- The Thumbnail Traveler
- Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.
Friday, May 2, 2014
DISPATCHES FROM THE ROAD: The Rocks
"The Rocks, inhabited by the most profligate and depraved part of the population..."
- Commissioner Bigge, 1823
The Australian Adventure continues as I find myself 30,000 feet over the continental East Coast on a flight from Sydney to Cairns, looking back at the myriad of adventures from our first destination, New South Wales. From Cairns we will drive roughly 40 miles north to a town called Port Douglas, where we have several world-class activites planned, particularly involving a snorkel out at The Great Barrier Reef.
The visit to Sydney was a whirlwind, no doubt. In four days we managed to pack a variety of things in, spending two days afield and two days in town. Despite the obvious touristy trappings, I find myself once again, endorsing the Hop On Hop Off bus tours as a marvelous way to get the lay of the land -- which in the case of Sydney was vital to getting a glimpse of a few things we would otherwise have completely passed by without any knowledge that we'd missed a thing.
Of the in-town activities, our favorite, without exception, was the evening we spent with our friends in an area of the town called The Rocks. Our day trips were terrific, and we quite enjoyed several other activities, but The Rocks simply was the most fun and the most relaxed part of our short stay in New South Wales.
In any other city this kind of a gentrified neighborhood with Bohemian roots would be called something less creative: like "Old Town", or "The Wharf". But in typical Aussie fashion it's much more characteristically called The Rocks. Despite the name, suggesting you might require some form of athletic gear to make your way around, it's really just an area of gently sloping knolls with old and new buildings interspersed with each other, trying for a singular, cohesive style. Shops, galleries and eating establishments line the streets and walkways, a conveniently easy destination for visiting cruise ships at the Quay. At the far end northeast end of this little peninsula of land jutting out from downtown, nearly invisible as it huddles beneath the world-famous Coat Hanger (the Sydney Bridge), lies the very chic Parc Hyatt Hotel, and next to that a wonderful three-masted wharf development with a line of outdoor restaurants inhabiting some of the former import/export warehouses and other shipping buildings dating to the early 20th century and before.
Among the most amazing views from this perfectly situated spot feature are the Sydney Opera House across the bay; a wonderfully photogenic angle on the Sydney Bridge; and, looking back over your shoulder, a nice angle on The Rocks with the towers of downtown Sydney rising behind them. Photogenic and exciting, with a whiff of a cosmopolitan history in the air.
Our small group of four had dinner at the center most restaurant, the Waterfront Grill, feasting, in my case, on an excellent variation on Coq au Vin -- and the indulgence of a couple of martinis.
As might be assumed, the best time to visit this area is in the early evening, when the lights of the bridge and Opera House make for truly spectacular and memorable views. The walking about is pretty easy, though the sloping sidewalks might give pause for anyone who might have a hip or foot problem. My suggestion is to take advantage of the frequently-placed bench or convenient low wall and make your visit a leisurely and unhurried walk through the area to absorb the energy and vibe. Find a spot to sit, and simply watch the scene as it unfolds. In its own way, The Rocks is every bit Sydney's equivalent of San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, New York's Village, Paris' Bastille, or New Orleans' Veiux Carre. It's a fun, historic and slightly bohemian section of town, excellent for people watching. (On this particular Saturday night we saw everything from awestruck wandering tourists to families enjoying a night out to highly fashionable couples to roving bands of college students looking for an exciting place to drink and mingle.)
The Rocks is conveniently situated between the rail and boat stations at Circular Quay (easily accessible by Taxi and Hop On Hop Off busses), and the southern foot of the Sydney Bridge. Taxis are frequent, and finding a table for a meal isn't too difficult, though lines for night clubs could be extensive late in the evening.
Best at night, and bring a solid credit card because -- like all of Sydney -- The Rocks will give foreigners a bit of sticker shock. Well worth the cost given the experience, view, fun and memories you will take home.