Colourful parrots swooped overhead and an army of Galahs screeched their morning call from the treetops. I gaze up at the sun-filled sky and feel alive; mesmerised by my surroundings and completely distracted from the job at hand: a brisk morning jog. It felt like cheating.
I was running through Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens and Domain, towards Sydney Harbour from my apartment in Potts Point, along Woolloomooloo Bay, past the popular Olympic-sized Andrew Boy Charlton outdoor pool, next to the Farm Cove waterside. It certainly beat my usual wind-soaked winter run along the Brighton seafront in the U.K.
My sister's recent departure for this vibrant Australian city gave me a reason to escape the onset of the British winter, and the chance to sample the healthy outdoor lifestyle Sydney's famous for. Taking a run underneath a canopy of blue sky — even in the height of summer — remains a fantasy for us Brits, but for many Sydney-siders, it's a daily event; my sister was keen to boast of her daily morning swim and her partner's twice-weekly Bootcamp sessions in the Botanical Gardens.
I carried on running to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair on Macquarie's peninsula — a perfect stopping point and an opportunity for some sightseeing. I sat on the exposed, sandstone-rock seat carved by convicts in 1810 for Elizabeth, the wife of the first Australian governor, Lachlan Macquarie. Not surprisingly, it became her favourite spot to look upon the harbour and still — 200 years later — remains one of the best vantage points in Sydney. From here, I gaze at two of the city's most iconic sights: the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge sitting majestically side by side, against a backdrop of cityscape and mountains. It's a picture-postcard scene and favourite photo opportunity, judging by the numbers of snap-happy Japanese tourists milling around.
As I start up again, I wonder whether Elizabeth Macquarie could have imagined Sydney's future cityscape when she sat gazing across the water to the mountains in the distance, in 1810.
I'm soon jogging up the steps to Jørn Utzon's vast architectural masterpiece whose early exposure to shipbuilding provided the inspiration for the Opera House's "sails" and also helped him solve the challenges of their construction.
I'm inspired by this huge feat of engineering and too excited to turn back yet. So I carry on running around its entirety, taking in every single detail, marvelling at its sheer size and scale. I run past the smart Opera Bar alongside the harbour — later to become the location for a last-night-in-Sydney drink — to Circular Quay, a vibrant, bustling and dynamic heart of Sydney Harbour and gateway to different attractions and other parts of Sydney. It's also the prime spot for a glimpse at the city's world famous New Year's Eve fireworks spectacular, and I vote to return; if only to take the ferry ride to Manly, on Sydney's Northern Beaches for more views of the harbour, or to Watson's Bay, to sample the fish and chips at Doyles on the Beach, which I've heard are the best in Sydney.
I can't resist a peek into the nearby Customs House building — one of Sydney's landmark heritage buildings — to see the fascinating glass-topped model of the city centre in the lobby. You can literally walk over for a bird's-eye view of the sprawling city. I'm tempted, as well, by the free public "lounge room" where you can relax and catch up on world affairs by pouring over international newspapers and magazines, and check the Internet.
It is also worth taking note of the fantastic rooftop restaurant on the top floor — Café Sydney.
Then I head to the Museum of Contemporary Art, only a short hop around Circular Quay past the ferry terminal. Opened in 1991, this imposing Art Deco building houses art from all around the world — I'm fascinated by a mini exhibition of work by Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, Australian artists who focus on transforming the residue of a consumer society into new forms.
This museum is in an area known as The Rocks, so I start to explore — this sees me running underneath the Harbour Bridge, an imposing structure which took nine years to build and opened in 1932. Held together with six million rivets, it measures a huge 134 metres above sea level at the top of its arch, and I can just about see the brave BridgeClimb participants making their way along and up to the very top of the arch.
Not quite so courageous, I climb the hill up to Observatory Park for another spectacular view across to North Sydney before heading back, pleased with my healthy action-packed morning. A rewarding post-workout latte and tasty bagel at Coffee, Tea & Me in Potts Point goes down well as I saunter through Rushcutters Bay Park to cool down. I could easily get used to this, I thought.
--- Next week Ellie gets a campervan and does Australia on wheels ---