It had been on the cards for months, but it was only days before Christmas that we decided we’d definitely be going to Sydney for New Years.
It was all dependent on two friends and their car, and after the stress of Christmas, we still had no idea if it would go ahead – and if it did, whether we would get there in time or in a working car.
Thankfully we finally left on the evening of the 29th, making a brief stop in Surfers Paradise (it was weird to be back in the first place we visited in Australia for the first time since we left) and eventually settling down for the night at a campsite just north of Byron Bay. We had passed another campsite sinisterly named “Sleepy Hollow” and promptly drove past.
We were unassumingly sitting around a table, drinks in hand, when a guy walked past and Ash shouted, ‘Maxim?!?’ In the middle of nowhere, on a random free campsite, we had managed to bump into a guy from our Brisbane hostel who had left just before Christmas on his travels! It’s a small world in this big country!
The following day, we would drive to Byron early for a couple of hours of beach and breakfast before the long drive on to get as close to Sydney as possible. At least, that was our plan. It wasn’t our friend’s.
We got to Byron later than anticipated – after a long walk of debates on where to eat, Ash & I ended up having breakfast at a cute little café along the seafront. Our friends did not. Instead, they went to the library to find it was closed, and disappeared to some shops without telling us. A wild goose chase ensued, by which point we really needed to leave – and that, everyone, was our first experience of Byron Bay.
We did try to get up to the lighthouse but it was absolutely packed so we couldn’t park anywhere, and then it then took twenty minutes to get out of town because of traffic – most of which consisted of Wicked campers with cult references and crazy things painted all over them. They are pretty cool, I have to admit. We’ve been tempted to hire a Wicked camper for a while, but they’re one of the more expensive options.
Look at this awesome Breaking Bad one we passed!
Twenty minutes out of Byron, our friend stopped the car. “I’m having a shower,” he announced. REALLY?! He met our protests with, “well don’t you want to go to the beach?”
“NO, we want to go to Sydney!” his girlfriend, Ash and I shouted incredulously. It was almost lunchtime and we needed to drive another 700km to have any chance of getting into the city at a decent time the next day.
And so the rest of the day was spent driving, driving, driving. We made a quick stop at Coff’s Harbour to visit the famous Big Banana (which wasn’t as big as I thought it would be, but it was still pretty fun to stop), but that was the extent of our rests. We were only half way to Sydney and the afternoon was getting on.
As it turns out, we barely made it to Newcastle, 250km north of Sydney. As we set up camp and barbecued some sausages by the river, we agreed that tomorrow would be a very early start.
It was, and we aimed for a train station on the outskirts of Sydney in the hope that there would be free parking nearby. Berowra train station had an empty car park with no meters – perfect, we said, as a train pulled away from the station in the direction of the city.
It was at that point our good luck was ruined. There wouldn’t be another train for an HOUR. We weren’t going to make it to the Domain until closer to 11am than 10am, by which point the queue was probably going to be horrendous.
It probably would have been horrendous no matter what time we got there, but when we finally hit Sydney city centre and met some friends, the queue was two hours long. We knew it was two hours long because, of course, like good British citizens we queued for those two hours – there was no point turning back now!
Luckily with a group of us and some good music, it wasn’t actually all that bad. The atmosphere was good, the heat was tolerable, and the company was great. At 12.30pm, we were finally in!!
And then we were in for a great day of sitting around waiting! Which meant bro-mancing.
And playing cards while drinking cider.
And having awesome hostel reunions.
And wandering off to enjoy the views that we wouldn’t get at midnight.
However, at the end of it, we had a pretty cracking view.
The Domain, or Mrs Macquaries Chair, is probably one of the best vantage points you can get without going on a super-expensive boat or paying through the nose for the party at Luna Park. In fact, it’s probably the best FREE vantage point in Sydney. If you’re lucky (or rather, if you queue from 6am), you will get the above view.
The biggest downside of the Domain, however, is the abundance of trees. Therefore, we got this view.
Not actually too bad, right?! You can see some corners of the Opera House peeking through the trees, but we couldn’t get any further in to the gap as it was understandably packed. There are two or three viewpoints along the green like this, and then the very end which fills up as soon as the gates open at 10am! (and even then you still risk trees so choose your location wisely)
There were several other “events” throughout the evening, including a flyover from a biplane which we could barely see through the trees, some “family fireworks” at 9pm, and my favourite: a flotilla of lit-up neon ships sailing through the harbour.
The verdict: the fireworks are absolutely mind-blowing!! There are four locations of fireworks plus the bridge, so at the Domain you are in the middle of all of them. Obviously the bridge is the most iconic. If you are thinking of heading to Sydney for New Years and you’re worried about getting a good view, JUST DO IT!!
Even when the hillside is full of people sitting down (which it was when we got in to the site), once it gets to the evening it’s not actually difficult to find good spots.
WE ALSO HAVE AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!
Half an hour before the main fireworks began, Ash took me to a secluded area at the back of the Domain to tell me how awesome his year has been and that he wanted to end it in a special way.
He asked me to marry him and I said yes!!!
And just as it happened, the flotilla sailed past behind us and we got an amazing view of them! They looked magical and it made a perfect moment even more perfect!!
So that was our New Years! The trip back to Brisbane was equally as frustrating as the way down. We planned to spend New Years Day in Sydney to celebrate our engagement; instead, we went to Manly for a dip in the sea and then you-can-guess-who decided he wanted a barbecue on a quieter beach… which meant almost two hours of driving in pointless circles only to land ourselves in a park nowhere near the sea because by this point we were all hungry.
On the way back up, we made a brief pit stop at Port Macquarie and its pretty beach, made a several-hour detour along a gravel road to a random waterfall, and took a drive through a rainy Springbrook National Park.
The above waterfall is located near Wingham, New South Wales, in a tiny village called Elands. Don’t go there unless you’re as prepared for miles and miles and miles of gravel track as we weren’t.
On another note, here are some of the best names of towns and signs that we passed:
Bald Knob Road, Hungry Head, Shark Creek, Banana Road, Blackadder Creek, Rivendell Lane, Bongin Bongin Bay, Tuckers Nob, Dirty Creek, Binna Burra, Mullumbimby, Possum Brush Creek, Willi Willi National Park and Bongil Bongil National Park.
And that was it. A few days of madness, and now we’re back in sunny ol’ Brisbane for a while – I have a few ideas of what I want to do in 2016! Let’s make it happen!
Hope you all had a great New Year!