Experts in Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific

Laura's travel story - behind the scenes of Sydney Opera House

Posted 12 October 2016
Destination Executive, Laura, takes a peek behind the scenes of one of the most famous buildings in the world.

On her recent trip to Sydney, Laura made an effort to explore a site that had captivated her since she was a child: the Sydney Opera House; one of the world’s foremost architectural wonders.

"There are plenty of walking tours that will show you around this great construction, but I wanted to do it in style, so I decided to embark upon a VIP Tour and Tasting Plate deal that combines the delights of the Opera House with the culinary wonders of the Opera Kitchen.

Well, I love food and I love a good story, and the tale of architect Jørn Utzon is intriguing, so I knew I was in for a double treat. I wanted to find out more about the great architect who designed this amazing building, and I wasn’t disappointed. I learned so much that day about the history of the building, like that work on the site started in 1959, with 10,000 builders employed.

Before the tour starts you get to decide when you want to sit down to eat: before or after your tour as lunch, or return for dinner at dusk or a late supper. Once you have decided that, then you're ready embark on your tour of discovery. We arrived about lunchtime and sat down to enjoy the tasting platter first before we set off on the tour.

The tasting platter came complete with a selection of food in the shape of a gorgeous three-tiered sample menu of fresh sushi, roasted salmon, crab-cake burgers and yummy dumplings. We basked in the sun enjoying our lunch; the Opera House above us, with views out to the Harbour Bridge and the sparkling city skyline beyond. Talk about picture perfect.

The tour itself is approximately two hours long and takes place between 9am and 5pm, while food is served from 11am until late. We were escorted by a passionate guide who displayed an in-depth appreciation of the architectural details of this stunning building, leading us through the theatres and performance rooms, and guiding our small group between the iconic white sails that have immortalised the city of Sydney in a trillion photographs.

The original Opera House architect, Danish born Jørn Utzon, came from a naval background, and although he never visited the site before construction began, being the son of a naval architect, he used his knowledge of maritime charts to study Sydney Harbour. The style he championed was modernist architecture because of its eye-catching form and use of contemporary materials.

The design competition to draw up architectural plans for what was to be the Opera House was first publicised in 1956. Jørn Utzon’s design for the concert hall was initially rejected. However, the striking ambition of his design was eventually recognised and he came to triumph over two hundred other architects and was awarded £5,000 prize money.

However the process of building the Opera House was a contentious, drawn-out affair (as mentioned, it wasn’t completed until the early 70s). A new government party were elected during the build, and they were not so enamoured with Utzon’s uncompromising approach and so stopped payments to the architect in 1966. Sadly Jørn Utzon left Australia, never returning to see his work completed. He died recently in 2008.

Utzon was eventually awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Architects Australia when the Opera House was officially opened in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. By this stage the build bill had exceeded the initial £4 million ($7 million) estimate; the outlay came in at upwards of £60 million ($102 million). All these fine details were revealed by our guide and delivered with enthusiasm as you walk through the building, in awe of all the intricate detail in the design.

Although the name suggests that the Sydney Opera House is a single large theatre, it actually houses multiple performance spaces. It is the home of the Opera Australia (the country's national opera company), the Australian Ballet, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. There are all sorts of other performances that you can see there too and tickets are available when you pre-book your tour dates so you can combine your tour with a performance afterwards.

There are few buildings in the world as recognisable as the Sydney Opera House, so to be able to actually walk around inside and discover the history was magical and a true Aussie once-in-a-lifetime experience. The main Concert Hall was the real highlight of the tour; to learn about the vast variety of artists that have performed there (everyone from Kanye West to Arnold Schwarzenegger). I’d personally recommend this experience to everybody, and it’s definitely something to tell the grandkids one day.

It’s so great to think that I have walked through those hallowed halls and seen the beauty of the Opera House for myself - not viewed from a postcard or image on the internet - but up close and personal, with delicious food and the perfect guide.

In fact, I got a lot closer to the finished building than the actual architect, which is a great shame really, but I’m sure, if Jørn Utzon was with us today, he'd be very proud of his feat. Because I really believe that the Sydney Opera House will go down in history as one of the greatest buildings ever designed with a fascinating story to go with it - take the tour for yourself to find out."