What better way to appreciate Sydney’s green spaces than when the sun is shining?
As a Sydneysider, I know I’m one of the lucky ones, because if I’m hankering to be among nature it’s never too far away; The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is just a hop and a skip away from the city centre. Sydney’s green spaces – including parks and nature reserves – are easy to find wherever you might be in this huge city. Thanks to my daughter, we will usually visit at least one of Sydney’s green spaces per day. It makes her happy, and it makes me happy too.
The psychological benefits of being among nature are well studied, and it’s widely understood that spending time among trees spurs feel-good feelings. There are studies that refer to improved air quality in places with more greenery, and studies that focus on the improvement of mental health when exposed to trees. And there are dozens more studies, all pointing to humans simply feeling better when there are more trees around.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been to The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, and today I’ve happened upon it on a near-perfect day. There’s a gentle breeze blowing and it’s just refreshing enough to combat the late-morning sun. Flowers bloom left, right and centre, adding pops of colour to the patchwork of greens, and Sydney Harbour glistens in the distance.
My two-year-old daughter and I have already strolled through the Australian Rainforest Garden and marvelled at the variety of plants, then stopped by the Herb Garden for culinary inspiration. There’s a sensory fountain here (kids and adults are encouraged to touch the spherical feature, which has water flowing over it and is surrounded by a bronze ring) and my daughter spent close to half an hour playing with the water.
After our leisurely start, lunch is already calling. We go in search of the perfect spot, and it doesn’t take long to find. We perch ourselves on a patch of grass with views out to the Sydney Opera House and munch on avocado and cheese baguettes. Bliss!
The great outdoors
After our picnic lunch, my daughter and I spend another hour meandering through The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney until she dozes off and I plop myself under a tree to read. We’ve spent close to three hours exploring and could easily while away the entire day here.
For more active types, there are tours and workshops: free guided tours at 10.30am daily and many paid options, such as the Aboriginal Bush Food Experience and Behind The Scenes Sensory Tour of the display glasshouses. I’ve already got a plan for our next visit: the award-winning horticultural display centre The Calyx. It features the largest changeable interior green wall in the southern hemisphere.
Public parks are great places to explore, and there are hundreds peppered throughout Sydney. I’ve visited quite the assemblage over the past couple of years, thanks to my toddler daughter, whose first word when she wakes up is ‘park’.
Sydney Park in Alexandria is one of our favourites. It has something to please everyone: landscaped gardens, open fields, a bike track for the little ones, and birdwatching thanks to the wetlands. The playground is huge and keeps my daughter entertained for hours. And when it’s time to go, the cafés of St Peters and Newtown are within walking distance.
Blaxland Riverside Park at Sydney Olympic Park is another green space we visit often. It has the largest array of play equipment I’ve ever come across and is located near Parramatta River. Sometimes my husband and I take our bikes and spend the day cycling alongside it.
Spending time by the water is synonymous with Sydney life, and we are fortunate that so many of Sydney’s green spaces are near rivers or the sea. Barangaroo Reserve, part of Sydney’s newest harbourside precinct, has been one of our favourite spots since it was opened to the public in 2015. I think we’re all still getting used to the never-before-seen views of the city’s harbour and the native shrubs planted all around the headland.
Architecture: a new element of Sydney’s green spaces
Now that my husband and I are in the midst of building an extension to my home, I have a newfound appreciation of great design: beautiful, energy-efficient, with plenty of green incorporated. One Central Park in Chippendale is one such building where the concept of green is so big it holds claim to having the world’s tallest vertical garden. The two-tower complex is one of Sydney’s most talked about architectural feats, and as soon as you crane your neck up you’ll see why!
French architect firm Ateliers Jean Nouvel worked closely with botanist Patrick Blanc to create something extraordinary. At 150 metres tall, the hanging garden is made up of tens of thousands of plants and shrubs that hang on the building via 21 vertical panels. Architect Bertram Beissel of Ateliers Jean Nouvel, who oversaw the construction of the project, is known to have identified it as “a flower for each resident and a bouquet to the city”. His words ring very true. The sustainable build also includes a heliostat, an internal water recycling plant and a tri-generation plant. It’s absolutely no surprise that it has won a plethora of awards and been awarded a five-star Green Star by the Green Building Council of Australia. Sydney’s green space are going up!
Another precinct awarded a Green Star is Green Square town centre. The six-star Green Star – Communities rating certifies it as meeting the world’s highest standards in governance, liveability, economic prosperity, environment and innovation.
There’s no doubt that buildings are offenders when it comes to greenhouse emissions, particularly large multi-storey affairs, which we will see more and more of as Sydney’s population grows. In fact, it’s expected that by 2030, about 90 per cent of all new homes in Sydney will be high-rise apartments. In response, the Smart Green Apartments program – launched in 2016 by the City of Sydney – was designed for owners and managers to work together with the aim of slashing energy bills and saving thousands on running and maintenance costs by using energy-efficient innovative design. To cement their dedication, the City of Sydney has committed to working with 20 apartment buildings each year for the next decade.
The sustainable hotel revolution
More and more travellers these days are enquiring about hotels and their sustainability practises, and many hotel brands are introducing initiatives to help out the planet.
At Shangri-La Hotel, guests use wooden key cards to access their rooms, and checking in and out is a paperless affair. Here, water comes in 100 per cent recyclable Just Water cartons and the ORCA clean food waste recycling technology diverts hotel food waste from landfill.
The recently opened Vibe Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour is starting right, with a commitment to not use single-use plastic items, as well as recycling and waste bins in all guest rooms and in-room motion senses that avoid unnecessary energy waste.
On-site compositing is the norm at Spicers Potts Point, with the compost collected going to the nearby Wayside Chapel for its community veggie patch. Here, the days of mini shampoo and conditioner containers and plastic water bottles are all but a distant memory. Instead, large refillable bottles are used for in-room toiletries and guests can fill up their own water bottles using the AQuachiara microfiltered water system.
Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney also has a number of environmental programs in place, with energy efficiency and water conservation two of the big focuses.
InterContinental Sydney follows a similar direction, with great results in recent years in reducing energy and lowering water consumption.
Accor has the Planet 21 sustainable development program, which is essentially a roll-out of sustainable initiatives across its various hotels and brands. Projects, aims and outcomes differ, but the motivation is always the environment. Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour is one of Accor’s Sydney superstars. The hotel installed 350 solar panels (100 kilowatt-per-hour photovoltaic system) on its roof in 2017, which supply about 10 per cent of the electricity on the common area. It’s one of largest solar panel systems to be installed in the Sydney CBD.
And it’s not just the mid and high-range hotels that are directing their efforts to the greater good. Sustainability is a big focus for budget-friendly brand YHA, with many of the Australian properties doing their bit for responsible travel. Sydney Harbour YHA has installed a 30 kilowatt-per-hour photovoltaic system, while Railway Square YHA has a 62 kilowatt-per-hour photovoltaic system and a solar-boosted hot-water system.
With businesses doing what they can for the environment, it’s so encouraging for the rest of us to do our part to keep Australia beautiful and keep Sydney’s green spaces flourishing for years to come.
For more ways to enjoy this beautiful city, check out this list of 10 great bush walks around Sydney.