For some, every physical journey is an opportunity for an inner one. If you prize your wellbeing above all else, in Sydney you can find nirvana. Achieve a mind-body awakening among the city's most famous places, and engage with the cultures that follow their bliss within this ancient landscape. Here's how you can get closer to Sydney's spiritual side.
When Wendy Whiteley lost her husband, Australian artist Brett Whiteley, in 1992, she funnelled her love and grief into transforming a disused, derelict train yard space. Wendy’s Secret Garden – which is at the foothill of her home in Lavender Bay – has been nurtured by Whiteley and two gardeners over the past 25 years. They’ve planted natives, exotics, plants and herbs and landscaped the space with winding paths supported by raw bush timber balustrades, benches to sit on and cobbled stairs, retaining walls and paths. The garden also reveals majestic views of the sparkling harbour foreshore.
Waterfalls, weeping willows, lily pads and blossoms make this one-hectare garden a charming and calming place to visit. Officially opened in 1988, the Chinese Garden of Friendship was initially commissioned by the Guangdong Landscape Bureau in Sydney's sister city Guangzhou to reflect the bond between the two cities, and incorporates architectural principles of the Taoist philosophy of yin (calmness) and yang (activity). The garden is dotted with hidden treasures, including an ancient cyad (fossil plant) and the red silk cotton tree (a floral symbol of Guangdong). A highlight is the Lake of Brightness, which is full of chubby carp.
Down near Wollongong is the southern hemisphere’s largest Buddhist temple, Nan Tien, of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order. Built in 1995, the temple is a hub for tourists and visitors who can take a tour, have a meal, learn cooking, calligraphy or meditation, or simply wander the grounds and admire the main shrine with its 10,000 Buddhas.
A lot of people might be broadly aware of Australia’s Aboriginal history but the mistake is in considering it just that: history. The spiritual practices of our first peoples are still part of their daily lives, and through Splendour Tailored Tours you’ll get a glimpse into the world’s oldest continuous culture, as it is lived, not how you imagine it to be. Prepare to get up early because you’ll be meeting Aboriginal elder Aunty Margaret Campbell under the pylons of the Harbour Bridge for a welcome to country and to acknowledge the ‘grandfather sun’. Aunty Marg’s stories will transport you a time and place before colonisation, when people could watch the whales from the lookout that existed long before the bridge and bring their fish to the cooking fires built on the same sandstone they used as a foundation for Sydney.
Bondi Icebergs is the most photographed ocean pool in Australia – at Sydney’s most famous beach. They hold Yoga by the Sea classes here ($25, Tue-Sat during summer months) overlooking the ocean, with the salt air and breezes to help you manage your stress, along with classes in Hatha Yoga and the more active Power Vinyasa.