New year’s Eve 2019 at Sydney Opera House – you know I always have a story
Spending New Year’s eve at the Sydney Opera House has been a bucket list item for a long time. This year we are spending four months down under, visiting Australia and New Zealand during their summer (our winter) season.
Since we are here in December and in time for New Year’s Eve, I planned to view the iconic fireworks over the Sydney Harbour’s bridge from the other iconic landmark across from the bridge – the Sydney Opera House.
A few months in advance I went online and bought tickets for an opera performance and the Midnight Party which I hoped would enable us to stand on an open balcony with a clear view of the bridge and the fireworks over the harbour.
When we first arrived in Sydney we attended a concert at the magnificent Opera House and asked to check out the new year’s eve party venue, to make sure the view was as expected. We soon discovered that there are two concert halls and two north foyers with balconies where the midnight party will take place and our tickets were for the Joan Sutherland North Foyer. We could not access the restricted area as another performance was taking place there (our performance was at the main concert hall that day) and from discussing it with the ticketing office it was not clear that will have the anticipated view. Both northern foyers have restricted view from inside because of the roofline blocking a clear view of the bridge. We’d have to be outside. I spoke with the ticketing manager and asked if we could exchange our tickets to a better vantage point and he took the information and promised to do what he can. “Leave it with me”, he said.
We never heard from him all week (Christmas was mid week, so, understandable) and although we were concerned and a bit unsure about what to expect we thought we’d let it go and see what happens the day of the party.
While I was out on Saturday, two days before NY, I got an email from the opera house telling me cheerfully that “we are happy to advise that we were able to cancel your NYE party reservations and applied full refund to your credit card”. OMG I nearly flipped. What???? We practically came here for this event and all tickets were sold out months in advance. What was happening? It was 4:30 pm and the Opera House ticketing closes at 6:00. I flew into a taxi and rushed to the ticket office. A mile long line of customers was already formed but I was not about to wait. I grabbed a uniform gal who seemed to work there and told her it was an “emergency” and I must speak with the manager, explaining briefly that our tickets were cancelled mistakenly, we are from Canada etc. To her credit she went immediately to the back office and came back to write my name down and see the email they sent me. A couple of minute later a manager (not the same one) came out and told me not to worry, they’ll fix it. Phew….relief. Sure enough within 10 minutes she came back with new tickets for the same venue and all was resolved.
On New year’s Eve we were getting ready and as we were leaving I grabbed the camera to put in my purse. Not so fast. As I pulled it from the counter I guess it was plugged in, resisted and flew out of my hand to the ground in a large thud, lens coming off, everything that can open opened. I was horrified. Tried to use it – nope. It was broken. Ohhh, can anything else go wrong?
Well, there was nothing I could do. I didn’t want to carry the larger Nikon with me so I was left with my phone to take pictures and that will have to do.
We left our apartment intending to walk to MacLeay Street to hail a cab and within two seconds the heavens opened and a huge tropical rain storm came pouring down. Keep in mind I slaved blow drying my hair to keep it straight, any moisture would pile it into a big mess of curls in no time. At least I had an umbrella. What next? Oye.
Well, getting slightly wet we grabbed a cab pretty quickly and headed to Circular Quay to the Sydney Opera house (Bennelong Point really). The roads were predictably closed to traffic and we were dropped off at a distance which we expected. Because we had tickets we had the privilege of not having to stand in line with the thousands of people that were waiting to get into the restricted area. We walked right through in comfort, broken camera and curly hair forgotten quickly.
As we arrived at Bennelong Point we were struck by the large crowds that were practically camping there since early morning hours. Apparently a million people packed the harbour to watch Sydney bring in the new year. Most had basic rain protections but looked soaked from the last downpour. However, they had a perfect vantage point for the fireworks and I was contemplating joining them later, if my tickets did not deliver the view I expected. If I could get down there, that is.
We walked into the opera house, had our bags scanned like at an airport and went to get a glass of champagne for G and an espresso for me. I am not a late night person and needed all the help I could get.
We first stepped outside onto the large balcony off the Joan Sutherland Theatre and that balcony does not even face the bridge, it faces the opposite side of the harbour. Well, our midnight party tickets were for the norther foyer and balcony and the pictures displayed when I bought the tickets showed handsome people raising a glass of champagne outdoors in full view of the bridge. We’ll see.
I went to speak to the ushers who were guarding the access to the supposed viewing area. They assured me that there is small outdoor space that ticket holders have access to but suggested that if I want a standing space there I should line up there before 9:00 pm.
Our opera tickets were for a performance of La Boheme, starting at 7:45, with the first intermission at 8:50 for the 9:00 pm fireworks they do for kids. Our seats were in the middle of the row and I was not desperate enough to disturb an entire half row by getting up mid performance. We stayed until intermission and joined the mad rush of people trying to get a spot on that coveted balcony. We managed to get there and stand at the back but the fireworks are of course high in the sky and easily visible from where we stood. The vantage point was, to my great relief, fantastic. Clear view of the bridge and harbour with all the festivities on the ground level below. Mission accomplished on that front and tons of fun to watch.
We decided that for the midnight fireworks we must be standing in front row of the balcony so that meant not going back into the second half of the opera. We could not however stay on the balcony or even access the north foyer until 10:30 when the opera ends because they used that time to set it up for he party. After talking to several of the organizers there (they didn’t seem that organized) we settled on a seat where the front of the line will be and waited an hour for the opera to end. A couple of other diehards did the same and we had a fun conversation with them waiting for the balcony to open again. The opera music played on speakers where we waited so at least we had the sound if not the sight. Musetta was phenomenal, she had a beautiful voice, hit all the right notes and conveyed the emotions magnificently.
Time flew by and before we knew it they opened up the foyer, we were the first people in and got to our desired spot outside. Champagne and appetizers were passed around and crowds were building up behind us. I am not really a crowd person but made an exception for this experience.
Another hour an a half of standing went by quickly watching the festivities below and the countdown begun on the large electronic timer across the harbour. 60…40…30… 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..2..1..FIREWORKS.
What a show, the best I have seen and so exciting to be there for that. More than 8.5 tonnes of fireworks lit the harbour’s sky, including some 100,000 individual effects and 40,000 shooting comets over the course of the evening. Not only the bridge had fireworks. Fireworks stations were installed on vessels all along the harbour and I am sure you could see them from just about everywhere in Sydney. The midnight fireworks were on for what seemed like 30 minutes and it was hard to keep up with all of them and take pictures and videos to remember the moment.
And then it was over. The balcony emptied, we said goodbye to our new found friends and walked inside the lobby where the midnight party was in progress. More champagne was passed around by uniformed servers, a lot of interesting looking finger foods (sliders, lamb chops, arancini, cheeses, sweets, what have you). Food and drinks were in abundance. A band was playing what sounded like Caribbean music with a catchy tune and we sat around for a while on the steps (no chairs) to watch and listen.
One funny thing that I didn’t really see but found out about later was the Happy New Year sign on the pylons across the harbour from us. It read: Happy New Year 2018. The sign was on for a few minutes before it was corrected but apparently the millions of people around the world watching the event noticed it on their TV screens. Being there in person there was so much to look at and easy to miss.
The party ended at 1:30 am and they announced that we can take any of the flowers that were decorating the foyer. At first I was going to pass but then thought better of it and took a bouquet as a memento for our last few days in Sydney (leaving Friday).
We walked outside where the party was still going at various outdoor venues. We stopped to look and take some pics but by then my uncomfortable shoes got the better of me and I had to take them off. Imaging me walking a few city block bare feet looking for a taxi to take us home. Oye is not even close.
Of course no taxis were available, apparently we needed to reserve in advance. We kept walking, me trying to put my shoes on a couple fo time, and no taxies. Eventually we were close (relatively) to Woolloomooloo and thought maybe we could catch a cab there. As we were walking, an Uber car stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. Did we want a ride, we hopped in the car and he took us home in no time for just slightly over what it would normally cost. I usually use Uber but for some reason I cannot log into my account, something has gone wrong.
So we got home but were too excited (and caffeinated) to sleep right away so we talked to the kids and I posted on social media talking to my friends online. What a fun, memorable evening.
Although we had a few glitches, it was definitely worth it, once. Next time I would need to see the fireworks from the comfort of somebody’s balcony. Any invites, lovely Aussies? I LOVE Sydney and LOVE Australians. What a special place and special people.
Enjoy the images.