SYDNEY (Reuters) - On the ferries that crisscross Sydney’s harbor, passengers sit inside hunched over their smartphones, ignoring the gorgeous scenery afforded by what many people think is the world’s most beautiful commute. But not Nina Leatherday.
Eating a breakfast of hot oats before sunrise, Leatherday braves 9 degree C (48 F) mid-winter temperatures on the outside deck of a ferry from Manly to Circular Quay.
The Michigan native, who is accustomed to harsh winters, was the only passenger sitting on the outside deck of Sydney’s most famous ferry service recently, while others huddled in the heated cabin.
The bracing wind and salty spray are refreshing, she said, and afford her the only opportunity to experience the outdoors en route to a long day’s work in a biscuit factory.
In this water-centric city, conversation inevitably steers to the scenic harbor - backdrop of countless tourist pictures. The arrival in 1788 of British Captain Arthur Phillip’s 11 convict ships in Sydney Cove and subsequent discovery of a freshwater stream led to what is now Circular Quay ferry port and , in many ways, the birthplace of modern Australia.
Would those ‘first settlers’ even be able to imagine 225 years later the transformation from humble beginnings to a bucket list locale for most travelers? Lattes and smartphones aside, one thing would have been familiar: Sydney’s commuters sail to work on ferries named after those in the first fleet. The Friendship, Charlotte and Golden Grove among others.
Sydney’s ferry system has been its lifeblood since the mid 1800s, transporting more than 15 million individual passenger journeys each year, according to the Bureau of Transport Statistics. From fast-food employees to finance industry executives, more than 40,000 trips are taken every day.
Corporate affairs executive Jake Krausmann took up his position on the bow of a city-bound ferry from Manly, performing a daily stretching and exercise routine in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge. The Manly ferry has been Krausmann’s preferred commute for 10 years. He travels on the outside decks in any weather and says he never gets sick of the trip.
As winter turns to spring, the passengers come out of their cabin ‘hibernation’ and soak up Australia’s burning sun and fresh air. Cool water sprays the face of financial services worker Hugh Dive as he sits on the rear deck on his way home to the exclusive suburb of Rose Bay.
In the warmer months Dive rides his racing bicycle into the city in the morning and catches the ferry back home to beat the clogged and narrow streets of Sydney’s older eastern suburbs.
At 37 locations dotted around the harbor, Sydneysiders wait for their water transport. They include smartly dressed office workers from once-industrial suburbs, now the realm of multi-million dollar waterfront homes; jetties at Kissing Point or Cockatoo Island; locations east and west of the Sydney Harbor Bridge become mustering points for thousands.
Huge ocean swells from the Pacific can force cancellations of the Manly service, while at the other end of the spectrum regular low tides force services to Australia’s first inland settlement at Parramatta to be cut short: the ferries would run aground further upriver. Passengers must unceremoniously complete their journey home by bus.
From there they will resume their digital world of viral videos and social media. And outside the world’s most beautiful commute will be over – until tomorrow.
(Reuters photographer Jason Reed grew up in Sydney and took the ferry often as a child. Between June and November 2015 he traveled on every regular Sydney ferry route to take the pictures for this photo essay.)
Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Andrew Heavens