Sydney Land: The Down Under lowdown on Australia’s sexiest city…

The birth of modern-day Sydney began under less-than-auspicious circumstances in the early days of 1788, the year when 11 British tall ships – comprising six convict ships, three store ships and two naval vessels – sailed into the waters of Port Jackson in south-eastern Australia. Following an exhaustive eight-month journey, the flotilla finally dropped anchor at the majestic harbour that would eventually come to be known as Sydney Cove. In all, some 1,000 souls – including 850 convicts – came ashore, planting a flag and claiming the land for the British Empire. Thus was set up a fledgling settlement that would be the first of the many penal colonies that would soon dot the continent. 

Sydney Land The Down Under lowdown on Australia's sexiest city syndney cove

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, the British established farms across the country, while the discovery of gold in 1851 drew ever more settlers. Over the next 80 years, until the end of transportation, more than 160,000 convicted criminals would be sent to make a new life in what was then seen as the most remote of destinations. 

Even today, the bulk of the New South Wales capital’s population are descendants of these hardly settlers, though foreign immigrants now account for roughly 75 percent of its annual population growth. Boasting a population of just over five million, the city’s contemporary incarnation is a far cry from the rudimentary village of its penal colony days. Now among the key financial hubs in the Asia-Pacific region, Sydney not only numbers among the priciest cities to live in globally, it also boasts a thriving tourism industry, with more than 3.5 million international visitors descending upon the city every year. 

Sydney Land The Down Under lowdown on Australia's sexiest city syndney's opera house

Undoubtedly topping the must-visit lists of many of these intrepid travellers is the Sydney Opera House, one of Australia’s truly iconic landmarks and among the most photographed buildings in the world. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, its sail-like roof – though seemingly white at a distance – is actually made from more than a million cream-hued interlocking tiles. A true labour of love, it took 10,000 construction workers a staggering 14 years to complete. When it was finally opened (by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973), the project had cost a total of AU$102 million, more than 14 times its original AU$7 million budget. 

Sydney Land The Down Under lowdown on Australia's sexiest city dining

Occupying a prime location in Sydney Harbour, this opera house welcomes some 10.9 million visitors annually. They are drawn not only by the world-class musical performances hosted within, but also stunning views out across Sydney Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour, the central business district and The Rocks, a particularly bustling nearby neighbourhood. Discerning epicureans should also make the time to dine at the Bennelong Restaurant, an eatery dubbed “the Holy Grail of Australian restaurants” by The New York Times. Fronted by floor-to-ceiling windows, its panoramic outlook and culinary treats have made it one of Sydney’s most popular fine-dining experiences. 

Sydney Land The Down Under lowdown on Australia's sexiest city bridgeclimb (2)

Directly across the waters of the Circular Quay is yet another of the cosmopolitan metropolis’ signature sights – the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The widest long-span and fifth-longest spanning-arch such construction the world has ever seen, its arch-based design has seen the structure colloquially dubbed ‘The Coathanger’ by many locals. Interestingly, the day before it opened in 1932, the bridge’s strength was tested by placing 96 train engines along its length. The initial toll then was just three pence for a horse and rider and six pence for a car. Today, that sum has soared to four dollars during peak hours, yet it remains the main route for commuters crossing between northern and southern Sydney. 

Sydney Land The Down Under lowdown on Australia's sexiest city bridgeclimb

For tourists, though, it affords a thoroughly unique sightseeing means in the form of the BridgeClimb, an opportunity for daring visitors to scale the metallic arches to the summit of the bridge morning, noon and night. Though perhaps not for the faint of heart – or those suffering from acrophobia – those hearty hikers brave enough to reach its apex are gifted with breath-taking views of the city below. 

One of these sights, lying just under its north reaches, is Luna Park, a heritage-listed amusement park fronted by a gigantic smiling face. Welcoming visitors since 1935, the vintage appeal of this quirky venue remains largely unchanged despite several million-dollar upgrades over the years. A sure-fire hit for families, there are enough attractions and rides to keep the little ones entertained for the day. 

Sydney Land The Down Under lowdown on Australia's sexiest city koala animal

Another option for family-friendly fun – Taronga Zoo – lies a short 15-minute drive away. Once again abutting Sydney Harbour, this 100-year-old institution boasts a sterling reputation for conservation and rehabilitation. In all, more than 4,000 animals across 350 different species can be found here, many of them officially endangered in the wild. Roughly a quarter are indigenous to the continent, including the requisite koalas and kangaroos. A vast complex, it takes at least three hours to cover its acreage, with the zoo even offering a sleep-over option as part of its Roar and Snore tour. 

Sydney Land The Down Under lowdown on Australia's sexiest city bondi beach

No trip to Sydney would be complete, however, without a visit to one of the countless sandy beaches that lie just outside the city proper. The most famous of these is, undoubtedly, Bondi Beach, a wildly popular spot for surfing, swimming and sunbathing throughout the year for locals and tourists alike. Dotted with an expansive selection of cafes, restaurants and retail venues, it’s a world away from the urban jungle lying just a few kilometres distant. 

It’s also the starting point for a scenic coastal walk hugging the cliffs between Bondi and neighbouring Coogee beach. An easy six-kilometre stroll, it passes through several smaller beaches, bays and ocean rockpools. If you’re lucky, you might even have the opportunity to glimpse the occasional pod of whales or dolphins frolicking in the waves off the coast, so be sure to bring a camera along. 

Premium Bondi

Premium Bondi

The Bondi Beach Penthouse has been almost universally hailed by the international media as Australia’s most desirable apartment, but can it truly ever live up to such a prestigious and lofty billing?

Today, Bondi Beach is largely famous for its surf, but Australians have been swimming and living around this magnificent bay since the early 1800s. In the 1880s, the authorities officially designated Bondi as a public beach and, later, in 1884, a dedicated tramline was constructed, linking the beach to Sydney Harbour, set some seven kilometres to the north. Up until 1900, strictly implemented local authority rules prohibited swimming during daylight hours. Once these were relaxed, largely due to public demand, the beach became a popular destination with locals and tourists alike.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a large number of hotels, casinos and cinemas were built alongside the familiar bathing huts. By 1929, more than 60,000 people were visiting the beach on summer weekends. This saw Bondi become dubbed as ‘the playground of the Pacific’. The growth of the beach settlement in the early part of the 20th century has given the place a very particular, relaxed, almost dream-like, character.

Campbell Parade, the main street that runs along the edge of the bay, comprises an eclectic sweep of low-rise Art Deco, Spanish Colonial and 1960s brick buildings, all with shops and bars at ground level. This forms an eccentric, if welcoming, leisure parade.  In recent years new, tallerapartments and hotels have been built, but they have all been somewhat set back from the original seafront.

In some parts of Western Europe, an unrelenting fixation with heritage has become an unwelcome straitjacket. This has signally given rise to wave after wave of pastiche buildings that fail to meet the demands of the present. As a counterweight to this, many architects working with historic buildings find the restraints imposed by the process of preservation can inspire genuinely creative work.

Premium Bondi

The Bondi Penthouse, clearly a labour of love by the Sydney-based MPRDG architecture group, is just such a building. This fetching three-bedroom apartment sits on the roof of an historic block in the very centre of Bondi Beach. It was sold for US$9million (HK$70millon) in 2006, but current estimates put its value now well above US$12million (HK$93million).

It has been built on to the structure of the original Hazel Flats building, set in the very heart of Campbell Parade. The three-storey block, built in 1920, was designed in what might be described as a distinctly Art Deco style. In truth, architecturally speaking, it’s something of a mongrel. Its hints of Art Deco actually blend with much more pragmatic style of what can only be termed ‘sea-side architecture’. Rendered and painted in powder blue and white, it’s highly redolent of many geographically disparate seaside buildings of its era, Here there is an architectural language that you might find on the South Coast of England, in parts of Florida or Portugal and even, perhaps less predictably, in certain residential areas of Shanghai.  It truly stands out in an area where most of the buildings are only two or three storeys high. This is largely because it was only in exceptional places, all of them pulled back somewhat from the parade proper, that developers were given the freedom to produce the occasional taller building.

The Hazel block, though, is surrounded by similarly eccentric buildings, all largely springing from the same construction period. Each one, however, tends to be differentiated in some way, frequently through the use of a different pastel colour, a different roof height or by little giveaway signs that indicate their original purpose.

Regardless of the overall form of the building, at ground level each inevitably proves to be home to a shop, a bar or a cafe. Each block is long and thin with a narrow frontage overlooking the beach. They also all feature ubiquitously playful parapet walls, usually masking a very ordinary roof or shed-like structure. .

MPRDG clearly relished the opportunity to work with the old building and opted to produce a roof-mounted structure that would be barely visible from the street.  The firm designed a lightweight metal-clad structure, with an organic roof form that sits behind the existing façade.

By creating a roof terrace immediately behind the original façade, it was able to give the family residing within the flat a north-facing private balcony, while maintaining the modest low-rise character of the street. Whereas the original buildings on the street use colour and basic facade decoration to create a sense of playfulness, this new addition comes wrapped in one single, striking white metal panel. It still, however, exudes a distinct sense of play, largely as a result of the excitement and novelty stemming from its unusual form.

Premium Bondi

This rooftop pavilion is essentially formed from a series of planes and facets, rather than the far more conventional walls and roofs. The organic character of the structure, which sees it floating above the old rendered block, clearly expresses the fact that this is decidedly a new building engaging in a dialogue with the old. It is a fetching combination and one that underlines the creatively pleasing results that can be secured when such a fusion is handled with due sensitivity.

The planning that has gone into the apartment is deceptively simple. On one side, there are a series of three bedrooms, including an extensive master bedroom, on the other there is a small pool, luxuriously appointed and quite alluring.

At the front of the building, overlooking the beach and the terrace, is an open plan living space, complete with a dedicated ultra-modern kitchen and an extensive dining area. The kitchen appears to be formed from a folded plane, one which rises up from the floor and is cantilevered into the living space to form a work surface.

Residents enter this rooftop home by solus-use lift set at the rear of the building. There is also the option of gaining access via a spiral staircase, The stairs rise into a bright open, space, lit from above by a large round roof-light. A corridor linking the spiral stairway and the lift is also lit from above, this time by a five-metre long frameless skylight. This also provides borrowed light to the stairwell.

In order to make the most of the views of the beach on the north side of the house, the walls of the living space are formed from two planes of frameless glass. At certain moments, this glass and the accompanying clean white walls seem to dematerialise entirely, giving the impression that the occupiers are simply playing out their lives on the open roof of an old building block.