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   S Y D N E Y   C I T Y   G U I D E

Australia Rules--and Sydney Rocks

Illustration for TIME by Miranda Yiu


By SHIRLEY BRADY

Australia's city of the sea (and place to be seen) is making worker ants look like slackers. Getting its house ready for the flurry of guests dropping by over the next year has already brought a sparkle and buzz to Sydney, as it puts the finishing touches on its Olympian preparations for 2000.

The millions of dollars being spent on urban improvements are evident the moment you arrive at the city's Kingsford Smith airport, a tad messy these days due to its $400 million expansion program. The international terminal is adding 10 aircraft gates, 66 check-in counters and 11 baggage carousels (plus a new road bridge, parking lot, taxi rank and bus terminal) to welcome the 600,000 visitors expected to arrive for the Games. Make your way through the chaos to request a copy of the Sydney Airport Arrivals Guide, packed with tips on what to see and do. Your next step is to buy a SydneyPass for unlimited travel on Explorer buses, harbor ferries and the airport shuttle (from $44 for a three-day adult pass).

For most visitors, what to see is not in doubt. Even veteran Sydney-philes will find themselves by the harbor in no time, soaking up one of the world's most spectacular vistas. There are many ways to navigate and appreciate the area. The Manly ferry (which departs from Circular Quay) takes you past the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge on its 20 min. journey to Manly's relaxed beaches, cafes and other great hang-out spots. A leisurely "see-journey" can be experienced onboard one of the many cruise ships that ply the boat-filled harbor. Captain Cook Cruises has launched a 63-m luxury vessel called--what else?--the MV Sydney 2000, which offers a four-course dinner cruise featuring entertainment by singers from the Opera House (from $56; book at 612-9206-1111). The AMP Centrepoint Tower, Sydney's tallest building, boasts a 360š panorama of the bay- and beach-dotted cityscape (on a clear day you can see as far as Terrigal Beach, 100 km north of the city). Another tremendous view of the Opera House can be enjoyed in the Royal Botanic Gardens. A great spot for dinner is the Gardens restaurant, which features salon-style chamber music in the evenings.

Rather than simply admire the view, some may actually prefer to get their feet wet. Harborside sailing schools, clubs and tour companies rent various watercraft, including windsurfers, canoes, sea kayaks, catamarans and motorboats. Tourists can also delve deeper by diving, or take a view from on high by chartering a seaplane. For information on local tours and operators, call the visitor help line at 612-9255-1788.

And if you like the look of the Opera House, wait until you experience the view from its terrace. For many visitors, a trip would not be complete without attending a performance at the landmark, the city's premier showcase for ballet, music, theater and, of course, opera. Its new auditorium, The Studio, debuts March 5 with a series of contemporary works by cutting-edge Australian and international musicians (like American composer Steve Reich). The lineup at the February opera festival includes The Barber of Seville, Madame Butterfly and Carmen. For details, call the box office at 612-9250-7777 (or book tickets online by contacting www.soh.nsw.gov.au).

February is a great month for summer celebrations, like the 21st Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a carnival of parades, parties and festivities for folks of all persuasions (Feb. 4-27); a twilight concert series at Taronga Zoo; dragon boat races to usher in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit (Feb. 13-21); Valentine's Day sailboat races in the harbor (Feb. 14); and Tropfest, an indie film festival (starts Feb. 21). Not-to-be-missed exhibitions include "Classic Cezanne" at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (until Feb. 28); "Flesh and Blood" at the Museum of Sydney (ends Feb. 21); the Powerhouse Museum's ode to Prague's lost Jewish community (through Feb. 21); and "The Warhol Look" at the Museum of Contemporary Art (until March 14). Kids will be thrilled by the robotic dinosaurs in "Terrorsaurus" at the Australian Museum (through April). Take a look online at www.sydneycity.nsw.gov.au for other great ideas on how to make this city around the House feel like your home away from home.

With reporting by Elizabeth Feizkhah and Isabella Ng/Sydney




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