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Few sights herald the arrival of another year quite like the image of Sydney Harbour Bridge, ablaze with fireworks, as Australians proudly celebrate the arrival of the new year before anybody else in the world (almost – the Pacific island of Tonga claims first place, just). Falling in the heat of a Southern Hemisphere summer, the festivities see Sydney at its most celebratory, though visitors will find that a good mood persists in the oceanside city year-round. With 340 days of sunshine a year, and a particularly laid-back demeanour, you’ll quickly find that it’s a mood that rubs off.
There seem to be more reasons than ever to toast the arrival of a new year – and say a resounding ‘goodbye’ to the old one – even as celebrations in Australia’s largest city are set to take place on a smaller scale this time around (for now, Sydney remains out-of-bounds for much of the world as Australia’s borders continue to be shut to tourists due to the pandemic). But it’s no reason to write off a trip entirely: as the world begins to look to a life post-vaccine, there are few places which encapsulate such a feeling of escape as the ever-sunny Sydney – not least the current appeal of switching a Northern Hemisphere winter with a Southern Hemisphere summer (at SMR, we’re dreaming of any place warm enough to wear our tunic shirts or day shorts out of the house).
Sydney is at its best down by the water – a city of over 100 beaches, its residents live their lives oceanside. Which makes it a good place to start. Few first-time visitors will be able to resist the lure of Sydney Harbour, the city’s most famous waterside vista, where the Opera House hovers above the water like sails. It’s best enjoyed at a remove (and away from the throngs of tourists) by checking into Pier One, a sleek boutique bolthole built on a heritage-listed pier, just metres from the Harbour Bridge. Pick the right room and you’ll be able to see the entire harbour through its floor-to-ceiling windows – particularly useful when it comes to New Year’s Eve.
But Sydney’s best oceanside spots will always be found away from the centre. Bondi and Coogee beaches remain some of Sydney’s most-visited for a reason: there are few cities on earth where such glorious curves of yellow sand and clear blue waters exist right in an urban centre – indeed, residents of the city often leave work straight for the beach, exchanging workwear for bikinis and wetsuits (a work-life balance we approve of, with our collections made to go from office to beach – no change of clothes required).
Perhaps the best way to see them – and the city’s coastline – is to undertake the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, a six-kilometre cliff-top amble which is best done idly, pausing to swim at Bronte or Clovelly beaches in between. And, get your timing right and you can go to two of Sydney’s best restaurants at either end: in Bondi, Maurice Terzini’s Icebergs Dining Room and Bar takes its name from the saltwater swimming pool below, and peers outwards onto an endless blue ocean; in Coogee, the glass-roofed Coogee Pavilion – to locals, ‘The Pav’ – is an even more laid-back affair, with a menu that pays ode to its beach-side position, from sashimi to oysters to fish and chips.
In fact, Sydney is a city particular about food – its buzzing restaurant scene is an amalgam of the various cultures which make up the city, the uniting factor an obsession with freshness and seasonality. For a culinary tour of Sydney try Potts Point institution, Fratelli Paradiso, a seasonal neighbourhood Italian – a speciality is their version of cacio e pepe, topped with truffle from Tasmania – or Chaco Ramen, also in Potts Point, which serves the city’s best ramen with a creative flare (no mean feat: Japanese restaurants are numerous in Sydney).
After-hours – when the desire for drinks outweighs the desire for food – head to Eileen’s Bar in Surry Hill, where gin brewed by the Four Pillars Lab next door is on the menu (Sydney-ites will never be too dressed up, our Silk Cuban Collar Shirt and matching trousers are just enough to make the effort). Or, for views, try the Glenmore Hotel rooftop – a Sydney institution – where the Opera House shimmers in the distance. Impressive views like these abound across Sydney: for a serene end to the day, catch the sun setting over the city from Darling Point’s McKnell Park, or from the gorgeous heritage-listed Royal Botanic Gardens, right on the harbour waters.
Those willing to travel outside of the city are rewarded with even better views: the Blue Mountains National Park, a couple of hours outside of Sydney, is one of Australia’s most impressive natural attractions, where vast mountain ranges hover amid the clouds. Spend a day exploring the area’s the rich eucalyptus forests, waterfalls and quaint villages – an organised tour from Sydney will take you to the area’s best-known sites, though for those who want to take it at their own, more sedate pace, there is plenty to see over a number of days. Elsewhere, just south of Sydney is the Royal National Park, and Australia at its very best: dense, nature-filled bushland – spot kookaburras, lyre birds and echidnas, and off the coast, whales – which opens out onto pristine secluded beaches and the South Pacific ocean beyond.