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Living in the city splendid

by Bernard O'Shea
Fireworks cascade on Sydney Harbour on new year's eve 2022

I might be biased but whenever I see the new year celebration photos from around the world, I can’t help thinking that Sydney’s are the most spectacular. As a launching pad and major focal point for fireworks, the Harbour Bridge is unrivalled, and the sheer size of the harbour offers many superb locations for photographers to capture the glorious moments.

The fireworks are a great advertisement for the city, and luckily Sydney rings in the new year before most other cities in the world, so gets great coverage on TV news bulletins worldwide.

It’s no wonder, then, that many tourists from around the world want to be in Sydney on new year’s eve, and on December 31, 2022, they were out in force. Circular Quay (where the ferries, trains, light rail and buses converge on the waterfront) was so packed you could barely move – and this was at 5pm! The fireworks take place at 9pm and midnight.

Crowds at the Opera House take photos of the Sydney new year fireworks

Lights, cameras, action! Photo: Paul McMillan/City of Sydney.

It would be hip if there were more squares

It’s easy to fall in love with Sydney when you first set eyes upon it. In the sunnier, warmer months especially, it’s a city that sparkles. The shimmering surface of the water and the stupendous views from the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Botanical Gardens and other places give it a grandeur that few other cities can match.

Yet away from the water, the central business district can be a bit of a puzzle for tourists: there isn’t a historic enclave or central social gathering place such as the grand squares and plazas in Europe. It’s a mish-mash of the old (in Australian terms) alongside the shiny new. You can feel hemmed in by all the shops and office blocks. It can be a heads-down, no-nonsense kind of place to work in.

When COVID kept international and interstate visitors away, state tourism body Destination NSW urged locals to splash out on a hometown holiday. Treat yourself to a wonderful weekend in Sydney; support the hotels at Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, Manly, Bondi and Coogee, the message went. But most Sydneysiders made a beeline for country NSW, to places such as Orange, Bathurst, Shoalhaven or even as far as Lightning Ridge. We struggle to be overnight tourists in our home town. Especially if you’ve lived there for 20-plus years, as I have.

Spring flowers in all shades of colour in front of historic building in Sydney.

Spring flowers in Sydney. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

A brighter attitude

But one thing I’ve I learnt from my COVID lockdown, when I could go no further than 5km from home, is that I’ll never again take for granted the beautiful places in Sydney that are just 7.5km, 10km or 15km away. I’m going to hit the streets and move like a tourist in my own town, looking at everything with fresh eyes.

I’ll carry my little SLR camera with me as well as my phone, looking out for unusual, photogenic shapes. To make the most of the times when you come across something startling and unexpected, like a jigsaw puzzles of flower boxes adorning what is normally an expanse of concrete, or colourful decorations being put up for one of Sydney’s many festivals.

Hyde Park Fountain and St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

Weeping figs and spitting tortoises

Instead of heading straight home after work, looking idly at my phone while the bus crawls along in peak hour traffic, or mounting the treadmill in the gym, I’ll stride out into Hyde Park – a great place to restore your sanity in the city. I’ll head down its magnificent tunnel of Hills Weeping Fig trees, pause to take in the quirks of the squirting creatures in the Archibald Memorial Fountain and admire the commanding yet soothing figure of Apollo on his pedestal.

Inevitably, my eyes will be drawn towards St Mary’s cathedral, the park’s majestic neighbour. Its striking sandstone glows and gleams even in fading light.

Nights at the opera

From there I have a number of options to get to the Opera House and Circular Quay:

  1. go down to the Domain, past the Art Gallery and all the way to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, then follow the bay to the eastern side of the Opera House;
  2. if I’m wanting flower power, from the Art Gallery cut through the Botanical Gardens to the the Opera House;
  3. if the weather is poor or if I’m more pressed for time, head down Macquarie Street to the Opera House, passing the Hyde Park Barracks, NSW Parliament and State Library to the Opera House.

This is my personal choice, don’t feel obliged to follow suit, but I like to reward myself for my efforts with either a beer, glass of wine, or at least two scoops of ice-cream from the top-class gelato shops in the vicinity.

Brightly lit office towers overlooking Sydney's Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour is great for a night outing. Photo: Patty Jensen

Alternative route

For something different, another invigorating spot that’s easy to walk to is Darling Harbour, to the west of the CBD. Upon arrival, even though it’s still unmistakably Sydney, you feel like you’re in another metro zone. The bars and ice-cream shops here are pretty good too!

There’s usually some festivity or something going on here, depending on what’s on the multicultural calendar. For some years I worked night shifts on the 25th floor of the building fourth from the right in the picture above. We were frequently treated to fireworks displays over the water. Other excellent vantage points are the Darling Harbour Ferris Wheel and the Pyrmont Bridge.

Yes, Sydney’s full of razzle dazzle. Here’s to the next 20 years living in this great city! TTW

Top photo: Keith McInnes/City of Sydney.

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