Discovering “Sydney with Conviction” with Urban Adventures

Sydney Opera House on eatlivetravelwrite.comThose 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!

Sydney Harbour Bridge on eatlivetravelwrite.comBilled 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.

Opera House Sydney on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe 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!

Circular Quay railway station on eatlivetravelwrite.comDid 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.

First Settlers Australia on eatlivetravelwrite.comIt 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…

Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House on eatlivetravelwrite.com… we headed into The Rocks area.

Near The Rocks on eatlivetravelwrite.comLocated 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…

First settlers' houses in The Rocks on eatlivetravelwrite.comYup, 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.

Around The Rocks Sydney on eatlivetravelwrite.com(though there is some debate about that claim)

Customs House in Sydney on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe 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!).

Tank Stream Way Sydney on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe 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.

HMS Sirius Anchor and landmarks from Sydney's settelment on eatlivetravelwrite.comAll 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…

Old and New buildings in Sydney on eatlivetravelwrite.combut I think my favourite (most unexpected part) of the tour was discovering the Forgotten Songs Exhibit in Angel Place:

Forgotten Songs on eatlivetravelwrite.comBasically, 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.

Hyde Park Sydney on eatlivetravelwrite.comThrough 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!

Hyde Park Sydney on eatlivetravelwrite.comTo 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!

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18 Responses to Discovering “Sydney with Conviction” with Urban Adventures

  1. Lindsey January 8, 2014 at 07:20 #

    I too am a big fan of walking tours and will definitely seek out this company if I find myself in Australia (the MR. is certainly pushing for that to happen….)

    • Mardi Michels January 11, 2014 at 16:04 #

      You’d love Australia Lindsey – and hey, UA offer fab tours all over the world!

  2. Mr. Neil January 8, 2014 at 08:25 #

    Looking forward to UA leading a trip for Rotarian friends as we visit in June!

    (Oh – and can I just say Mr. Neil knew about Forgotten Songs Lane, and sent Miss Mardi an article suggesting she visit…before she took the tour. Kismet, indeed!)

    • Mardi Michels January 11, 2014 at 16:04 #

      Of course you did and yes, you and the other Rotarians will love this tour!

  3. Paula January 8, 2014 at 09:09 #

    Thank you for sharing your photos and experiences from your walking tour. It makes me want to visit Australia all the more. Very interesting biography on Mary Reibey! I adore the Forgotten Songs Lane (and wonder if any of the songbirds eventually returned to your homeland) and the architecture of Customs House is simply stunning.

    • Mardi Michels January 11, 2014 at 16:04 #

      I don’t know about the songbirds Paula but I think that probably not. Which makes this installation all the more lovely!

  4. yummychunklet January 8, 2014 at 12:25 #

    Great pictorial!

  5. Geoff January 8, 2014 at 16:22 #

    It’s odd sometimes that visitors to the city who undertake these tours generally end up knowing more about the place they’re visiting than the people who live there.
    Lovely pictorial coverage, Mardi.

    • Mardi Michels January 11, 2014 at 16:03 #

      I always find that people who visit a city inevitably know a lot about it – and yes, sometimes a lot of things that even residents don’t know!

  6. Coco in the Kitchen January 8, 2014 at 16:23 #

    These sorts of trips are extra-special. This is a memory you will cherish forever.
    We’ve been to Sydney. Stayed near the Bridge & Opera House. My fav place to eat was
    the Rocks Cafe. Their breakfast was a feast!

    • Mardi Michels January 11, 2014 at 16:02 #

      Well it was definitely a tour that taught me something!

  7. Jan @ Family Bites January 9, 2014 at 08:22 #

    Ah… looks like a fabulous tour and I love that you did it with you mum! Gorgeous photos, as always.

  8. Ann Mah January 9, 2014 at 13:53 #

    You make me long to visit Sydney, Mardi! What a wonderful way to learn even more about your home city. You’re inspiring me to take a walking tour of New York!

    • Mardi Michels January 11, 2014 at 16:01 #

      I highly recommend walking tours of one’s own city as well as ones you visit!

  9. Jill @ MadAboutMacarons January 10, 2014 at 06:56 #

    I’ve always wanted to visit Australia – especially Sydney – and so your virtual tour is wonderful, Mardi. This looks a super tour and so must go soon. Well, perhaps when it cools down a bit…

    • Mardi Michels January 11, 2014 at 16:01 #

      Wintertime in Australia is a great time to visit if you are not a fan of the heat…

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