Much ado at Barangaroo

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It’s the most ambitious project in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics, standing alongside the government’s multibillion-dollar road and rail expansions. And although the central one-third of it won’t be completed before around 2023, the functioning two “bookends” of its ultimate three sections already constitute Sydney’s newest, thriving, tourist and leisure attraction.

The three sections comprise Barangaroo South, Central Barangaroo and the northern area, Barangaroo Reserve. It’s an amazing urban renewal undertaking, replacing the stark concrete aprons of the former container shipping terminal and adjacent musty wharfies’ early-opener pubs. Its captivating stevedoring history includes the Depression era description of the docklands as The Hungry Mile, when waterside workers walked the wharves in desperate search of a job, so often without luck.

No such scene today: by contrast, Barangaroo South – an extension of the CBD, via Wynyard Walk, and the Darling Harbour/King Street Wharf enclave – largely consists of three tall office towers soaring above podium-level shopfronts of prosperous boutiques and many, varied, bountiful restaurants and casual cafes known as The Streets of Barangaroo precinct. I lunched at Devon Cafe (named not for processed pork smallgoods! but for its original iteration on Devonshire Street, Surry Hills); see its most delectable daytime menu (eg: Little Lost Bread, a work of art) at At night we dined at Cirrus (on the ground floor of the circular white building under the “red” tower) on kingfish sashimi, prawns, marron and crab. Must try: the gin tonica – beyond the best (just don’t insult it by calling it a G&T), and imported French wines.

But the sheer number of star establishments here (and a rooftop bar), their outré design, harbourside ambience and range of cuisines is overwhelming. Nola (for New Orleans, Louisiana) Smokehouse and Bar serves oysters Rockefeller and red-claw yabbies over a roaring fire pit and rum and passionfruit cocktails. Again, there’s Anason, an open-air Turkish meze bar with charming navy/white French bistro-style furniture. An amphitheatre cove, designed by the architects of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, and parklands will complete the precinct.

It’s all next door to Central Barangaroo, still a construction site, where the new casino’s to be built, along with a financial, retail and residential hub – with apartments by the outstanding architect Renzo Piano, and served by a city Metro station.

Then, after all the feasting – or if you pick up a picnic takeaway – there’s Barangaroo Reserve, with its tiered terraces, parkland spaces, tumbledown grassy hills, and harbourside promenades. Natural sandstone characterises the 6ha headland with 75,000 trees, good parking and public transport and pedestrian accessibility options, lovely views and thousands of revellers can mingle comfortably for celebrations such as New Year’s Eve fireworks or, currently, Vivid. Check the website for a program of various attractions such as music, concerts, pop-up restaurants or simply strolling and admiring the bustling harbourfront. Sorry, no fishing!   

Feature hotel: It’s better than the IMAX cinema across the way, the view from my hotel room in the Hyatt Regency, Sussex Street, edging Darling Harbour- Barangaroo. It’s said to be Sydney’s biggest premium hotel, with nearly 900 rooms. It doesn’t feel crowded though: I speed from the lobby in efficient lifts to my floor, thick-carpeted and acoustically cocooned – and the panorama through my full-width, full-height sheet glass western “wall” is like hovering, drone style, in a moving – muted – tableau. Aircraft criss-cross the near horizon, approaching and departing Sydney Airport: soaring into the soft morning skies, lights twinkling as they descend after dusk. Beneath, the lavish sweep of Darling Harbour: the man-built curve of the new Convention Centre, residentially-repurposed historic wool stores, the maritime museum, aquarium (don’t miss the cute dancing penguins!), Madame Tussauds and charming Pyrmont Bridge: an ever-moving river of pedestrians, cyclists, commuters, strolling lovers, animated tourists. And the harbour itself: a mesmerising mix of ferries, working vessels, cruise craft, water taxis pulling in at and away from the jetties. The scene lures me into its midst: from the hotel’s ground floor I can walk a moment east to all the CBD shops, stroll Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay or head north 100m or so to the southern entry to Barangaroo. Good valet parking facilities at Wilson Parking, opposite.

Focus Travel Editor Susie Boswell was hosted by Destination NSW.
Artist’s impression of Barangaroo, courtesy Lend Lease.

New Brisbane flights * Fewer Melbourne flights Lord Howe service to terminate.

Virgin’s Port Macquarie to Brisbane flights cease next month, to be replaced by greater capacity, shorter flying times and a better schedule flown by Alliance Airlines.

In the past month travellers wanting to fly to Brisbane on Tuesdays and Wednesdays have had to transit via Sydney, a lengthy, more costly and inconvenient diversion.

The service is being taken over by Alliance from Monday July 17. As for fares, as we went to print Alliance said it expected them to be set at a similar level to the current Virgin fares. Let’s hope so. Fokker 70 jets will service the route, offering 80-seat capacity compared with the existing 68-seat Virgin configuration. About 15 minutes will be clipped from the present flying times in each direction.

On weekdays and Saturdays flights depart BNE-PQQ at 9.45am and turn around PQQ-BNE at 11.20am. On Sundays flights leave Brisbane at 4.30pm and turn around from Port Macquarie at 6.15pm.

Flights will continue to be booked via the Virgin website as well as through travel agents. Existing baggage allowances will continue, as well as Virgin privileges for platinum, gold and silver members. Velocity points and credits will be earned on VA-coded flights and baggage checked through to connecting Virgin flights.

Meanwhile, JetGo’s four weekly flights to Melbourne Essendon inaugurated last November had been cut to twice weekly as per an operating schedule published last month.

At the end of last month, Qantaslink ended its seasonal direct flights from Port Macquarie to Lord Howe Island and will resume them at the start of September. However, they’ve advised me they’ll terminate the weekly service altogether the following month, after Saturday October 28, with “passenger numbers insufficient to make it viable”. Passengers thereafter will need to travel via Sydney.

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