Sydney, Australia, starting and ending point of many cruises and a popular port of call on world cruises and other extended voyages, invariably makes the lists of the world’s most scenic harbors –along with the likes of Rio de Janeiro. Brazil, and Hong Kong, China. Without a doubt, one of the planet’s best natural harbors, Sydney Harbor –its official name is Port Jackson—has world-famous sights as the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Most cruise ship passengers make it a point to be up on deck for their ship’s arrival in Sydney to take in its landscapes with modern skyscrapers and its seascapes with ferryboats and sailboats in the harbor.
Ships pass close to the iconic Sydney Opera House with its white sail-like forms (some have likened them to giant seashells strewn by the ocean). So close that passengers can pose for good shots of themselves with it in the background. One of the 20th century’s most distinctive buildings, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sydney Opera House hosts some 2,500 events annually, according to Sydney Tourist Board materials. Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, it has 10 roofs – the highest one reaching 221 feet above the sea – with tiles that gleam in the sun. It has various venues for concerts, opera, ballet, theater and more and was completed in 1973 and opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Tours are available inside the Opera House including a backstage tour. Many ships offer evening excursions to catch a show at the Opera House so passengers can experience its excellent acoustics.
Another spectacular sight of the arrival in Sydney is the Sydney Harbor Bridge, opened in 1932 and reportedly the world’s widest long-span bridge and the highest steel arch bridge standing 429.6 feet above the harbor. Locals humorously call it “the coat hanger.” Visitors can walk across it, and the intrepid can sign up for a tour to climb it – there are 200 steps, and a breathalyzer test is required before climbing! Most cruise ships offer this tour as well as walking and city highlights bus tours that include the Sydney Opera House.
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Most cruise ships tie up at the Circular Quay, the hub of Sydney Harbor – some ships berth at Darling Harbor, but if so, often offer shuttle service to Circular Quay. From Circular Quay, visitors can catch a ferry to Manly, one of Australia’s most popular seaside destinations seven miles from Sydney for a day at its beach, or for a visit to Taronga Park Zoo and other points of interest, as well as catch a bus to Bondi, a suburb of Sydney and a very popular beach particularly with surfers. On the southern side of Circular Quay, a walkway leads to the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanical Gardens; on the northern side, another walkway takes to the Sydney Harbor Bridge and The Rocks, the place of the foundation of Sydney and hence, with great historic significance. It also has many lively cafes, shops and stalls selling souvenirs.
Popular shore excursions sold onboard cruise ships include architectural walks, Australian aboriginal cultural experiences and tours to parks and sites that offer opportunities to get close to some of Australia’s legendary wildlife. Among the latter is a visit to the Koala Park in the Sydney Hills District. At this family-owned wildlife reserve, visitors can mingle with, and feed gray kangaroos, take in the daily koala feeding, and see wallabies, dingos, wombats and the fruit bats that the locals call “flying foxes.” Another great place to observe Australia’s fauna is the Taronga Zoo on Sydney Harbor, overlooking the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge and boasting one of the country’s finest collections of animals. The zoo has an Animals Encounters program whereby for a fee visitors can enter some animal enclosures and have their photo taken by a professional. Other zoo highlights include an aquarium and a new Great Southern Oceans Exhibit with Australian sea lions and fur seals, penguins and more.
Local flavors not to be missed include lamb roasts with rosemary and garlic, beer battered fish and chips, and of course, barbecued shrimp –made famous by the phrase “slip a shrimp on the barbie” by Crocodile Dundee (actor Paul Hogan) in an Australian Tourism Board commercial.
When it comes to souvenir shopping few visitors leave without purchasing boomerangs, didgeridoos (a musical instrument carved out of a tree branch and hand-decorated) and other aboriginal arts and crafts. Sydney shopping districts include Paddington (Oxford Street in particular), Surry Hills (Crown Street), Woollahra (Queen Street). If your ship calls at Sydney during a weekend, outdoor markets, including those of Paddington, are “musts” for avid shoppers.
Cruise lines that sail from, or call at Sydney include Crystal, Holland America, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and Silversea.
IF YOU GO – For additional information, visit www.sydney.com.