NYE in Sydney
Sydney harbor is the biggest damn fireworks spectacle you’ll ever see, and is the best destination for New Years Eve revelry anywhere. Period. I know what your’e thinking; what about New York? It has celebrities, a giant ball-thing, Time Square, and Mariah Carey bombing on stage. Looks fun right?Well, maybe, but it also looks terrible; a frozen, crowded nightmare doesn’t end until the clock strikes midnight and you fight your way home with thousands and thousands of drunk idiots. You’re a human popcicyle, packed in the square with thousands of mouth-breathers like spoons in a drawer. There is no relief from the massive press of humanity, or the cold, and god help you if you have to go to the bathroom.
Good luck with alllllllll that.
I spent New Year’s Eve in Sydney’s botanical garden, at an event called the Harbor Hoopla, basking in the warmth of the sea breeze and buzzed from the champagne. It’s utterly ruined me for any other celebration. It’s helped to cement Australia as one of my favorite places to visit. How could you not fall in love with kangaroos, ‘G’day mate’, fantastic weather (compared to New England, at least) great coffee, giant fucking fruit bats, dangerous beaches filled with beautiful people, cat-sized spiders, quokkas, and wombats. Wombats!
Being in Australia has felt surreal in a way that many of the more ‘exotic’ places I have visited and I think it’s because I’ve imagined coming here for as long as I can remember. I bought a cheap plastic boomerang from the flea market when I was a kid, using part of the ten dollar allowance my dad gave me once a month. I almost immedialty lost it, but still, it was so damn cool – I was so damn cool – just having it. Semi-terrible B horror movies have been my thing for a long time, with a special place reserved for Aussie horror. Movies like Razorback, 100 bloody Acres, Wolf Creek (part one and two) Rogue, all speak to me, and don’t get me started on all references in the show LOST. They shaped my view of Australia, along with all the other cliche pop-cultural stuff we Americans see, and made it seem romantic, if maybe in a grizzly way. Like a boganish noir.
But, back to New Year’s. The fireworks display here is the grandest, most fantastic I’ve ever seen – and that’s including the time my dad (after more than a drink or two) decided the best way to light a trashcan-size bundle of roman candles was to pour lighter fluid on them and set them on fire. Was there a fuse? Probably, but fuck it, and when one side immediately exploded, causing the whole stack to roll toward the rest of the party goers – firing gloriously multicolored, fiery, glowing orbs at anything and everything – it was worth it.
Wait, where was I? Ah, yes, Sydney.
The fireworks launch from the harbor bridge, barges in the water, the roof of the opera house, and just about everywhere else for as far as the eye can see. A smaller, bedtime friendly display goes off around 9:30 for the kids, then the real deal kicks off at midnight – the lights and exploding fireworks will sear your retina and vibrate the wax from your ear. It really can’t be desribed, at least not well by me, but you have to see it. Add it to your bucket list and swipe the credit card, or borrow money next year from that Aunt, the one with cats, who still likes you for some reason. Do whatever you have to do to get out here. You won’t regret it.
My friend Phil joined me for this leg of the trip, and after ringing in the new year, we got down to the serious business of exploring Sydney. Public transportation here is several steps behind Melbourne, but it still has a simple and fast train to and from the airport so don’t waste money on a taxi. There are a few train lines in and around the downtown area, but getting around by foot is not unreasonable. Just don’t wear your
flip-flops thongs while out and about in the rain and you should be ok. Sydney is a big port city, and while it doesn’t have the everyday visual charm of Melbourne, it’s packed with sites to see. We hit all the usual places, and also chose to do the bridge walk the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the singular most tourist thing I think anyone could do (that also might be an exactly quote from a local). It’s a production, man, lasting over three hours, but it doesn’t drag or slowdown one bit while your doing it. The views from the top and the fun climb (more of a long walk, really) are worth every penny. Also, don’t drink before hand – they have a portable breathalyzer they use on you before you gear up. This caused me more than a little amount of stress because they do it in a big room, all together, one by one. I might have just had a beer and a sangria but thanks to my sturdy liver, I passed!
We explored a bit of the suburbs, walked under the bridge on the free pedestrian walkway across the water to Luna Park for a beer and some photos. Just don’t have too many beers though. They are surprisingly strict here regarding alcohol consumption. Men are allowed two drinks the first hour, then one after that. Women get one the first hour, then one after that. Bouncers are very …observant of people coming it and you look anywhere close to drunk there’s a good chance you won’t make it in. I got a good sampling of local culture by visiting sticky Irish bars and Asian discos, and we managed not to drown at Bondi beach. Speaking of Bondi, the best way to get the (cheap and easy) is by bus. It will take about 30-40 minutes, longer than you might think by looking at it on a map. There’s plenty of food and places to drink, but sunblock, sunnies and so on, but not an abundence of shade, so think carefully before bringing the kids. Hyde Park though, roughly the center of town, is a delight to spend a little time in. Plenty of shade and grass for a picnic, it’s a cool spot in the city. A day trip out to the Blue Mountains consumed a good part of our last day and before we knew it, it was time to fly out.
Sitting on the lawn that first night, with a cold bottle of bubbly, a warm breeze, and views of a place I’ve seen countless images of my entire life, I decided something. I want THIS to be my New Year’s routine. So I’m formally inviting all my friends and family to join me next year on the grass. I’ll bring some extra wine, and you can leave the jacket at home and we will all have some cheese toasties and enjoy the show. Deal?
*For the love of God don’t rent a car unless you are heading far outside the city.
*Eat at Gojima for the best sushi burger you’ll ever have.
*Eat at B.B.Q. King for amazing chinese BBQ
*To save money, skip the Bridge Climb – you can walk across under it which is almost as good and FREE. Also – NO CAMERAS ARE ALLOWED ON THE CLIMB
*After crossing the bridge head to Milson’s Point for a great vantage spot and photos of the opera house without all the tourist in the way
How I got there: Flight from Cairns to Sydney $163 USD. Grab an Opal card at the entry to the train terminal and zip into town.
Where I stayed: Metro Harlow Hotel. The hotel is remarkable for its great central location and horrible, horrible wifi. I booked too late, and this was all that was left. Don’t be like me, book early at an airbnb.
What I did:
NYE at the Botanical Gardens Harbor Hoopla: A cap on how many people can enter and great views make it a perfect spot to see the fireworks. This years theme was vintage circus and there activists for the entire family. Absolutely fantastic. You also get clean bathrooms, multiple bars, plenty of food including a huge box lunch when you check in. There are jugglers, games for everyone to pass the time, photo booths, the works.
Bondi Beach/Iceburg Swim Club: Take a dip and cool off and one of the neatest saltwater pools around. It’s only a few buck, and there are plenty of lockers to rent if you need to store valuables.
Blue Mountains: an easy two hour train rides takes you out of the city. Go as early as you can to avoid the crowds, enjoy a few easy hikes and great scenery.
Harbor Bridge Climb: You’ll never do anything more touristy than this, but it’s a great time anyway. Allow four hours (seriously) and eat before hand.