Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.
As a New Yorker, I’ve never gone down to Times Square to ring in New Years Eve, nor have I really had any desire to do so. Call me what you will, but enduring the frigid cold to watch a ball drop is not how I wish to celebrate the turning of the calendar. I’m sure people who make the effort have a great time and it’s one of those events you’ve gotta experience at least once, but for me, it’s ultimately the thought of being jammed together with a mass of humanity that’s the biggest deterrent. So why would I choose to be in Sydney on this particular New Years, especially with two kids in tow?
This year is quite different for our family, and so is Sydney. December 31, 2008 not only marked the end of one of the most memorable years of our lives, it represented the halfway point of a yearlong-round-the-world journey that began six months ago. As we were putting together the itinerary before we took off, we projected ourselves in Australia during this time frame and figured there was only one place we could possibly be to celebrate the occasion. Sure, we might have to contend with a substantial crowd down by the harbor, but at least there’d be no freezing temperatures (it’s the middle of summer down under). This would definitely make the whole thing more tolerable, and besides, we’d get to watch one of the most magnificent fireworks displays found anywhere.
To secure us a home base not far from the festivities, we booked a room at the InterContinental right at Sydney Harbour several months in advance through Priority Club Reward points. Figuring if we couldn’t get a vantage point from the hotel itself, we would at least be close enough to our beds to make the 12:30 a.m. trek back with two exhausted boys manageable. As it turned out, we received an invitation from friends of my parents who have an apartment in nearby Darling Point to watch the celebration from their balcony, which had an exceptional view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
I must say that it was a pleasure to have some adult company for the evening and a place for the boys to relax and keep themselves awake before the midnight spectacular. There were actually two sets of fireworks that night, including one at 9 p.m. for families. For this, I must give Sydney some serious kudos. Although there was no way Tyler and Stefan would dare fall asleep, at least they could say they watched fireworks in Sydney if they did.
For most parents with young children, the days of sleeping in on New Years Day are probably well behind them. They are for us, and that’s not a bad thing when you consider that the hangovers that usually necessitated sleeping in are long gone too. For me, this particular holiday is usually a low-key occasion, spent laying on the couch watching TV, staying warm and winding down from the long holiday season before heading back to work and facing the heart of winter to come. The Aussies, on the other hand, lie on the beach, have ‘a barbie,’ and are just starting their summer holidays. In other words, it’s a high-energy affair that much resembles our July 4th weekend.
Sydneysiders have no shortage of options to choose from when it comes to where to spend the holiday. It’s more a question of the south or north shore. They both offer gorgeous beaches in upscale, suburban neighborhoods, and the locals we spoke to seemed split into two camps as to which offered the best beach for us – the trendy, ultra-hip Bondi Beach area to the south, or the more family-friendly but commercialized Manly Bay up north. Since we had two days to play with and the forecast was good, we tried them both. Each one was packed, which didn’t bother us too much since it provided for a unique way to observe the Aussies in their natural habitat. The waters were also safe for swimming, which basically means that sharks and other unwanted marine life that can inflict serious injuries, or even death, were kept out. Half the fun of going to Manly Beach was the scenic 30-minute ferry ride up the harbor to get there, and after the ordeal of finding a parking spot near Bondi Beach the day before, it was a welcomed relief.
Before leaving the city, I had to “give it a go” at climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. With a wife who’s petrified of heights and two children not old enough to join me, this would not be a family outing. In retrospect, this was a good thing.
Although I don’t regret having done it, the climb just didn’t seem worth the time and money in the end. Sure, I can now boast that I scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge from which the views were amazing. But truth be told, most of the three-plus hours it took to complete the climb were spent lingering around for other people to make their way up and down stairs. There were also lengthy waits to get your picture taken from different vantage points, which are difficult not to buy and add even more to the total bill.
It may not sound as sexy, but my visit the next day to the Harbour Bridge’s Pylon Lookout had nearly as impressive of a view, and would have sufficiently satisfied my quest for the perfect photo op of the harbor, all without the expense and time it took to do the Bridge Climb. In the end, the magnetism of Sydney’s famous landmark left an indelible impression that will always remind us of the start of what will undoubtedly be another memorable year.
Photos: Rainer Jenss