It’s known for its glorious harbour and opera house, but this Australian city is also full of diverse experiences, from surfing at Bondi Beach to camping among wild animals and drinking cocktails in a former Chinese gambling den. We try 15 of the best
WORDS: CHRISTA LARWOOD
PHOTOGRAPHS: CATHERINE SUTHERLAND
1. CLIMB THE SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE
“It’s much more than just a bridge,” says Graham Watson as he leads a group of climbers up a set of metal stairs, framed by a lattice-like network of studded girders. “It’s a symbol of the city and something we’re all proud of.”
We are climbing one of the world’s most iconic structures – the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or ‘The Coathanger’, as it’s affectionately known in these parts. From the inside, it is a maze of steel. As Graham navigates it, Sydney is revealed below. Skyscrapers seem to crowd the water’s edge at Circular Quay, which sweeps around to the jutting lip of land where the Sydney Opera House stands.
Eventually, Graham emerges at the top, the crest of the arch. From here, Sydney is a 360° panorama of coves, cliffs, beaches and jetties, set around the broad, sparkling waters of the harbour. “I do this climb up to 12 times a week,” Graham says. “And there’s always something different to see. Who could get tired of this?”
2. GET ON STAGE AT THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
Just after dawn, the soaring, cream roof sections of the Sydney Opera House take on a rosy hue, and all is calm – on the outside, at least. Inside, however, the building rings with shouts and clatters as sets are moved and props hoisted.
“It’s go, go, go, 24 hours a day here,” says Adam Sébire. He first entered the Opera House as a trombonist 23 years ago and now leads visitors through the hidden corners of this vast building. Adam makes his way through corridors filled with orderly jumbles of instruments and props, giant gilded Buddhas and flourishing fake plants. Beyond the Green Room – a lounge for performers, where superstition dictates that nothing is, in fact, coloured green – he emerges in a low-ceilinged bunker. This is the orchestra pit of the Joan Sutherland Theatre – a tiny space under the stage where dozens of musicians are crammed each day.
“It’s not always easy to perform in here,” he says, “especially when the fog from the dry ice on stage settles down in the pit, creating a real pea souper. But it’s every musician’s dream to perform at the Opera House.”
3. CATCH A SHOW AT THE ‘HOUSE OF DRAG’
At first glance, The Imperial Hotel could be any traditional Australian pub – pool tables, bar bristling with Antipodean beer taps, and carpet that’s gently sticky underfoot. Then, the entertainment arrives and everything changes.
Ménage A’Trois, dressed in spandex trousers and a blonde wig, steps onto the stage with a smile on her heavily-painted face, to the cheers of the crowd. Tonight, she lip-synchs high-energy rock song Sugar Daddy, punctuated with high kicks and groin thrusts.
Sydney’s drag scene is mainstream, not niche, and, whether you yearn for ABBA, Liza or Kylie, The Imperial is the queen.