Our time in Sydney was largely governed by three things: the fact that Kristan’s suitcase didn’t make it from Christchurch, the unescapable intensity of an Australian Christmas, and the incredible spectacle of Sydney New Year’s Eve.
One of the first things we had noticed when we arrived in Christchurch was how many decorations there were for Christmas, with scores of traditional realistic (or even real) trees and modern interpretations of trees. But Sydney. Wow, Sydney. Sydneysiders go big and bold on Christmas. We found…
- A 30 foot Christmas tree in every hotel lobby (or 20 normal sized ones).
- Massive light show displays in the pedestrian malls and on public buildings.
- Temporary parklets with snow globes and santas and reindeer to pose with.
- An instagram screen showing pictures and messages of your #sydxmastree experiences.
- The actual “sydxmastree”, also a good 50 feet, but all the decorations are LEDs and controllable by passersby from a fancy screen. (“Look, honey, we’re back in SF! It’s even overcast and rainy!”)
- Gigantic Santas peering over pedestrian walkways.
When it finally got to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there were Santa hats and Santa dresses and Santa swimsuits and even one guy wearing a full-on Santa suit with beard, on Bondi Beach in the blazing sun no less.
When we weren’t being overwhelmed by SydXmas, we were eating great food, finding some great little hidden bars (as in literally hidden), and just wandering around. We also managed to prepare for our own little celebration when everything would be closed on Christmas and to find a few replacement clothes and toiletries when even Qantas was confused that Kristan’s suitcase hadn’t shown up by Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve in downtown Sydney is not the best day to go shopping for two weeks of diving and roadtripping, but we persevered and made it to the start of our celebrations: seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Christmas Eve!
Afterwards we got to enjoy what a summer Christmas Eve on a harbor town feels like. Balmy weather, lots of people out and about, even a ride on the ferris wheel as we waited for midnight to come! Santa hats on and a few obnoxious phone calls later, we meandered our way to a completely unmarked whisky bar for a tipple before bed. As we got ready for bed, we realized that our Christmas miracle had come – Qantas had discovered Kristan’s suitcase had simply decided to go on an unplanned trip to Fiji without us and that it would be back in Australia in just a few hours.
Christmas Day we managed to visit not one but two beaches! We started with a ferry to Manly, where we took photos on the beach and had fish and chips for lunch. We walked around the opera house and the botanic gardens before heading back to our flat and getting ready for our next beach adventure – Bondi Beach! Kristan has had a dream of spending Christmas on Bondi for years now, so it should come as no surprise that she was giddy with excitement and hysterical with laughter as we splashed around in the water. We were rather tired by the time we got home but still managed a passable Christmas dinner.
We headed to the Great Barrier Reef on the 26th (picking up Kristan’s suitcase on the way!) but were back in Sydney on the 31st. We decided months ago that we’d spend New Year’s Eve at the Sydney Opera House watching La Bohème and then enjoying champagne on the terrace as we waited for the fireworks. Our seats for the opera were the very front of the lowest balcony, so we couldn’t see most of the stage or the English surtitles, but we still managed to enjoy ourselves. Intermission was timed for 9pm fireworks show, which was as good as any show we’ve seen in other cities, and when we came back we found ticker tape waiting for us to throw at the curtain call. The orchestra pit ended up completely covered!
We quickly snagged a couple of glasses of bubbly and made our way to the terrace to claim a spot in the front row. Sydney at night is lovely, but on New Year’s the harbor is absolutely incredible. The edges are filled with personal/private vessels, while in the middle the large yachts are on parade, all lit up with lights and decorations. We had so much fun just watching — and then the fireworks started. We can’t even describe how amazing they were. Three sets of matching displays stretching out the length of the harbor, elaborate displays off the bridge, hidden launch points in the middle of the harbor – all individually some of the best we’ve ever seen and together as a whole the most beautiful way we’ve ever spent New Year’s. The finale included a “waterfall” of firesparks off the bridge into the water. So amazing!! We spent the rest of the night dancing with a few more snacks and glasses of bubbly. Although we feel like we can’t really say we saw the “real” Sydney over Christmas and New Year’s, we’ve definitely celebrated with it!