We were very excited to be arriving in Sydney at last, as we had had such an amazing time on our last visit here 4 years ago, so got up early to watch the sail in (and have another chat with another lovely friend!) The weather was beautiful, and we saw the sun rise as we entered the bay. The ship was anchoring today as there was another cruise ship in the main berth, so we watched as she found her position and let the anchors down. And what a beautiful position it was - amazing views of the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the city skyline, as well as the multitude of sailing ships all around, ferries dotting back and forth, and sea planes flying over the bay. Wow!
We had a while to wait on board while all those going on organised excursions were sent ashore on the tender boats, and then it was our turn, and we got a pleasant surprise - the company had hired some extra ships to help get everyone ashore as quickly as possibly, and we travelled on a large shiny new catamaran, rather than the cramped orange lifeboats that we normally use! The catamaran dropped us right next to the Opera House, from where we set off on our self guided tour for the day! First stop, Circular Quay ferry terminal, to buy tickets to Watsons Bay, ready for a walk around the South Head area. We had another lovely modern ferry to take us on the 20 minute trip, and we alighted in a gorgeous harbour of small boats, sandy beaches, and seafood restaurants galore! I had found a walking tour online, so we set off straight away along the shore. We soon realised there was no way we could get lost, as we met hundreds of people doing a sponsored walk coming in the other direction! The walk took us along the coast, past lots of picturesque houses (including one called Frog Hollow!), to Laings Point, where there were incredible views back to the city and of the South Head peninsula. We scrambled over some slippery rocks and had a lovely walk along a sandy beach (and a delicious strawberry smoothie from the local cafe!), and then a short climb to the entrance of South Head Heritage Trail in the National Park. As well as all the sponsored walkers, we also encountered a wedding party here! I could see why, as the views all around were gorgeous [JL: Emma forgot to mention the nudist beach which she had to edit out of her photos...]. After passing a large cannon on the cliff top [JL: no relation to my previous entry...] and walking close to the fenced off military base, we finally came to the extremity of the park where the pretty red and white Hornby Lighthouse is located. You could see from the size of the waves and rocks below that this area could be rather perilous, and this lighthouse is still in use today. There were lovely views all around, including of North Head just across the way, and the open sea stretching off into the distance. It was then time for the return walk to the town, this time by road rather than beach, allowing us to see many cute houses, one with a beautiful cat on the fence!
It was still early, so we set off on the second part of our walk here, across the pretty Robertson Park, popping into a souvenir shop where I failed to find a nice magnet but did find an Oscars special of Hello magazine :-) and then up (and up and up and up!) to the area known as The Gap. You could immediately see where it gets its name, as the ground suddenly drops away and a huge area appears where the waves crash against the rocks below. It is unsurprisingly a popular spot for suicides :-( The views were incredible - of the plunging cliffs and waters in various shades of blue, and also back to the city, as well as the birds and butterflies all around. We eventually made our way back down again to the ferry terminal, just in time for lunch! We decided to eat at the quaint 'Doyles on the Beach' seaside restaurant, boasting world famous fish and chips. JL enjoyed a dozen oysters and a dish of scallops, while I had the chips! We then went for a walk along the beach, past the fenced off swimming area, and had an ice cream while waiting for our ferry back to the city.
The ferry ride gave us more gorgeous views of Sydney Harbour and city, and of the Aurora anchored, as well as the group of brave climbers who had just made it to the top of the Harbour Bridge, before dropping us off back at Circular Quay. On the map that we had been given I had circled various places which sounded interesting, and so we set off now on another 'Emma guided walk' (JL is so trusting isn't he?!?!) We saw a number of pretty churches and cathedrals, some cute parks with lovely flowers such as a patch of bird of paradise ones, lots of birds (some with very long curved beaks which look like they belong in a rainforest rather than a city centre!), and buildings old and new. I used some of my remaining dollars to buy 2 punnets of strawberries and an Australian Big Issue. We then started the walk back to the harbour, which took somewhat longer than I had envisaged... Oops! Nevertheless, we made it in time for the checkin for an activity I had booked for the afternoon - a cruise on a tall ship! It even had a pirate flag! JL had opted not to come on this one, so I left him to go and buy a beer, while I joined the crew to sail round the harbour (again!) and watch the sails being raised and ship being steered by the crew who live onboard. There was an optional activity (which I chickened out of in the end) of climbing up to the crows nest - you were put in a safety harness and hooked on before you climbed the flimsy looking rope ladder and then sat at the top of the mast. There was commentary about the city and harbour throughout the trip, and landmarks were shown such as the president's and ambassador's houses. While we were out there, another cruise ship sailed out of the bay, and sounded its horn as a goodbye, which was then echoed by our cruise ship, and then the pirate ship joined in with its own horn! Just before the end of the trip, we sailed under the harbour bridge (the mast only just fit it appeared, although apparently there was about 20 metres clearage!)
Back on dry land, JL and I had a few hours to kill as there was no access to the Aurora between 5.30pm and 8pm as during that time it was moving from its anchored position to a much more convenient shoreside position in Circular Quay, once another ship had left. We therefore headed firstly to my favourite Starbucks, where I enjoyed a cup of tea, a chocolate muffin, and an hour's free wifi! We then went to find a restaurant as JL was itching for more oysters! We found a lovely place overlooking the quay, which meant we got to watch the Aurora sail in! This was a very bizarre experience! We watched with great interest as the crew threw down ropes to secure the ship (I sometimes find it hard to believe that such a big vessel is simply held there by a load of old ropes!) and got out the gangways. Eventually we were let back on board, and I just had time for a quick change before heading to the theatre to see the local cultural group, Descendence, who performed a very cool mixture of didgeridoo music, drumming, chanting, and representative dances of different animals and traditional activities. Back in the room I went out on our balcony for a look at the Opera House, all lit up with the full moon behind it, and suddenly a firework display started from the top of the building which I stayed watching (in my pyjamas!) A magical end to a magical day! [see the photos on Facebook ]