging rights of seeing Sydney from a huge, mean machine. Shelby’s Sidecar Tours offer travellers a chance to cruise the streets of Sydney on their classic motorcycle sidecars ... that’s a motorbike with three wheels and a side carriage for a threesome – the rider, you and your companion.
It was a lovely, cool morning, around 16°C in June, when I hopped onto one of these vintage-style little monsters. But don’t think of roaring around to satisfy your inner Mat Rempit, for you would be disappointed. Shelby riders cruise at about 35km per hour.
Dominic, a Sydneysider, was my rider. He is a charming fellow; he helped me with my helmet and provided nuggets of information about the places that we passed by. He even pointed out a pricey apartment block where actor Mel Gibson once bought a unit. (It piqued the paparazzo in me.)
It’s cliched but there’s nothing quite like the wind in your face as you ride past iconic landmarks and meander through the local neighbourhoods. Passers-by and children smiled and waved at us. It was a case of “today, all my troubles seemed so far away” during that relaxing two-hour ride.
Lights on for caffeine
At one point, we stopped for coffee. Aussies are very proud of their brew. Almost everywhere I went, someone would say, “Australia’s coffee is great.”
During our media group’s visit, our host took us to The Grounds of Alexandria, which brands itself as a “landmark coffee roastery”. Most of us opted for the “de-constructed iced coffee” (A$8 or RM26) consisting of a house blend coffee shot, cold brewed coffee, iced, sugar syrup (which comes in a syringe) and milk.
De-constructed coffee, which basically means that the drink is served to you in separate parts, caused quite a stir last year. Not everyone is a fan, though. An Aussie writer, who found out about de-constructed coffee in Melbourne, wrote on Facebook: “I wanted a coffee. Not a science experiment. Hipsterism has gone too far when your coffee comes de-constructed.”
Java jolt over, it’s time to take a walk. Check out the annual Vivid Sydney, billed as the world’s largest Festival of Light, Music and Ideas. Vivid Sydney is an annual event that features lighting installations, and music events in the city. This year, it took place from May 26 till June 17, transforming the Opera House and surrounding area into a canvas of Australian indigenous art.
Other captivating scenes included the sunflowers’ light sculptures that were put up at the Royal Botanic Garden and the fireworks
over Darling Harbour on certain nights.
Getting a peek in
Why not explore neighbourhoods that are off the tourists’ beaten track? Culture Scouts walking tours will take you into the suburbs and peek into the lives, culture and heritage there.
Our guide was a local named Sophia de Mestre. Her passion for her Sydney kampung shone through as we strolled through the neighbourhoods of Chippendale and Redfern. She spoke enthusiastically about graffiti and murals painted with the permission of building owners, being part of the culture there.
Art galleries are within walking distance of one another here. There’s Galerie Pompom, a commercial gallery which displays works by emerging and mid-career artists.
There is also the White Rabbit Gallery, which houses one of the world’s most significant collections of contemporary Chinese art. It is owned by Judith Neilson, one of Australia’s richest, and apparently quite a colourful character.
“She walked into the office (of architect William Smart), looking scruffy, and told him to design a museum to house her art collection. After 20 minutes, William realised that she was serious,” de Mestre said, enthralling my group with many stories about Neilson.
Smart was also the designer of Neilson’s house in Chippendale. The house, named Indigo Slam, won the top award for house design at last year’s Australian Institute of Architects National Awards.
The walking tour also covered Chippendale’s latest pride – Central Park – a downtown destination where a global collaboration of architects and artists have created an exciting urban village.
Speaking of landmarks, the Sydney Opera House comes to mind, immortalised in countless photographs, brochures, postcards and fridge magnets out there.
Australia’s number one tourist destination offers backstage tours to offer tourists a glimpse at what goes on behind the scenes. Our guide was an earnest Aussie named Jessica who regaled us with stories about the architect from Denmark who designed the Opera House; how his inspiration came from the act of peeling an orange and getting all the segments/ shapes.
No detail is too minuscule for Jessica. She would even tell you the materials used for the seats inside the performing arts centre.
But don’t just visit such a highbrow place. Get grounded at the Q Station, where those entering Australia between 1883 and 1984 were quarantined.
These were convicts, migrants or crew members on ships. Our guide Maureen told stories about how the new arrivals back then were made to shower, clean themselves, and then isolated for observation if they were suspected to be sick.
The tour ends at the morgue in the Q Station and Maureen threw in a harmless, “creepy” story – one for the road. It is, after all, a place where hundreds of people died of illnesses such as the bubonic plague and Spanish Influenza.
But don’t fret about visiting Q Station. The only contagious thing I caught from there is the itch to visit Down Under again.
The media familiarisation trip to Sydney and Snowy Mountains was sponsored by Destination NSW. For more info go to http://www.destinationnsw.com.au/.
Vivid Sydney 2017’s preview at Darling Harbour.
The city is all lit up as Vivid Sydney put on their annual show of lights.
de Mestre, a scout leader from Culture Scouts Walking Tours, explaining the street art in Chippendale.
Part of Central Park, Sydney’s new downtown destination. The apartment complex has hanging vertical gardens. Also seen here is Halo, a wind powered kinetic sculpture.
A rider from Shelby’s Sidecar Tours taking a passenger on a spin around Sydney.
Books on learning Mandarin being sold at the White Rabbit Gallery.
Inside the Sydney Opera House.