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Lifestyle : Harbour
1HERSA1 S005 MAR0216/CJB /11/10 _U[ÙXK ZNK YQOVVKX _U[ÙXK XKYVUTYOHRK' LIFEJACKET -- WEAR IT Make sure you and your passengers wear lifejackets at times of heightened risk. For more information please see our website or call the info line. NEW RULES NOV 1, 2010 Go to www.maritime.nsw.gov.au or call 13 12 56 Info line 13 12 56 w ww.maritime.nsw.gov.au Waterfront dining for every occasion -- from casual gatherings to the special events in your life. dedesgroup.com.au Pyrmont | Woolwich | Abbotsford | Kirribilli | Collaroy Taste the view A8104-191110 The Sydney Morning Herald Friday, November 19, 2010 HARBOUR 5 Catching a catamaran is agreatwaytolearn about the past, writes James Manning. Serene . . . the Parramatta RiverCat glides effortlessly through lush surrounds. All aboard a magical history tour You could spend thousands of dollars on a luxury cruise anywhere in the world, but why bother when your own city offers a history-laden cruise for a fraction of the price? The Parramatta RiverCat sails past a host of islands, wetlands, wildlife and historic buildings on a tour that is off the well-beaten tourist trail. A ferry service has travelled the route from Parramatta to Sydney and back for more than 200 years. The very first ferry, known affectionately as ''The Lump'' to convicts, commenced operation in 1789. At this time, the trip took almost a week from Sydney to Parramatta but since Sydney Ferries' RiverCats took over the route in 1992, travel time has been sliced to a cool 55 minutes. Seven catamarans, named after female Australian sporting heroes, now ferry more than 1.5 million people up the river every year. Ferry master Adam Ward is one of the lucky few who gets to call these vessels, and the spectacular waterways on which they sail, his workplace. ''Our office is absolutely fantastic. We get to spend our day on the world's best harbour.'' Adam, 31, embarked on a sea change five years ago, leaving the finance industry to pursue his passion for boating. He now works on the Parramatta RiverCats and says a lot of people don't realise all that lies beyond the bridge. ''You can enjoy Sydney from one end to the other on the same stretch of water.'' Departing from Circular Quay, the Harbour Bridge is just the first of many that the ''cat'' passes under along the way. The ferry coasts past historic working islands, such as Goat and Cockatoo islands, home to old shipyards, a school, a notorious jail and some of Australia's oldest convict buildings. A dazzling array of old buildings line the foreshore along the length of the river -- a throwback to the harbour's working history. Rustic sandstone cottages are juxtaposed with multimillion-dollar housing developments, while the Olympic Stadium dominates the landscape further upstream. The navy also has a long history here. The cat passes the HMAS Waterhen naval base at Waverton, an important site during World War II that is still in operation. Further upstream is the old Newington Armory. Rich in naval history, it is home to more than 100 heritage buildings. However, if history is not your thing, nature features heavily throughout the twists and turns of the river, too. Parks, picnic spots and petite beaches are plentiful in the inner harbour, while the cat meanders past wetlands and mangroves that line the river further upstream. These are home to an exotic array of shorebirds, including the river's latest inhabitants, a family of white- bellied sea eagles which you can spot from the ferry on a good day. The waterway has even played host to penguins and bull sharks from time to time. They may say a journey is more important than its destination but the tour is far from over when the ferry moors. Parramatta claims a lot of firsts: Sydney's first farm, first vineyard, first jail and first orchard, to name a few. You can picnic in Parramatta Park or any number of harbourside green spaces and reserves. Then there's Old Government House, the convict-built Lennox Bridge and the country's oldest cottage, Elizabeth Farm. The RiverCats and their passengers are not the only ones enjoying the glorious upper reaches of Sydney Harbour. Yachts, speedboats, cruisers, kayaks and school rowers all share the river. Yet many amateur boaters are unaware of the amount of traffic the river sees and need to adhere to navigational principles. ''It's awesome to see every man and his dog out on the harbour,'' Ward says. ''But get the necessary boat licences and safety courses and ensure it's an enjoyable day out for everyone.'' The RiverCat has broadened its horizons to cater for more than just tourists, following the launch last year of an express service between Parramatta and Circular Quay. With 130 commuter services a week that run from 7am to 7.30pm, the ferry is becoming a popular choice with commuters in both Sydney and the ever-expanding Parramatta CBD. In the early morning the cat glides effortlessly under the Gladesville Bridge without a hint of envy for the motorists gridlocked above. For Adam, it's an easy choice: ''You can sitonatrainorabusoryoucantake in a harbour cruise on your commute to work -- I know what I prefer to do.'' SPECIAL REPORT