I love all forms of public transportation, but trains and ferries hold a special place in my heart. I’m still exploring Sydney’s train network and will report on that later. Today, however, I can share a ferry tale (pun intended). First, imagine my shock and joy to find that Sydney’s public ferries are fully integrated with the train and bus system. Using the same transit card, I could easily grab the train to the harbor and then hop a ferry to various parts of the metro area. (Remind me why Chicago can’t integrate Metra and CTA?)
Sydney is, after all, surrounded by water and being on a ferry allows you to gain a more complete picture of the city. I would have enjoyed taking the ferry regardless of its destination or route, but I certainly appreciated the beautiful view of the opera house, bridge, and skyline as we moved slowly away from Circular Quay Wharf (pronounced circular key. Again, why?).
Today, my target was Manly, one of the Northern Beaches on the Pacific Ocean. Manly is technically a suburb of Sydney, but it feels like a small beach town on an island. In the summer, I’m told it’s full of sunbathers, swimmers, and surfers. My guide book went so far as to say that it’s only worth spending an hour or so in town during the winter. I’m inclined to disagree with Lonely Planet on this account. I had a perfect day outside and definitely recommend going in July. When I disembarked on the harbor side, I strolled through Manly’s equivalent of a boardwalk, The Corso, to the ocean. After marveling at the brave souls who were surfing and swimming in the chilly Pacific, I went to find what had encouraged me to come to Manly: the 10km trail looping around the peninsula through North Head, part of the extensive Sydney Harbour National Park. I picked this trail in part because it was supposed to offer stunning views of the pacific and the river, but also because it was easily accessible from the city. As someone who has lived in a major city for the past eight years and hopes to continue to live in urban environments, I have a deep interest in connecting city dwellers to nature and exploring parks that are connected by public transit. This walk met and exceeded all of my expectations. Not only did I get to watch the sun reflecting on the ocean, the harbor and the rocky cliffs, but I got up close with Cockatoos and caught a small glimpse of whales off in the distance. (Sydney is whale watching central this time of year, as Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales migrate from Antarctica—much, I suppose, like I did this year.)
After rounding the peninsula and leaving the whales, I wandered through a cove with, as the tour office was eager to tell me, a small waterfall that was featured in the 2013 Great Gatsby movie. As I haven’t seen the movie and don’t know why it would need to include an Australian waterfall, the theatrical significance of this natural feature was lost on me. The natural beauty I could still appreciate and I enjoyed watching the water run off a small ledge onto a beach and into the river.
Taking a break from exploring the physical environment of Manly, I found a bench above the river and tried to understand Sydney’s political reality. From a bench above the river, I started to read through a local newspaper. I was disappointed to realize that 40% of it focused on US and international news, 20% on racing stats, 15% on sports, and 25% on Aussie issues. I was even more disappointed to read the Aussie news. I’m still trying to get a handle on the political situation in Australia so I’m not sure if what I read is truly reflective of the country. However, a few snippets caught my eye, reminding me of home and raising my blood pressure: apparently there’s a current battle over clean energy. The federal government is anti-renewables, but several of the states are interested in setting goals for renewable energy (sound familiar, America?). Some members of the federal government are claiming that the states should not increase renewables because renewable energy “will kill people.” Apparently, this particular man is unfamiliar with the facts about fossil fuels and human health.
Thoroughly disgusted, I put down the paper and decided that I needed to end my trip to Manly on a more positive note. I headed to the beach for one last look at the ocean and some people watching. I was amused to watch the battle between birds and tourists that seems to play out in every country. The beach was much more crowded at 3pm than it had been at 10am and the gulls were out in full force. Sydney has Silver Gulls, which, with their sharp orange beak and strikingly white feathers, look much more menacing than seagulls. Two young men sat on the steps down to the sand, attempting to eat some sort of fried fish. The Silver Gulls, however, had home court advantage. The gulls would hover about their prey, dive down, and then ride the currents back up to repeat the process, getting closer to their goal each time. The humans quickly decided the risk to their meal was too great and they opted to find another spot to eat. The gulls failed to grab a snack, but they offered a perfect amusing end to my outing to Manly.