Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will know by now what a huge fan I am of walking tours wherever I go (see the end of this post for a list of some of my favourites) so it won’t be a surprise to you to know that over the holidays when I was in Sydney, I was keen to see if I could find one there. I didn’t have to look far – one of my favourite “city walking tour” operators, Urban Adventures, offers not one but three tours and I was honoured to accept their invitation to check one of them out. Of course, tours are more fun with a friend so I bought my mum a ticket for Christmas so we could enjoy the “Sydney with Conviction” tour together!
Billed as a “different way to see Sydney”, this tour takes participants on a stroll through Sydney off the beaten path, showing you some of Sydney’s most popular sites from a different perspective as you learn all about the history of modern Australia, from the landing of the First Fleet in 1788 to the present day. When Kim, our guide, met us at the start of the tour (in fact, it was just the two of us participating – talk about lucky!), he wondered what he could possibly teach two Australians, one of whom has lived in Sydney for many years. Well I’ve always said you never stop learning and hey, my Australian history lessons are rather fuzzy in my mind all these years after primary school so I was confident that Kim could teach us both a few things about Sydney in the 2 hour ($40AUD) tour.
We started the tour at Circular Quay, Sydney Cove being the site of the landing of the First Fleet back in 1788. Even before we’d headed into The Rocks area, I’d learned much more than I remembered from my history lessons all those years ago!
Did you know that there are nine Sydney Ferries (operating primarily on inner-harbour routes) which are named for nine of the eleven vessels in the First Fleet? I didn’t (LOVE the Sydney Ferries, by the way!). I also learned the convict population of the First Fleet was far less than I remembered/ knew about in the first place (though there is no definitive, accurate list) and Kim did a wonderful job of making those early days of settlement come alive for us with his stories.
It certainly did not sound like a fun time for those early convicts who were Australia’s first white inhabitants but as we moved through The Rocks area, we learned about a lot of folks who really made the best of being sent to a penal colony and who ended up with a far better quality of life than had they stayed behind in Britain. We heard some inspiring stories, like that of Mary Reibey who, today, graces the Australian $20 bill.
With one last glance back at arguably two of Sydney’s most popular tourist attractions…
… we headed into The Rocks area.
Located on the southern shore of Sydney Harbour, The Rocks gets its name from the local sandstone many of the early buildings were made of. Definitely not an area for the well-to-do as the size of the houses shows…
Yup, that’s an entire house right there – two whole rooms (no sanitation either). Standing in that tiny space you can only imagine how primitive the living conditions were. Moving along through some of the more touristy parts of The Rocks, we spotted what *might* be “Sydney’s oldest pub”, The Fortune of War.
(though there is some debate about that claim)
The gorgeous Customs House was our next port of call – inside, it offers a unique “bird’s eye view” of Sydney and if you don’t believe me, you need to go and check it out. It might surprise you! Moving along into the CBD, both mum and I learned all about the “Tank Stream” – neither of us had heard of it before (though of course my dad knew all about it when we tried to tell him later that day!).
The Tank Stream is, in fact, a stream of fresh water that runs underneath the city. When the city was first settled by the British, the stream of water emptied into the Cove but after a few years, the water supply couldn’t meet their needs so the the convicts were tasked with digging holding tanks into its watercourse, thus giving this water supply its name – The Tank Stream. Nowadays, in the basement of the old GPO building in Martin Place (worth a visit in its own right), there is a tiny museum housing some of the brick drains and some of the objects which, over the years have been found in the Stream’s waters.
All over Sydney, if you know where to look, there are relics of Sydney’s storied past. Having a knowledgeable guide to point these out is indispensable if you don’t want to miss them (it’s easy – seems like everywhere has something of historical significance in that part of town!).
I personally loved the contrast of the old and new buildings…
but I think my favourite (most unexpected part) of the tour was discovering the Forgotten Songs Exhibit in Angel Place:
Basically, bird cages suspended above a tiny lane accompanied by birdcalls commemorate the songs of fifty birds which were once heard in central Sydney before being gradually forced out of the city by the European settlement. The birdcalls change depending on the time of day, with daytime warbles giving way to sounds of the nocturnal birds who used to live in the area. It is, simply put, beautiful.
Our tour ended in the gorgeously green Hyde Park in the centre of the city.
Through the duration of the tour, Kim kept us entertained with stories, anecdotes and so much more information that you can imagine one person could remember! His knowledge of the city and his ability to deliver this information in a lively, interesting manner was remarkable. I could have listened to him for a few more hours, that’s for sure!
To answer Kim’s original question – what could he possibly teach two Australians on a walking tour of and Australian city? PLENTY! I couldn’t recommend this tour more highly – it’s a lovely way to see some of the Sydney sights with a local AND learn a Cole’s Notes version of Australia’s early history. For $40AUD per person for a 2 hour tour, it’s a bargain, in my book!
Click to find out about Urban Adventures’ Sydney tours.
Other city walking tours I have enjoyed:
Urban Adventures When Pigs Fry tour in Toronto
Urban Adventures “Secret Paris” tour
Urban Adventures Bohemian Paris tour
Flavors of Paris tour on the Left Bank
Context Paris’ Chocolate Walk
Context Paris’ “Bobo Palate: New Trends in Parisian Cuisine“
Context Paris’ Baguette to Bistro tour
La Cuisine Paris’ “Sugar Walk” of the Marais
“Bellies on Foot” with La Cuisine Paris
Touring Le Potager du Roi in Versailles with La Cuisine Paris
A food tour of Paris’ 7th arrondissment with Localers
Disclosure: I was a guest of Urban Adventures on the “Sydney with Conviction” tour. I was not asked to write about this, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions are 100% my own.
For other pictures from my trip to Australia over the holidays, check out my iPhone photos on Flickr!