Alright, here is a snapshot of various things we visited in Sydney:
The SEA LIFE Aquarium
Our first stop was the SEA LIFE Aquarium, mainly to see the widely advertised dugongs (2 of the 5 dugongs in the world on display) because I LOVE DUGONGS.
I was worried the aquarium would be super busy because of the school holidays, but since it was a weekday it was not bad. We spent most of our time looking at the dugongs. They are named Pig and Wuru, and were both found orphaned and raised at the aquarium. They are super fat and need to be fed lettuce every 10-15 minutes, so they have their own set of personal feeding staff (which seems like it may be a very tedious job, but you get to look at the dugongs all day, so). Pig’s best friend is a zebra shark named Brian, and they swam around together in a super cute fashion. Everything about them made me very happy.
There were lots of other cool things at the aquarium, including various rays, sharks, seahorses, enormous and tiny fish, octopi, and platypus. We also did all the different educational activities, because if there’s one thing I love, it’s participating in activities meant for small children.
The aquarium is in Darling Harbour, so afterwards we wandered around a bit looking at all the trendy restaurants that were too expensive for us. There also happened to be a big rugby final on that weekend, so there were lots of related activities and people in jerseys. I was mostly confused because I don’t know anything about how that game works. Chris mostly liked the extremely stereotypical sports team names of all the NRL teams.
The Australian Museum
The Australian Museum is part natural history museum and part Australia-specific displays. The main hall has been kept the same-ish since the original construction of the museum, so it’s pretty cool and done in a sort of “cabinet of curiosities” style. This means lots of skeletons, taxidermied animals, and things preserved in jars.
Chris’s favourite part was the giant sperm whale skeleton, and they also hilariously had some dinosaur fossils from Drumheller. There was a whole floor dedicated to things in Australia that may kill you, and how to tell them apart from similar things in Australia that won’t kill you. We spent a while looking at the jillion kinds of snakes and spiders that live here before deciding that it was best to just avoid all of them.
It was also pretty eye-opening to learn about some of the Aboriginal history and some of the prevalent racism against the indigenous peoples (and others – Australia had a whites-only immigration policy for awhile) as there were some similarities to Canadian Aboriginal issues.
The Sydney Opera House
I had been yammering all week about going to see the Sydney Opera House, even though Chris doesn’t really understand the point of going to famous landmarks just to take a picture next to them (the point is for Instagram, obviously). We first walked over to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair to get some good views across the harbour (History Note: Lachlan Macquarie was the governor of New South Wales largely responsible for its successful transition from a penal colony to a free settlement; he had this chair carved at the lookout for his wife). This also let us wander through the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are quite nice. Like a huge tourist I was taking pictures of all the parrots and harbour birds, even though I’m pretty sure they are the equivalent of pigeons here. At the Opera House we walked around and took a quick peek inside before deciding that sadly it wasn’t really in our budget to spend a couple hundred dollars actually going to see a concert.
The Rocks and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
The Rocks is this trendy harbour side neighbourhood, with lots of markets, pubs, and shops. I went into an Ugg store here and the Uggs were SO CRAZY compared to the few that we get back in Canada. It’s also where the huge cruise ships dock, which is pretty exciting. This means that while everything in the area is shiny and lovely, it’s also pricey and touristy, obviously, and there are often a jillion people wandering around that have just disembarked a ginormous ship. We took in some great views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, plus went to the Museum of Contemporary Art. I love modern art and Chris thinks it’s stupid, which always leads to good times. The Rocks also fortunately/unfortunately has a didgeridoo store. As a result, Chris is now the proud owner of a didgeridoo in the key of C, and I may have to bludgeon him to death with it if he doesn’t learn how to play it properly soon.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales
The Art Gallery of New South Wales is in the Royal Botanical Gardens and is pretty big. As we tend to do in museums, we examined everything in too much detail at the start of our visit and then ran out of stamina about 75% of the way through. Not too much of a loss though, since all the art museums in Sydney are free. And we had already seen the Monet, Picasso, etc. so…
The Hyde Park Barracks Museum
We hit up the Hyde Park Barracks Museum spontaneously, as we were walking by on a rainy afternoon and it seemed warm inside. The museum looks small from the outside but there is a surprisingly amount of stuff inside. We showed up mid afternoon and barely finished the audio tour before it closed. This is where early on most of the convicts were housed when they first arrived. There are a lot of artifacts that were found in between the floorboards, which is kinda cool. Turns out lots of people actually wanted to come to Australia later on (as going was better than being hung in England) but the first people here had it pretty rough (manacles, public floggings, disease, etc). But once you had completed your sentence, you were a free person and so lots of former convicts became wealthy merchants, shop owners, etc. in the newly forming colony. Less than 10% of Australians have convict heritage, if we remember correctly.
The Australian National Maritime Museum
Chris had been longingly looking at the big ships and submarine in Darling Harbour every time we walked by, so we eventually decided to check out the Australian National Maritime Museum. Turns out we should have gone slightly earlier, as when we turned up the submarine had just started undergoing maintenance for the next exhibit. Chris was gutted (how often do you get to go into a naval submarine?) and pouted for a bit, but brightened up when we got to go on the replica HMS Endeavour, James Cook’s ship (History Note: James Cook’s expedition on the HMS Endeavour was the first to bring Europeans to the eastern coast of Australia). They still sail the HMS Endeavour, so it’s not always in port. You can actually book a trip as a crew member and they’ll teach you how to sail a tall ship, so Chris has a new dream now. We also got to look around a Destroyer (the HMS Vampire), and another restored tall ship called the James Craig. In the actual museum there were a bunch of naval and maritime exhibits, including one on Shackleton’s failed Antarctic expedition, and a bunch of cool x-ray pictures of fish.
The Darling Harbour Fiesta Festival
On the weekend the Fiesta Festival was taking place in Darling Harbour, which is basically a celebration of Latin dance and music. There were free performances by bands, DJs, and dance groups all around the harbour, so we went to check it out. There were a lot of salseros on the dance floor and we were sad we had forgotten all the moves we learned from taking a class that one time. My favourite however was the capoeira, as it’s apparently performed mainly by Brazilian guys with crazy abs. There was also quite the fireworks display in the harbour that night, although I think that’s actually just a Darling Harbour thing and not a Fiesta Festival thing.