SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Who knew there were so many hiking trails in Sydney? Now that we’ve found them, all we want to do is hike.
Wednesday started rainy, but the rain had mostly stopped by the time we headed to the City Recital Hall downtown. The Sydney Youth Orchestra was doing a concert of Mozart pieces, including the Clarinet Concerto, which is one of Beth’s favorites. And a good dose of Mozart is just what she needed.
It was a lovely concert. The young clarinetist looked a little queasy at the start but finished strong, and her fellow musicians, who seemed mostly in their late teens and early 20s, did her proud on the concerto and also the suave Symphony 29.
Then we walked the few blocks to Circular Quay and jumped on the ferry to Taronga Zoo on the Lower North Shore. We briefly considering actually going to the zoo, but really we just wanted to hike the four-point headland to Balmoral Beach.
Sydney Harbor National Park is in bits and pieces, but it’s all the best bits. From the zoo, a trail took us through bush along the shore, or foreshore as they call it in Australia. The Opera House was still in sight when we spotted a 3-foot-long lizard, and an interpretive sign a little farther down the trail identified it as an Eastern water dragon, Australia’s largest lizard.
It was a beautiful trail, lined by the curling white branches of red gums, whose red bark lay in piles around their roots. We saw banksia trees, whose cone-like fruits look exactly like baby hedgehogs; bottlebrush flowers, in red and yellow; and the fattest calla lily we’d ever seen.
We also saw traps for fox, but none for stoats. Australia didn’t make New Zealand’s epic mistake, so it doesn’t have any egg-eating stoats, and you can tell by all the birds in the trees — although they’re not exactly the kinds that serenade you with song.
On the water, we spied a saltie at anchor, a fleet of sailboats heeling in the wind and two rescue boats speeding by. Torsten was especially excited to spot a tall ship, though its sails were down.
Bradleys Head was the first point and is dedicated to Australian naval defense, with gun pits, the steel mast of the first HMAS Sydney and exhibits about an attack by three Japanese midget submarines in 1942. From there we walked through the bush, startling many smaller water dragons, to Chowder Bay.
There was a well-tended park and beach, and up on the cliff we spotted a pale-yellow Victorian frame building that we thought might be a restaurant. It turned out to be an 1888 former depot for submariners who strung defensive mines around the harbor, and today it is indeed an upscale restaurant, with a dreamy covered deck overlooking the bay.
Luckily, it wasn’t too fancy to serve us a cappuccino and hot chocolate, which we slowly drank while eyeing the chic young Euro foursome in the corner drinking red wine and champagne at 4 in the afternoon and kind of wishing we were those people (okay, just Beth did).
However, hikers hike, and that’s what we did, continuing up the ridge on Bungaree’s Walkway, named for the aboriginal man put in charge of the farm between military barracks at Chowder Bay and Georges Head.
At the top, we heard a commotion in a tree at the end of a parking lot — kookaburras! Beth remembered enough of the famous children’s song to know they are supposed to be “laughing”: “Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree/Merry merry king of the bush is he/Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra/Gay your life must be!”
Actually, kookaburras sound exactly like a pack of quarreling jungle monkeys. Two of them zoomed over our heads to another tree, where they set off another ruckus.
From Georges Head, a series of steel-grate stairways led us down a hillside of fenced-off regenerating bush to Balmoral Beach. From there, the bus took us back to the Taronga Zoo ferry through the wealthy suburb of Mosman, past eye-poppingly gorgeous early 20th-century mansions, most with Mediterranean tile roofs.
We saw more fabulous houses from the ferry, which made a stop in Mosman Bay before crossing the harbor and depositing us back at Circular Quay in the middle of rush hour.
We were starving by the time we got back to Norton Street, where we got a table at Thainamic. Just as we sat down, the tree outside erupted in a cacophony that nearly drowned out our conversation: Indian myna birds. They’re attractive, with bright-yellow eye patches and beaks, but they’re invasive and they multiply fast, crowding out native species. It wouldn’t be the last time we had to talk louder over their ugly croaks.
We shared an appetizer of lemongrass scallops, Torsten had roasted duck red curry and Beth had a lovely plate of grilled lamb cutlets and sauteed vegetables with a Cooper’s pale ale fetched from the bottle shop down the street.
For dessert? Gelato, of course, from Bar Italia. It was a good day.