A monochromatic snake slithers and unfurls across the Sydney Opera House sails, quickly followed by a kaleidoscope of exploding, twirling, dancing colour. It’s tribal and, from our front row dinner seats at the stunning Cured and Cultured Counter at Bennelong, hypnotic and seductively pretty.
This is ‘Songlines’, a celebration of Aboriginal spirituality and Dreamtime as told by six contemporary Indigenous artists. Part of Vivid Sydney, it’s one of 90 spectacular installations illuminating Circular Quay, the Botanic Gardens, the Rocks, Darling Harbour, Lower North Shore, City and surrounds until June 18th.
Earlier that morning at Barangaroo Reserve, the former shipping container terminal beautifully reimagined from old artist’s impressions of Sydney headland before European settlement, Tim, our guide, takes us on a fascinating 1.5 hour Aboriginal Cultural Tour of the park and its 75,000 planted native trees and shrubs.
He points out Pig Face (Carpobrotus glaucescens), an edible succulent with medicinal properties whose flowering traditionally meant the flounder and flathead were running. Ditto, the Gymea Lily, whose vibrant red flowering mop is a harbinger of saltwater crabs laying eggs.
We touch crumbling purple ochre in the cracked sandstone that, with a bit of water, will turn into face paint, and learn how different boomerangs and spears were used to lure prey and kill. It’s an inspiring look at the simple and sustainable way the local Gadigal people inhabited the land.
The final morning, we suit up at BridgeClimb and ascend the 1,332 steps to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Despite being hit by an unexpected and short-lived spot of vertigo, I persevere, bolstered by the encouragement of our guide. Good thing, too.
At the summit’s approach, the morning drizzle and cloud cover magically gone, we’re rewarded with clear blue skies and a dazzling saucer view of Sydney from our lofty spot 134 metres high.
HOT DESTINATION DINING
For a romantic night to remember, the Cured and Cultured counter at Bennelong is the perfect spot to view all the Vivid action of the Bridge, Harbour and sails while watching a show of chefs shuck, slice, prep and plate a menu that leans towards the native and Australian-grown.
A texturally pleasing, ribbony salad of roasted organic carrots, almonds and feta and delicate dish of raw Hiramasa kingfish topped with earthy coastal greens kicks off a dinner that doesn’t disappoint. Fans of tartare will love the Asian take on the French classic.
Anason, the second venture from Efendy chef, Somer Sivrioglu, brings all the exotic charm and spice of Turkey to Barangaroo South. The pretty blue restaurant with mostly outdoor seating and a simit (bread) cart stationed out front, has a cool meze bar menu that makes casual dining easy.
There is good Turkish wine, of course, and zinger-strength Turkish coffee served with a side of sugar-dusted Turkish delight. Expect a modern take on Mediterranean classics, too, with silky pumpkin humus topped with crunchy chick peas and a novel calamari dolma stuffed with creamy avo ganush, pistachio, feta and barberries.
Henry Deane, the sexy two-level glass shoebox atop the Palisade Hotel delivers uninterrupted views of the Harbour Bridge, City and Barangaroo and killer cocktails, like the pandan and coconut rum-infused daiquiri. Get in early to avoid the post-work crowd or, better yet, aim for the relative quiet of Sunday lunch. A DJ spins tunes on Friday and Saturday nights. The public bar at street level is a cosy place for a burger and pint of Young Henrys.
WHERE TO STAY
For a taste of Sydney circa-1915, the heritage-listed landmark Palisade Hotel in Miller’s Point delivers period charm with modern appointments and knockout views. The Deluxe Room, spacious and elegant with retro touches like flying geese on the wall and mosquito net above the bed, has a separate sitting room, deep balcony, and views of the Harbour Bridge and higgledy-piggledy lines of the wharvies’ cottages below. It is boutique accommodation above a pub, albeit a very nice one, so expect some noise from patrons on the street at night.