Updated: Jan 12
January 26, 2020.
Australia Day 2020 saw us visit this magnificent Harbour City for the 3rd year in a row to celebrate this fabulous day in style! It's become a tradition for us now it seems, and we're happy to keep it going!
*Just a note to my foreign readers: Australia Day commemorates the day when the British flag was raised after the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788.
It is also known as 'Invasion Day' to our Indigenous traditional Custodians of our land.
I won't get into politics.
We fly down from our home on the Gold Coast, and just spend two nights in Darling Harbour, Sydney, to enjoy the myriad of entertaining events that are put on for the public.
Some are charged for, however, many are free.
Our choice is to enjoy a day lunch cruise on the harbour, which offers an
'all you can eat seafood buffet', as well as 'all you can drink.' This can be particularly potent on a three level boat, rocking on the harbour,
in the heat of the Australian summer! But we'll take one for the team on that...! Haha. The day is a constant stream of wonderfully entertaining harbour activities...
I'll get to that later!
After a 'SCAN' (senior citizen's afternoon nap...) and a few happy hour cocktails to get us going again, we head back out for an evening cruise, on a different boat, ala carte this time, again, drinks are included - to enjoy the harbour at night, with all the laser displays, fireworks and party boats all synchronised with their festive LED lights with the majestic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House being our stunning backdrops.
The first time we did this, in 2018, my old high school buddy (who joined us on our recent 'Sydney to Hobart' cruise), came along for the lunch cruise, and we had a ball.
On this day, and the two following years we have also run into a particular fun, rowdy mob on board - which was quite hilarious really, and NEXT year, 2021,
will see us join their ranks of 60!
Wow! To get that many family and friends, says a lot for these fun folk!
Anyway, back to our short, but jam packed 2020 itinerary.
Arriving mid morning at our Hotel, The Novotel Darling Square, we were warmly greeted by the staff, and given a complimentary upgrade to a high floor, overlooking the
That you very much Novotel!
Here's a tip: You have a much better chance for an upgrade if you can check in as early as possible - even if your room isn't ready, just leave your bags and come back later. Chances are, any opportunity for an upgrade will be gone by the end of the day.
This hotel is situated right at the start of Sydney's Chinatown, and guess what?
Lunar New Year started the day of our arrival!
That, along with Australia Day, meant for a very festive atmosphere, full of families and revellers, all enjoying what this famous city has to offer.
*Just a quick word; the Coronavirus hadn't quite hit its stride by this point, as I can imagine how that would've destroyed the numbers of Chinese tourists on our shores. That was to follow in the coming weeks with the travel bans and closing of borders.
Our first item on our agenda, was to head over to The Rocks area, right by the Harbour Bridge, to meet up with a couple of Welsh friends of ours, who had previously been staying with us on the Gold Coast, and lucky for us, they are in Sydney for the day off their cruise ship, so we get to spend even more time with them.
Even though I was born and bred in Sydney (leaving there when I was 19), and with all the trips back there I have done since, I still had never done the walk around the bay from the Opera House, or visited the historic Government House which is set amid gorgeous grounds adjacent to the Botanical Gardens, in the most prestigious of neighbourhoods
overlooking this magnificent harbour.
Phew, got that?
I'm such a fan of this place, clearly.
"Sounds like a cunning plan", is what our Welsh friends would say, and it was.
Being the day before Australia Day, they were setting up a music stage at the base of the Opera House, ready for 100,000 people and a sold out event...well, it was great timing for us, as they were doing the first of their sound checks, and on came the original Seekers!
An old time Australian band, but their music is pretty legendary, and they sang the Travelling Wilbury's song 'End of the Line', which was fabulous. What a great start to our day with our mates!
Everyone present enjoyed the impromptu song, and relished in the treat.
As they started repeating it, we moved on. :) Walking the edge of the harbour, admiring the giant, centuries old trees that were planted by our first settlers, we arrived at the gates of the NSW Government House,
just in time for a free guided walking tour of the joint.
Bingo! Right place, right time, again!
It was even more special as the grand dining room table was all set in its absolute finery,
as it would be for visiting Royals and/or dignitaries, as the House will be open the following day as an Open Day, but with no guides. Today, we were lucky to enjoy a great historical guided tour of the place,
(which is always free and goes at regular intervals ), but seeing that this gorgeous mansion is still the private residence of the NSW Governor General,
no photos are permitted at all inside. Bummer, but you can see some in the gallery of the link I included above.
Not a bad way to spend an hour or two, strolling around the harbour foreshore,
and a walk through living history. Time to head back to the Opera House, to wet our whistle with a bevy or two with our mates, before they have to board their ship, which sails this evening for New Zealand. No rest for the wicked!
The photo in the bottom left, was taken two years prior, when we first met these amazing people on a cruise of the Baltics.
There we were, 'toasting our health', in Denmark. Two years later, we are still '3 beers and a wine!'. Paul and Christine - friends for life.
We will see them again in 2021, when we visit their home town of Cardiff, in Wales, to do some barging on the canals through the Welsh and English countryside.
Such a great benefit of travelling, the people you meet, and continue to catch up with.
Saying farewell (for now) to our mates, Trev and I enjoyed a late lunch at what used to be the 'Lowenbrau Keller', now called 'The Munich'...a great German-styled food hall in Argyle Street, The Rocks, with steins of beers and gorgeous waitresses, hey Trev?
It's always a great feed, has live music, and has a casual, fun atmosphere.
Back for a 'SCAN', (remember - the senior citizen's afternoon nap...) then back out into it, to enjoy Chinatown for Lunar New Year, and to try to find some Happy Hour sessions at Harbourside restaurants...often the challenge! The wine during the discount hours, could double as paint stripper, so Trev's the smart one and orders tequila. Somehow, this is sounding like a drink fest weekend.
Well, it is Aussie Day weekend, it's kind of fitting, hey?! Meh,"When in Rome" I say!
Day 2, Australia Day, arrives, a little hazy over the harbour, but it promises to be another stinker of a day - heat wise. Australia has been brutalised by bushfires, since August of last year, and recently the harbour has often been veiled with the orange smoke of nearby fires.
It's been an absolute tragedy.
But we have to prevail, and as Australians, its good to holiday at home for a change, and help boost the ailing tourist industry due to these fires, let alone the upcoming Coronavirus outbreak, and then the floods, believe it or not. A crazy time in Australia, and the world too.
Time to put all that behind us, and carry on!
We have a huge day ahead, and we can't wait to get into it.
Our lunch cruise, is with Majestic Cruises. Third year in a row for us now, and we were looking forward to the day, even more that other years.
That's because we know how good the day is going to be, and often we walk off at the end having made new friends, which is what happened, again.
Upon embarkation, you are assigned to allocated seating, which even though we were
'party of two' we are still pretty close to the adjoining table,
which is great for sparking up conversations. We had a family next to us, originally from South Africa, which of course was a great lead into conversations for us, as we dearly loved our time in Africa recently.
Wine and beer come out straight away, and the waitress didn't blink when I said
"One bottle, one glass please?!"
What does a girl do?
Trev doesn't drink wine...
Here's a collage of our last few Aussie Days on the harbour. I'll dot them between talking about what was going on.
Once leaving the Darling Harbour King Wharf, we headed straight for the
centre of the harbour, to 'Shark Island', no less. "Of course there's a Shark Island", I hear my foreign friends mutter! ;)
Here, the old Sydney ferries were jockeying for a starting position, for the traditional
'Sydney Ferry-thon' which ends with the Harbour Bridge being the finish line. In all the three years we have done this, the first year was the best for us for this event, as well as the next race, as the skipper of our boat put us right beside the crowded ferries,
as they raced towards their goal. It made us feel like we were part of the race!
The water was so turbulent! Glad we weren't in a tiny little private boat. I'd pee my pants!
Once that was finished, we turned around and headed back out to the harbour centre again, as the Tall Ships were about to set sail for their race. We quickly popped downstairs to grab a plate of food and rest up for a wee bit,
just till the next event kicked off.
We didn't want to stay below for long, as there was way too much going on, and we didn't want to miss a thing! Once again, our skipper put us in the box seat, and it was just fabulous. This race was somewhat slower, as they were under sail. Hundreds of happy revellers were enjoying being passengers on these old world ships;
the atmosphere was amazing.
Each year, I think the time schedule of events alters somewhat, so if you do this, you'd have to check online to make sure you don't miss the F18 flyover. Seriously, if you were on the loo when they flew over, I reckon you'd almost fall off! The noise was the loudest, most exciting thing I have ever heard -
the flyover that is, not being on the loo...haha! This video is from the 2020 Oz day.
Simply spoilt for action -
Crank up the volume!
Straight after this we just hovered, and watched as they fired off the cannons
that had been set up, right under the bridge. It was noisy, and dramatic.
Phew, what a start to the day!!!
Now it was time to head down to the main deck, and take a load off. We were having way too much fun on the top deck, it took effort to go downstairs... We didn't want to miss a thing, but it was winding up, the lunch cruise anyway.
The harbour, I'm sure had loads more happening for the afternoon,
like choreographed tug boat and yacht ballet!
So a bit more chatting with new found friends, and we eventually headed back towards
our wharf, after about 3 and a half action packed hours. It goes past so quick! I swear every year, it's faster.
Sign of getting old, eh?
Think we might be needing that SCAN, (nap). For certain. We have to do this all again tonight! Tough gig, yada yada. ;)
It was a super hot walk back to our hotel, we were basically trying to walk from one shady spot to another, finally ending up in the air-conditioned mall to cool off with an ice cream.
That rest is beckoning.
It was so needed!
We showered and headed out again for our dinner cruise on the Clearview Boat.
A brilliant, wall to wall glass boat, which is perfect for dining whilst cruising the harbour, with views all round, and especially great for watching the fireworks.
Arriving at the boat, we were allocated a beautiful private table, right on the window,
it was amazing. And our entrees were waiting for us.
I must admit, that whilst the menu hasn't changed in the three years since we've been doing this, I wouldn't want it to.
It's absolutely delicious.
We then headed topside before the crowd, to have a glass of champagne as we sailed away, whilst the sun set over the Blue Mountains in the distance.
Previous years saw us sail up and down the harbour whilst having our meal, and trying to time it to be back by the Opera House for a good position to watch the
grand finale fireworks. This year they had made a big change, and all the cruise boats, and smaller party boats, all motored quietly around in a coordinated fashion in the Circular Quay area, never leaving, and always being part of the show. We had 'dancing yachts', who were lit up different colours, and tacking in unison, it was 'yacht ballet'. Even the party boats had the LED strip lighting synchronised with all the other vessels.
Then, at 9pm, all the boats had flares on their roofs, and they were all lit at precisely the same time, along with flares over the entire span of the Harbour Bridge, to go with a 'Minute's Silence', for all that had been lost in the tragic bushfires.
People, homes, animals, and 13 million acres of land.
An utter tragedy. It was very moving tribute, and very unique.
The night continued on; us cruising around the quay in a cute boat convoy, with the fireworks going off in the middle...jet-skiers also with fireworks shooting off the back of them, the dancing yachts, the laser light show, the huge music stage we saw yesterday, and thousands of revellers, enjoying a spectacular evening. I reiterate; its just fabulous enjoying this from the water - no crowds, no waiting in lines, all paid up front...
It's just great.
And finally, the end came with a blast of gunpowder and fireworks, and the Opera House was lit up with our Australian flag, taking turns with the Aboriginal Flag.
We lapped it all up!
So there you have it.
A lightning fast 2 days, but we did A LOT!
I highly recommend this to anyone living in Sydney...
(you guys are lucky , it's on your doorstep),
or people flying or driving in for this amazing time. See you next year, Sydney, Old Girl. We love you.