At dawn, the parks and reserves of the foreshore were already filling with families and revellers staking out territory for the phenomenal party thrown across Sydney Harbour. Streets were barricaded and expressways closed as 1 million people streamed into the city, searching for the perfect vantage point, preferably one within a serviceable walk of a functional toilet. Indeed, access to reasonable toilet facilities played no small part in our New Year’s Eve plans, and there we could think of no better vantage point for the spectacular Sydney fireworks show than from the top deck of a luxurious cruise ship on the harbour.
At 6 pm, we joined an excited mob and squeezed ourselves sardine style onto a city bound train. At 7:30, we weaved our way through throngs of food stalls, glow stick vendors, and drunks (oof, they’ve got a long way to go) jammed into Circular Quay and escaped into the tranquil civility of Wharf 6, where we were cordially welcomed aboard the Sydney 2000. We grabbed some champagne and headed to the top deck.
Instantly, I became dizzy, spinning and swirling in a vain attempt to take in the scene that was unfolding in all directions around me. A chorus of cheers erupted from the crowd as we set sail. Flash bulbs popped from every balcony. The coves along the foreshore were stuffed with brightly lit boats at anchor. In the distance, a huge cyclone of flying foxes swirled above the city, sending off the occasional arm of migratory bats, like storm bands from a hurricane.
We slipped back to our table for the entrée of lobster and oysters, but our excitement could not be confined indoors, and we were soon back on the top deck, waving to passing boats. Downstairs again for an Intermezzo of melon sherbet, then up to the deck for the 9 o’clock fireworks display, put on for the kids who cannot stay up till midnight. After the show, our boat joined the other commercial charters for a parade of lights around the harbour in an exclusion zone off limits to all other boats. Thus the water was calm and uncrowded, save for the red and blue flashing lights of dozens of police vessels patrolling the edge of the zone. There was a beauty there as well.
After the delicious main course, (I used to make fun of my Aunt Bette for the excruciating detail she would relate when describing enjoyable meals she’d had on various vacations, and I vowed I would never do that. However, as I get older, I have come to appreciate the increasing sensory pleasures of the palette, perhaps because they swell as other pleasures recede. Nonetheless, I won’t torture you with sumptuous descriptions of grilled beef fillets with red onion jam or duck confit with dark cherry sauce.) time slowed down a little, and we were able to savour the atmosphere of the evening. With so many stimuli competing for our attention, it was hard to remain focused on any one pleasure for very long, and we were soon doing laps around the decks trying to imprint as many sensations on our psyche as possible.
At last, the captain parked the boat sideways to the bridge at the far end of the exclusion zone, the lights of all the other boats beautifully framed between the city lights of either shore. Perfect. Just before midnight, the sky erupted with light, sound, and colour from every direction, the flaming bridge at centrepiece. Thunderous explosions drowned out the appreciative cheers of the crowds. Horns and whistles sounded from all directions and the surface of the water became a shimmering reflection of the rainbow ballet of sparkling flares. From the tops of skyscrapers, fountains of flames contributed to the swelling crescendo of the blazing symphony. Then, climax: The deck of the bridge transformed into a brilliant white waterfall of flame, spilling into the sizzling water of Sydney Harbour.
Then it was done. Like a giant balloon that had finally run out of the pressure necessary to keep it sputtering and farting around the room in a manner that never fails to entertain all but the most severe old cranks. Nothing to do now but revel in our insufficient memory and gloat as we joined one million other people in a race for a train home.
Actually, getting out of the city was no where near as difficult as I had been lead to believe. Our boat docked at 1 am, and most of the crowds at Circular Quay had already dissipated, leaving behind a wake of garbage so impressive, that we lingered to discuss the beast that had left behind such chaos. By the time we made our way through the cheerful drunken stragglers, up George to Wynyard Station, the crush of people was less than a typical workday commute and we were able to step directly onto a train that took us right to our front door.
We sat on our balcony, gazing out across the harbour and tried once more in vain to slow time, to make this night last forever. Soon I was overcome with the beautiful fatigue borne of busy excitement and I succumbed to exhaustion at 3:30.
At 6:00 am, I awoke to the sound of hoots and hollers coming from a balcony on the next building as a group of drunks greeted the rising sun. They had squeezed every last minute out of the night.
But through the magic of photography, this night can last forever...and when I get around to editing the videos, you'll see what I mean.
Happy New Year!
Happy 18th Anniversary, Darling.