Escapism

Jill Worrall leaves Timaru to take on the world - bringing adventure travel to your desktop

In search of Sydney's best vista

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The Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as seen from Mrs Macquarie's Point. Photo / Jill Worrall
The Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as seen from Mrs Macquarie's Point. Photo / Jill Worrall

If Elizabeth Macquarie could see how her favourite vantage point from which to admire Sydney harbour is now almost constantly thronged with visitors, I wonder if she would be surprised.

Elizabeth was the wife of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales between 1810 and 1821. Apparently it was convicts who carved from sandstone the seat for her, creating the perfect viewpoint from which she could watch ships arriving from "Home" or Great Britain.

Today, what is known as Mrs Macquarie's chair offers the same panoramic view of the harbour but gunmetal grey vessels from the Royal Australian Navy's Garden Island base across Woolloomooloo Bay or Sydney's distinctive green and cream ferries have mostly replaced the rather more picturesque sights of tall ships in full sail.

On the brow of the small promontory just above Mrs Macquarie's chair is one of Sydney's most perfect views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Be prepared to queue though if you want that quintessential vista because this is the place for group photos.

A group of bubbly Japanese schoolgirls in short tartan kilts and kneesocks seemed to be in permanent possession of the best spot when I visited. I wondered if their guide would be telling them that just off the Garden Island naval base, back in 1942, an Aussie depot ship (a converted Sydney ferry) was sunk by a Japanese midget submarine...

Officially Mrs Macquarie's Point is part of the Domain but this flows almost seamlessly into the Royal Botanic Gardens. To truly appreciate this much-loved part of Sydney set aside at least a morning to walk around its waterside walkways and then criss cross through the gardens themselves.

If you start in Woolloomoolloo Bay, Harry's Cafe de Wheels, a pie cart par excellence, is nearby. If you have the constitution for it the legendary Harry's Tiger - a beef pie with mushy peas, mash and gravy - could set you up for the morning's walk.

Between Harry's and the entrance to the domain is the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf, home to a rather more refined style of dining (at distinctly more rarefied prices than Harry's).

Apparently Russell Crowe has an apartment here.

There was no sign of him when we walked past but the floating gin palaces in the marina indicated there were several other apartment dwellers nearby with quantities of disposable cash.

Steps hewn into the sandstone climb up from water-level into the Domain where a path leads past the Andrew (Boy) Charlton Swimming Pool.

Charlton was an Olympic swimmer who won a gold medal aged just 16. The pool is also thought to be the birthplace of the Australian crawl or freestyle stroke.

Beyond the pool lies Mrs Macquarie's chair; another namesake spot, Mrs Macquaries Point; and that tourist-thronged view.

The path now curves around the gentle sweep of Farm Cove, where the first crops to feed Sydney's fledgling penal colony were grown. The Opera House and bridge provide continual photographic temptations - just watch out for the runners.

Sydney's joggers seem to be a fiercely dedicated lot. Not content with running at pace on the flat, many charge up and down the aptly named Fleet Steps in the Domain, one arm encircled with the latest in ipod and iphone holders (essential to keep electronics away from sweaty skin apparently).

While I can understand that running to one's favourite music might relieve the tedium of the daily run, earphones also block out the sounds of the prolific birdlife.

Gangs of sulphur-crested cockatoos squawk in the trees and rainbow lorikeets screech among the yellow flowering wattle.

On our visit squadrons of white ibis flapped overhead delivering material for their nests, welcome swallows swooped and dived and rock doves pottered on the paths.

What looked like giant pendulous fruits hanging from the bare branches of some of the large trees turned out to be grey-headed flying foxes. Although a native and protected species, they are about to be moved out of the gardens. Their numbers have swelled to more than 20,000 and so far they've killed nearly 50 trees and palms.

At the head of the cove, maybe take a detour into the gardens, there's a cafe and restaurant near the main pond and the lawns are dotted with an array of sculptures, including a lifesize horse and foal and woven metal creations that erupt like giant blooms from the shrubberies. There are benches from which to admire it all - if they have not all been claimed by some of Sydney's homeless.

I like the signs which implore visitors to "Please Walk on the Grass!" That's a dramatic contrast to parks and gardens in countries such as France where officious uniformed men emit shrill blasts on their whistles if you attempt to step on the hallowed turf.

Back on the Farm Cove walk it's now just a short stroll to the Opera House Gate and, unsurprisingly a close-up view of the Opera House itself. This too is the ideal place for people-watching - men in sharp suits, gaggles of group tourists and everyone in between.

I was diverted from the view, including the ever-changing array of ferries coming and going from Circular Quay, by a Spanish woman in full cry organising her son to star in a perfect Sydney photo. He was on a lower terrace so the photo opportunity involved much shouting and gesticulating. She appeared to be oblivious to the "I want to die" demeanour of her offspring, who nevertheless moved obligingly from left to right again as Mum made sure that the pillars of the bridge were not erupting from the middle of his head.

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