Review: Walking tour of The Rocks brings Sydney’s colonial history to life

The New South Wales Corps, also infamously known as the Rum Corps, was formed in 1789 to take over the policing of the fledgling colony of Sydney. It’s fair to say England didn’t exactly send its best men for the job and the Rum Corps was soon running amok. You can follow in the footsteps of those early renegades of The Rocks on this fabulous walking tour. Review: Erica Enriquez

Walking tour of The Rocks

Walking tour of The Rocks. Image: Photodune

4.5 stars

Historical walking tour of The Rocks in Sydney with Urban Adventures

Step back in time on this small group walking tour of The Rocks. Enjoy a 2.5-hour guided stroll around the historic precinct with a local guide. You’ll hear fascinating tales of convict and colonial capers. The tour includes a rum tasting and two stops for a beer, wine or soft drink. Duration: 2.5 hours (approx.)

There’s a lot to see and do around Sydney Harbour.

Highlights include the beautiful Sydney Opera House, busy Circular Quay and The Rocks historic precinct, which is where the story of modern Australia began.

When Rum Ran The Rocks is a historical walking tour of The Rocks offered by Urban Adventures. It’s part history lesson/part human-interest tale/part foodie adventure. I start the tour with a vague notion of the history of European settlement of Australia, and end it with a deeper appreciation for the people who, by and large, struggled to establish the city of Sydney we know today.

We meet our guide Kirsty at Circular Quay before heading off towards the first port of call on this walking tour of The Rocks – the Memorial Compass in First Fleet Park, adjacent to Wharf 6.

Walking tour of The Rocks

Walking tour of The Rocks

Here Kirsty gives us a rundown on what to expect during the tour, before we make our way past the Museum of Contemporary Art and up the Harbour Master Steps to get a panoramic view of Sydney Harbour. We’re in luck. No cruise ship has docked for the day and we get a clear shot of the Opera House across the water.

A statue of Governor William Bligh stands on the edge of The Rocks precinct. For any Aussies doing this tour, you may remember history lessons (or the odd TV show) depicting Bligh as a somewhat questionable figure in Australia’s history. But Kirsty’s commentary gives a better idea of what it actually took to control the colony, particularly the infamous Rum Corps, and the deposing of Bligh during the Rum Rebellion of 1808.

We head into The Rocks for our first foodie stop, Wine Odyssey, a wine bar in a heritage-listed building that was, at one point, run by the woman believed to be Australia’s first female entrepreneur Rosetta Terry. There are at least 44 Australian wines on tap and Kirsty gives us pre-paid cards that allow us to taste different options around the room.

As we delve deeper into The Rocks, it’s like stepping into another world. One of the most enchanting areas on these walking tours of The Rocks is Foundation Park, which features preserved remnants of convict houses. When Kirsty explains how many people would have lived in these homes at any given time, you’re suddenly thankful for your own space at home.

Walking tour of The Rocks

Walking tour of The Rocks. Image: Erica Enriquez

We travel through the backstreets (it’s at this stage that you start to get a little lost!) to an archaeological dig near the very lovely YMCA building. Kirsty tells us of stonemason and pardoned ex-con Richard Byrne, whose home is part of the excavation. Built in the early 1800s, the discovery is less about the structure of the home and more about the items found inside; jars, trinkets and knick-knacks that really humanise Byrne’s story.

Hart’s Pub is the included dinner stop on this walking tour of The Rocks. It’s another beautiful heritage-listed building and an important site for Sydney’s beer aficionados (if you’re familiar with The Rocks Brewing Company, it started here). Craft beers are matched with great pub food, and we settle in to eat in an atmosphere steeped in history.

Walking tour of The Rocks

Walking tour of The Rocks. Image: Erica Enriquez

Leaving the pub, we explore the area from Observatory Hill down towards George Street and Kirsty introduces us to an alleyway that foot traffic on George Street would normally overlook. Known as the Suez Canal, it was here that the infamous Rocks Push Gang terrorised the neighbourhood in the late 1800s. It’s a reminder that while The Rocks is now a beautiful place, it was once home to desperate people mired in crime and poverty. The antics of the Rum Corps were just the beginning!   

This walking tour of The Rocks ends at Phillip’s Foote pub – named in honour of Captain Arthur Phillip (the first governor of New South Wales). It’s a fitting spot to raise a glass to this chapter in Aussie history.

Erica travelled as a guest of Urban Adventures.

Additional images: Bigstock


About the writer

Sydney-based writer Erica Enriquez can often be found pounding away on a keyboard writing about everything from travel, lifestyle, entertainment and anything in between. She is also a business and lifestyle editor for an online women’s magazine. Erica is most passionate about exploring the world (whether it be in another timezone or another postcode), pro-social causes that support cultural engagement and malt stick Tee Vee snacks. She believes travel is a way to connect not just with the places you visit, but with the people you meet, and that it’s the human experiences behind these trips that make travel and exploration so wonderful.

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