Immediately east of the city centre lies Darling Harbour, once a grimy industrial docks area which lay moribund until the 1980s when the State Government chose to pump millions of dollars into the regeneration of this prime city real estate as part of the 1988 Bicentenary Project. The huge redevelopment scheme around Cockle Bay, which opened in 1988, included the building of the above-ground monorail – one of only a few in the world – as well as a massive new shopping and entertainment precinct. In many ways it’s a thoroughly stylish redevelopment of the old wharves, and Darling Harbour has plenty of attractions: an aquarium, entertainment areas, a shopping mall, an IMAX cinema, a children’s playground, gardens and a convention and exhibition centre. However, it’s only recently that Sydneysiders themselves have embraced it. Sneered at for years by locals as tacky and touristy, it took the Cockle Bay and King Street Wharf developments on the eastern side of the waterfront – with upmarket cafés, good bars and restaurants – to finally lure them.
The eastern side of Darling Harbour blends straight into the CBD with office and apartment blocks overlooking the yacht-filled water. Across the old Pyrmont Bridge, the western side is a different matter. Push beyond the wharfside developments and you’re onto the Pyrmont–Ultimo Peninsula, an altogether older industrial quarter comprising the suburbs of Pyrmont and Ultimo that have only started to smarten up since the turn of the millennium. It still has a good way to go and there’s pleasure in just wandering around marking the changes in between visits to the Star City Casino, the Sydney Fish Market and the superb Powerhouse Museum.