School holidays ... time to have some fun with the kids.
Sydney is an exciting city, with 1001 things to do. But even in a city this big, it pays to change the way you look at things from time to time. How can you do that? Luckily we're here to help you get a new outlook on Australia's biggest city.
FROM THE SKY
Does drifting above Sydney in the basket of a helium balloon sound like scary fun? Well that was Poppy Fitzgerald's 10th birthday present. After getting up at 3am, Poppy and her mum, Sally, drove out to western Sydney to take off from a field (the exact field changes daily, depending on the wind).
"First we had to blow up the balloon and my mum helped the man hold the balloon open - you could see right inside," Poppy says. "It was lots of random colours - and then he turned on the fire. It roared. We had to cover our ears."
When the balloon was inflated, Poppy and Sally climbed into the basket with eight other people.
"We had to hold on to the straps, then we leaned backwards and there was a jolt," Poppy says. "We lifted off - it was totally awesome. And then we started to rise and went up and up and up and we were flying."
As they travelled over the Hawkesbury River, the pilot explained how if he let out a blast of flame the balloon went up and if he opened the flaps, the balloon drifted down.
"About halfway through the trip we saw the sunrise and it was really bright," Poppy says.
What's her advice for other kids? "Make sure that you're not too young, so you remember it," she says. "Ballooning gives you a great sense of peacefulness."
See cloud9balloons.com.au. Phone 1300 555 711. A family of four with two kids, 7-12 years, costs $850.
FROM THE TOWER
Sydney Tower is turning 30 this year and chances are you may already have been up in the tallest structure in NSW to the indoor observation deck. But heading outside (yes, outside!) on to the Sky Walk - the windswept platform that encircles the tower - is a real thrill for kids (10 years and older) and not to be missed.
First you put all your valuables in a locker, then you put on a blue long-sleeve jumpsuit with a zip up the back and a harness. A guide leads you up the metal stairs and then clips you on to the railing so you are safe and can't fall. The wind hits you as the door opens and as you head to the platform it's impossible not to notice that the floor below is glass and you are totally exposed to the elements.
But if you are not afraid of heights, it's one of the most fun ways to see Sydney; you have a clear view for 360 degrees - and 250 metres below you - with visibility about 75 kilometres in every direction. Eleven-year-old Levi D'Monte thought it was a "brilliant" experience. "You could see everywhere," he says. "I could see my school, St Brendan's in Annandale. I could see a lot of parks. The people looked like ants and the cars just like toy cars."
His friend, 10-year-old Bella Porter, wasn't too worried about the height. "You have no feeling that it is dangerous," she says. "In a way it still was a bit scary, but also very fun. The cars and people looked really cute."
From September 23, Sydney Tower includes a new 4D cinema experience, which, as well as showing you all the landmarks around Sydney, helps you to "feel" what you are watching by engaging the senses of touch and smell.
See sydneytowereye.com.au. Phone (02) 9333 9222. General admission to the indoor observation deck is $25 for adults and $15 for children. To go on the Skywalk is $65 for adults and $45 for children 10-17 years.
FROM THE BRIDGE
Nearly 80 years after it was finished, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is still an awesome place from which to view the city. Kids 10 years and older can join a guided walk over the bridge or even go up through the middle of the structure on a Discovery Climb.
"We have a lot of kids coming up here to celebrate their birthday with mum and dad and even grandparents," BridgeClimb guide Chris Henry says. "Maybe it's a coming-of-age thing."
Fourteen-year-old Patrick Callaghan went up the bridge with his sister, Bronte, who is 15. "It was a bit scary at first but because I was attached, I knew it was pretty safe," Patrick says. "Once we were at the top you could see really far. It was a great experience."
A much cheaper option and available to younger kids (there's no age limit) is the Pylon Lookout, located 200 steps up one of the four 89-metre concrete pylons (faced with granite). You can climb the south-east pylon, accessing it from Cumberland Street in The Rocks.
As you climb up the different levels of the pylon, several displays of artefacts and an audiovisual presentation tell the story of the bridge's construction over eight years from 1923.
You can learn about the exciting official opening in 1932, which was disrupted by Captain Francis De Groot charging through the crowd of nearly 1 million people on horseback and slicing the opening ribbon.
You get a great view of Sydney all the way to the Olympic stadium and beyond. After your climb you could also cross over to the other side by foot on the pedestrian walkway - it only takes about 15 minutes.
See bridgeclimb.com. Phone (02) 8274 7777. Adult admission ranges from $188-$298 and a child $128-$198, depending if you go during the day, night, twilight, weekday, weekend or "exclusive dawn", held the first Saturday of each month.
See pylonlookout.com.au. Phone (02) 9240 1100 for more information. It's open seven days from 10am-5pm. Adult admission is $11. Kids cost 5-12 years are $4 and under-4s are free.
FROM THE WATER
Seeing Sydney from the harbour itself, with the wind tousling your hair, helps you appreciate the grand scale of the city's waterways. If you head to King Street Wharf, before noon each day, you can board one of two 80-foot America's Cup racing yachts. Children are welcome and they can help to raise the main sail by using the "grinders" and also have a go at the helm - holding the wheel. As the trip progresses to Luna Park and Manly Cove they can also have a chance to "trim the sails".
Every Friday afternoon the company's two yachts also stage a number of races against each other, so kids can get an idea of the pace and excitement as the yachts tack and gybe around the buoys.
See sailingsydney.net. Phone (02) 9660 9133. Adults cost $129 and kids 10-16 years cost $99. There is a September-October school holidays special of $456 for a family of two kids and two parents.
Ever thought of venturing underneath Sydney? Twice a year the Historic Houses Trust and Sydney Water hold a ballot to take groups of people through the underground Tank Stream, the city's first fresh water source. Young people older than 12 who are accompanied by an adult can put on hard hats, boots and harnesses (which you need when you slide down a rope into the tunnel) and take a guided tour with Jon Breen, a retired engineer who worked with Sydney Water for 40 years.
When wading through the tunnels of the stream, which are now a system of stormwater drains from the central business district to Circular Quay, your only light is the torch on your helmet. "It's really historic," Breen says. "Sydney wouldn't be here - it would be in Botany Bay if it wasn't for this stream."
Before settlement, it was an Aboriginal source of fish and drinking water - archaeologists have uncovered flake-stone artefacts at the site. Then, in 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip saw the fresh water tumbling down 30 metres through sets of waterfalls from its source in today's Hyde Park, he knew this was an ideal settlement site. But over the years, supply inevitably became intermittent and polluted, eventually turning into an open sewer. It was finally built over in 1857.
To submit your ballot, see hht.net.au/ballot before October 17 and you might be among the lucky 160 people chosen to go on Sunday, November 27.
What about the stars and planets that surround us? You can get the best possible view of them from the observatory - which from its raised position also provides an interesting view of the city.
Built in 1858, the Sydney Observatory is the oldest in Australia. You can visit during the day and see exhibits about space and go to the beanbag planetarium or the 3D cinema.
During these school holidays the observatory is holding a special "comet party" to mark a very bright comet that hurtled over Sydney in September 1807. The party will involve rocket launching, games, dress-ups and ice-cream and is for children aged 4 to 8.
But the most thrilling time to visit is after dark. As well as getting a breathtaking view of Sydney's illuminated office buildings, you also get to use the 29-centimetre lens telescope (built in 1874) as well as a 42-centimetre computer-controlled telescope and a hydrogen-alpha solar telescope to see the moon, planets and stars.
Try stopping for a minute and then imagine what it would be like to look down on Sydney from space!
A night visit, including the cinema, is $10 for children 4-16 years, $17 for adults or $47 for a family. Day charges are $5 for children, $7 for adults or $20 for family. See sydneyobservatory.com.au or phone (02) 9921 3485.
This article was originally published in the S Kids section of The Sun Herald.