Sydney is proud of their spectacular annual fireworks display for New Year’s Eve. But for the observer watching up close, seeing the show from the middle of the crowd in Circular Quay is a crowded, loud, frustrating experience. There are way too many people, shoving and elbowing to get the best spot. You need to arrive first thing in the morning to get a good plot of grass. The line for the portable toilets is always long. And when the fireworks are over, it’s not easy to get home as a million people meander through the streets.
It’s a modern tradition cherished by some, but controversial for others. There are many who question whether the fireworks are even appropriate in the aftermath of Australia’s devastating 2019-2020 bushfires. And every year, Sydney’s resident birds, bats and household pets are scared out of their minds by the explosions.
Here’s why I think it is not worth seeing the fireworks from a public space.
It’s way too crowded, all around Sydney
Let’s say you want to see the fireworks for free, like many of us.
Something like one million people cram all around the harbour to see the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks every year. Yep, that many. There are hundreds of viewpoints, some free and some with crazy price tags. The lucky ones have balconies nearby that face the harbour, and even luckier are the private boats that find a spot in the harbour.
Circular Quay and The Rocks are the most central spots, free to enter, and well-positioned sandwiched between the centrepieces of Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. On the other side, Darling Harbour packs with people to see the Cockle Bay fireworks.
But bad news – everyone else wants to see them for free as well. It starts off as a fun picnic for those who arrive 12 hours early, but as midnight approaches, everyone is standing and walking around, and the comfort factor is gone.
Watching Sydney fireworks can be insanely expensive
I’ve never paid to stand on a piece of grass to watch the fireworks, nor have I booked tickets to an exclusive cocktail event with a view of the harbour.
But, if you want to, you can.
You might even be able to escape the crowds. But remember to bring your wallet.
Smaller parks and gardens such as Bradley’s Head, Bradfield Park, Campbell’s Cove, Barangaroo Reserve and Blues Point sell tickets at around $10 or so, usually to place limits on the numbers of people that fit into these public areas. That’s not a bad deal, especially if it means you don’t need to trek into the city and avoid the transport quagmire.
Moving to the Royal Botanical Gardens, the prices start to zoom up quickly. There are different areas to choose from, with different types of parties that are held. Prepare to shell out insane prices for this, ranging from $350 to $595.
Maybe you’ll pay whatever it takes? Cockatoo Island revellers can pay up to $2200 to see the lights in the sky.
I lived in Sydney for many years, and saw the famous fireworks from different viewpoints. I watched from a private balcony in Milsons Point during a new year’s eve party. In Lane Cove, we watched from a grassy hill. I even saw distant burst of colour all the way back from a cliff on the Central Coast. Those experiences were free, and much more fun.
There’s a lot of waiting around for midnight
Good job! You arrived at an awesome spot of grass at 7am, laid down your picnic blanket and chairs, filled the esky with ice and beers and snacks, and now it’s only –
17 hours more hours to go.
Yup, you’re stuck waiting an eternity for the fireworks. It’s fun hanging out with your friends as part of a group, and if you’re in the mood to drink all day. But if you’re a family, or a couple not looking to have a wild night, that’s an awful long wait.
And what’s even more depressing is watching the spaces around you fill up, and then fill up some more. Some people come along, and block your hard-earned view. Then eventually, before the fireworks, everyone stands up anyway, and you’re in the back of the crowd.
You need supplies and bathroom options
Let’s say your somewhere near Circular Quay. Forget about trying to find a supermarket once you’re settled in at Circular Quay. There might be some mini-marts, but your best option is the bring all the food and drinks along with you.
The city puts up lines of portable toilets for the giant crowds to use. Give yourself ample time to wait in line, because there will be giant queues as hundreds of thousands of people all need to pee. And plan accordingly as midnight approaches, because you might end up watching the fireworks from your place in the toilet line.
One million people trying to get home from the fireworks
About 1 second after the fireworks finish, half of the million-strong crowd start to pack up and go home. There’s a strange silence as the explosions of the fireworks finally die down, and hordes of people move through the streets of the CBD (all closed to traffic) towards the train stations at Wynyard, Town Hall, or Circular Quay.
Many of the roads are closed, and people swarm in giant numbers to public transport. Ferries don’t operate, so give yourself extra time to reach bus stops.
The effect on Sydney’s animals
Sydney is home to a lot of animals, and has large areas of natural habitat for them. It’s one the coolest things about the city. There are huge populations of bats and birds that live in the botanical garden’s trees, and when the fireworks go off, it scares the hell out of them. They take flight in desperate attempts to get away from the cacophony.
Meanwhile, dogs and cats and other pets in people’s homes howl and cry at the noise as well.
In Wild Life Sydney at Darling Harbour, the staff used to play recordings of the fireworks to acclimatise the animals to the noise. Now, with weekly mini-fireworks, these animals are adjusting. Staff at Taronga Zoo are confident that their animals just get used to the noise, as many animals have night dens to retire to.
So, what’s the best way to watch the fireworks?
What can I do instead?
Make friends with someone that has a great balcony in Milson’s Point! It’s true. If you want to see the fireworks live and in person, my recommendation is to try and view them from a private party somewhere, if you’re able to.
But if you can’t, just watch them on TV.
The TV doesn’t sound that glamorous, I know. But to me, it’s not a must-do experience. New Year’s Eve is more about the people you spend it with. But if you absolutely want to experience the fireworks (just once), be prepared for a very big night!