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Home > Virtual Cruises > Statendam: Auckland to Sydney
Statendam: Auckland to Sydney
Day 1: Auckland
Day 2: Auckland/Christchurch
Day 3: Dunedin
Day 4: Milford Sound
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: At Sea
Day 7: Burnie
Day 8: Melbourne
Day 9: Sydney
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Day 9: Wednesday, Sydney
SydneyTypically, departing from cruises is a nightmare in more ways than one. First of course is it means that the trip, so highly anticipated for so long -- and in this case entirely enjoyable -- is o-v-e-r. Secondly, cruise lines are notoriously inhospitable about disembarkation, booting passengers out of their staterooms at the crack of dawn to make way for the new folks.

Fortunately, in this case neither instance applied. The anticipation over visiting Sydney, one of the world's most popular cities for everything from its beaches to the iconic Sydney Opera House to its laid-back Aussie spirit, slightly (ever so slightly) exceeded my sadness in leaving the ship. And Holland America's policy to allow passengers to stay in their cabins until their colored baggage tags are called is quite civilized not to mention most appreciated.

Arriving in Sydney is a spectacle in its own right. Just across Sydney Harbor from the cruise terminal is the aforementioned opera house, one of the most famous architectural designs in the world. From the promenade deck, the building, perched atop a several hundred step staircase, looked smaller than I imagined but its jutting, sail-like walls and roofs soared and, er, sailed at the same time. It's a building so magnificent it was hard to stop eyeing it. Interestingly, though the building was designed to reflect the harbor's sailing ships, after a while it started to remind me of a seashell just waiting for Venus to emerge.

Ships dock in the most marvelous location in Sydney, literally just under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and next to The Rocks, its most historic neighborhood, a place with waterfront (or ship-view when in port) cafes, a fabulous weekend street market focusing on crafts and souvenirs, and numerous boutiques and art galleries.

As our taxi pulled away from Statendam, I was too busy sussing out the neighborhood (thinking "wish we'd booked a hotel here!") to have time for the usual long and lingering look at the ship.

Like most of the folks I'd met onboard, we were completing our trip with an extended stay in Australia. Many of us stuck around Sydney (and let me just say that a one night visit is nowhere near long enough) while others took advantage of post-cruise excursions to places like Cairns, for visits to the Great Barrier Reef.

We'd booked a room at the Four Points Sheraton in the heart of Darling Harbour -- Sydney's other major tourist magnet -- and it was sleek and (surprisingly) chic and perfectly located for a value-oriented property. It was a block from the monorail and from the water ferry as well as right in the heart of downtown -- easily walk-able to the shopping district, the Sydney Tower and the fabulous Hyde Park Gardens.

With the proverbial too-much-to-see, too-little-time conundrum, we began the morning with a monorail ride to Sydney Tower, the 1,000 ft. observation platform that offers tremendous views. Not to compare but while it serves the purpose of letting you know the lay of the land, it's not nearly as nice or even as interesting as Auckland's tower (at the very least the folks here could offers some info that would identify some of the major landmarks) and its elevators are small and poky (which means long lines and claustrophobically long rides).

For me, more serene in the downtown area was Hyde Park (where a guy played the bagpipes, his instrument case splayed open for the occasional coin-of-appreciation), the city's major showplace for flora and fauna. Wandering into the mid-19th century St. Mary's Cathedral, an historic landmark and working Roman Catholic church just across the street, we blundered into a wedding -- "sit down, sit down," said the genially hapless, formally dressed guest who was obviously assigned to keep tourists out of the main set of pews. It was the first of many wedding-oriented scenes we'd see today.

Heading over to Darling Harbour, I was reminded in many ways of some of the U.S.-based harbor front developments like Boston's Faneuil Hall or Baltimore's Harborplace. It was pretty touristic with great clusters of food court style restaurants and activities aimed at families, ranging from bungee jumping trampolines to rock climbing walls to paddle boats. The Sydney Aquarium is here as is the Powerhouse Museum, the IMAX Theater and the Australian National Maritime Museum. Along the waterfront as well were a series of casual cafes (with anything but casual prices). There's a marina here where boat tours depart (like Captain Cook's dinner and sightseeing cruises) and you can also take the Harbour Jet, which is a speedboat experience. So it's definitely a magnet for visitors, whether from Sydney or beyond.

As adults without young 'uns, we found we greatly preferred the elegant ambiance of The Rocks to the more frenetic Darling Harbour and so went back there, where Statendam was still docked in stately splendour, for lunch. The Rocks, originally the home of the Aboriginal Cadigal people, was, in 1788, the first settlement for the British upon arrival at Sydney. Today the historic old town is a mix of restored residential and commercial buildings. It's the place to go if you want to do the Sydney Bridge Climb (not for the faint of heart, you're outfitted in a bridge suit with harness and climb along steep, ladder-like stairways and narrow catwalks). The Museum of Contemporary Art is located here. You can also take a Rocks pub tour.

At the recommendation of a few local folks, we headed down to Circular Quay West which houses a string of restaurants with waterfront tables and lunched at a place called Wolfie's. The view was sublime -- from our spot we could see the aft end of Statendam at the dock and, across the harbor, the Opera House --though the food was mediocre and quite expensive (with an extra weekend-and-holiday $3.50 per person service charge added on as is the custom here and in New Zealand). Beyond that, the market was a fun place to browse as were the small galleries and boutiques. People-watching -- the area is just chock-a-block with cafes -- was the most fun. We spotted a Japanese couple, just married, walking in an impromptu processional along the waterfront, bridesmaids furiously snapping photographs.

It's a perfectly pleasant stroll around the U-shaped harbor and we wandered around to the Sydney Opera House, which anchors the end opposite to the cruise pier. Passing numerous sidewalk cafes and the city's major ferry terminal, we climbed the hundred or so stairs to the plateau on which the opera house sits. Up close it looks huge. The facility is split into a couple of different buildings, all bearing the distinctive sail-shaped walls which curve so low to the ground that you can touch them. We did -- their exterior is comprised of white and off-white ceramic tiles.

Sitting for a spell on the Opera House steps, we watched a performance of Asian dance and movement taking place on an outdoor stage just beyond. Across the way, another plateau -- this one the Royal Botanical Garden -- was being set up for an outdoor wedding; though cloudy, the temperatures in the 70s were just perfect. As we headed back along the waterfront, it was hard to miss the Opera Bar, tucked underneath a ledge at the water's edge. That's because a band rocked to Caribbean tunes and even at 4 p.m. the place was packed. Here we spied no wedding couples but did enjoy watching a bridal shower in progress -- attendants wore t-shirts whose slogan, "Lou's Last Lay," was emblazoned across their chests. The bride-to-be was wearing a slinky black top with a short veil of white tulle capped off by a paper crown that shimmered with silver streamers. We honestly couldn't tell if she was celebrating -- or mourning!

From this spot, we can see the die hard adventurers clambering up the Sydney Harbour Bridge; they're so high they look like a parade of ants as they move up and over the top span. Another funny sight: As Statendam completed embarking its new passengers for its next cruise -- an identical 14-night itinerary that winds up in Auckland -- we can see folks in orange life vests lining up on the promenade deck.

Somehow, inexorably, as if drawn by longing or sentiment we aren't sure which, we found ourselves strolling back toward the ship, to Cruise, a fabulous trendy bar that's actually part of the cruise terminal. Cruise is so close to the ship you can actually see inside cabin windows on deck 5 (in fact we could spot our own cabin from here). We ordered glasses of Australian shiraz and, from a perch on the bar's second floor, watched as the ship prepared to depart, watched as people we'd never seen before stood on "our" promenade deck. The ship's female deck officer, who I'd last seen dancing merrily at the Black and White Ball, stood out on the wing, waiting to observe the loosening of the ropes. The crowd, quite boisterous, waved and cheered and she, along with crew members, waved and cheered back. It was a scene of joyful bonhomie.

A handful of faces in that crowd looked familiar and, indeed, some of our fellow passengers were drawn by the same longing to be here, witnessing Statendam's departure. Also overnighting in Sydney, they stood at the dock, waving, as if they too, felt that somehow it was important to say a symbolic goodbye to Statendam.

As the ship slid away from the pier, graceful and sleek, having loomed, at its dock, like a big blue wall placed against Cruise's floor to ceiling windows, our consolation was that the view once again opened up to showcase the harbor, the Sydney Opera House, and, yes, Statendam, as it glided across the harbor, past the opera house, and out through an archipelago of islands. We watched until we couldn't see it anymore and then we left. Passengers no longer, we now were merely tourists.
Day 8: Melbourne red arrow  

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