Of all the fantastic Pride celebrations around the world, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras tops Pat’s list for the colour, spectacle and outrageous fun that Aussies offer up each year. It all happens in a delightful, gay friendly city, and that combination makes this a trip of a lifetime.
I remember my first Qantas flight into Sydney, and my excitement as our plane passed over the Sydney Opera House and famous Harbour Bridge. I was arriving a week before the big night time parade and all night dance party that are always the highlight events of Mardi Gras. I dropped my bags off at my hotel then headed out to get my bearings. From trendy cafes just off gay-central Oxford Street, I wandered west through downtown to Darling Harbour, then along the water and back inland. This route takes in all the sights of downtown including Circular Quay – with views of docking ferries, sightseeing boats and the Opera House.
But by now after my 14 hour flight with very limited sleep and hours of leisurely sightseeing it was time to check-in at my hotel. After a nap I hit the bars on Oxford Street where the buzz was building from tourists already in town a full week before the parade. It is always so much fun meeting locals and guys from all over the world.
In Sydney there is much to see outside of Mardi Gras, so plan a few days for city highlights if you are visiting this week. During Mardi Gras there are some “official” do-not-miss events. The annual Harbour Party takes place Saturday – a full week before the parade. The setting for this tea dance like party is unbelievable. Imagine basking in the late afternoon sun on a dance floor erected on the grounds of the beautiful Botanical Gardens, right along the water’s edge. Directly across a cove sits the spectacular Sydney Opera House, with the famous Harbour Bridge beyond that. What an awesome experience watching the sun set behind those two iconic structures as you dance with thousands of people from all over the world.
The excitement builds throughout the week as more and more people pour into Sydney and Parade Day approaches. There are queer art and cultural exhibits and shows throughout the week, and fun events like the Drag Races out at Bondi Beach. You have to see it to believe it.
Saturday evening Parade is followed by the all night Party. The buzz and excitement along Oxford Street in the hours before the parade is incredible with hundreds of thousands lining the parade route for hours before the evening parade kicks off just after 8:00PM. Be sure to find a good viewing spot early. I recommend taking advantage of the reserved parade seating; proceeds from the sale of those tickets benefit a local AIDS organization.
I’m sure you have all seen clips of the parade – but it is so colourful, wild and exciting to view in person. The effort the members of community groups put into the parade is truly amazing. No marching with banners and signs – these people spend hours practicing routines in the weeks leading up to the parade. Many are in matching costumes doing wild dance steps in unison as they work their way along the parade route to the deafening cheers of those watching. The bright spotlights shine on all the colourful costumes and floats. Fireworks lit from the tops of buildings make for incredible visuals.
As the parade ends, the party begins at the old Sydney Fairgrounds. Over 20,000 people dance the night away to the beats generated by some of the biggest DJ’s in the world. Performances throughout the evening from surprise stars in past years have included Kylie Minogue, Cyndi Lauper, Olivia Newton John, and George Michael. At my first Mardi Gras party Chaka Khan and The Village People closed the party at around 10:00AM Sunday morning. What a night! Many keep going with recovery parties starting up in the dance clubs at about the time the big dance party shuts down on Sunday morning.
It really is so much fun! There are many beautiful places you should also include with any trip to Australia, and i will write about these in an upcoming issue. If you have a chance to go to Sydney for Mardi Gras – do it! It will be one of the highlight trips of your life.
Pat’s Long Haul Flight Tips for a great Mardi Gras
1. It’s a 14 hour flight from North East America, and with time zone changes you arrive early morning before check-in. Store your bags at the hotel, then explore your surrounding neighbourhood. This gives you a chance to get your bearings, stretch out your limbs, and clear your sleep-deprived brain.
2. Check into your hotel early afternoon and take a nap after you unpack. Then begin your city adventure refreshed. But don’t over-indulge and make your first night an early one so you can catch up on sleep.
3. Take advantage of the reserved parade seating; proceeds from the sale of those tickets benefit a local AIDS organization and you have a great view to enjoy the full parade in the company of new friends.
by Pat Barry on 11/01/2011 in Local Events