Posts from the ‘Festivals’ category

Rio Carnival: The Biggest Party On Earth

Today’s Itinerary:

  • Prepare for Carnival!
  • Explore Rio’s street art scene
  • Climb Sugarloaf Mountain – no cable car for us!
  • Visit the Cristo Redentor monument.

There aren’t many events in the world that could legitimately put down the New Orleans Mardi Gras as “just a warmup event”.

Carnival in Rio De Janiero can.

Rio de Janiero is hot, steamy, sweaty, sexy, lascivious, and wild; these almost animal instincts are swept up and driven forward by the relentless samba beat of the Carnival. Upwards of two million people are driven by that beat during every day of Carnival. It is also, confrontingly for travellers who are unprepared, like many other developing cities – swinging wildly between extravagance and poverty, often jutting up beside one another.

The current, though, is all heading in favour of Rio and Brazil. Since being named as one of the BRIC nations, an annual growth rate of 5%+, and with (here’s a staggering fact) 195 million citizens powering it’s economy, Brazil looks to be confidently building it’s way into prosperity.

The rest of the world seems to agree – Brazil have landed the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016. For those living in the poverty and in the oppressive conditions of favelas, and for other minorities who are frequently put upon in the largely Catholic nation, the Carnival offers the chance each year for participation and tolerance.

So – after a long flight south from the USA, pleasantly broken up by a stop at Space Central, we’re in Rio de Janiero and we’re here to party with the masters.

Get your costume for Carnival. You’ll need a good one.

It’s important to get this straight up front – Carnival, for all its goodwill and fun-loving party vibe, is a fight.

The many different samba schools are in competition with each other throughout the Carnival schedule, contesting the prized position in the final Champion’s Parade in the Sambadrome. First up – it’s time to decide if we’re going to watch the parade from the grandstands in the Sambadome, or throw our dignity to the wind and join one of the samba schools as dancers.

If you’re not as foolish as us, make sure you get your Sambadome tickets (available here), but they’re not cheap!

Then again, neither are the costumes. With some samba schools spending up to $10,000 USD on the costumes for their lead dancers, this is like a fight in an antique shop – expensive for everyone involved.

Cheap Guide to Rio de Janiero?

Costumes and Carnival may be astonishingly expensive to see and participate in, but this NYTimes travel writer found a way to experience Rio for just $100 USD.

Then practice your dance moves. Again. I said again!

There are up to 90,000 spectators watching, so if you’re going to choose to join in, there will be plenty of support. But we feel it’s wise to practice our dance moves, just a little, beforehand. Just to bone up, you know, work out the kinks. Fortunately, the samba schools run rehearsal events during the night, with bands playing out of windows and the locals (Cariocas, as they call themselves) working on their moves long into the night.

Carnival commences.

Having run out of superlatives a couple of days ago during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Photo by , Licensed under CC.

Photo by Team at Studios, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Team at Studios, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Team at Studios, Licensed under CC.

Photo by , Licensed under CC.

Photo by Team at Studios, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Randal Shepard, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Randal Shepard, Licensed under CC.

Guide to Carnival:

Carnival has just as many rules and traditions as Mardi Gras in New Orleans – so be sure to check out this guide to Carnival to help figure our what everyone is up to!

Weekend Activities

The weekend is going to be about winding down and relaxing after the heat and sexiness of Carnival. We’re going to explore Rio’s famed street art, whilst also taking in the Jardim Botanico near Santa Theresa. There is a thriving, marvellously creative street art movement in Rio. The city itself is quite accepting of this pursuit, which in most other parts of the world is an illegal activity.

Rio de Janiero Street Art:

The beauty and inventiveness of this art is very well documented in these articles; one from Hyperallergic, the other an incredibly detailed long read from Untapped Cities. Both are well worth a read and make sure to check out the stunning street art photographs that they’ve captured.

Afterwards, we’re taking a leisurely walk up Pao de Acucar, or Sugarloaf Mountain. Local Guide Madson recommends you get off the cable car at Urca Hill and walk the rest of the way to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain – he can guide you himself on this 25 minute walk.

For the more adventurous and fit, you can start at the beginning for a three hour walk up Sugarload Mountain. The other must-see in Rio is Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer. This instantly recognisable, iconic statue watches over and embraces Rio de Janiero.

Yes, it’s touristic; but the really worthwhile, iconic places attract attention because they’re worth it.

Photo by bossa67, Licensed under CC.

Photo by bossa67, Licensed under CC.

Just watch the sun set in the evening, and try to argue.

Parading with Kings and Indians for Mardi Gras in New Orleans

By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

  • Stuff ourselves with King Cake, in the hope of being King for a Day
  • Try and find a costume that can compete with other parade-goers
  • Watch the Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans
  • Stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily travel email

So after the hype and excitement of the Super Bowl, we’re left with this question – where do you start with trying to describe the Mardi Gras in New Orleans?

Do you begin with the weeks long celebrations, the months of hard graft and labour that goes into the preparations, the preposterous costumes on display, the outrageous behaviour of tourists on Bourbon Street?

We will cover all of that, of course – but we’re going to start with breakfast.

King Cakes for Visiting Royalty

Mardi Gras celebrations commence on the Twelfth Night (the twelfth night after Christmas) – that works out to be January 6th.

A celebration of the conclusion of the twelve days of Christmas and the revelation of the coming of the Epiphany, Twelfth Night has a fascinating history that involves involves the wassailing of apple trees, the reign of the Lord of Misrule, the riding of the Wild Hunt, and the upturning of order and certainty.

Photo by Infrogmation, Licensed under CC.

A photo of the parade from the 1930s – and the history goes back even further. Photo from Infrogmation, Licensed under CC.

One of the customs that has carried through to today is a special cake that chooses the King and Queen for the night. The King Cake, or gateau des Rois, contains a little bean hidden inside it, a custom taken from the Saturnalia feast of ancient Rome (we told you that it has a long history).

The one who stumbled upon the bean was called “king of the feast”, and we want to be the ones who find that bean (or, as it is these days, a little plastic baby).

There are lots of bakeries in New Orleans that make King Cakes and it isn’t too hard a task to find one that makes them – the challenge is choosing your flavours! In this video from Gambino’s Bakery ( 4821 Veterans Memorial Blvd, Metairie ) you can have a quick look at some of the crazy flavour combinations. The purple, green, and yellow colours are symbolic of the Mardi Gras festival.

As another example – the “Zulu King Cake” has chocolate icing with a coconut filling. This reflects the high and mighty status of the humble coconut, in connection with “throws” (what’s a throw? We’re getting there!).

Even more adventurous, the bakery featured in this video from National Geographic shows a King Cake with apple and goat’s cheese filling.

What do you wear to a costume parade?

It’s rewarding to see the women in these costumes…but it’s more rewarding to see the men, because a man doesn’t get to dress up in beautiful clothes, it’s usually in a tuxed-ah.

Sally Hedrick (dressmaker)

Photo by Derek Bridges, Licensed under CC.

This guy made the effort. Have you? Photo by Derek Bridges, Licensed under CC.

Sally’s not wrong – we don’t want to be the ones standing out for not having put enough effort in.

We’re heading the parades next, but we don’t want to be underdressed (and that’s something that’s really easy to accomplish – just look at this guy).

You’ll want to put some effort into your Mardi Gras costume. Think; feathers, boas, diamante, leopard print, leather, gold, jewelry. Don’t forget your mask.

Photo by LollyKnit, Licensed under CC.

Photo by LollyKnit, Licensed under CC.

Think, outrageous. After all, you’re competing with these guys.

Photo by Derek Bridges, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Derek Bridges, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Mark Gstolh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Mark Gstolh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Derek Bridges, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Derek Bridges, Licensed under CC.

Go NOLA‘s top five costume shops can be found here, with Miss Claudia’s being their top tip.

Photo by Infrogmation, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Infrogmation, Licensed under CC.

Sadly, despite these top local tips, we’re unlikely to be able to compete, or even come close, to the costumes that will be only display during the Mardi Gras. With some people spending months preparing, and up to $10,000 on their costumes, the best we can manage is a funny wig and some feathers.

At least we did better than this guy.

Photo by Bart Everson, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Bart Everson, Licensed under CC.

If you don’t have time, though, concentrate on collecting throws during the parades to add to your costume collection.

What’s a Throw?

Photo by Mark Gstolh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Mark Gstolh, Licensed under CC.

  • During the Mardi Gras parades, the Krewes on the floats with toss and ‘throw’ trinkets and toys to the crowds. These cheap items originated from the throwing of glass beads as early as the late 19th Century.
  • Recently the throws have been made from plastic and imported from lower cost manufacturing countries like China.
  • In a surprising twist, glass beads are again finding use, becoming more valuable and coveted throws.
  • The most valuable throw is a coconut, known as the Golden Nugget.
  • There are many ways to obtain a throw, some of them being rather, as the kids say these days, Not Safe For Work.

There is so much history to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans

It is no exaggeration that it takes a lot of time to wrap your head around all of the concepts of the Mardi Gras parade season in New Orleans.

There are Krewes, Floats and Float Dens, Kings, Chiefs, Flag Boys, Zulus – the Knights of Sparta! There’s not just the meaning behind these words to learn; there is the long traditions of the Mardi Gras that are carried into today from hundreds of years ago, along with more recent history that resonates with the growth and changes in New Orleans and America. By studying the Mardi Gras in New Orleans we can learn about the tensions and creativity that have carried the city to it’s highs and lows.

The Louisiana State Museum has an exhibition cataloguing that history, with costumes and even an invitation from almost the very beginning of it all. It’s a lot to take in but we’re beginning to wrap our heads around some of the concepts.

What’s a Krewe?

Think of it a bit like a secret society – these clubs join forces and resources every year to create elaborate floats and costumes for the Mardi parades. With varying membership rules and history, the Krewes take their lineage from the Mistick Krewe of Comus who first appeared in 1857. Since then, Krewes have grown, evolved, disappeared, fought, and competed to put on elaborate balls, and create theatrical and even satirical parade contributions.

Time for the Parades

The main thing to understand about the Mardi Gras festival is that it isn’t just one day. This is a multi-week event that, although interrupted by this year’s Super Bowl, takes place in the streets or New Orleans over many days but more than this, that takes place in the homes and amongst the local residents of the city.

It has an infectious excitement and as we make our way to the parade route for tonight’s festival, it is easy to get lost in the cacaphony of colour and noise.

Photo by Paul Mannix, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Paul Mannix, Licensed under CC.

There are two Krewes parading tonight; first up is the Krewe of Ancient Druids, an order that adheres to strict principles of secrecy, and following them is the Mystic Krewe of Nyx – an all-female Krewe. Both are relatively new Krewes (especially compared to some – even the Knights of Sparta started in 1950 and they’re considered middle-aged).

Both these Krewes are following the same route, which is fortunate for us – we can find a good spot along the parade route and watch the fun as it noisily passes by.

For an at-home experience of the sounds of the Mardi Gras parade, check out this album.

 Travel Tip for Mardi Gras in New Orleans:

  • Stick to routes that you know, with plenty of people around. It is mostly safe but don’t wander off into places you’re not familiar with.
  • A common con is being sold a ticket to Mardi Gras. No tickets are needed for the street parades
  • Unless you’re up for that sort of thing, avoid Bourbon Street. There are no parades through that area of town, and it is largely filled with drunk and silly tourists.

So, what’s the deal with people flashing?

“People throw beads down to women and men who are flashing”

As New Orleans local Laura Martone explains in this interview on Gadling, Throws, which we mentioned earlier, attain a kind of cult status during the Mardi Gras season. Even though they’re only cheap plastic (except for the coveted Coconut) they become an object of desire, and, in a frequently inebriated state, you’ll find many tourists flashing Krewes and people on balconies to win more throw trophies. Technically, it’s illegal, and keep in mind that if you’re going to flash, chances are high your photo will end up online.

Photo by Larry Johnson, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Larry Johnson, Licensed under CC.

What are your tips for enjoying the Mardi Gras festival season in New Orleans? Tell us in the comments.

Super Bowl Sunday New Orleans

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

We’re about to find out what makes America’s biggest (and best) celebration even bigger … and bester. This week, New Orleans is hosting two of the most massive events on every American’s calendar – as Super Bowl XLVII touches down on Sunday, and the party flows into the New Orleans Mardi Gras.

Super Bowl XLVII Montage

Super Bowl XLVII. Montage by RMTip21, CC License

Oh yeah – those Super Bowl tickets that can set you back thousands of dollars? We’ve got some for you already, so let’s go!

Don’t worry if you’re new to NFL (or sport, for that matter). The Super Bowl – whether you’re at the stadium in New Orleans, or part of the traditional Super Bowl Sunday celebrations at homes around the USA – is an experience first and a sporting event … well, the sports is probably top 5.


  1. The cultural experience – it’s a party atmosphere across the country
  2. Super Bowl Ads – the most expensive spots of the year, and an opportunity for companies to make a splash
  3. Half Time Show – This year it’s Beyonce! We’re secretly hoping for a wardrobe malfunction
  4. The actual Football match – It’s the running and tackling and stuff in between the ads and the singing
  5. Beer and Nachos – Two finer words were never spoken
Team Cheerleaders

Leading the Cheers! Baltimore Ravens on the left (Photo by Keith Allison) and San Francisco 49ers on the right (Photo by Rajiv Patel, Both CC Licensed)

This year the Super Bowl kicks off at 5.25pm on Sunday afternoon. (Want to see something nerdy? Here’s Google’s history of searches for the phrase “What time does the Super Bowl start?” For two months, every year, it’s one of the most competitive phrases in search engine marketing.)

But the Super Bowl party has already begun when our flight arrives in New Orleans (aka, the Big Easy) on Friday afternoon. You can tell the diehard fans on the streets – they’re already dressed in either the Gold and Purple of the Baltimore Ravens (who won the American Football Conference) or the Gold and Scarlet of the San Francisco 49ers (who won the National Football Conference in an amazing come-from-behind effort – without boring you with all the details, the Super Bowl is essentially a Grand Final between the two divisions of NFL).

Unlike most major cities who place their stadium waaaay out of the way, the Superdome in New Orleans is right in the middle of the business district. That makes it easy enough to get to on Sunday, and also means we don’t have to decide between accommodation close to the Superdome or a hotel closer to The French Quarter (where we plan to celebrate afterwards).

New Orleans Superdome by Night

New Orleans Superdome by Night. Photo by Pat (Cletch) Williams, CC License

We’ll spend Saturday exploring the city. It’s now almost 8 years since Hurricane Katrina devasted this community. Sadly, many people left never to return, but the majority who remain (just like in Christchurch, site of the 2011 Earthquake) encourage you to come to their city and support the ongoing growth. If that means frequenting the clubs and cajun or creole restaurants along Bourbon Street or beside the Mississippi River … then it’s a plan we can support!

Sunday lunchtime arrives, and we’re on a streetcar out to the Superdome. There’s a tension in the air – but it’s not from rivalry (in fact, the coaches of the Ravens and the 49ers this year are … brothers! Mom Harbaugh must be so proud, but I bet she’s glad Thanksgiving is 9 months away). It’s simply the tension of waiting for the game to start – imagine what it must be like inside the rooms for the players involved.

And the Super Bowl Champions are ...

Will the Ravens be Super Bowl Champions again this year? Photo by Keith Allison, CC License

Here are the basics to help you scream along with the die-hard Super Bowl fans:

  • Each team is trying to score a Touchdown by moving the ball into the opponents ‘end zone’. They’re worth 6 points (plus one if they kick the conversion afterwards, which they usually do). Look for the umpires raising both arms above their head – that means it’s a Touchdown and you can go crazy!
  • When you have the ball, you have 4 chances (called downs – as in, First Down, Second Down etc) to move forward by 10 yards. If you can make it through those 10 yards, then your 4 downs begin again.
  • You can do this by running or passing the ball – the quarterback is the most important player, as he receives the ball at the start of each play and decides what to do with it. Usually, the quarterback calls a play BEFOREHAND, so the team know where to run / block etc.
  • A game is made up of 4 x 15-minute quarters. But don’t think that means it lasts for an hour! With breaks between quarters, time-outs, advertisement breaks, umpire discussions, and just general faffing around the Super Bowl normally lasts for about 4 hours.

Want our hot tip just before the players run out onto the field here at the Superdome? We’re confident Coach Harbaugh will bring it home.

Want something more definitive? Here’s the prediction from everydaydreamer (and one-eyed 49ers fan) Nix:”49ers have been consistently improving each season and this is their year to take home the big bowl! Though I reckon is will be close.”

Now pass me some nachos and start yelling…

Inside the Superdome

Inside New Orlean’s Superdome. Photo by David Reber’s Hammer Photography, CC License

Want to go? Need to know!

  • The Super Bowl host rotates from year to year. New Orleans now becomes the most popular host city (tied at 10 with Miami). Next year New Jersey’s MetLife stadium will be the first Super Bowl hosted anywhere near chilly New England.
  • This is the first Super Bowl New Orleans has hosted since Hurricane Katrina, and an opportunity for the Superdome in particular to revitalise its image as a sporting venue not home to so much tragedy in 2005
  • The easiest way to buy tickets is the annual ballot – in fact, given the high resale value, you’d be crazy not to enter the ballot every year even if you have no intention of going yourself. (If your team makes it through, they will also have tickets available the week before the game.)
  • The large gap between game time (1 hour) and game time (4 hours) means NFL can be likened to a game of Chess. Lots of tactical movement you don’t understand, the occasional big play that you do, and far too much time in between (unless you like beer).
  • If you made it this far without liking the football talk, then we reckon you’ll probably love this article by the fabulous Rob Cockerham about the Super Bowl Prank at Super Bowl XLI in Miami !
  • And if you want more Mardi Gras, stick around – we’ll be back here next week!

So is Superbowl Sunday part of your dream holiday? If not, tell us all where you’d rather be this weekend!

Minus 35° Celsius. Time for a swim

By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

Only a couple of days ago it was Minus 35° Celsius in Harbin. (That’s about the same in Fahrenheit – and ridiculously cold whether you speak imperial, metric, or Klingon.)

Naturally, temperatures like that mean only one thing: we’re going for a swim.

Swimming in the river of ice, because you only live once

Apparently, when it is ridiculously cold in China, you go swimming. This is because it ‘feels nice’, and is ‘healthy’.

We didn’t really believe that people would willingly participate in such an obviously mad activity, which involves immersing themselves in water that is just barely this side of being a solid.

And yet – here’s the proof.

We quote from the video;

“people enjoy the way it feels”.

Yeah. No.

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Not actually brave enough to risk losing limbs to frostbite, we’re heading on to a different activity – one that doesn’t involve grievous bodily harm. At least, that’s what we’ve been told.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Looking at that photo we’re not so sure.

We’re off to see some tigers. As we mentioned yesterday, Harbin was originally a Russian city on the edge of Siberia – though it is now (and has been for a long time) China’s northen-most major city. In apparently the largest park for Siberian tigers in the world, you can observe the tigers up close as they wander through a natural environment.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Feeding time is a little bit more confronting, often involving food that isn’t quite as processed as that bacon and egg roll you had for breakfast this morning.

Photo by TaQpets, Licensed under CC.

Photo by TaQpets, Licensed under CC.

This guy just wants to give you a big hug. Sort of.

Mostly hug. Just a tiny little bit of gnawing.

Saint Sophia Cathedral

In another Russian connection, Harbin is also home to the “largest Russian Orthodox church in the east”.

Built from timber, it fell into ruin until a charity drive raised around $1.5 million USD to restore it to its former glory.

Photo by timquijano, Licensed under CC.

Photo by timquijano, Licensed under CC.

More of the Harbin Ice Festival

Although that feeling of wandering around a magical wonderland is not quite as strong during the day, it is still very worthwhile revisiting the Harbin Ice Festival.

In some respects, daylight gives a sober view of the sheer scale of some of these architecture marvels.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

You may also encounter some of the wildlife. This is a local Arctic fox, the wild strain of the infamous domesticated Siberian fox. Sadly Sibfox, the company that sold Siberian foxes as pets, is no longer operating. Happily, there are still some photographs of baby foxes (pups) online!

Photo by Denise Chan, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Denise Chan, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Want to Go? Need to Know!

  • Founded by a Russian citizen of Polish descent (aka the Lord of Alcohol), Harbin beer is one of the most popular beers in China, and possibly also the first.
  • According to Shanghai local Nick – Harbin should technically be spelt Haerbin, as it is pronounced in China.
  • There’s not an enormous amount of English language guide information for the (to use the full name) Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. However, we can point you to Wikipedia for more history and loads more pictures of the incredible sculptures created over the years!.
Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

The memories of those ice towers will (hopefully) last a lot longer than the frostbite! But there’s only just enough time to see them all before tucking in to one last warm dinner of Chinese food. We have an early flight tomorrow from Harbin to Osaka, Japan.

Have you been to Harbin? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!

Hong Kong Days and Harbin Nights

By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

Goodbye Hong Kong

We knew we couldn’t fit even a tenth of what Hong Kong has to offer into two short days, but we gave it our best shot, twice.

But destiny calls, and so we bid Hong Kong farewell – with a very quick hunt for some bargains. Just a quick one.

Insert Flight to Harbin, China

Despite being amongst the ten most populated cities in China, Harbin doesn’t really register that strongly on most people’s travel radar. In the north of China, it doesn’t rank the way that Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Hangzhou do.

Actually founded by the Russians, this city experiences some of the most bitter winters imaginable.

Which doesn’t scream “visit me!”.

But when life gives you devastating cold and frostbite for months and months every year – you make lemonade.

Or in Harbin’s case – you make an Ice Festival.

In the Kingdom of the Frost

With a midday flight from Hong Kong, we don’t properly arrive at our hotel in central Harbin until mid-afternoon. The sun will set in just an hour, and then, my friends, cometh the frost.

Also – the ice slides.

You see – Harbin have turned their possibly disadvantageous winter of freezing cold into one of the most unique festivals in the world. A celebration of all things that chill the bones. Just wandering into the Ice Festival in Harbin is jaw-dropping, and the marvels are everywhere.

Giant slide made out of ice. Check.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Giant palace made out of ice. Check.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Giant weird-looking but ultimately pretty cool things made out of ice.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.


Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Double Check.

Teams of ice sculptors come here to compete. Let’s say that again – people willingly travel to a location where it can be -35° Celsius outside, to build palaces made out of ice with their hands.

You know it has to be entertaining.

History of the Harbin Ice Festival

According to, the festival’s traditions originate in the practice of;

local peasants and fishermen [who] often made and used ice lanterns as jack-lights during the winter months. At that time these were made simply by pouring water into a bucket that was then put out in the open to freeze. It was then gently warmed before the water froze completely so that the bucket-shaped ice could be pulled out. A hole was chiseled in the top and the water remaining inside poured out creating a hollow vessel. A candle was then placed inside resulting in a windproof lantern that gained great popularity in the region around the city.

So we wandered out into the cold

It is these experiences that we should seek to travel for. To marvel at human ingenuity, mixed with more than a small dose of sheer bloody-mindedness. It’s exhilarating, and not just because of the cold.

It is a quite contemplative experience. The sharp precision of the cuts of the ice-blocks (some of them completely clear, like glass) lit up from inside in shocking neon colours…it is a wonderful experience.

Magical, even.

But bloody cold.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

More photos of the Ice Festival, please

See the Fireworks in Sydney on New Year’s Eve

By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

  • 9AM – Grab your picnic food and drinks
  • 11AM – Grab your spot on the Harbour for the fireworks
  • 9PM – Family fireworks show in Sydney Harbour and Darling Harbour
  • 12PM – New Year’s Eve in Sydney! We’re gonna party like it’s 1999!
  • Stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

We’ve made it to Sydney after an amazing road trip through the East coast of Australia. It’s the end of a long, fantastic year of travel and inspiration, and it’s time to let our hair down a little.

Ok, a lot.

We’re in Sydney for New Year’s Eve, and there’s only one show in Sydney that we need to see – the fireworks!

What is it about fireworks that can make grown men and women gasp and gaze into the sky slack-jawed with wonder? Could it be that we feel like we are looking into the universal truth about our origins, or is it just that we like to see pretty colours and things exploding? We don’t know, but maybe after a few champagnes on NYE we’ll have a better answer.

One thing we do know for sure it that we’ll be witness to the best New Year’s Eve fireworks display in the world.

Want proof? Check out this infographic provided by the City of Sydney.

what on sydney? sydney harbour bridge fireworks on new year's eve

Infographic by City of Sydney

Sydney New Year’s Eve Fireworks Facts:

  • Sydney’s NYE fireworks display draws the largest crowd in the world, of approximately 1.5 million people
  • over a billion people watch the Sydney Fireworks on television
  • there are more than 100,000 individual fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve
  • and the whole event is carbon neutral!

source: City of Sydney

The plan for New Year’s Eve in Sydney

The plan is to have a picnic on New Year’s Eve, staking out a spot with an amazing view as early as possible.

There are over 1.5 million people trying to get a great view of the fireworks, remember! So don’t be surprised if you get there late and find all of the good spots taken. With so many people wanting to be dazzled by the spectacular fireworks and the amazing party atmosphere, we need to find a venue, fast!

Luckily, there are many options all around the harbour to see the fireworks, and these include locations that are alcohol free or BYO (bring your own), that have disabled access, and that provide food and beverage available to purchase. It’s an important decision to make, because you don’t want to be uhm-ing and ahh-ing on the morning of New Year’s Eve.

We need to know where to go! So to kickstart your research, we’ve done some of the heavy lifting for you below.

By far the most up-to-date information on New Year’s Eve locations in Sydney is provided by the City of Sydney here.

Sydney NYE Tip:

There are plenty of options to choose from when trying to decide which is the best place to see the fireworks on NYE, but recently, many of the most popular sites have introduced limited access with ticketing. You’ll need to purchase tickets in advance to get into some of the most popular places to New Year’s Eve in Sydney.

Here are 11 amazing places to watch the fireworks in Sydney on New Year’s Eve

Our top spots to watch the fireworks, culled from years of research and personal experience in trying to get as close to the action as possible!

1. Sydney Opera House

  • Address: Bennelong Point, Circular Quay, 2001
  • Capacity: 4,200
  • Open from: 6.00am
  • Open till: 2.00am
  • Entry Fee: FREE

There aren’t very many places that offer vantage points as good as the Sydney Opera House. Just imagine standing underneath those gleaming sails as the sky above you explodes in outrageous colour combinations that only Sydney can pull off. There’s limited capacity here so make sure you get in as early as you can – but you’ll be glad you did.

2. Dawes Point (Tar-Ra) Park

Wondering what to do in Sydney? Why not get an amazing view of the fireworks by showing up early to secure your spot.

Photo by Nigel Howe, looking back to Dawes Point and the Harbour Bridge. CC License

  • Address: Parkland, Dawes Point Park, The Rocks
  • Capacity: 25,000
  • Open from: 12:00am
  • Open till: 12.00am
  • Entry Fee: FREE

The official City of Sydney NYE website says that “there’s only a limited view of the fireworks”. Well, that may be the case if you leave your run too late – but most revellers on the lower end of George Street in the Rocks are having way too much of a good time to pay attention to when the fireworks are about to start. If you make your way down towards the bridge at around 11:30 PM, you might be able to sneak yourself into a good position.

3. East Circular Quay

  • Address: Promenade, Alfred St, Sydney, 2000
  • Capacity: 4,500
  • Entry Fee: FREE

A location that will fill up fast, and can get quite crowded. You’ll have a spectacular view but keep in mind that once capacity is reached, access will be closed and there will only be pass-outs until 10PM.

4. Campbell’s Cove

  • Address: Hickson Rd, Sydney, 2000
  • Capacity: 6,000
  • Open from: Midday
  • Open till: 12.30am
  • Entry Fee: FREE

Campbell’s Cove has got to be one of the best places in Sydney to watch the fireworks. A great view of the Harbour Bridge and directly across from the Opera House, you’re really in the middle of the action here.

5. The Cahill Expressway …what?

The Cahill Expressway – yes, that’s right folks – on a road! Not just any road though – the Cahill Expressway has got to have one of the best views in all off Sydney, taking in both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House from it’s position above Circular Quay. This year, Transport for New South Wales are running a competition to watch the fireworks from the Cahill Expressway, with a family-friendly event planned.

6. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

  • Address: Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney, 2000
  • Capacity: 17,000
  • Open from: 10.00am
  • Open till: 12.30am
  • Entry Fee: FREE

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, located in the Royal Botanic Gardens, is a perennial favourite for watching the fireworks. Do note, however, there is a long, long list of restrictions for this site. These include;

  • All patrons entering the site will be subject to security searches
  • No BYO alcohol
  • No glass
  • No unsealed beverages, including water
  • No pets
  • No plastic sheeting/tarps
  • No tents, pegs or shade structures
  • No barbecues
  • No bicycles
  • No sharp or serrated knives
  • No bean bags, mattresses or inflatable furniture
  • No sparklers
  • No footballs
  • No frisbees

So beware! And leave the frisbee at home this New Year’s Eve.

7. Harbourlights

  • Location: Fleet Steps South, Mrs Macquarie’s Point
  • Open from: 6.30 pm
  • Open Till: 1.00 am

Prepare to bring in the New Year at this 18+ only party.

8. Lawn with a View

  • Location: Bennelong Lawn, Tarpiean Way, Sydney 2000
  • Open from: 7.00 pm
  • Open till: 12.30 am

Don’t forget to bring your own picnic rug to this one! Some other essential NYE picnic items are;

  • Champagne or Australian Sparkling Wine
  • bottled water
  • plenty of food – dips, chips, sausage rolls, olives, oysters, prawns…let your stomach guide you
  • speakers for your iPhone/iPod
  • sunscreen – you’ll need it if you’ve gotten in early to get a good spot. Make sure it’s SPF 30+, and reapply
  • insect repellent
  • playing cards or board games
  • camera and tripod

9. Blues Point Reserve

  • Address: Blues Point Road, McMahons Point, 2060
  • Capacity: 12,000
  • Open from: Midday
  • Open till: 12:30am
  • Entry Fee: FREE

A bit tough to get to if you’re staying in town, but the advantage of distance is perspective – and you’ll have a great perspective of the action.

10. Bradfield Park

  • Address: Alfred Street, North Sydney, 2061
  • Capacity: 50,000
  • Open from: Midday
  • Open till: 12:30am
  • Entry Fee: FREE

This is one of the absolute best locations in Sydney to watch the fireworks, but this is one spot that will fill to capacity pretty quickly. Get in early, and grab your spot.

11. Goat Island

Goat Island – funny name, but it has some spectacular views of the fireworks during New Year’s Eve. It is ticketed but the good news is that your ticket includes the cost of return transport from King Street Wharf in Sydney.

Best Family Friendly Place to Watch the Fireworks

Bradley’s Head

With no alcohol allowed here and bag searches to make sure, plus plenty of entertainment provided for the kids, they’re sure to enjoy the night leading up to the biggest fireworks display in the world.

Taronga Zoo

Roar with the lions as the fireworks light up the sky. This is definitely a family-friendly place to watch the fireworks, and the proceeds from ticket sales go to supporting the Lemurs. Goodness knows they’ve had a tough year!

Best place to camp out for New Year’s Eve

Cockatoo Island

Enjoy three days of camping, with barbeques, asian feasts, and hot breakfasts, as you both settle in to enjoy, and recover from, the fireworks display that’s taking place right above you.

The most expensive place to watch the fireworks?

Blu Bar, The Shangri-La Hotel: Granted, you’ll have an incredible panoramic view of Sydney, but at $600 per person, you’d almost expect to be able to set off your own fireworks!

Make sure you take some amazing New Year’s Eve Photographs

Our tip: don’t forget to bring your tripod! It will help you make sure your photographs are super-sharp. Ken Rockwell gives some more detailed tips on taking photographs of fireworks.

For inspiration, have a look at this gallery (and thank the many talented photographers, who have generously shared their pictures under a Creative Commons License.

Oh, what a night!

So – have you found a pozzy? (as they say in Oz – they mean, “have you found a good location”).

Great. Let’s kick our shoes off, enjoy some amazing food and fantastic wine, and count down to the New Year will all of our friends and family, past and present.

From Jacob and Chris, a big thankyou to everyone who has made our year one of the best ever. We can’t wait to keep travelling with you, next year and beyond.


Road Trip, Sunset Cruise, Joy Flight, Wine Tasting, In Heaven?

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Beach Sunrise - not just blue

Sunrise in Yamba, northern New South Wales. Photo by Mark Wassell, Licensed under Creative Commons

Australia has a reputation for being a big country. It covers 5% of the earth’s surface all by itself, is twice the size of India (but with just 2% of the population), and is the only country that is coterminous with a continent (we like big words).

Australians also have an infatuation with ‘bigness’, and no Australian road trip is complete without visiting at least some of these … attractions. As we continue our drive down the east coast, we bypass the Big Prawn in Ballina but make sure to stop at the unmissable icon that is Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana.

The Big Banana

Australia’s Big Banana, in Coffs Harbour. Picture by Adam. Licensed under Creative Commons

Since it opened in December 1964, the site has grown into a theme park of sorts and the Big Banana itself has featured on an Australian stamp!. We’re happy to settle for a walk-through the icon, a photo in front, and a banana split (what else?!) in the cafe.

Friday afternoon we arrive at tonight’s pitstop, the beach-side town of Port Macquarie. We’ve missed the May-November whale watching season, but there’s always time to grab a cold drink and enjoy a 90 minute sunset cruise with Port Venture Cruises.

Sunset over the water

Sunset in Port Macquarie, NSW Australia. Photo by Eugene Regis, Licensed under Creative Commons

Saturday morning dawns, and while the humidity decreases with every hour we drive further south, it’s still warm enough to justify an early morning swim before we jump in the car. They call it the Pacific Highway for a reason, as the Pacific Ocean is never too far away.

Until, that is, we turn inland, headed for the regional town of Cessnock. After a few days of relaxation by the water, it’s time to amp up the adrenaline again, and we have just the experience: a 35 minute joyflight in aboard a Nanchang Warbird!

Joyflight - joy?

Joyflight in a 1957 Nanchang Warbird. Picture Copyright Freeman X Experience

The angry flying dragon on the side of the plane speaks to the power the engine creates, as we find ourselves alternating between enjoying the 360 degree cockpit views and feeling the g-forces in manoeuvres at almost 400km/h (250mph). And just when you think you’ve got the hang of this, wham, the canopy opens! It’s intentional – so we can say we truly “felt the wind in our hair” as we zoomed above Newcastle.

Wine Barrel Hunter Valley

Wine Tasting. Photo by Wendy Harman, Licensed under Creative Commons

We’ve earned our drinks on Saturday night, and the town of Cessnock (like all good Australian country towns) offers plenty of local pubs to choose from. We’re really looking forward to Sunday morning, however; Cessnock is the heart of the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s premier wine producing regions.

So from a heady plane flight yesterday to the heady flavours of a good Hunter Valley red wine – and as a sensible precaution, we’re taking a tour and letting someone else do the driving as we explore 5 of the regions 25+ vineyards … plus a cheese shop and some chocolate after lunch.

Two weeks ago it was Viennese Gluhwein, and here we are drinking a room temperature red wine under the Australian sun. How do you explore a big country? One unique experience at a time.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • The Big Pineapple in Queensland is another icon, though the ‘road trip tourist attraction’ is sadly dying in an era of discount airlines
  • Port Macquarie is a popular stop on the east coast Australia road trip, neatly breaking up the distance between Brisbane and Sydney. A longer alternative is to head inland, via towns like Tamworth, Dubbo, and Bathurst
  • Whale-watching season along Australia’s east coast runs from mid-May to mid-November, but there are never any guarantees even during the August-September peak period
  • 20 minute flights are also available from Cessnock, and there are a range of planes and experiences all around Australia
  • Australia’s 3 best wine regions are Margaret River (Western Australia), the Barossa Valley (South Australia), and the Hunter Valley (New South Wales)

Agree or disagree with our east coast Australia road trip suggestions? Want to recommend a winery elsewhere in Australia? Let us know in the comments below.

Let’s Surf Byron Now, Everybody’s Learning How…

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Learn to surf to be like this guy

Surfs up! Photo by Sander van Dijk, Licensed under Creative Commons

Nothing cures a Christmas hangover like an early morning swim in the ocean, so when we say farewell to Cabarita Beach in Australia we do so with clear heads full of beach Christmas memories.

We’ve hired a car, as we continue the self-drive exploration of Australia’s east coast, led by our local guide (and everydaydream co-founder) Jacob. There are almost 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) between the cities of Brisbane and Sydney – that’s the distance between Paris and Prague (but with far less Germany along the way).

Today is a much shorter stretch of that road, the drive from Cabarita Beach to Byron Bay. Byron, as it’s more commonly called, is Australia’s eastern-most point, home to an iconic light-house, several surf beaches, and a range of cultural events including the annual easter Blues and Roots festival.

The Lighthouse at the End of the World

Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia’s eastern-most point. Photo by thinboyfatter, Licensed under Creative Commons

We arrive about 11am, and the walk up to the lighthouse is our first destination. Construction began here in 1899, cost £10,042 (those are Australian Pounds; the Aussie dollar wasn’t born until St Valentine’s Day, 1966), and featured an eight-ton French-made optical lens. The lighthouse is still active, and also includes a permanent red light that shines on the nearby Julian Rocks, more famous today as a dive spot than for shipwrecks.

Not in Rome

When in Rome. Photo by Taki Lau, CC License

Obligatory “eastern most” photos taken, there’s a few moments to look out over the ocean and reflect that the expanse of the Pacific stretches here for 11,500 kilometres. Head out in a straight line, and the next land mass you will find is Chile, South America.

Lunch is a casual affair at the Beach Hotel. “Top Pub” to the locals, and situated in the middle of town overlooking Main Beach, it’s theorised that every backpacker who’s been to Byron has enjoyed a beer here, and the chips aren’t bad either.

And then we’re off down to Belongil Beach to learn how to surf with Black Dog Surfing. The basics of surfing seem simple as we run through them on the sand: dangle your feet over the back, pop yourself up with intent in one, quick movement, and then hold your balance.

Best Learn to Surf School in Australia, Byron Bay

Learn to Surf in Byron Bay, Australia. You won’t be the only one! Photo by Viajar24h, Licensed under Creative Commons

The only things to do in Byron Bay

Things to do in Byron Bay. Photo by, CC License

Sun set, Byron style. Photo by Aidan-Sally, CC License

Sun set, Byron style. Photo by Aidan-Sally, CC License

Actually mastering this while the waves are crashing down around you is a different matter! Thankfully, in this heat, nobody’s complaining about constantly being dumped into the cool blue water. And by the end of our 3.5 hour lesson, we’ve all managed to get upright a couple of times – nothing to challenge local(ish) boy and new surfing world champion Joel Parkinson, but enough to ensure we will leave Australia with some experience of this national obsession.

You can – and many people do – spend an entire holiday in this town. Our afternoon surf lesson is a start – there are even surf schools offering 3 month long intensives, until even the goofy foot can hang ten. For us though, there are other towns further south as we continue toward Australia’s largest city.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Tourists make this trip on wildly varying budgets. One of the cheapest ways to do it is to rent a camper van – transport and accommodation in one expense. Wicked camper vans may not be the cleanest, but they sure are the funniest
  • A goofy foot is actually just a left handed surfer, so it’s not as insulting as it seems
  • Parko is actually a Coolie boy – closer to Cabarita than Byron, but local to Byron when compared with Vienna and Oman
  • Byron Bay hosts the Blues and Roots ‘Bluesfest’ festival in easter, and Splendour in the Grass in July. Different styles of music fans will have their preference; local farmers welcome both because it seems rain is guaranteed every time
  • The Pacific Highway runs down Australia’s east coast, and is a reliable road, although popularity (especially over Christmas) makes it Australia’s deadliest highway – drive safe

Are you a grommit, goofy foot, or newly crowned world champion? Share your surfing tips (or Australian coastline experiences) in the comments below.