Sydney: Madame Tussaud’s, Sea Life Aquarium, Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

So for all my enthusiasm about Sydney, I have to report that my trip did not go according to plan. My second night in Sydney, I didn’t sleep at all. Laying in bed at 7 am facing the second day of the conference at 8 am, I was sure there was no way I was going to make the top 15 and win a two month stay to work on my entrepreneurial idea.

To re-cap: I was in town thanks to Telstra and their Imaginarium initiative: to bring 80 young, bright idea-generating individuals together to develop ideas for the development and enhancement of the lives of young Australians. Of course, at the end of the day it is a show for branding, both to encourage leaders loyal to the Telstra name, and to sell the image of Telstra being a valued community member as much as a telecommunications monopoly.

I won my place among the 80 with a simple forex investment scheme based upon Bitcoin, but coming to the conference, the terms seemed to be geared towards direct social change. When analysing generational issues of western society, I see education as holding key potential for improvement. Specifically, the way we throw kids into a procedural, institutional learning environment that has for many of us seemed soul-sucking, draining us of that very drive towards learning and creating that we should be nurturing.

We could solve this easily, I suggested. By reshaping education with student-directed learning, facilitated by technology (and considering this was a Telstra conference) presenting it as something that could be funded and assisted by industry mentors. Delivering inspiration and tangible, believable goals to satisfy kid’s dreams and parent’s pragmatism. Unfortunately I’m not sure I delivered it as well, in person.

Following the sleepless night, I caught what sleep I could through the second morning and made alternative plans.

Researching the top-rated attractions in Sydney, I found the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium, the Sydney Tower Eye: Sydney’s tallest building and the second tallest observation deck in the southern hemisphere, and Madame Tussauds. It happens that these, along with two others fall under the banner of the Merlin Entertainment Group, a global tourism operator: for $69 a single adult can access five local attractions within the space of a few days, saving $380. Why not, right?

I’d been advised by a family member to be sure to go on the ferry from the Sydney CBD to Manly at least once. The views didn’t disappoint: it was on this trip that I caught the photos from my first post on Sydney.

There are many options for crossing the river by boat, with many private operators among the public ferry service departing from Circular Quay, which is a just a few minutes walk from the CBD. The trip takes 30 minutes by the slowest ferry, and costs just $7 with an Opal card.  (The local public transport smartcard.)

Departing from Circular Quay, the F1 chugs out of the harbour, giving outstanding views of the central city, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and then the wooded hills, islands, and surrounding suburbs. Departing into the ferry terminal, you’re faced with a mall of fast food restaurants opening onto a lively modern beach, crowded with restaurants and sight-seers.

The Manly Sea Life Sanctuary is a 5 minute walk from the ferry terminal. The building looks less impressive than you might expect: an odd squat building with a spherical dome sitting against a nearby hill. But then, it’s bigger on the inside. A circular maze descends into a small network of tunnels exhibiting an assortment of local sea life. Signs tell an exhaustive tale of attempts to protect the local sea life from eradication by human causes.
Loudspeakers announced the imminent feeding of the Sanctuary’s Little Penguins. The crowd ascends into the sunlit dome at the top of the building where an effervescent narrator entertains the crowd as the penguins are hand-fed.

Overall, I found the Manly Sanctuary underwhelming-  it is not a large aquarium, and unless one is buying an attraction pass like I did, you might better spend your money elsewhere.

That said – for a premium (which I wasn’t prepared to pay) the Sanctuary does offer a chance to dive among sharks, turtles, and stingrays.

The Sea Life Aquarium, Madame Tussaud’s, and Wildlife Sydney Zoo open onto Aquarium Wharf (a 20 minute walk or ferry from Circular Quay), also adjacent to the city. The wharf is an attraction in itself: kilometres of boardwalk lined with boats, sea birds, restaurants, museums et. al

These three are definitely the major family attractions with queues of a dozen at most times. Tussaud’s is a museum of art like no other. Wander through a maze of themed rooms, where you might find Michael Jackson standing by a shining stage wall on one side opposite Steve Irwin frozen in enthusiasm, against the backdrop of Australia’s sunburnt outback. It was staggering at times, walking into a room which was not truly crowded by people: but the figures are so lifelike, that you may find yourself excusing Mahatma Gandhi as you step past him, before doing a double-take as you realise you’ve just spoken to a wax figure.

The Sea Life Aquarium, it seems, I’m missing photos for, which is depressing. I can tell you that it is like most I have experienced: a lengthy trek up and down walkways, through rooms with large, curved walls and subterranean water tunnels. Amidst all of this are exhibitions behind glass of every sea creature you might imagine..

The Sydney Tower Eye is the most difficult to locate, but possibly the most rewarding. In the central CBD on Pitt St, lies Westfield Sydney, a glossy mall no doubt intentionally difficult to navigate. Few signs by the walls lead a path towards the tower’s entrance on an upper level. Passing through tacky reception area, you’re handed 3D glasses followed by a long wait. Every 20 minutes or so, a short 3D film is shown, showcasing helicopter angles of Sydney complete with a vibrating floor.. before another long wait in a queue of dozens which are packed (excuse the cliche, but it’s true) like sardines to be shot towards the sky.

I entered the Tower proper not long before closing. The lights were turned down, the small cafe closed, but a thriving assortment of families circled the apex. Fixed binoculars distracted from wide windows overlooking the CBD and the hills beyond, in 360 degrees. Sitting by the windows, one could look down upon Hyde Park, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the bustling streets below. Vehicles and pedestrians were transformed into the picture of a thriving ecosystem of thoroughly organised ants. It made me think about the nature of humanity: the egoist consciousness of the individual, striving to achieve so much for themselves, so often desperate to be important or recognised, if not apathetic in their recognition of the futility of their desire. Sitting in such a tower works as a small-scale demonstration of the habits of life (even with an organism as complex as humans) to form structures, patterns, although invisible in their massive complexity to the individual, the hints are so easily visible from such a scale.

I should make an honorable mention to Maze Backpackers, for cheap but decent accommodation in the heart of the city. The staff were overall friendly, welcoming, and helpful. The WiFi was cheap and reliable, and the amenities predominantly clean. It was, I’ll admit, my first stay in backpacker accommodation, so my expectations may have been greater than they should have been – my lack of sleep on the first night came down to the noise of those on working holidays, enjoying their weekend. Something to keep in mind.


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