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Sensational Sydney

Sensational Sydney

In Sydney, the largest, oldest, and most beautiful of Australia's cities, the monumental doesn't figure prominently. There are no great pyramids, no historic ruins, no monuments or buildings that warrant a tedious day of touring, except perhaps its Opera House and Harbour Bridge. But those two landmarks aside, it's Sydney's colourful neighbourhoods and their inhabitants that will give you the most enjoyment. And within the city's sprawling boundaries and its rugged hinterland, you'll find a microcosm of all Australia.

As the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia, Sydney's location on Australia's southeast coast of the Tasman Sea is ideal. Nearly constant sunshine and average temperatures ranging from about 17 to 29°C (63 to 85°F) in summer and 7 to 18°C (45 to 66°F) in winter, makes exploring it a pleasure.

In 1770, British sea captain Lieutenant James Cook landed in Botany Bay on the Kurnell Peninsula. It's here that Cook made first contact with one of Australia's Aboriginal communities. The British Government instructed Arthur Phillip to establish a convict settlement with prisoners aboard a fleet of 11 ships on January 18, 1788. However, he soon discovered that this site was unsuitable for habitation because of poor soil and a lack of reliable fresh water. So Phillip subsequently founded the colony one inlet further up the coast at Sydney Cove on Port Jackson on January 26,1788. He had intended the colony's original name to be Albion, but he decided to named it after the British Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, in recognition of his role in issuing the charter authorizing Phillip to establish the colony. On July 20, 1842, the municipal council declared Sydney to be the first city in Australia.

Rapid suburban development began with the advent of steam-powered tramways and railways in the late 19th century. As the financial and economic hub of Australia, Sydney has grown to become a wealthy and prosperous city.

Sydney has many fine and internationally known museums and galleries, such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Sydney, the Powerhouse Museum, the Australian Museum of Natural History, and the Australian National Maritime Museum. Other attractions include Royal Botanical Gardens, Luna Park, some 40 beaches and Sydney Tower.

But it's within its inner-city neighbourhoods where you'll meed the Sydneysiders, as the locals like to call themselves. Paddington, about 10 minutes by cab from town, is a roughly mile-square huddle of Victorian row houses which used to be workingmen's cottages, adorned with ornately patterned cast-iron balconies, known as Sydney lace. You'll find the best art galleries here, along with some excellent restaurants and pubs, as well as Victoria Barracks, a great example of mid-Victorian, Empire-at-its-best grandeur. Balmain, a bit of post-trendy inner suburbia poking into the dock area, is less sleek than Paddington but more Sydney. The ritzy shoreside suburb of Double Bay, with its promenade each Saturday morning, offers a great way to see Sydneysiders at their best.

Sydney also has miles of golden beaches. Bondi Beach, offering a breathtaking arc of tawny sand and frothing surf, is the main central city one. You'll also find nude beaches around the city.

But to see the real Australia, you'll need to venture beyond the city limits. Do it in style with a luxury escorted tour of Australia. Rent a houseboat for a 24-hour cruise around the estuary and lower reaches of the Hawkesbury, the complex river system that encircles the city. Take a scenic drive to vineyards in Hunter Valley to sample the wines. Or take a drive by the Great Western Highway into the Blue Mountains to see grand canyons, cliffs walls, and waterfalls.