Work in Sports
A native’s guide to Sydney
By Jason Dasey, CNNSI.com
The Olympics are coming to my hometown. It's still hard to believe. Growing up in Sydney, the world's major sporting events were always so distant and untouchable, something we'd stay up in the wee hours to watch on television.
Of course, Melbourne had the Olympics in 1956, but that was before I was born. The prospect of another Games seemed remote to say the least.
And then came that heady day in September 1993 when IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch offered the words that are now etched on the memory of almost every Australian:
"And the winner is…Sydney."
I happened to be visiting Perth at the time of the Samaranch announcement from Monte Carlo, but the excitement in Western Australia matched that of New South Wales' eastern coast where Sydney is situated.
All Australians realized that earning the right to host the Games would benefit the entire nation. Not just economically but, in a sense, spiritually. For two weeks, the rest of the world would have a chance to get to know us better. We could open up our very isolated country to the global community, with the full knowledge that for two weeks at least, we had almost everyone's attention. Despite the high cost of airfares, the Olympics are attracting many first-time visitors to Australia. To help visitors, I've compiled a special list with some my favorite things to do in Sydney. Some of these suggestions you'll find in the tourist books, but many of them you won't. I make no apologies that this list reflects on my upbringing on the city's lower North Shore and also my preference for an active lifestyle.
Favorite things to do in Sydney
1. Ferry ride on Sydney Harbor: Forget the expensive chartered cruises. Just take one of dozens of regular ferries, which carry passengers across what's been described as the world's most beautiful harbor. One short ride that I enjoy is from Circular Quay (near the city center) to Lavender Bay (on the city's lower North Shore). Cost is less than US$3 each way.
2. Beach volleyball at Manly Beach: You can also catch a ferry (or the faster Jet-Cat) to Manly, one of Sydney's northern beaches. Manly has many attractions, but one of the best is beach volleyball. Try to join in a pickup game about halfway up this long beach (near North Steyne Surf Club). Often you'll find yourself playing with some of the international students who study English at language schools in Manly.
3. Picnic and bush-walking at Balls Head Reserve: Sydney has many beautiful spots along the harbor, but one of the best-kept secrets is Balls Head Reserve. Balls Head is about a 15-minute walk from Waverton railway station. Balls Head has a wonderful view of the harbor, plus at least one genuine Aboriginal painting. There are also easy trails for short bush-walks. Great place for a picnic.
4. Aussie beer at the Oaks Hotel: The Oaks Hotel at Neutral Bay (near North Sydney) is one of the most popular pubs on the lower North Shore. This is the heart of Yuppieville and a very good place to "people watch". As well as its indoor bars, the Oaks has an attractive outdoor beer garden. You can also cook your own steak or chicken (for sale next to the bar) on the pub's grills. One popular beer is Cooper's Ale (originally from South Australia), but be warned: Its much higher in alcohol than most European and U.S. These days, I usually prefer some of the non-alcohol brews available.
5. Vietnamese experience in Cabramatta: In recent years, many Vietnamese immigrants have settled in Australia. Cabramatta is the capital of the Vietnamese community, about a 45-minute train ride from the city center. The suburb not only has tasty and inexpensive Vietnamese cuisine, but many restaurants serving dishes from other Asian nations, including Thailand, South Korea and China.
6. Touch rugby at Balmoral Beach: For a taste of the Mediterranean, head down to Balmoral on Sydney's North Shore. This is a very upscale community with several trendy restaurants and shops. As the beach is tucked away from the ocean, there are no waves, which makes for relaxing swimming. Also, at the adjoining Balmoral Oval, look out for pickup games of touch rugby, a non-contact version of this rather physical sport.
7. Swimming at North Sydney Olympic Pool: This scenic spot under the north end of the Sydney Harbor Bridge used to be Australia's No. 1 pool and was the scene of world records set by former Aussie champions Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose. It's since been overtaken by many other swimming centers around the country, but remains a much-loved and much-utilized venue, with a hint of nostalgia. As you'll discover, even casual “lap-swimmers” set a mean pace in water-mad Australia.
8. Italian food in East Sydney: A 20-minute walk from downtown are two of the city's best and most inexpensive Italian restaurants, Bill and Toni's, and No Names. The eateries face each other on a quiet street in East Sydney and serve hearty Italian fare for less than US$10 for a complete meal. Fresh Italian bread and orange “cordial” is available at both restaurants, free of charge. After your meal at either place, head downstairs for dessert and coffee.
9. Greenwood Shopping Center, North Sydney: The tourist books will send you to the more expensive shopping malls downtown, but it's hard to beat Greenwood Shopping Center, on the other side of the bridge in North Sydney. Greenwood has a very sophisticated ambiance and good prices at a variety of stores. Also recommended: the New York-style cheesecake in the food court. Adjoins North Sydney Railway Station.
10. Watch a game at North Sydney Oval: This English-style ground, with its picket fence and quaint grandstands, is one of the most charming sports venues in Australia. Whether it's in the “Bob Stand” or on the “Hill,” North Sydney Oval is a great place to watch cricket, rugby or soccer. It also offers some up-market food and refreshments. A 15-minute walk from North Sydney station.
Australian-born Jason Dasey is a co-anchor for World Sport, a 30-minute international sports news and highlights program shown on CNNSI and CNN International.