My week of sleeping in the boot of my car was over – I was back to a nice bed, regular shower, and good food in the comfort of my auntie and uncle’s house in Sydney. Since I arrived in Perth in August I aimed to be in Sydney for Christmas and, even though I had to skip the east to make it happen, I’d made it and was really happy to be somewhere where I could spend the time with family, and hopefully spend New Year with some of the people I’d met along the way here.
The fortnight surrounding Christmas was pretty laid back: quite a few mornings I’d get up and head to Bondi Beach for a swim before it got too busy then spend the day checking out the city or covering some more of the coastal walks with my auntie. My favourite stretch of the coast was on a walk to the north of Bondi, trecking through quite secluded sections of woodland between alcove beaches, looking out across the bright green waters of the harbour to the CBD. If I had a canoe I’d have happily spent hours out on the water there, and then probably suffered the inevitable dose of sunburn in the evening.
Being in Sydney gave me a chance to meet quite a few members of my family for the first time, in particular one my cousins who has never been back in Scotland since I was born, as well as some more distant relations who all originally hail from Scotland. Originally, some of them were going to be round for Christmas but we ended up having a quiet Christmas, instead having them round for New Year’s Eve. Carrying on a routine I started at uni, after a family Christmas, I caught up with a couple of friends I’d made on the west coast. Jorrel, a Swiss guy I’d met in Kununurra had spent Christmas in the Blue Mountains and was taking the train back into Sydney just in time for New Year so I cut my family dinner a bit short to catch up with him before we caught up with Henrikka at Circular Quay.
I was a bit late getting away from Bondi though, as a few days earlier I’d ordered a copy of The Art of Paragliding – the recommended reading for novice paragliding pilots – and it arrived literally as I was about to leave. I’d been dreaming of taking up this form of free-flight for months now and receiving the book started to hammer home the fact that I was going to learn to fly soon, very soon..
I didn’t make many plans for New Year, partly as there were far less people around Sydney who I knew than I expected and mainly as I didn’t know enough about what was going on. The botanic gardens, with their panoramic views of the harbour, Opera House, bridge and CBD seemed like the place to be for the night so we headed there fairly quickly as Henrikka heard that the number of people through the gates had hit about 75% of the limit. The queues were long but fast-moving, so by 6 we were sitting on a grassy hill in the middle of the gardens watching the flying foxes flapping around as the sun dipped behind the skyscrapers of the city centre, casting a beautiful warm glow over the park.
At 9 there was a fairly big fireworks display so parents didn’t have to stay till late for their kids, then on each hour, and on the quarters of the last hour before midnight, each of the batteries of fireworks would send up a single burst of firepower, leaving everyone listening in awe to the rumbles of explosions from up and down the river, rumbling like thunder all round the city. Even then, the crowds were so dense that we couldn’t get within about 20m of any of the decent vantage points, so I improvised and climbed what was nearer to a sapling than a tree, that was within a few minutes precariously supporting 3 girls and me. The improvisation didn’t work that well though, as by removing all the people from my view, I’d added a few dozen branches, which were just about as hard to peer through as the people, and not quite as comfortable to hang on to.
As midnight approached, we tried to get a better vantage point for the main salvo and found a strangely quiet spot near Mrs Macquarie’s chair. That said, we were still about a minute too late to bag a spot right up at fence, but we were still close enough to look in awe at the harbour, packed with hundreds of boats, many with people on them enjoying the evening from their own unique bobbing vantage point. The show was obviously great, but, having been to Edinburgh for Hogmanay the year before, didn’t find them truly spectacular, but then I’ve probably seen enough firework displays now that I’d only be really impressed if I ended up with sore ears after the show.
It was great that the city’s public transport network was running so it only took about an hour to get back to Bondi, where the gig on the beach was still going in what looked like a fairly epic fashion – if I’m in Sydney for another New Year then I think I’ll go there instead.
New Year’s day was spent getting packed and ready to head south towards Bright, as well as pouring over The Art of Paragliding, getting ever-more excited at the thought of what I could be learning to do in a week. And so my time in Sydney was up – I still didn’t feel like I saw that much of the city so it’ll probably be worth a revisit some other time, but for now I had bigger plans..