If you’re looking for a green space in the city and one of Sydney’s best gardens you can’t go past the Chinese Friendship Gardens. This gorgeous space offers an oasis of calm nestled between the bustle of Sydney’s Chinatown and the ever-expanding Darling Harbour precinct.
We dropped in at the gardens as a refresher after spending a few hours wandering the city streets in the heat of summer. The moment you walk through the gates into the walled garden you are greeted with a sense of calm and a rejuvenation of your energy levels.
Sitting on around a hectare of land you could easily forget you are in the middle of Australia’s biggest city. The project started in 1988 to celebrate the Australian Bicentenary and are a credit to the huge effort put in by the local Chinese community and cooperation between Sydney and its sister city Guangzhou in southern China. The many ponds, waterfalls, hidden meandering pathways and Chinese style artwork transports you to another time and place.
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Dramatic in all seasons
During summer when we visited the sacred lotus are in flower, the sweet heady fragrance of the frangipani and gardenia surrounds you and the dramatic weeping willows put on a beautiful showing around the edges of the many ponds.
It’s a garden designed for year-round appeal. A little earlier in springtime, you’ll see the azaleas, peony and magnolia in flower. During autumn the prince of orange lends its autumnal colours to the grounds along with the camellias. Even in winter, the garden isn’t bare, the waratah and early flowering plum and cherry blossom brighten things up.
Features of the Chinese friendship garden
The most striking aspect of these gardens are the ponds and I’d estimate that at least 50% of the space is taken with water features including ponds, rivers, cascades and waterfalls. The largest is the lake of Brightness where the sacred lotus was in flower and the lotus pond outside the tea pavilion.
The unique twin roofed pavilion shown in the photo below was a gift from the people of Guangdong and as with many of the garden features, it is symbolic, in this instance representing the friendship and co-operation between the two states.
Rocks have an important place in the gardens.
The first you come to is in the Penjing courtyard where there are three dramatic sculptures made from rare Ying rock, a mountain limestone found in southern Guangdong.
From the Water Pavilion of Lotus Fragrance and other spots around the gardens, you’ll get a good view of the dragon rock rising up out of the lake. The dragon is a benevolent guardian of the garden and symbolic of good fortune.
After the pavilion, you’ll come to the rock forest which tells a love story from a Chinese legend of Ashima and the landlord. The short version is, Ashima, the beautiful maiden is kidnapped by the son of a rich landlord and forced to marry him. Her love, a brave shepherd, rescues her but the landlord unleashed the floodgate and drowns her as they escape. Her spirit is captured forever in a rock statue.
The Clear View Pavilion
Also called the Gurr, this gorgeous hexagonal pagoda sits at the highest point in the garden. It offers wonderful views in all directions and features golden roof tiles and detailed wood carving inside that were gifted from the province of Guangdong in China. You can also see the central lamp in the photo below which signifies prosperity.
There are many other special structures in the garden. These covered walkways guide you from the entrance to several garden rooms including the Water Pavilion of Lotus Fragrance with its panoramic view across the lake and garden. While I can’t say that I could discern the fragrance of the lotus we were fortunate enough to see tropical waterlilies and the sacred lotus in their summer bloom.
The Sydney Chinese Friendship Gardens are some of the best Chinese gardens we’ve seen outside of China and are well worth the entrance fee. The tranquillity will be especially welcome for anyone like me that finds the commotion of the central city a little overwhelming after a couple of days. It might have been the tea but after a couple of hours, I was completely ready to tackle the crowds outside and continue exploring the city again.
Chinese Friendship Garden Visitor Information
An entry fee of $6 per adult is charged
The garden contains several areas to sit and rest along the way. There are clean toilets and accessible friendly restroom facilities available although the full gardens are not well suited to wheelchairs due to the steep site and uneven ground.
Overlooking the ponds there’s an attractive traditional tea pavilion. A great selection of Chinese tea is available along with western refreshment options. You can also enjoy dumplings, pastries and other treats from the cafe menu overlooking the gardens for a perfect vantage point.
You’ll find the menu and latest events at The Gardens by Lotus on their official site.
Open daily from 9.30 am until 5 pm. During summer the gardens remain open until 5.30 pm. Closing days are Christmas Day and Good Friday.
At the southeast corner of Darling Quarter.
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