Zoo with a view

Laid-back Sydney has beauty and the beasts

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Sydney – Sitting on a long bench tucked away in the quiet park-like setting of Sydney’s famous Taronga Zoo, I’m dazzled by the view.

Taronga Zoo, one of Sydney’s most popular landmarks, is renowned for having one of the world’s largest collections of native Australian wildlife but apart from the kangaroo walkabouts and the koalas perched overhead quietly eating eucalyptus leaves, I’m most struck by the magnificent views of Sydney’s harbours and city skyline. The crystal-blue waters are dotted with the white sails of yachts and high-speed boats.

A popular place for tourists and Sydneysiders alike, Taronga Zoo is a 10-minute ferry ride across the harbour. From here you see the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, city skyline and the prime minister’s residence. It’s clear how Sydney could, and often does, win the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler Award for world’s best city. With one look at Sydney’s stunning natural harbour, it’s easy to understand why Australians have the same obsessive relationship with the ocean that Torontonians have with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When it comes the beaches and harbour, people here know they’re blessed. They know they have some of the most beautiful natural landscapes on earth – and they’re not afraid to say so. Sydneysiders are proud of what they’ve got and take advantage of it as much as possible. That short ferry ride to the zoo affords one more opportunity to take it all in.

The day we picked to visit the zoo wasn’t great for walking and venturing into closed-off rooms to view monkeys in their natural habitat, if you know what I mean. It was near the end of an afternoon marked by temperatures in the mid-30s and 90 per cent humidity under a scorching south Pacific sun. You knew the skies were going to open up and drench you any second – you just didn’t know when.

With a sudden clap of thunder, the warm rain came pouring down. Running toward the pier to catch the ferry home, we noticed from the hilltop that wed just missed it and would need to wait another half-hour. Should we wait under the canopy like the other tourists, soaking wet? What would an Aussie do? What would I do?

Lucky for me, I was with Sydneysider Shaun Heron. His advice, the advice of a true blue Aussie? Get in and go for a swim – we were already wet. So I stowed my belongings at the side of a cliff and swam in the crystal waters and drenching rain, with the view of the famous city, Opera House and bridge all around us.

Coming back on the ferry, with the sun warming my skin, I understood that Sydney is one of those cities where it’s easy to feel at home. Like Toronto, it’s extremely multicultural and welcoming.

What’s different is their relaxed, go-with-the-flow attitude. Standing on deck feeling the hot sun and sea breeze got me thinking: maybe they’re so relaxed because they haven’t experienced a Canadian winter.

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