MistyNites

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Vivid Sydney

I was still living in Scotland when the inaugural Vivid Sydney occurred. I didn’t know of its existence prior to my move to the Southern Hemisphere and I can’t quite remember at what point I found out about it, but I had started to harbour a desire to see it for myself, and last year, for the event’s 10th anniversary, I hopped across the ditch to experience it. Whilst the crowds were a little suffocating at times, the event itself was incredible, and is definitely better witnessed in first hand rather than just from photographs or videos. The atmosphere was at times electric, and the variety of installations was incredible. With this year’s event just around the corner, I’m already wishing I could go back.

 

DARLING HARBOUR

 

TARONGA ZOO

 

CIRCULAR QUAY & THE ROCKS

 

THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS

Across the Ditch

I settled into my window seat, excited about the days ahead of me. I was on the right side of the plane and I was sure that this would offer me a great view on the descent at my destination. Smiling as a woman placed her young child on the middle seat next to me before taking her own in the aisle, I read my magazine distractedly, waiting for the plane to get ready for push back, impatient to get going. Out of the corner of my eye, the woman gave her child something to eat and then all of a sudden the child projectile vomited all over herself, the seat, and her mother. The smell of sour milk hit my nose and I didn’t know whether to laugh or retch. There were several minutes where the woman feebly dabbed with wet wipes, not sure what to do, before the air stewards realised the conundrum and sprang into action. I have a soft spot for my national carrier, Air New Zealand, and it was fascinating to watch them deal with the mini crisis, which had to be handled swiftly and with minimal damage before the flight could take off. The seats were dismantled and the various components bagged for cleaning and I was requested to be moved, getting sat on the left side of the plane, and upgraded to thank me for my co-operation. I was a little gutted to lose my vantage point for arrival, but I felt extremely sorry for the frazzled mother and it was an interesting start for the fun days ahead.

I’d heard about Sydney’s annual light spectacle Vivid Sydney some years ago, and having previously visited the city in Spring, Summer and Autumn, it made perfect sense to complete the seasons with a Winter trip to coincide with the event which was celebrating its 10th anniversary. With my best friend living there too, it was also a great excuse for a catch-up. Having taken the morning flight, I arrived early on a Thursday morning, and headed straight to my favourite hostel YHA The Rocks, where I stay every time I visit the city, to dump my stuff. I rushed up to the rooftop for my beloved view over the Rocks before heading down to the harbour. The sun was out but low and Circular Quay was partly in shadow when I arrived to make the oh-so-familiar walk around the waterfront. As always, Circular Quay was a very busy place to be, and I was hungry, wandering past the expensive waterfront eateries, trying to decide where I wanted to grab a snack.

 

I was distracted from my search for food for a while as I ogled over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House on my way to the Botanic Gardens. I could see some of the Vivid Sydney displays in the distance but my grumbling stomach led me down the steps to the Opera Bar and eateries just below the Opera House itself. I ordered a coffee and toastie and took my seat in the sun, watching the Sydneysiders going about their day. I was amused as a few people got mobbed by seagulls trying to steal their food. My coffee arrived first and I enjoyed it, laughing as someone got their food stolen, reminiscing about that time I got hit on the head in Southland earlier in the year. My toastie finally arrived and I greedily stuck in to it, breaking it into pieces to help it cool whilst I started to devour it. On my second bite I got whacked on the back of my head and couldn’t believe that for the second time that year, I’d been hit from behind by the wing of a bird trying to steal my food! Clearly it was time to get on the move again.

 

The Botanical Gardens were just as busy as Circular Quay had been, and even although the displays were not lit up, there were so many people taking in the Vivid Sydney displays in the daytime. It might have been winter but it was a gloriously sunny day with enough warmth to be in just one layer. I don’t always go to the Botanic Gardens when I visit the city, so it had been a while since I’d taken the promenade round the waterfront. I briefly cut away from the water, following the Vivid Sydney displays round the back of a small wooded area, framed by the city’s skyscrapers. I could only imagine how these would all look lit up in the darkness.

 

I was in the process of cutting back to the waterfront when I noticed a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos crowding round a couple. It turns out that you can buy little cups of cockatoo food to feed the birds in the park, and as such the couple literally had birds on top of them, eager to grab some of the mix that they had on offer. I hovered around, taking the opportunity to take some close-up photos, when suddenly after bending down, a cockatoo jumped up onto me. It was an awesome experience until it started trying to eat my clothes, and biting at my neck, threatening to get a little rough with its annoyance at my lack of food offerings. Still, it didn’t drive me away and I hung around with them and the couple of corellas that were there too, for as long as I could before eventually dragging myself away and heading onwards.

 

It had been a nice break from the sun, but now I was out under the orb continuing my way around, past a statue I’d never noticed before and round to the flower fields offering a floral-framed view back across to the Opera House. There’s also a stunning vista of the cityscape as you reach the point where Mrs Macquaries Chair can be found. There was a good crowd here as this point has become a bit of an Instagram location, and there were many people rock hopping in order to get their own shot across the harbour.

 

As I continued around the headland, I discovered a swimming pool that I didn’t remember from my last time round there in 2012. The dominant structure in Woolloomooloo Bay though is the long building of expensive apartments that juts out on the pier. It was easy enough to cut back into the Royal Botanic Gardens from here at the Lion Gate entrance, and I took in the succulent garden and through to the lotus pond where there was a lot of bird activity to catch my eye. It was a chance to get a close up with some ibis which are quite big birds, but yet scavenge like pigeons.

 

Built since my last visit, the Calyx was an interesting structure hidden near the back of the Botanic Gardens. A circular structure, it contained a massive living wall inside which was fascinating to look at both close up and from the far side of the room. Spelling out the word Pollination, the wall was covered in a plethora of plants and there were displays about the role of bees in pollination and the threat that bees are under worldwide. Back outside in the warm sun, I cut up to the Governor Phillip fountain which I’d never seen before, walking around it as office workers were coming out for lunch. The shaded benches and grassy spots started to fill up with those seeking shade to enjoy their food, and as it got busier here I moved onwards. I skirted past the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Government House to Bennelong Lawn where you can look down onto the front of the Opera House.

 

Back at Circular Quay, the sun was now higher in the sky, removing the shadows from that morning. As there often is, a large cruise ship was docked and there was a hive of activity around the wharf and on the water. Climbing the many steps up the steep face of the Rocks district, I found myself at the Sydney Harbour bridge. I’ve previously climbed the bridge twice but never actually walked across it, so it seemed about time to do so and I joined the mix of locals and tourists on the footpath. It is a noisy affair being so close to the passing traffic as well as the intermittent addition of a train on the far side, but looking east, the view on crossing was of the city, the Opera House and the myriad of boats that plied the harbour.

 

Kiribilli on the north shore reminded me a bit of a district in London where my friend used to live. That same friend also briefly lived in Kiribilli (and in fact I saw in New Year here a few years ago). I mainly just wanted to hang around the waterfront though, so I passed under the bridge and cut down to the baths behind Luna Park, and then the promenade itself. I headed west for a bit then turned and headed east under the great arch. As the afternoon was wearing on by now, shadows were creeping in again, and I watched the harbour goings on for a bit before my hungry stomach kicked me into gear.

 

Once back across the bridge I headed for an early dinner at the Australian, an iconic pub in the Rocks district. I had gotten a sweet deal at the hostel which had included a discounted meal here, and having been here before, I knew I was in for a tasty pizza. Unfortunately my best friend had twisted her ankle, meaning our planned days of walking had to be curtailed. Instead I was to head to her place to catch up at home where she could rest. With a bit of time free prior, I took a long walk as darkness fell round from the Rocks and past the Barangaroo Reserve into Darling Harbour.

 

Whilst the main Vivid Sydney lights were around Circular Quay and the Gardens, there were a handful of displays in Darling Harbour. The most striking one was a large moving creature that was propelled by a couple of helpers. There was a large crowd as the creature interacted with some diners at a local restaurant. In the water, there was so much light and there was a general buzz in the air. Eventually though, I had to leave and I set off to catch up with my friend ahead of much more activities to do over the coming days.

Reacquaintance

I can’t imagine ever losing that love for exploring and discovering new places, but as eager as I am to seek out new regions to explore, the list of places I’ve fallen in love with and yearn to go back to is a constantly growing list too. Just five years ago, I could not imagine me ever stepping foot on Australia’s soil, and now, living on the opposite side of the world, it is a mere jump and a surprisingly cheap airfare away, and I find myself drawn back there time and time again. I fell in love with Sydney on my first visit there 2.5 years ago, and with my best friend now living there, I’ve happily made the trip back a couple of times since. The minute I get off that plane at the airport, I feel home. Every stress and worry lifts off my shoulders and a mighty grin splits my face for the duration of my stay. After taking my partner there last year for his first trip to the city, he too fell in love with its charms and we vowed to go back there for New Years Eve.

After spending Christmas in Auckland, we flew from there on a beautiful sunny day and arrived first thing in the morning. We were once again staying in one of the best hostels I’ve ever been in, YHA at the Rocks, and we dumped our bags before making our way to some friends and family at Bondi beach. The city was packed, the busiest I’ve ever seen it, and there were long queues for the buses to Bondi. Stepping off on the main road at the beach, the whole area was a mass of bodies swarming along the pavements, and draped across towels on the grass and the beach.

 

One of the best things about staying in the Rocks area is the location. Not only does the hostel itself have a fantastic rooftop view overlooking the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but it is an easy walk to Circular Quay and two main transport hubs. Throughout the summer months, Circular Quay is often dwarfed by various immense cruise ships that berth there, and there was no denying that this was peak season. Just a few minutes walk from the hostel is the Harbour Bridge itself, and for the second time, I pulled on the jumpsuit and went through the safety briefing before heading up onto the arch. On my first visit, I had done a day time climb, but this time it was at night. The red sky was fading as we made it up onto the arch and by the time the group had summited, it was dark. Fruit bats flew past us as shadows against the twinkling lights around us, and the big draw with this time of the day was the near silence. With little goings-on below us, it felt a world away up there on the bridge, so tranquil and isolated, and we could really enjoy the experience with little external distractions.

 

The following morning we took the ferry to Kirribilli then headed up the coast north to Palm Beach. The sun was relentless in a cloudless sky, and even so early in the morning, the place was packed with people and cars. Eventually it was time to head off on the boat trip that we had come up for: a river cruise up the Hawkesbury River. It was a lovely little boat and we were lucky enough to get an outside seat to enjoy the view on the way up. For anyone who watches the soap Home & Away, Palm Beach is the location region, and as we left the wharf behind we passed the building and pier used as Alf’s Bait Shop and saw the Barrenjoey Lighthouse that sits atop the peninsula at the end of the beach. It is a beautiful location, and heading up the river there were small settlements scattered about the place with plenty of people making use of the waterway. There were plenty of pelicans at our first stop, and at the second stop there were 2 float planes making use of the waterway to take people on scenic trips. Finally we reached our destination, Bobbin Head, a quaint little place with a marina and park nestled into the upper reaches of the river. We ate lunch whilst a large shoal of fish fought over scraps of food, before heading back towards the sea and returning to Palm Beach. The sun was setting by the time we reached Kirribilli again and we had a beautiful view of the Harbour Bridge as the sun dipped behind it.

 

The next day was New Years Eve and it turned out to be one of the most relaxing New Years Eves I’ve ever had. Not normally one for being idle on holiday, I was unusually content to sunbathe for a while on the roof of the hostel before meeting my friends in Chinatown for a much needed Thai massage, followed by a manicure and a tasty lunch. My friends headed back to Kirribilli and I headed back to my hostel to meet up with my partner, and a few hours later we headed down to Circular Quay to catch the ferry. People had been marking their spot in Circular Quay since early in the morning, and by now, near 6pm, we couldn’t get through to get to the ferry. Officials sent us first one way, then the next until we were completely denied entry into the wharf. In the end, we had to catch a train across the bridge, but arriving on the north shore, there was a mass of people cramming down the stairs to exit the train station before being shepherded out only one exit, leaving us on the wrong side of the bridge. Eventually, after a longer walk than planned, we made it to the party in Kirribilli.

 

Whilst our view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House were restricted, we had a prime view out across the harbour and as the hours passed, the water twinkled with the lights of hundreds of boats. With this against the backdrop of the lit up buildings on the shore, it was stunning. The water reflected all the lights and the sight was simply mesmerising. In between eating and socialising, we nipped up to the rooftop to view the various fireworks displays as well as a boat display and an aerial display as the hours ticked away. Eventually though, as the clock neared midnight, all the occupants from the whole block of flats piled out onto the roof to watch the fireworks. Only on the television can you truly appreciate the whole display, but even from our vantage point, it was an unforgettable experience watching the fireworks dance off the harbour bridge and then the opera house and finally starting up along the harbour. There were too many places to look, and for 12 minutes, the sky lit up with colour and the only sounds to be heard were the bang of the explosions, and the cheers from the audience. Eventually the crescendo came and went, as did the rest of the night, and in the small hours of the morning, we made our way back across the harbour and to bed.

 

New Years day was a scorcher, and we joined the large crowd of people in Manly on the north shore, taking a walk along the coastal walkway and generally perspiring. Later on we headed to Chinatown, and wandered through to Darling Harbour before sailing back to Circular Quay and an early night.

 

Since my first visit to Sydney, I had been keen to go to Jenolan caves deep within the Blue Mountains, but up until now I hadn’t had the time. Finally though, we made the nearly 2 hr trip by train to Katoomba to catch the bus to the caves another 1.5hrs away. It was a long way to go, but the scenery was stunning, and finally we wound our way down the narrow road to the caves nestled deep within a valley. The road itself goes through a natural tunnel in the road, coming out at a stunning building that is hidden away at the back. There are multiple cave tours to choose from, and we had selected the Chifley and Lucas caves. They were both fascinating in their own right, but the tour groups were far too large which marred the experience somewhat. Even in the middle of nowhere, it was very obvious that we were in peak tourist season.

 

In the first cave it was very difficult to hear what the guide was saying as there were so many of us in there, and many of the kids were either crying or talking. The guide herself was taking no prisoners, getting rather agitated and taking on a ‘school ma’am’ role, scolding parents for not quieting their children. We had little time to waste in the rather long queue to get food from the cafe, gobbling it down before having to leg it back to the cave entrance to join the second tour. By this stage, a thunder storm was rolling in, but deep underground we were completely oblivious until the lights all turned out and we were plunged into darkness. The back-up generator failed to kick in and so the second half of the cave tour was self-led by mobile torch light, and the occasional brief spell when the lights came back on prior to going out again. We emerged at the far end to a rain-soaked world, and the whole drive home was in lashing rain.

 

Our last day in Sydney, we met up with my friends for the last time, and caught the train to Paramatta. Not being a fan of Sydney’s CBD, I found Paramatta to be a much more pleasant place to go for shopping. It was a roasting day, and after a short time spent at the mall, we headed towards the river and waited for the ferry. As it turned out, the tide was too low, and we had to be bused to the next ferry terminal to catch it, but from there, we set sail down the upper reaches of the Paramatta river on route to Circular Quay.

 

That final night we boarded a tall ship for a dinner sailing around the harbour. With a bbq meal, and a licensed bar, it was a lovely way to spend the evening. I paid extra for the experience of climbing the rigging to the crow’s nest. As soon as we left Circular Quay, I got kitted up and set loose on the rigging. It was harder than I thought. Between the movement of the boat across the water, the long gaps between each rung and the narrowing rigging with height, it all added up to make it quite an exertion. When I finally reached the crow’s nest, I didn’t think I would be able to haul myself onto the ledge. After pausing for a few minutes though, I made the effort and stood proudly on the ledge looking down at a world that seemed so distant below. It was fantastic to look down on the deck below me, enjoying a moment that was privy only to me alone. It was the sight of food being served that drew me out my reverie and brought me back down to the deck and the rest of the passengers.

 

Another gorgeous sunny day followed, and we checked out of our hostel. Heading across town to collect our rental car, we set off on our next adventure…

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