Discovering a great harbour
EVEN on this hazy Sunday morning, the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and skyscrapers flanking Centrepoint’s tower are clearly visible between the trees.
With a little sand in our walking shoes from the beach landing off Athol Bay, we have followed our leader along the cleared dirt path and boardwalk, filling our lungs with clean, fresh oxygen, courtesy of the natural bushland.
We are gunning for Bradleys Head – a significant landmark in our nation’s military history.
But on this cool and overcast spring morning, those inspecting the weathered cannons, various fortifications and proud and tall mast from the first HMAS Sydney are outnumbered slightly by Sunday joggers, walkers, cyclists and anglers.
Try as I might to keep up, I fall behind as I take yet another photo of the harbour view.
Of the dozens of pictures I have captured over the years on numerous trips to the New South Wales capital, I have never taken one from this angle – nor with so many trees stealing the limelight.
So I keep on clicking away at this “new” Sydney I have uncovered, with the lush green framing the expansive blue.
From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, the Captain Cook Cruises’ Sydney Weekender package allows passengers to get to know one of the world’s great expanses of water better and see it from a new perspective.
The MV Captain Cook’s Explorer maps out a pleasant two-night voyage that has allowed us to sail under the Harbour Bridge (15 times!), peek into the backyards of the rich and famous, grab majestic views of the city skyline and Opera House, shop at The Rocks Markets and stroll around colourful Circular Quay.
We have felt the wind in our hair from the open Sun Deck, and dipped our hats at passing ferries, rivercats, yachts and sailboats of all descriptions enjoying the calm waters.
We have moored in the billionaire’s playground – even getting up close to retail and shopping mall legend Frank Lowy’s megacruiser, Ilonka, in the sheltered bay off Taronga Park Zoo.
But the true gold of this trip has been the green: the landmarks and bush sanctuaries of Sydney Harbour National Park – an area that remains unchartered territory for many Sydneysiders and visitors to the Harbour City.
Free morning and afternoon guided walks have added to the “surprise packet” itinerary.
On a perfect first morning in Sydney, cruise director Henryk Trocha delivers his take on Australian history as we head from the Man O’ War Steps at the Opera House at Bennelong Point, through Queen Elizabeth II Gate, to Mrs Maquarie’s Chair, down past Victoria Lodge and through the Botanic Gardens.
All the while, we are in awe of the view, dwarfed by the cityscape just beyond the jacarandas, palms and sprawling trees.
Afterwards, we enjoy the expert commentary while the ship takes a leisurely morning motor up the Lane Cove and Parramatta
Time to lie back and enjoy the ride undercover on the breezy Sun Deck, catch 40 winks in a comfy lounge, drink in the view and munch on a fresh pastry while reading the Saturday papers.
We don’t know which way to look.
The views are engrossing, as are the stories ranging from a wife’s love for bushranger Captain Starlight and their daring escape from Cockatoo Island, to the origin of Thomas Walker House convalescent hospital on the southern bank of the Parramatta River.
Others only look up now and then to take note of future America’s Cup hopefuls in their white or red-sailed sabots, when hearing coaches barking instructions to their skulling teams, or perhaps as the ship slows and the captain heads for the Riverview College Boatshed before skilfully making a “three-point turn”.
The next day, tour guide Sally Innes gives us an unmissable insider’s introduction to Watsons Bay. From the harsh beauty and tragic pull of Gap Bluff (scene of numerous suicides and at least one murder), to the sun-loving nudists of Lady Beach, to Hornby Lighthouse.
A plaque just off the popular bathing and diving beach at Camp Cove echoes the words from May 15, 1788, in a letter Captain Arthur Phillip wrote to Lord Sydney: “We … had the pleasure of discovering the finest harbour in the world.”
Names will float away, pictures may fade but fond memories of a weekend sailing on the world’s finest harbour never will.
Captain Cook Cruises’ Captain Cook’s Explorer can welcome aboard up to 124 guests in 62 cabins on a two-night voyage, leaving King Street Wharf each Friday night.
For more information, visit www.captaincook.com.au