9. Walks by Water

Sydney lies in one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. I don’t think you can ever tire of walking the Quay from beneath the massive sandstone pylons and grey arches of the Bridge to the stunning curves of Utzon’s Opera House.

Between those points, ferries ply the sparkling waters, trundling in and out from the terminals and tourists and locals alike wander happily on perfect sunny days. Millions of snaps are taken in front of iconic scenes, innumerable ice-creams licked while strolling and thousands of drinks sipped in the cafes and restaurants that line the promenade.

Past the Opera House you can continue walking by the water, following the familiar shape of the sandstone wall which edges the Botanic Gardens around to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. It’s idyllic. I love watching people enjoying it, particularly foreign visitors. I love hearing their accents. I love seeing family groups sitting on the grassy banks of the Gardens beneath the spreading Moreton Bay figs. I love that the signs invite rather than prohibit us to walk on the green expanse of it.

I knew these bits well but the rest was largely a mystery viewed from afar, so I decided that in my 50th year it was about time the harbour foreshores and I became better acquainted.

I already had on my shelves the book Sydney’s best Harbour and Coastal Walks by Katrina O’Brien. At the time I had bought it, it was one of those purchases of good intent usually accompanied by the musing…’I must do that sometime’. Now, imbued with the spirit of my 50 new things, I retrieved it from my book shelf, dusted it off and set about tackling some of the walks. I stashed my day pack with supplies, laced up my walking shoes and set off usually by some combination of train, bus and ferry.

Each walk was stunning and I was amazed by the variety and perspective. There were sights I might have anticipated such as turquoise bays, gnarled canopies of angophoras, charming local parks and spectacular views across the harbour. Others were quite unexpected. A statue of a banksia man picking a thorn out of his foot. A cockatoo with a view. Chickens in coops, reclaimed industrial sites, and everywhere the signs of a much more complex and interesting history than might be imagined from the bow of a ferry on a sparkling sunny day.

Peering out across the harbour too, my thoughts were often occupied by how it must have been for those original inhabitants watching through the trees.

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