Few places in this world evoke images of faraway splendor quite like Australia. Perhaps it’s the thought of pristine beaches, prolific wildlife, or the unspoiled Outback. Or, it could be pure curiosity of what there is on the flip side of the Earth. Whatever the reason one has for visiting the land "down under", I can guarantee that there are surprises for even the most jaded traveler.
The port of entry for most international visitors is also Australia’s most famous city—Sydney. Located on a wonderful natural harbor along the Parramatta River, this former prison outpost has certainly come into its own. The city’s most identifiable landmark is of course the famous Opera House, situated on a promontory along the water’s edge in the lovely Botanical Gardens. While one can indeed enjoy a performance inside, just circling this uniquely designed building and snapping photos is enough for most who come calling. From here there is a panoramic view of the downtown area with its modern skyscrapers, and an area called The Rocks near the base of the climbable Sydney Harbor Bridge. Here was one of the original settlements, back when visitors were much less happy to be arriving. Today it is a quaint area of boutiques and souvenir shops for the many cruise passengers that disembark nearby with regularity.
Just a bit inshore is the Queen Victoria Building—an elegant stone edifice that houses a modern shopping mall while retaining much of its gilded colonial history. A short monorail’s ride to the west is happening Darling Harbor, a waterfront district with more shopping malls, lots of busy restaurants, and a variety of street performers. My take on it was that it is an Aussie version of New York’s South Street Seaport, with all the same energy on a summer’s night. All in all it’s a great place to meander around and soak up the surprisingly cosmopolitan scene that Sydney delivers, though it must be admitted that few people come to Australia for it’s urban landscapes. No worries, the Australia people come for begins just outside of town.