It is one of the first warm and sunny days in spring when I pack my stuff into my camera bag and head out to the city to explore the brand-new Barangaroo Reserve. I had been itchy for weeks, in silent cheerful anticipation awaiting the opening of this new park in the middle of Sydney’s city centre.
I, like many other Sydneysiders, am expecting great things from this new green space in the city, and I cannot wait to find out if the new reserve is meeting mine and everyone else’s expectations. Sydneysiders can be very critical, we are spoilt in a way. What we needed in Sydney was a free, public space with water access and great views, and the question for me was: does Barangaroo deliver?
Stone, Sea, Sky – the motto of the continuing welcome celebrations on the headland is spot-on and probably the best way to describe the main elements of the park.
Stone can be found anywhere, in square boulders protecting the shoreline, glistening invitingly in the bright morning sun. The colours of the limestone, so iconic for the Sydney basin. Rusty browns, golden yellows, glowing warm reds… in all shapes and sizes. Texture and patterns, all mixed up, inviting you to study and explore each and every carefully placed boulder.
They are lining the shore but can also be found placed around the park, serving as stepping stones and climbing challenges for the little ones. Nature’s edition of the humble park bench, grouped in a way that families and friends can sit together, have a picnic on the lawns.
They can also be found in the terraced inclines towards the centre of the park, which is a generous lawn on top of the headland, beautifully named “Star gazers’ lawn”. A carefully planned Lego construction of walkways that are hugging the hill and following its belly-round curve. The stones, despite their clearly manmade manipulation into rectangular blocks, still look organic, and they stand in wonderful contrast with the native plants they are holding in place.
The Sea, so omnipresent in Barangaroo Reserve, quick to reach and even touch. Plenty of spaces have been created with flowing landscapes that will connect the people with the water. The blocks of limestone, so inviting to sit on and rest, with fantastic views from Darling Harbour, past the ANZAC Bridge to Goat Island, Luna Park and the Harbour Bridge. Salty fresh air, and the gentle lapping of harbour waves onto the stone surfaces. Standing here it is not difficult to imagine how dozens of generations have been standing here in the very same spot before the white settlers arrived. There is a spiritual connection here, a whisper that beckons you to listen.
Lastly, the Sky. Views aplenty await you at Barangaroo Headland, set under Sydney’s usually brilliant blue sky. A picnic on top of the headland, on top of the world, with fantastic views, fresh air, the singing of birds. Perfect to spend a leisurely afternoon here, or a lunch break, or to gaze at the stars.
And thanks to the unique setup of steep terraces you can enjoy one-of-a-kind peeks into the Australian bush, very often finding yourself on eye-level with the tops of trees and tall shrubs. They might not be fully grown yet, but wait till they are flowering, bearing fruit and offering shelter to Sydney’s birds and buzzing insects.
But there is more: free wifi is available throughout the park, so you don’t need to use up all your data when working here or posting pictures onto social media. This is a nod to the future in a new public space that has so many connections to the indigenous past. All shrubs, plants, flowers, grasses planted here follow guidelines to ensure that pre-colonial vegetation is restored. The sandstone blocks on the shore mimic natural rock pools, so important to the Aboriginal people as food source. Walkways are named after things important to indigenous life, and Barangaroo itself of course is named after a historic Aboriginal person, a strong woman who was an important linking figure during the early days of white settlement.
A great art space has also been integrated into the Barangaroo Reserve site, named the Cutaway. A steep natural stone wall to one site, this long underground hall is constructed in the shape of a concrete bunker, neutral and flexible, perfect to host everything from concerts to movie screenings and giant art installations. It is as long as the Sydney Cricket Ground and as tall as a six-storey building. I can imagine that a lot will be happening here over the next months to come.
The verdict? Barangaroo is a wonderful new addition to Sydney’s city centre, a new attraction in its own right. A great spot to relax, enjoy the New Year’s Eve fireworks, to see the harbour from a different side, to work out in during the lunch break. It is exactly what Sydney needed and deserved, and I have no doubt that it will soon find its way into travel guides all over the world. If you haven’t visited yet you should. Pack your picnic blanket and your camera, and make it a great day out!