I now know that many WEN writers have covered the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney, but you can imagine my surprise when we discovered this little jewel of an oasis in the Darling Harbour precinct in the middle of a vibrant city.
Who would imagine finding this in bustling Sydney?
The Chinese Garden of Friendship provides the perfect escape for city-dwellers from the hustle and bustle of an otherwise busy city. The Chinese Garden, to me, naturally creates a yin and yang - peace and tranquillity within a secret garden, in total contrast to the outer forces beyond the walls of this spectacular city garden. It's a place to breathe deeply, feel the sun on your face and absorb the sounds and smells of nature.
Within the Chinese Garden of Friendship the philosophy and harmony of a traditional Chinese garden has been recreated, with stunning waterfalls, exotic plants, pavilions and hidden pathways. The initial creation of this oasis was to symbolise the friendship between Sydney in New South Wales and the city of Guangzhou in the province of Guangdong in China - sister cities of sister states - marking Australia's bicentenary in 1988.
Lake of Brightness, looking towards The Gurr and Twin Pavilion
The Dragon Wall, which features two flying dragons, symbolises majesty and perfection in Chinese culture and was a gift from Guangdong. The brown dragon represents Guangdong whilst the blue dragon is New South Wales' representation.
The Moongate is a large circular portal with a wavy-topped cloud wall
I loved the 'Moongate' with its wavy-topped cloud wall, enabling a natural frame around my photograph.
The Chinese Garden of Friendship follows the Taoist principles of 'Yin-Yang', the opposing yet complementary and balance forces; and 'Wu-Xing', the five elements or phases - wood, fire, earth, metal and water. These principles also reiterate the importance of Qi, the central force of life and energy.
Yin-Yang and Wu-Xing play a vital role that, should just one element be missing, it would disrupt the garden's harmony and balance. However, when combined perfectly, the five elements form a fluid and nurturing environment. Everything visitors encounter in this immaculate Chinese garden has been carefully chosen and meticulously placed, in order to incorporate the five elements; achieve a balance of Yin and Yang and promote the flow of Qi.
Unlike western-style gardens, visitors will discover that there are no formally laid out flowerbeds or manicured lawns; instead, wild aspects of nature are recreated in landscapes that feature waterfalls, mountains, lakes and forests.
The art of Chinese garden design began in imperial parks during the Shang Dynasty, around 3,000 years ago. Later it flourished on a smaller scale in the private gardens of China's rich and powerful, and Darling Harbour's Chinese Garden of Friendship is a small-scale version of a typically private garden from this era.
We visited the Chinese Garden of Friendship over the same weekend that the Lunar New Year Festivities were happening all around Australia and discovered much to our delight, that the usual very cheap entry fee of $6 per person, had been waived for a gold coin donation. So, as you can imagine the Chinese Garden of Friendship was very busy! Luckily our timing seemed to be spot on, as we totally avoided the long lines before entering.
Daily feeding of the spectacular Koi is a free activity
There is so much to see and do at the Chinese Gardens. Every day at 11.30am visitors can enjoy watching the spectacularly-coloured Koi being fed at the Lenient Jade Pavilion. This is a free activity, included with the garden entry, to participate in.
The Emperor's Quest, a Chinese Zodiac adventure for the whole family
Children aged between five and twelve years of age, will be absolutely thrilled to participate in the Emperor's Quest, a Chinese Zodiac Adventure. This fun activity will take approximately thirty minutes to complete and the aim is to find all twelve animals of the Chinese lunar calendar which are hidden within the Chinese Garden. Each animal has its own character and a whole treasure chest of legends. Double your adventure fun by downloading the Emperor Quest App on your smart device, and together with a map, fun clues can be uncovered along the way as you explore the gardens. Once all twelve sculptures have been located, the Emperor Quest App will reveal a secret surprise! I must be honest and say we never found them all, but it was fun looking and the ones we did find in hidden spots were worthy of a photo.
Great fun looking for all twelve animals of the Chinese lunar calendar - please note the 'piggy' gets the most space as he's my lunar calendar animal
The Emperor's Quest is a free activity and is available every day (except Good Friday and Christmas Day) between 9.30am and 5.00pm and is included with the garden entry. All children must be accompanied by an adult.
Whilst walking, visitors can enjoy the lake with its sacred lotus flowers, limestone rocks and colourful koi, surrounded by graceful weeping willows.
If you're looking to add more fun to your outing, the Chinese Garden of Friendship offers traditional Chinese dress-ups in the Garden. Visitors can be transformed into emperors, princesses or warriors from the Ming and Ching dynasties. Costumes are available for hire for the whole family - $10 per adult and $5 per child. I, unfortunately, couldn't persuade hubby or son to participate in playing dress-ups - if it wasn't such a swelteringly hot day, I might have had more success. Next time!
Visitors can experience the gardens' history, significance and seasonal botanical highlights on one of the free guided tours. Times vary between seasons - please enquire at the entry point.
These gardens are truly magical and one is loathe to leave the tranquillity and mystery behind. If you feel like I do, then a visit to The Teahouse with a range of Chinese tea and refreshments being served in a traditional teahouse, would be a perfect excuse to prolong your visit.
Mountain Gate, marking the beginning or end of a mountain walk