- 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?”.
- GET ON A 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 Sebire. 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.
Menage 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.
- TRY 300 WINES IN A NOTORIUS BACK ALLEY
Back in the 1920s, when Sydney’s ‘razor gang’ kingpins battled for control of the nearby streets, this Darlinghurst alley was not a safe place to find oneself. These days, this passage attracts locals who descend on the tiny Love, Tilly Devine bar.
The walls inside the cosy space are crammed with bottles of fine wine — from boutique local chardonnays and sauvignon blancs, to luxury French Grand Crus and an ‘orange wine’ from the Yarra Valley. This is a far cry from the local establishments frequented by Tilly Devine, once Sydney’s most notorious brothel madam.
- TRY AN AUSSIE PIE AT THE BOURKE ST BAKERY
On the corner of a quiet, tree-lined street in the suburb of Surry Hills is the Bourke Street Bakery. It’s so popular with Sydneysiders that they will drive across town to visit, and there’s no doubting what most people come here for. Pies. Delicious, flake-pastried meat pies crammed with soft pieces of beef and oozing with gravy.
“The meat pie is part of our Australian identity, like kangaroos or Vegemite,” says Paul Allam, the former chef and bakery co-founder. “It’s our national dish, so we had to make them good.”
These pies are certainly a cut above those cheerfully guzzled at football grounds and school canteens across the country. The meat inside is tender wagyu beef cheeks and shins, braised for five hours with vegetables and malt vinegar, while the pastry is made with fresh butter.
The key, according to Paul, is that it can’t fall apart when you eat it with one hand. “That’s the test,” he says, smiling. “I suppose for safety reasons we shouldn’t condone it, but we applaud the ability to eat a pie with one hand while you drive. It’s an important part of Aussie pie-eating culture.”