Race around The Rocks: birthday fun in Sydney

What better way to spend your birthday than in Sydney’s birthplace, The Rocks, with your friends. There’s several great pubs and lots of nightlife – if you’re over 18, that is. But if you’ve just turned 15, just as fun is running around completing silly tasks, finding the hard to find (even when they’re right in front of you), and trying to beat your friends to the end of your very own “Amazing Race”!

Given three days notice of my daughter’s intentions, I came up with a series of tasks based around the heritage area The Rocks. There’s a heritage building, spot or musuem on every second street corner so it wasn’t too hard. Figuring out the timing and planning enough to do to last three hours and still be fun was another thing all together.

The plan was that I would be the “Race Chief”. My daughter, Toni, and her three friends would make up two teams of Racers. My other two daughters (unknown to Toni) were the Pit Stop Chiefs. The girls had to complete a set of tasks to earn points. These included compulsory tasks and were based on visiting museums etc, bonus tasks (silly things like singing in public to earn extra points), and secret tasks given by the Pit Stop Chiefs. Easy peasy!

We caught the 8am train and arrived at Circular Quay just before 9am. I gave the girls a map of The Rocks area and sent them off to First Fleet Park to await the Race Chief. I quickly then rang my Pit Stop Chiefs to make sure they had not only gotten out of bed but were in fact already on their way in. So far so good. They were on the very next train and would arrive in half an hour.

I donned my special Safari Helmet and strode across the park to the Racers. Time to organise the teams and send them on their way. Each team had the same tasks but in different order so that they weren’t following each other around and would end up at the first Pit Stop at roughly the same time (around 10am). That done the girls went running off in opposite directions while I walked up to check on the final task of the competition, which included finding a copy of a certain book in a specific bookshop. Once they had completed that they would then go on to meet me for lunch at my favourite bakery/cafe that I always stop at when I’m visiting The Rocks. I just needed to check that the store actually had the book. I came across my first little problem of the day as I reached the Bakery a few doors down from the bookshop (Ariel by the way – good store). The bakery was closed for renovations!

Most inconvenient, but not insurmountable. There’s plenty of cafes and eateries at The Rocks.

Next problem hit. The Rocks Discovery Museum, Toni’s team’s first task, was not open and there was no opening time advertised at or near the door. Just go on to the next task, I told her, it’ll open soon.

No worries!

I returned to the park to meet my other daughters and go over what they had to do as all they had was a list of hastily typed instructions that had only been printed out that morning. Have I mentioned the “only three days” to organise this yet? They looked a little dazed as I laid it all out for them but I had every faith in their ability. I sent them off (I was getting good at the whole sending off thing) in time to get a worried telephone call from Toni and the third small problem of the day – the museum was still not open, it was nearly ten and she would be late for the pit stop.

Reaching the pit stop exactly at ten wasn’t a requirement. Luckily, as they were all going to be late. I raced up there and found Toni and her friend dejected and hungry on the sidewalk. All was not lost. Staff were moving around inside the museum preparing for opening, which (we read on the sign one of them popped out on the narrow footpath) would be at 10am. The girls rang the other team to get them back to the museum so everyone could finish their tasks before racing off to the first Pit Stop. I left to go find coffee.

They finally made it to the first stop (after running right past the “mysterious girl” they were on hunt for). Daughter number two moved to a more obvious spot and was finally found. She gave them something silly to do then handed over the second lot of tasks to complete.

Each team managed the tasks with no problem. Finding the second pit stop was a little harder. One team got a little lost. I was confused. The stop was across the road from where their last task was. The truth is that The Rocks are easy to get lost in – lots of narrow allies, staircases and winding paths. According to the map, they were roughly in the right spot. In reality, the right spot was several feet upward. They were in the Argyle Cut and needed to be somewhat higher up at the Australian Heritage Hotel.

I took them in hand and back to the pub where they had to “find a young couple sitting outside with a soft toy turtle named Wendell on the table between them”. Toni’s eldest sister and her boyfriend had a good laugh and then went to buy them some lemonade as they were quite hot and bothered.

I had managed to get a coffee by this time. Daughter number 2 and I shared a Devonshire Tea at the Swagman’s Cafe, Rocks Markets. Very nice. Much needed.

The first team rang me as I was leaving the pub. They had found the bookstore and the book and needed the next instructions. Very mysterious instructions too! “Meet me in the Captain Tench Arcade. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

I was and they did. About 15 minutes later, Toni and her teammate contacted us and we told them were to come as well. We spent the next ten minutes laughing over everyone’s silly antics (proof of dancing and singing in the street came via the cameraphones).

We were all exhausted. In three hours, we had combed The Rocks; stopped at the Discovery Museum, The Big Dig, the Susannah Place Museum, Sydney Visitor’s Centre, The Rock’s Markets, Australian Heritage Hotel, Cadman Cottage, various historical staircases, and the First Fleet Park.


Here’s what I brought away from the experience:

First and most importantly, you need more than three days to organise something like this properly. At least one full week that includes a weekend or day that you can go and personally visit the area.

Second – double check opening hours of places. Do not assume that they might operate under normal business hours.

Thirdly. Always remember that it’s a game. The point of it is to have fun with your friends. Both teams were winners (I bought prizes for everyone) and we had a day we won’t forget in a long time.

Oh, and one last tip. When dealing with 15 year olds, perhaps remind them to look up occasionally and look around them even more.

Tasks included photobombing a tourist taking a photo and pictures of partners outside specified Heritage buildings in the area.



Add yours →

  1. I’m amazed you managed to organize that all in the short time. Sounds like it was fun and devonshire tea.

    • Trish Anders 18/09/2011 — 4:41 am

      That’s why I picked that area. Lots of info on the web about it so I could do most of it from my laptop.

      The scones were lovely too – I judge most places now by the quality of their devonshire tea and coffee


  2. Fantastic!

  3. Hello Trish… thank you for subscribing to my blog! Hope all is well… take care, Melissa

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