Happy new year everyone and welcome to my final blog from Australia. I'm back where I started in Sydney having spent the last 6 weeks travelling all over this vast country. It will be weird to leave as 6 weeks is the longest I am spending in any single country on my travels, but I am excited and ready to head on up to South East Asia. My 8 hour Qantas flight to Singapore departs tomorrow afternoon, and after a very brief one night stay there I fly on up to Bangkok the following day. I will arrive in Bangkok at lunchtime on January 3rd ahead of my tour starting on January 5th. I am looking forward to returning to the trip format I enjoyed so much in South America, and can't wait to go somewhere totally different to anywhere I've been before. It will be nice to return to twin share accommodation as opposed to quad, and it'll be good to get back to using local transport, which is much more rewarding than having your own tour bus. I also can't wait to return to cheap prices as I've gone way over budget in Australia. It is probably the most expensive country I've ever visited.
I arrived into Sydney at 9.15pm on Wednesday and checked in to my Formula 1 motel in the scruffy inner suburb of St Peters. Its the first time I've had a room to myself since way back in Auckland at the start of November, which is a pleasant change. Finding accommodation here over new year was a nightmare and this motel was the cheapest I could find that didn't have a minimum night stay. Its a short walk and subway ride away from the centre, and is handily placed in between two fast food outlets.
I caught the subway into town yesterday morning ahead of Sydney's world renown new year's eve celebrations. Even at 10.30am the streets were packed with revellers and the queues to get into the harbour area were already long. It was free to enter but everyone had to have their bag searched to make sure they weren't smuggling alcohol in. Australia has very tough street drinking laws. I was hoping to meet up with a couple of German girls I met on the Great Ocean Road day tour, but as they had no mobile phone communication was a bit of a nightmare. I didn't hear from them all morning so spent my time wandering the streets before deciding to enter the East Circular Quay area - probably the best vantage point for the fireworks in the whole harbour. The north section, where the Opera House is, was already full to capacity by lunchtime, and there were tonnes of people who had already set up camp along the quayside. Some people had even camped overnight. I found a good spot but almost immediately became very bored and had to get up and go somewhere! By this time it was raining so I took shelter in an internet cafe, and then bought some lunch from a convenience store. This will give you an idea of how expensive Sydney is - 1 banana, 1 muffin, 1 coke, 1 large bottle of water, 1 packet of crisps and 1 twix cost me the equivalent of 17 pound. Ridiculous.
After the rain stopped I wandered back into East Circular Quay and immediately got bored again. I tried to chat to some people but nobody was at all friendly. I ate my food early because I was bored, and I still had around 9 hours to wait for the fireworks. After an hour sat in my vantage spot I was absolutely going out of my mind with boredom, but fortunately around 4.30pm the girls got in touch and told me to head on up to Observatory Hill to meet them. A huge relief. The hill was on the opposite side of the bridge and almost side on to the structure, so the view wasn't as good as East Circular Quay, but at least I had company to stop me going insane. There was a really good atmosphere on the hill as it was one of few sites to allow bring your own booze - something I was unaware of. We thus had barely had any between us, which was maybe a good thing as the toilet queue was horrific. At one point the girls left me for 40 minutes to go. Fortunately lads could go behind trees, but annoying the police had started cracking down on that by 10pm.
As the sun went down they started putting on some lame forms of entertainment on the harbour. A few small planes did a fly past, and then some illuminated boats sailed along, although our view of them was very poor. At 9pm they put on a small fireworks display for the kids, which was a hint of things to come. By this time the hill was absolutely jam packed and most people were absolutely off their face and falling over drunk! I noticed that there weren't many locals there and that most of the new year revellers were tourists. Every vantage point around the whole harbour was filled though, and an estimated 1.5 million people turned out to watch.
As midnight approached (1pm in the afternoon in England!) it was a strange affair. Being so far from the action, which was centred around the Opera House, we had no countdown, so only knew it was 2010 when they set the fireworks off. The moment I had waited around almost 13 hours for had finally arrived! The display lasted 12 minutes, which seemed very short, and was nowhere near as impressive as I had anticipated. The fireworks were set off from 6 boats positioned about a mile apart along the harbour. They all set the same fireworks off at exactly the same time, but you could only really watch one display. We were side on to the fireworks so they appeared to cover a narrow area, and they really didn't look anything special from our angle. They were apparently set to music but there were no speakers on our hill despite the fact thousands of people had gathered there. Some fireworks came off the bridge but nowhere near as many as I'd anticipated. The whole display did look better on TV though and I imagine would have looked more impressive from East Circular Quay, but after the 12 minutes were up I felt very underwhelmed. The display cost around 150,000 pound (Sydney's biggest display ever), but if you consider there were basically 6 different displays (plus the bridge) the money spent on each individual display is much less.
We hung around for a bit on the hill and then walked across the harbour bridge after it was opened back up to pedestrians at 1am. I caught the subway back from Milson's Point at about 3am, by which time it was not that busy anymore, and was in bed by 3.30am. If asked whether the new year was worth the rip off accommodation prices, the agonising wait and the crazy crowds, my answer would be a resounding no, but I'm pleased to say that I was in Sydney for the world's most famous new year celebration. I won't be hurrying back though!
So thats it from me in Australia. The country has certainly grown on me after I was initially disappointed by the first section of the East Coast. I absolutely loved my time in the Northern Territory, and although I prefer New Zealand as a country, if I had to live in one city in the Southern Hemisphere I would choose Melbourne. There was such a lot going on there, it had a great vibe and the people seemed really nice - something I can't say about those occupying most of the East Coast! The weather hasn't always been the best (I worked out its been cloudy 45% of my time here) and I'm disappointed to leave having not experienced 40C, but at least I've enjoyed relatively comfortable temperatures. There are some amazing sights here and its a truely unique country. I'm satisfied I've seen the best bits and I've certainly learned an awful lot in my 6 weeks here, but its time for a change. Next stop Asia!