The best views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House are from the middle of the Royal Botanic Gardens or Mrs. Macquarie’s Point, to the east of the main garden grounds. I know this because I spent Saturday afternoon scoping out locations and getting the low-down from security guards. Here’s what I learned:
You can’t take alcohol into either the main Gardens or Mrs. Macquarie’s point.
What? Like anything else matters? Oh, and they stared letting people in at around 9 AM. This was the view from Macquarie’s Point:
Sidebar: When I was coming back from checking out the views, there was a Gardens worker feeding the cockatoos by putting some bread in his hand and letting them sit on his arm, pecking the food out. An intrigued tourist wanted to do the same while his wife took a picture, so he got some bread from the worker and waited for the birds to come. One sat on his shoulder and he lifted the food up to it. Then, all of a sudden, 2 others made a run for him and his head was suddenly clouded with white feathers, all mauling him trying to get the food. I got a picture, it was hilarious:
But I couldn’t be bothered with waking up at 9 to go sit in line, I had more important things to do: buy alcohol to take into the gardens. What? Don’t worry, I had the perfect plan:
First, I stopped by a bottle shop (“bottle-o”, says Brad) and got a fifth of Jack Daniels. Then, I went to a 7-11 and got a couple liters of Coke and some chips. At the hostel I split the JD in half between the two litres and made sure to refill the levels to make it look like full litres of soda. Brad and I waited for Phil to get in from Manly (they never found the Brasilian girls, but instead found a bed at a hostel in Manly. With the bed they had scored at the Railway YHA, where I was staying, they had the night of the 30th covered) and then the three of us left for the Gardens.
We had planned on sitting with Andy and the Irishmen, but they changed plans and went to the Opera House. The girls really wanted to go to the Gardens, so we split up with Andy. The girls had already gotten us a place in line and as they waited, I went on a recon mission up to the gate to see how strictly they were checking food bags. To my horror, I saw several guards opening bottles and smelling the contents, and figured we were screwed. Immediately, my mind started racing, coming up with reasons, reactions and contingency plans.
Possibility 1: they were only checking bottles in which the liquid was below the nominal level for a newly purchased beverage, or bottles that had liquids of a color/nature different from what should be expected (e.g., beer in a water bottle). In this case, we were OK since the mixture looked like Coke, was in the appropriate bottle at the expected level.
Possibility 2: they were checking bottles that had broken seals. I had screwed the caps as tight as possible, reducing the space between the cap and broken seal ring, but a reasonably close inspection would discover the ploy. But I had also saved the receipt from 7-11, and if I overtly displayed it in the bag, maybe the guard would avoid looking any closer. A long shot, but definitely possible.
Both situations involved actions by the guards that I could neither predict nor react to in time to save my precious JD-and-Cokes. The boys and I saw only one plan of action: drink one of the litres right there in line and reduce the consequences if they discover the contraband.
There were three of us, but I definitely felt a little loose after pounding that litre-cocktail with Brad and Phil. We crammed gum into our mouths before we hit the checkpoint, hoping the guards wouldn’t smell the JD on us. I had the alcohol, and with as much confidence as I could muster, I approached the guard. I had draped the 7-11 receipt around the remaining litre’s neck, hiding the broken. Like a magician trying to make a card disappear, I twirled the plastic bag in front of him and said “Just some snacks from the store”, then when he looked up, quickly stashed the bag by my feet, under his table. Before he could say anything, I took off my backpack and showed him the innocuous contents. He nodded and I moved past, beaming in triumph.
We picked the best possible view left after the prime real estate was taken by the approximate 2000 people that had come in before us. It was 1 PM, we had 11 hours before the fireworks.
We read, took strolls around the grounds and saw the mob and the excitement in the air gradually getting bigger, played cards, ate our snacks and waited. Finally, the sun went down, and that’s when things/people got crazy.
Remember, most of the crowd had been there drinking for at least 12 hours, so there were people running around everywhere, being loud and raucous. At some point, people got sick of waiting in lines for the toilets and just started hoping the path rails and using nature’s facilities. We started just taking as many crazy pictures as possible. We also made a ball out of glo-sticks and started throwing it around the crowd, like a beachball at a sports event. I had glo-sticks around my wrists and through the hoops in my earrings and Jenny, Charlotte & Naseem’s friend, had glo-sticks holding her hair up in a bun.
The family fireworks went off at 9 PM and were spectacular. All of a sudden, people started counting down and we all realized that it was time for the main event. We had been so busy running around like madmen, nobody bothered to keep an eye on the time.
The fireworks at midnight were fantastic, it looked as if the Harbor Bridge was on fire. Every type of fireworks, and a few I had never seen, lit up the waters at 2 different points from our vantage. In total, there were 5 barges anchored around the bay and inlet river, shooting off fireworks for the estimated 1 million people who had gathered to see.
After the show, all hell broke loose. City workers came at around 12:30 and basically told everyone to clear out. All 25,000 of us who had shown up to that one area of the Gardens. We gathered our things and made our way out, through the gates, past St. Mary’s Cathedral, and into King’s Cross. The others stopped at McDonald’s in the Cross and had some food. Afterwards, though, something strange happened, and all of a sudden, Brad, Phil, myself and Charlie (short for Charlotte, other-Charlotte’s friend’s twin sister) were headed back to the City Centre. The others didn’t want to hang out anymore and called it a night.
We went back to the YHA, dropped off our stuff (since the boys didn’t have a place to stay that night, I let them keep their stuff in my dorm, and they crashed on the lounge couches), and hit the pub. We went to Scruffie’s for a bit since Andy was there, but soon left when the crowd started dying out and turning into a bunch of guys.
Charlie didn’t have a place to stay either, so I let her take my bed and I slept out in the lounge with the guys. It was a fun night, but after being out in the Gardens for so long, we were all exhausted. New Year’s in Sydney was certainly an experience, and I’d love to do it again. Though next time I’m bringing in both litres.
Stay tuned for one last night out (ok two) with Brad and Phil before they headed back home, and my physically devastating trip to the Blue Mountains (and that’s before I even got on the train).