Sydney

Before we start exploring this flashy, flirt of a town, a bit of housekeeping. There are wheelchair hire places in Sydney so people with mobility issues can explore independently and there are also guided tours for sightseeing and shopping (wheelchair accessible vehicle with hydraulic hoist). Here’s a note from Liz who visited from Auckland in April 2014 and hired a wheelchair to make getting around more accessible for hubby, Jim…

The Roland Priestley wheelchair hire was great when we were in Sydney.  It was all organised very quickly and efficiently by email (though I did have to scan the hire agreement and sign it.)  The wheelchair was waiting at our hotel when we arrived and we just left it there when we departed.   The cost of rental (for a week though we only had it for 3 days) was $49.00 plus $33.00 total for the courier.  Total cost $82.00  Anthea Priestley was the person we dealt with. The locals were very helpful and friendly – especially at the old-fashioned pub round the corner.

Liz and Jim stayed at Mariner’s Court hotel in Woolloomooloo. And a bit of general info…

The wheelchair accessible bus route 443 operates between Bridge Street, Circular Quay and Pyrmont, making several stops around the edge of Darling Harbour. The ferry wharves at Circular Quay and Darling Harbour are both fully accessible. Throughout this section you’ll find which attractions have wheelchairs for hire or to borrow.

Now, sit back, relax, and welcome to our Sydney!

New South Wales is not a bit like Old South Wales in the UK. It’s bigger and bolder, and the surf dumps all along one side. It’s a great place to live, but a better place to visit because the locals take so much for granted.

NSW’s capital, Sydney, is extroverted and sparkling and, although she’s Australia’s oldest city, a lot of her looks brand new. With a convict larrikinism still lurking underneath, she’s frantic yet casual, busy yet laid back. Sure, the locals are obsessed with real estate, but why not when it’s so good? There are great beaches, a marvellous harbour and a tolerant, multicultural atmosphere. And, since the 2000 Olympics, she’s become even more accessible and exciting.

Yes, there are the homeless, the drug dependent, the unemployed and the lonely – but that’s a city for you – and, as cities of four million people go, she’s still a town with a heart and a need to party. Sydney was my home for 33 years and I loved living there. These days I love to visit. Without the harbour, I reckon it would be just another city – yes, the beaches are terrific, the food wonderful and the atmosphere is both vibrant and laid back, but its heart is the glorious harbour.

I guess that’s why four of my top five attractions in Sydney are on or around the harbour. They are Manly (by ferry), The Rocks & Opera House, Taronga Zoo and Bridgeclimb. My fifth is Pittwater. Six weeks after Captain Arthur Phillip arrived Sydney Harbour to begin white settlement in Australia, he went for a sail up the coast and discovered (and named) Pittwater, calling it the “finest piece of water I ever saw”. Hear, hear!

On the disabled front, I’m glad I ‘did’ the Sydney Harbour Bridge BridgeClimb some years ago. With the MS came some vertigo and these days the legs wouldn’t go the distance. In 2009,Bridgeclimb opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge Visitor Centre – there’s full disabled access there and entry is free. But back to the main harbour shortly. For this tour we’ll start at the other harbour, just around the corner…

Darling Harbour is a good place to base yourself if you want to explore the city attractions on foot or an inexpensive taxi or public transport ride away.

 

All Light Rail stations have either ramp or lift access with two stations situated in the precinct. Car parks within the Darling Harbour precinct have accessible parking spaces and level access to the street. If you fancy a gamble it’s not far to Star City, or to Chinatown. Chinatown’s eateries cater for all budgets from food halls to sophisticated dining. The best value is probably somewhere in-between. If in doubt, look for where the locals are eating and check the menu before taking a seat. Just up Liverpool St is the much smaller ‘Spanish Town’. The Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney Aquarium and Powerhouse Museum are also at your doorstep. And if you like your movies BIG then the world’s BIGGEST Imax Theatre is here as well. At the Australian National Maritime Museum there are two dedicated parking spaces at the rear of the building. There is lift or ramp access to all exhibition spaces within the main museum building. Although there is no wheelchair access onto the vessels, it is possible to get up close from the wharves. Courtesy wheelchairs are available and only require photo ID. Accessible toilets are located on the lower level and in the main foyer. The Aquarium is excellent and there is extensive wheelchair access throughout. Wheelchair hire (from guest services on arrival) is $10 – they take a $50 deposit and refund $40 on return.

I love the Powerhouse Museum and have had lots of lovely half-days there when the kids were little – it’s also fun for adults.

Free special parking is available at the Museum for vehicles approved to use designated public parking spaces. The number of spaces is limited, so you/we should book at least two days before your visit. Discounted parking is available for Powerhouse visitors at the Entertainment Centre car park. A walkway (mostly covered) joins the Entertainment Centre car park levels 3A and 3B and the Powerhouse Museum Monorail Station to the Powerhouse entry forecourt. There are no stairs, but the walk is quite steep and long. In the Powerhouse you can access all the main levels via ramps and the lift. For visitors using manual wheelchairs, the lift is recommended. Groups of visitors with more than one person in a wheelchair can get supervised access to an additional lift by booking in advance. Wheelchairs can be borrowed at no charge from the cloaking desk in the main entrance foyer. Toilets designed for disabled access are provided in each of the toilet blocks. There are toilets on levels 1, 2 and 4 and in the Courtyard. The accessible entry to the Imax Theatre is at the Eastern end of the building (the side nearest the City and Wheat Road). Follow the Accessible Entry signs to get to the lift. Take the lift to Level 2 to purchase tickets. If you are in a wheelchair or unable to use the stairs the staff is happy to assist you access the theatre via the lifts where there is accessible seating and space for wheelchairs.

Tumbalong Park is a grassy area in the centre of the precinct that hosts free lunchtime and weekend concerts. The Chinese Garden of Friendship is the largest outside China and just the place to sit and relax. Have a quiet cup of tea overlooking the lotus pond. For the non-tea minded, the Pumphouse Restaurant and Bar serves beer that has been brewed on the premises. There’s an amazing choice of dining options: there’s Harbourside, on one side of the harbour, and on the other, the curious mix of bustling but laid-back Cockle Bay and King Street Wharf.

Just over the hill from Darling Harbour is the Sydney Fish Market. It’s Australia’s home of seafood and the second largest fish market in the world.  There’s really something fascinating and seductive about the place. Auctions start at 5:30 in the morning and there’s an amazing choice of fresh seafood. There are also some nice little cafes and restaurants.

To get to Circular Quay and The Rocks, you can hop a ferry or jump on the monorail into the CBD, but the walk/wheel from Darling Harbour to the even more darling harbour can be rewarding. Heading into the city, you cross Pyrmont Bridge, occasionally being overtaken by young things on rollerblades wearing I-Pods and low slung trousers, and up to the grand Queen Victoria Building.

The QVB takes up a whole block and is home to more than 200 shops with lift and escalator access. At the southern end of the QVB is the excessively ornate Town Hall with Australia’s oldest cathedral, St Andrews, next door. Down George Street takes you to cinemas, amusement halls and fast food. There are also sleazy erotica outlets and, generally, this stretch of George Street is one boil on the backside of Sydney that needs lancing. Near the north side of the Queen Vic is the main shopping precinct (Pitt Street Mall) and Centrepoint Tower that has a revolving restaurant and a 360-degree viewing level. Of course, Centrepoint is also known as the AMP Tower and the Westfield Tower, an architectural example of how advertising has become such a part of our lives. Personally I still have trouble with the Sheffield Shield belonging to a milk company, Qantas owning the Rugby Union Wallabies or, even worse, a foreign airline owning Australia’s greatest horse race. Oh well…

A little further along Market Street you come to Hyde Park. At the edge of the park behind the old entrance to St James station, is a trendy little eatery, located where a yellow-tiled public lavatory and infamous pick-up place once sat. Hyde Park itself is a slab of green in the middle of the city. Office workers lunch on the grass, old men gather to play chess, lovers meet and lie holding hands. At the Macquarie Street end is the Greek mythology inspired Archibald Fountain. At the southern end is the simple, but poignant, Anzac Memorial. Across College Street is the very good Australian Museum.

General museum entry is free to the companion of a person with a disability who is a holder of a Companion Card. You may borrow a wheelchair during your visit (just ask at the admissions desk on arrival). There are ramps throughout the exhibitions and two lifts to all floors. All doors are automatic. A wheelchair accessible toilet is located on Level 2 inside the Search & Discover entrance near the lifts.

Heading back towards Macquarie Street is St Mary’s, one of the world’s largest cathedrals. On the other side of the park is the Great Synagogue. Both have free tours. Of course, donations are accepted.

Turn right after St Mary’s to the excellent Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The AGNSW is home to the Archibald Prize, exciting temporary exhibits and a great collection of indigenous, classical and contemporary art – including the wonderful portrait of Margaret Olley by Sir William Dobell, who won the Archibald Prize with a portrait in 1948. An amazing artist in her own right, Margaret died in July 2011, aged 88. Margaret was known for holding court outside galleries having a ciggie as much as she was for being inside the gallery and she is the only person to have been the subject for two Archibald winning entries. Ben Quilty won with his portrait of her in 2011.

And the winner for 2012, I love (right).  The competition is always controversial and Tim Storrier took home that year’s $75,000.  While it is a portrait competition, this subject doesn’t actually have a face – it was Storrier’s way of depicting his enormous desire for privacy… but to get in within the portraiture guidelines, there is a sketch of his face on the piece of paper blowing away in the wind.

I have known this gallery well for decades – but not as a disabled visitor until recently. I now know that I have a choice of four disabled car spaces, two at the front and two at the rear. The rear ones allow lift access for those in wheelchairs. The ones at the front are for people like me, with a cane, who can handle nine steps to the first landing and another two steps to the entrance. And, on entering I can borrow one of three wheelchairs (free of charge) to enjoy the gallery without a worry of fatigue or loss of balance. And there are three wheelchair-friendly bathrooms.

Across from the Gallery is The Domain. The large, open area was once Australia’s first farm, but today city workers use it to take a break – jogging or playing various sports. On Sundays speakers take to their soapboxes. It’s also the venue for large, free open-air concerts and events such as Opera in the Park and Carols by Candlelight. Across a walkway (or you can access from the Opera House and Macquarie Street) are the Royal Botanic Gardens, which open from sunrise to sunset.

Macquarie Street runs from Hyde Park to the Opera House – a gentle downhill stroll or wheel – and has the city’s greatest concentration of early colonial buildings. The street gets its name from Governor Lachlan Macquarie who had a grand architectural vision for the city. He commissioned convict architect, Francis Greenway to realise his dream – and a fine job he did, too. Hyde Park Barracks (ramp access to ground floor only) and St James Church (King Street) are two of Greenway’s best and are well worth a visit. As a schoolboy I sometimes attended St Stephen’s Church, once in the company of HRH Queen Elizabeth. There’s a brush with fame for you!  I’m sure she remembers me well… The Sydney Mint Museum is another delightful building with interesting exhibits.

There is wheelchair access to the ground floor in the front building only and there is lift access to the Coining Factory second floor.

The Sydney Hospital is the country’s oldest hospital and has a welcoming café in its courtyard. There are interesting guided tours that take about an hour and cost $10 with all money going to benefit the hospital/eye hospital. Tours begin in the impressive Hospital Boardroom and take in the beautiful Chapel of St Luke the Physician and The Robert Brough Memorial (Courtyard) Fountain. You won’t miss Il Porcellino, the bronze boar sculpture at the entrance to the hospital – for some reason it is the most photographed subject in the CBD. Give his nose a rub for luck.

Nearby, Parliament House is the world’s oldest continually operating parliament building. The lovely sandstone exterior hides the contemporary interior, which has a modern restaurant and swimming facilities to help the politicians with their daily grind. There’s a free public tour 1:00pm to 2:00pm on the first Thursday of each month but you can just drop in for a visit.

There’s ramp and lift access to Level 7 Reception (to get a security pass). There are toilet facilities on this floor and lift access. There are carpets with a short, dense pile so a little bit of effort in a manual wheelchair.

The State Library is more than just a library with fine exhibitions and collections of early Australiana, including Captain Bligh’s log from the Bounty. Greenway designed the present Conservatorium of Music as stables and servants’ quarters for nearby Government House. Horses, of course, are known for their fine appreciation of Gothic design and turrets. Unwisely, Greenway invested his own money in the building and became a pauper when Macquarie was replaced as governor.

All of the Conservatorium of Music performance venues are accessible by differently-abled people.  They have many free and ticketed performances in the five performance venues.  Here is the link to What’s On at the Con: http://whatson.sydney.edu.au/events. They also have a free app for iPhone and android phones.

Heading along Macquarie Street, you can take a left into Martin Place, the so-called centre of the city. Geographically, courtesy of urban sprawl, Parramatta is the centre of Sydney. Martin Place is basically a large plaza lined with some fine examples of Victorian architecture. At the George Street end is the Cenotaph, commemorating the Australians who died in the various wars. If you are in Sydney on Anzac Day (25 April), this is the place to be at 4:00am for a truly moving experience.

At the bottom of Macquarie Street you’ll find the magnificent Sydney Opera House with a view back to the city, over to The Rocks and Sydney Harbour Bridge spanning the harbour. This is simply my favourite building on the planet – love the design, love the location, love the theatres… love it! And it is soooo disabled-friendly.

 

There are ‘access tours’ at midday daily and all theatres now have lift access and wheelchair seating (and companion seating). There are courtesy wheelchairs for visitors who want to have a look around or attend performances. The Opera House ticketing policy allows customers requiring wheelchair accessible seating to purchase a wheelchair accessible seat for themselves and a seat for their companion at the lowest concession ticket price available for the selected performance. Where no concessions are available, the wheelchair space and one companion seat will be sold at the lowest price available for that event.

From the harbour end of Macquarie Street, set into the path along East Circular Quay at regular intervals are round plaques. This is the Writers’ Walk, celebrating famous writers with snippets of their impressions of Australia.

Circular Quay is both a gateway to the city and the harbour. It was where the first European settlement began, in 1788, on the banks of the Tank Stream (which still empties underground into the harbour beneath Wharf 6). Along the quay you’ll find buskers and street masseurs, and the comings and goings of tourists and locals. The ferries cut their way across the blue water carrying commuters and holidaymakers – you can tell them apart quite easily. While on board, everyone’s relaxed. As soon as the office workers hit dry land, they lose their relaxation and race off.

Customs House sits behind the Quay. It’s a fine old building in harmonic contrast with the glassy skyscrapers, and has an arts and cultural centre, and al fresco dining.

There is wheelchair access into Customs House via the main entrance on Alfred Street. Inside there are lifts for wheelchairs to access to all five floors. Disabled toilet facilities for visitors are located on the ground as well as levels 1 & 2.

At the Quay end of The Rocks, The Museum of Contemporary Art can be interesting, can be bewildering. It houses some fine modern art, but occasionally goes a little too weird for my liking. The last exhibit I saw was a ‘food’ exhibition, which left me neither hungry or satisfied.

There’s wheelchair access and wheelchairs can be borrowed at no charge from the information desk on level one (Circular Quay) foyer.

A number of harbour cruises operate from this area, including the replica of the HMS Bounty (made for the Mel Gibson movie). You’ll be able to tell at a glance which cruise suits you.

On weekends The Rocks Markets are fun to explore. For those who like shopping there are a number of converted warehouses and interesting centres that also have galleries and cafés. There are many good pubs where you can quench a thirst or grab a pub lunch. The Lord Nelson and the Hero of Waterloo both claim to be Sydney’s oldest. On the way to either you’ll probably pass Garrison Church, the first church in Australia. The church is at the end of Argyle Cut, a tunnel through the hill that was cut by convicts (tough work!). There are many good restaurants in The Rocks and many that are so-so, overpriced and aimed at the tourist dollar. Don’t be afraid to go in to look at the menu and get a feel for the place.

The Sydney Observatory sits at the southern end of the bridge and has an interesting little museum and interactive displays. It’s free by day but there’s a charge at night to look into the heavens.

There’s wheelchair access to the Sydney Observatory gardens, the 3D space theatre and the ground floor exhibitions. Additionally, an outdoor telescope can be installed by prior arrangement.

Spanning the harbour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the city’s most imposing structures. You can walk across it on the Opera House side (the other side is for trains and also has a cycle-way). You can drive across it; there is a toll one way (into the city). Drivers not wanting the scenic route can use the under-harbour tunnel. You can visit the Pylon Lookout in the SE Pylon which houses an exhibition on the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and, some 200 stairs up, there’s an observation deck with excellent views of the city and harbour. The Pylons are purely cosmetic. They were built to give the bridge a more powerful look. The Pylons were not actually built until after the completion of the arches. And, as mentioned, you can climb it.

BridgeClimb, despite its price tag, is for me Sydney’s best attraction if you are up for the challenge. While not for those with extreme vertigo, it is completely safe. You receive training before the climb and at all times are attached to the bridge with specially designed harnesses. You will also be breath-tested before being allowed to take the climb. One unfortunate climber on my trip failed the breath test because he’d gargled with a mouth freshener, which is almost pure alcohol. If this happens, climbers are given a second test and, if over the limit, will be rescheduled to a later climb. You only need a moderate level of fitness – it’s informative, exciting and the view is terrific. There are NightClimbs as well.

Once, unless you were farewelling a naval boat, the only reason to head to Woolloomooloo Wharf was for a pie from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. Now it’s The Wharf and home to restaurants, shops and a boutique hotel. There are four, smaller finger wharves just west of the Harbour Bridge on Walsh Bay, again with shops and eateries, and one wharf is home to the Wharf Theatre.

Under the bridge on the north side are Luna Park and North Sydney Pool. Luna Park has had a turbulent past through recent decades, and it again opened in 2004. It still has some of the old, quaint, amusement park attractions like Coney Island with its timber slides, as well as state-of-the-art rides and Ferris-wheel fun. It’s been very much a Sydney icon since the 1930s but, since a tragic fire on the Ghost Train in the 1970s, it has struggled to regain its former glory. Entry is now free so you can soak up the atmosphere. Curiously, rides are charged by height – an unlimited day ride pass can cost from $15 to $45 depending on your vertical situation and whether it is school holiday period.

Next to Luna Park is North Sydney Olympic Pool. It would be just a nice swimming pool except for the unique view of the bridge and the sound of the trains trundling across.

There are many ways to enjoy Sydney Harbour itself: you can sail or cruise across it, dive under it, parasail or take a chopper over it, or take a walk along its foreshores. Harbour landmarks include Kirribilli House (the Prime Minister’s Sydney home), Admiralty House (the Governor-General’s Sydney residence) and Fort Denison. Once a convict harbour prison, ‘Pinchgut’ now has a restaurant as well as tours. Visitors are free to have a wander as well. It’s not that disabled-friendly as access is only by water (water taxi is the quickest and easiest way to get there). When it was built it was the perfect prison. Not many of the inmates could swim, and those who could weren’t game to chance being taken by a shark.

There are a number of small islands within the harbour that are lovely spots for picnics, such as Shark and Clark islands, provided you can supply your own water transport and you have made a booking at the Sydney Harbour National Parks Information Centre. Taronga is a zoo with a view, set in a spectacular setting and is always interesting. If arriving by ferry, and up for a walk, take the cable car or bus to the top and walk back down to prevent sore calves the next day.

Taronga is arguably the best Sydney attraction for the mobility-challenged. There are a number of disabled car parking spaces at the front entrance, as well as around the Zoo circuit. The Zoo offers free entry to carers or essential companions of those with disabilities. They accept the national Companion Card or a letter from a recognised care/social service organisation. Most of the Zoo is accessible by wheelchair or by those with walking difficulties. Many of the exhibits are a short walk from the Zoo circuit and the ground is generally flat. The African Savannah Tower is the only raised platform that is not accessible by wheelchair, however, the African Savannah exhibit can be viewed from ground level. Wheelchair accessible toilets are located around the Zoo circuit as well as at the Information Centre. The Zoo provides sturdy, all-terrain manual wheelchairs at no cost. Identification is required and a disclaimer form must be completed. These wheelchairs must be pushed by a carer/companion and seat belts must be worn. Advanced booking is recommended and wheelchairs may be collected from the Hire Centre on arrival.

And, if you wonder whether the animals appreciate their million-dollar views, think of Lulu when you visit the chimpanzee enclosure. Sadly, Lulu passed away in May 2014, aged 63 but she loved her zoo with a view. When she saw boats gathering in great numbers on the harbour during the day, she refused to go into her enclosure at night. Instead, she would sit under a tree with her hands behind her head and patiently wait for the fireworks to happen.

Manly, named by Governor Phillip after the physique of the local Aboriginal people, has been dubbed ‘seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care’. On Manly Wharf there are a number of shops and eateries. From here you can also take a parasail for a birds-eye view of the harbour and a bit of an adrenalin rush. It currently costs $70 for a sail and it’s your choice if you want to be dunked or stay dry. Non-flyers pay $15 if they want to just go in the boat. I did this one ‘abled’ and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again – it’s very gentle!

As you leave the wharf, to the left is Oceanworld, a fine aquarium. The adjacent Art Gallery and Museum has a lot on local history and beach culture. Straight ahead from the wharf is The Corso, a cosmopolitan pedestrian mall full of shops and eateries, which leads to the surf beach. From the beach, a gentle walk or wheel (right) will take you to pretty Shelly Beach and Le Kiosk, a delightful restaurant for lunch. And it’s a good spot for a beach scuba dive. There are professional dive shops in Manly that hire gear and arrange transfers to dive sites.

The harbour beaches are, because of geography, more sheltered and gentle than the ocean beaches, and many have pleasant parks for picnics and play areas for children. Some of the best for families are Balmoral (pictured) and Clontarf in the north and Watsons Bay and Shark Bay in Nielsen Park (south). Near Watsons Bay is Lady Jane Beach which is nudist and mainly gay.

On the north side, Reef Beach was once a nudist beach. When local residents protested about nudists using the beach some years ago their spokesman, a well-known Sydney sportsman and sports commentator, Rex Mossop, was quoted as saying, ‘the last thing I want when I come home is genitalia shoved down my throat’. I guess we know what he meant… anyway, the protests must have worked because it is now a family beach. Rex was one of the few footballers to play both Rugby Union and Rugby League for Australia. He died in 2011.

There are many beaches stretching along the coast both south and north.

To the south the most famous (and most-visited) is Bondi Beach – full of colour, surf, sand and people: almost naked, tanned would-be-models; less tanned European visitors and clothed Japanese tourists giggling in the shallows with the waves barking at their ankles. Seagulls flock to picnics on the grass as skimpy Speedos, baggie boardies and rollerblades parade the boardwalk.

Nearby is a smaller, prettier beach called Tamarama (nicknamed ‘Glamorama’ after the pretty young things it attracts). There is a pleasant walk that follows the coastline between Bondi and Tamarama (and on to Coogee). The next beach south is Bronte, a family beach with a longer stretch of sand and a large park. Other fine beaches include Coogee and Maroubra, and word of mouth will always let the ardent surfer know where the best waves are.

Cronulla is also a popular spot, probably because it’s the only Sydney beach that can be accessed by train.  There are often pods of dolphins frolicking off the beach/point. A ferry ride across Port Hacking to Bundeena (pictured) for a picnic or bushwalk is a pleasant way to spend a relaxing day.

The northern beaches, stretching from Manly to Palm Beach, are just as rewarding.

For families – Manly, Curl Curl, Dee Why and Collaroy are good. Narrabeen arguably has the most consistent surfing waves. The beaches north of Narrabeen, although a bit further out, are all good. These include Warriwood, Mona Vale, Newport, Avalon and Palm Beach. My favourites are Bilgola Beach (pictured) and Whale Beach.

At the north end of Palm Beach (Summer Bay in Home and Away) is a lighthouse for those feeling like a short but very vigorous walk. Below it are sand dunes that are a popular spot for Dads with kids – possibly so he can wander the north end of nudist ‘Palmie’ with an excuse.

Bungan Beach is also not fussed about clothing, but there’s no vehicle access and it’s a long walk down (and back up). Sometimes there’s just no equality for wheelchair users wanting to let it all hang out!

Around the corner of the Palm Beach peninsula is Pittwater, a wonderful spot for sailing, fishing or a family day out. As mentioned, Captain Arthur Phillip discovered this expanse of water shortly after settling in Sydney Cove in 1788 and called it the ‘finest stretch of water in the world’. For my money it still is. You can hire houseboats or cruisers to explore Pittwater, Broken Bay and the Hawkesbury River with no previous experience (although they do give you a lesson!). Hiring a ‘tinnie’ is a cheaper alternative and with an esky, a fishing line and an oyster knife, makes for a great day out. Taking oysters out of national parks is illegal, but you can eat as many as you like on site and, with restaurants charging up to $3 a bi-valve, your day could even seem profitable.

A short ferry ride from Palm Beach takes you to one of Sydney’s best-kept secrets, The Basin. Safe waters, fringed by national park with full amenities and resident goannas (don’t leave the food unattended), make it simply a delight for both day-trippers and campers. Sydney’s national parks offer good bushwalks, secluded bays and beaches, rugged cliffs, wildflowers, birds and other wildlife, and Aboriginal cave paintings.

The Royal National Park to the south and the Kur-ing-gai Chase National Park to the north are the largest and most spectacular, although the Royal National, at the time of writing, was recovering from bushfire devastation.

Sydneysiders who aren’t in or on the water on the weekends may well be on one of the 40 or so public golf courses. As a hacker with sometimes-limited time, I used to play the North Bondi course. It’s rarely crowded, has nine par 3 holes (some challenging) and is set along the top of the cliffs with wild surf crashing below. Next door is the Bondi Sewage Treatment Works, which offers guided tours, but I’m unable to comment first hand on that one. The ‘poopipe’ in the photo can make for an interesting ricochet if you don’t miss it on a drive!

Also in the eastern suburbs: Paddington has good pubs, restaurants and shops; Centennial Park is big, pretty and a haven for cyclists; Double Bay is expensive but tres chic; Vaucluse House is well worth a visit – to see how the rich and famous of colonial times lived (residence of W.C. Wentworth) – or for a picnic on the lawn; and Watsons Bay has the notorious Gap, a nice beer garden pub and overpriced fish and chips at Doyles that seem good value because of the harbourside setting. Five generations of the Doyle family have operated Doyle’s on the Beach here since 1885 and it is open every day but Christmas Day. Peter Doyle’s favourite fish, BTW, is flathead.

The famous ocean cliff, The Gap, is surrounded by multimillion dollar properties and is home to some of Australia’s wealthiest people. However it is notorious as Sydney’s best-known suicide spot. I guess there’s a number of reasons for the ‘popularity’ – it certainly makes a statement, there are no half measures and there’s something brooding and moody about waves crashing onto rocks. A famous fairly recent death was that of model, Caroline Byrne, who was allegedly thrown to her death to make it look like a suicide. Chauffeur Gordon Wood was sentenced to 17 years for the murder. The sentence was recently overturned.

Donald Ritchie passed away in May 2012, aged 87. Don lived opposite The Gap for almost five decades. In a situation where most would turn a blind eye, Don took action. Each day, he kept an active eye out for people who might need help. He would just approach, palms up, with a smile and ask, “Is there something I could do to help you?”  As Don said, “Never underestimate the power of a kind word and a smile.” For years he coaxed people away from the cliffside by inviting them back to his home for a chat over a cup of tea. In this way, Don saved more than 160 lives. He was honoured as Australia’s ‘Local Hero’ at the 2011 Australia of the Year Awards. Don actually went to the same school I attended (a few years apart!) – The Scots College in nearby Bellevue Hill. As a boarder I wish I had appreciated those Rose Bay harbour views more at the time! The Australian of the Year 2011, by the way, was Social Entrepreneur Simon McKeon. The only thing we have in common is Multiple Sclerosis and Simon recently retired as founding chairman of MS Research Australia.

DINING OUT

At the time of writing we are busy checking out wheelchair-friendly eateries! Love the seafood buffet Friday and Saturday nights at Rydges World Square in the CBD, for Italian I head to Leichhardt, there are some great eateries in Balmain, Glebe and Newtown and here is a well-kept secret…

This restaurant is called The Apprentice. And it has nothing to do with Donald Trump having a bad hair day and yelling, “You’re fired!”. The Apprentice is the NSW TAFE’s training restaurant where tomorrow’s five-star chefs learn their stuff and it is sensational for food and value – the restaurant is licensed and open to the public for lunch and dinner during term time. A three course lunch is $22 and four course dinner $30 per person – bubbly, white and red wine $15 a bottle. Located on Level 7 of TAFE Building E in Harris St Ultimo, a walk from Darling Harbour which takes us back to where we started. On my most recent visit to Sydney I was in a wheelchair and went from Darling Harbour for lunch in Dixon Street, Chinatown. Dined al fresco on the street and wheelchair access for the nearby bathroom was excellent.

Bon appetit!

ACCOMMODATION Because Sydney is Australia’s largest city, it stands to reason that it also has the largest number of accommodation properties – far too many to list here. Here are a couple I like. The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in The Rocks is a gem. Australia’s oldest licensed hotel with modern rooms, brasserie, own brewery, atmosphere and a walk to major attractions and its very well priced (under $200 a night!). You’ve gotta use the stairs though – and they are pretty narrow and steep. And here is an amazing option. Youth hostels were once for young, party animals travelling on the smell of an oily rag. These days they can be quite classy and don’t discriminate against age. Look at this location – you can stay at Sydney’s only backpacker hostel in The Rocks from around $40 per person per night. Handy to Sydney’s history, all the major sights plus restaurants and cafes. All rooms have ensuites and many have harbour and Opera House views and get this… there is even one disabled-friendly (double) room, with wheelchair access, for less than $180 per night!

We do recommend Rydges accommodation properties for more ‘standard’ classy (but not necessarily expensive) accommodation. There are disability access rooms at all the Rydges properties in Sydney except North Sydney and they are located at Sydney Airport, World Square, Camperdown, Bankstown, Parramatta, Campbelltown and Cronulla (pictured). Rydges (as well as QT and Art Series Hotels) offer Priority Guest Rewards membership. It is totally free and one of the best loyalty rewards cards we have found – you get 10% off accommodation at more than 40 hotels around Australia and New Zealand plus 20% off food and beverages (that’s where the real value is).