It is an oasis of greenery and calm among the bustle of Sydney. Rest, relax, walk, talk, play or simply nap in the Botanic Garden. It really does not matter.
The first thing I noticed was the quiet. I had just awoken on a grassy knoll after a nap in the Garden. To my side a couple rummaged through a blackberry or blueberry bush. In the distance the Sydney Harbour gleamed beautifully in the afternoon light.
Nearby a family enjoyed their picnic. I was in the heart of Sydney, arguably Australia’s most hustling city, and yet, truly, I was not. It was too calm and relaxed; too easy a place to have a nap. I was in the city’s Botanic Garden — a place that mixes beauty and history with a penchant for the peaceful.
A day spent in the Garden, a large plot of greenery located on the southern shoreline of the Harbour and between two headlands, is an easy one. No plans are needed. Arrive, walk and savour the sites, the quiet, the fauna. Perhaps even take a nap.
Flora and flauna
The parkland is host to a variety of plant traditions. The Palace Rose Garden, in the western corner, is home to around 1800 roses, including hedges and perennials, along with weeping and bush roses. In this well-manicured plot stands the Rose Garden Pavilion. It dates back to 1897.
In contrast to the English-manor style of hedges and weeping roses is the Oriental Garden, which includes a range of plants from China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan and Bhutan. The song of the bamboo forests is a personal favourite. This tree type, renowned for its flex, clumps together in a colony of thin trunks. As the wind arrives, the entire cluster sways creating a sorrowful, solemn song.
While offering an aesthetic escape for people, the Garden also provides a home for animal life, especially birds. Ibises, kookaburras, pelicans, gulls, lorikeets, crimson rosellas, kingfishers and a wide array of ducks — often found playing in the parkland’s many ponds — go about their life. So too, owls.
A particular sight is the black cockatoo, a larger version of the sulfur-crested cockatoo. With their larger wingspan, their casual flight and their reclusive tendency, they are the more stylish sibling. The sulfur-crested counterpart, unconcerned by its bigger sister, still makes a showing.
The plants and animals are all complemented by architecture. Statues, both big and small, rise among the tree trunks. There is the modern-looking Pyramid Glasshouse which takes a page out of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris. Art, however, has been replaced by greenery.
Contrasting modernity with history is the castle-like Sydney Conservatorium of Music. It was built in 1821 to serve as a stable. In 1915 it became a conservatorium. Recent renovations have gone to great effort to show off the archeological history previously hidden underneath the building.
Plan your day
Start at the Opera House. It is, after all, one of the most interesting and iconic buildings in the world. Walk into the Garden, which opens year-round at 7 a.m. and closes, depending on the month, between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. (in summer it is later and in winter it is earlier). As you arrive, be on the lookout for the café near the south-western entrance of the park (the CBD side). It is a cozy affair with the tables arranged under an eave of ivy. Good coffee, excellent sandwiches.
Have a picnic on one of the grassy knolls along the western end. Yachts and seagulls will be playing on the nearby Harbour. Then slowly make your way east. You can either follow the curving shoreline of the Harbour or head further south into the rainforests and oriental greenery.
Look to finish the day on Mrs Macquaries Point, which is the eastern headland. Relax with a glass of wine and enjoy the sunset, which washes its rich orange light onto the Bridge, the Opera House and the rocks and water of the Harbour.
Call the Botanic Garden authorities on 02-9231-8111 or 02-9231-8125 (weekends) for more information.
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