On The Rocks

The Rocks is a well-trodden tourist area right beside Circular Quay and at one end of the Harbour Bridge. It is the historic heart of the city. It is in fact the original city centre. In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip proclaimed that this rocky piece of land would be Sydney Town. The rest as they say, is history.

Missed it first time around…

Nowadays it is an historic, cultural and artistic centre attracting pretty much every visitor that comes to Sydney. Oddly enough I never visited The Rocks when I first came to Sydney in the mid-90s. I really don’t remember why. Since we moved here just over a month ago, I have been there three times already. And will probably go again in the near future. You can keep all those new high-rise office buildings. The Rocks is where it all began…

The Australian Hotel. Where we ate crocodile, emu and kangaroo pizza on our first day here.

Architecture Old and New

The thing that strikes you immediately in The Rocks is the old architecture. Mostly mid 1800s to early 1900s. Low rise housing and commercial property mixed in with classic Victorian period stores and warehouses. The area has had its ups and downs. In 1900 for example whole street fronts were torn down to try to contain an outbreak of the bubonic plague. How medieval! Nowadays it is hard not to notice the new. Never far, looming in the background, the colossal skyscrapers and tower blocks continue to grow.

Susannah Place

This area is right on the harbour so plenty of trade ships would have anchored alongside the shops and bars in the past. Today the ‘Queen Mary 2’ was in town. For some reason they allow these enormous cruise liners to moor right between The Rocks and the Opera House. Spoiling the views many would expect from certain vantage points on The Rocks. That should not worry anyone wanting to get a perfect view of the harbour, however…

Bridge Walk

Just a few streets up from the quayside and those huge cruise ships, there is easy access to the famous Harbour Bridge. You do not have to walk far across the bridge before the views turn into ideal photo opportunities.

Get up onto that bridge for the best views!

Everyone wants to take a photo of that so called ‘iconic’ Opera House. Yes, it is an interesting and unique piece of architecture but once seen that’s it for me. I have no intention of ever watching an opera inside. It is odd that of all the people who photograph that building there are hardly any who actually even go to see an opera. I would say probably less than 1 in one hundred thousand. What do you think?

Anyway. Of course I did. Did you think I wouldn’t? Here is the proof…

The centre of the bridge is a great vantage point not only for that opera place. Or even for the Circular Quay and its city back-drop. What makes Sydney bay area such a beautiful place is not the man-made structures but the natural geography. If you took away all the buildings that would still be jaw-droppingly spectacular.

Old Charm versus ‘Progress’…

You don’t have to look far for the complete contrast in architecture. There was never any way that the old buildings could remain completely isolated from the growth of a new city. People fought the so called ‘progress’ in 1970 and saved most of the area being turned into tower blocks. Despite losing some of the older housing The Rocks still maintains a charm and character. Probably due in part to a decent collection of old pubs. Several of them claiming to be Sydney’s oldest pub or hotel. I really need to find out which one is truly the oldest. More on that to come…

The Science House – a beautifully made building.

That Science House is a work of art in itself. It was opened in 1930 but is now being leased to New York University. And conveniently built opposite a pub I see. Clever. OK, that pub came later, but it works well eh?

The Rocks has a fair collection of art galleries, designer shops and expensive jewellery shops. Understandable I guess when those ocean-going giants are parking right alongside. There are also regular street markets of which I am not a fan. But again, I understand that most tourists love that sort of thing. I just think they spoil the views across the streets. How can you appreciate the old low-level buildings when you can only see the tops of them?

Wooden Streets

Doing the cultural thing I went to visit The Rocks Discovery museum. I am glad I did, but not for the usual artefacts on display. It was a short film that grabbed my attention. In the 1880s Sydney had become a thriving commercial centre. Many of the streets that now make up the modern CBD (Central Business District) were either too dusty when it was dry or too muddy when it was wet. They tried stone paving, but this made too much noise as the only transport then was horseshoes and steel rimmed wagon wheels. Amazingly (to me at least) they came up with a system of wood block paving. Soon the streets were literally made of wood.

Eventually the streets were covered in tar/asphalt, as they still do today. However, most of the wooden paving still remains below the new surfaces. According to this short film I watched, there was a small section of wooden street that had been unearthed and restored. I asked in the museum and the lady kindly explained where to find it. “Blink and you would miss it” she said. I already had. Twice I had walked right past it. But now I knew what I was looking for.

Everyone is familiar with the old houses that have wooden parquet floors. But imagine whole wide, city centre streets paved in blocks of wood. Incredible right? Here is the photo of that small section of block wood paved street.

Wooden Streets. Zoom in for a closer look.
Who would have thought this was a viable business? But on The Rocks it is!

And the Craft Beers?

I didn’t forget. Walking around for over two hours is thirsty work. I made a point of visiting a few of the famous old pubs in the area before I had to get back to pick up my son from school. But this post is getting too long, so I think I will write a ‘Rocks part 2’ for that little tour…

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