"A bowlo? What's a bowlo?"
The Americans on board our small cruiser are truly puzzled. We've spent the past hour or two seeing the delights of our own backyard – Sydney Harbour – through foreign eyes, and now we are interpreting for foreign ears, or American ones at least.
It seems our scheduled stopover for lunch at the Bundeena RSL club has been switched to the local bowlo, thanks to a fire, and so the explanations begin.
There is nothing like becoming a tourist on your own turf to gain a newfound appreciation for what you have. We are on board Fantasea's 12.5 metre cruiser/speed boat for its Seven Wonders Cruise, which incorporates Sydney's iconic biggies – the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach – and less internationally known sights such as Captain Cook's landing place at Kurnell.
Our six-hour cruise takes us on a thrilling ride through the Heads, offering a bird's eye view of waves crashing over the Gap and gives us a peek at where the rich like to live and play before we continue on down the coast for lunch at Bundeena, in the Royal National Park. Then it's a bushwalk and a look at Aboriginal rock carvings in the park and a swim at Jibbon Beach. It is here the Americans declare they are in paradise, with one saying he finally felt thawed after a New York winter.
Our crew, Ben and Dave, put the 20 or so of us at ease from the word go with their laid-back banter and expert local knowledge. We don't just zip past the Opera House; we whizz in close to peek at the seal that has taken to basking in the sun on the steps.
Genuine enthusiasm by these two for their surf and turf means foreign visitors hear real stories that will stay with them. Ben tells how he used to run wild through the Malabar headland as a kid, hiding in war-time tunnels which he points out as we pass. He shows us a dive boat sitting off Bondi and tells of the colony of grey nurse sharks that hang out in a nearby cave. He also recounts living near Long Bay jail, another unusual point of interest. "So they built a jail so close to all those millionaires?" asks one US visitor. "Pretty name for a jail, though."
Viewing the jagged grandeur of The Gap from the water is mind-boggling, as is the sight of rock fishermen sheltering precariously in a cave off another bit of headland. "Amazing!" say the Americans. "Mad!" say the rest of us.
There's a buzz of appreciation at the length of Bondi Beach and the size of the cliff-topped mansions on the coast, and at how all the built-up development suddenly disappears when we hit Malabar, further south. "You guys love your national parks don't you?" Hmm. "Yes, I guess we do."
A large swell over the past week has meant the trip becomes part-cruise, part fun-ride as we pass through the Heads. We have only one seasickness casualty, and, thanks to the expert and sensitive actions of the crew, no-one even notices until the person in question sheepishly admits to their fate as we wave goodbye at day's end.
And now to the bowlo which, typically, is bland on the outside and brimming with character on the inside. Everyone deems the fish excellent and the prowess of a sun-weathered local ruling the pool table a sight to behold.
The Seven Wonders Cruise is a great way for visitors to see and experience Sydney Harbour and its nearby waterways, or for locals to reconnect with our stunning backyard.
My only gripe is that it would be wonderful to hear of some the amazing exploits of Sydney's famed original female warrior Barangaroo as we pass the monoliths that bear her name. They are stories that are rarely told, yet judging by the interest and excitement of the visitors when shown the Aboriginal rock carvings in the Royal National Park, these stories could only add to the experience.
Except for the seal at the Opera House, the wildlife was a bit shy on our day on the harbour. No whales or dolphins were spotted, but we were assured they were regular sights on this cruise. However, we did see a variety of seabirds, including an albatross.
Fantasea Adventure Cruising's Seven Wonders Cruise departs from King Street Wharf No 9, Darling Harbour, on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Cost: $165 per adult, $100 per child or $430 per family.
The writer was a guest of Fantasea.