Sydney, Australia (31st Dec 07)
The only reason we have come to Sydney this time around is to celebrate New Years Eve on the Harbour Front and to watch the world famous firework display. Since this time around we are only in the city for 2 nights we decided/were forced to splash out on our biggest extravagance for the entire trip and ended up staying in a very centrally located, 4 star hotel which is not far from the central train station. It was an easy journey by train in from the airport and was much cheaper than it would have been by taxi. The hotel itself, like mentioned isn't far from where we got dropped by the train, right in the thick of things; little did we know the fun was just going to begin. One of the main reasons that we chose to stay in this particular hotel is because it had been advertised as having a early (10am) Check in, and since we knew we had a big day in front of us, this is exactly what we needed; to be able to get in, drop our bags, get ready and be out for the night so we had the best possible spots to see the fireworks.
We had caught the first flight of the morning (6am) from Melbourne to Sydney and arrived into the city shortly after 8.30. By the time we arrived at the hotel it was only a couple of minutes later so we knew we may have to wait a little while to check in to the hotel which was fine with us. After arriving into the hotel, filling in the registration forms and paying through the nose for our room, we were then told, in pretty much this tone, "Sorry, you can't check in until 2pm today, there's nothing we can do about it so you will just have to wait". This really pissed us both off as it was one of the only reasons we decided to stay in this hotel and they were being extremely unhelpful about things and only offered to keep our bags in storage after we asked them. This had the potential to really screw up our day since our plans were to meet some friends in the Royal Botanical Gardens at around 10am to set up camp and have a picnic and whatever before the arena filled up and stopped letting people in. Since we couldn't check in we dumped our bags on the hotel staff and went stomping around the streets trying to find out the quickest route we could take when we were eventually ready to go.
Sydney is full of British tourists, and is very multi cultural; it even took a while to hear an Aussie accent actually. As we walked around we saw the Opera House, Circular Quay, and The Harbour Bridge all in quick succession as we angrily walked round, huffing and puffing about the hotel situation. By 11 we had done anything we could to kill time, and headed back to the hotel, where surprise surprise we still couldn't check in, although infuriatingly they were managing to check in some other people. By 12.15 and after the 4th couple had been checked in it was the final straw for us and Kara demanded that we could be checked in now since everyone else was, and to both our surprises, the little Chinese woman behind the counter said, "OK, here's your key, room 413". To cut a long story short, we got checked in, ready to go and headed to the gardens to meet up with Katharine and the other girls.
We knew already from our morning walk that the queue would be huge, as it was at 9.30, and arriving at 1pm was no different, the queue stretched the length of the street, round a park and back toward the city, it was ridiculous. Every year in Sydney, The Royal Botanic Gardens sets up an arena, where you can take your own food in for a picnic and buy over priced beer inside; they have a limit of 22,000 people that can come in to see the fireworks and enjoy the day. This is why we had been so annoyed at not being able to check in until late as the gates opened at 10am and the fact that Sydney has a population of over 5 million people, the later we left it, the less our chance were of getting into arguably the best venue (best free venue at least) in the city to see the fireworks. After 45 minutes and two toilet runs we managed to reach the front and get into the gardens where we then had to join another 20minute queue for a fluorescent pink wrist band that entitled you, if you had deep enough pockets to drink your budget away on the château de crap-o white wine or the overpriced 3% beer.
Anyway, we can't complain too much because at the end of the day we made it, we were in, and to our absolute delight Katharine, our mate we met on the Bangkok-Hanoi trip, had set up, with some other girls, the best possible spot. It was unbelievable, right next to the water with probably the best, uninterrupted views in the park of both the Harbour Bridge and the infamous Opera House to the front of us, and the city skyline to our left. The icing on the cake for us was that they had laid out a bunch of towels and blankets and saved both of us a spot so we could sit down and join them hassle free and enjoy the afternoon.
Anyway after 10 hours of waiting we finally managed to see the fireworks without falling asleep, just, and it was well worth waiting for, we both agreed that we have never seen anything like it before, they were amazing! The photos don't really do it justice, but hopefully the video might do a better job if we can ever manage to get it online. The sheer amount of people seemed absolutely colossal and the news reckoned that the Harbour had over a million people there to see the fireworks and although you couldn't move much after 11.30pm till about 01.30am it was brilliant and 99.9% of people were in good spirits and all in all it was definitely worth the time, frustration and money to come and spend NYE in Sydney.
Our first day of 2008 started at around dinner time as we were definitely not in the mood for an early start, and since we had the privacy and comfort of our own room coupled with the fact we had no big sightseeing plans, we had a lie in. When we finally ventured out of the hotel we decided that we should catch the ferry out to Manly, for an Aussie beach experience and to get some views of the city from actually on the Harbour. Manly is a fun and funky little community with the usual mix of cafés, bars, budget accommodation and of course the beach. Our hopes of a lazy day on the beach were short lived as when we reached the end of the pedestrian main street that leads to the beach where we found plenty of disappointment faces being told that, "The beach is closed today". Apparently a few small waves means it's too bad to swim, personally we think that the life guards were all hung over and just wanted to have an easy day so they closed the beach; Mark at least was kept enthralled by a young lad we later found out to be 14 who was doing some street magic, he was amazing albeit his awful maroon shirt and bowl cut hairdo!
Since we had originally planned to only be in Sydney for 2 nights we only booked the hotel for 2 nights, but as it happens, due to price of flights, availability of flights etc we ended up in Sydney for 3 nights meaning we needed to find somewhere to stay for our last night. We decided that it would be easy to find a hostel or cheap hotel in the city after the New Year, as we assumed people would be moving on and or going home. This proved not to be the case. We walked the streets of Sydney from top to bottom checking every single place we could find and asked for a room for the following night, all we managed to get was laughed at or people asking, "Are you for real". Not to be defeated so easily, we turned to our Lonely Planet book, sat down in the rear entrance to a Chinese takeaway and rang another 15 places to be told, "There is no room in the inn"! Our final attempt found us in an Internet café that was Korean run and full of, yep, you guessed it Koreans. After half an hour of fruitless searching the web, we gave in and decided we could worry about it in the morning.
The morning came and before you know it we had to check out of our nice 4 star hotel and figure out a new plan of action. The hotel said that if we wanted then we could keep our bags in there storage (chained to a wall in the lobby) then we could, so reluctantly we did, we had hoped they might just give us an extra night for free but no such luck. Kara was already fed up with looking for places to stay from the night before and after another hour of walking the streets and getting a resounding no everywhere we tried we pretty much agreed that tonight we would have to sleep in the airport like we did in Bangkok, which was the worst night ever... The last street we crossed on our way to the train station had a huge sign saying budget accommodation, and upon further inspection, we hit gold, they had rooms all be it a bit more expensive than we were hoping for, it would do, it was after all only for one night.
For our last night in Sydney, this time anyway, we met up with Catherine and went for some food and drinks over at the bar underneath the backpackers she was staying in. The tunes were old school and the dance floor a meat market, but still a worthwhile night out and end to our time in Sydney where we got to say some goodbyes and enjoy the cheap booze.