Celebrate Australia Day in Sydney
Some of the best swimmers in the world will power through the azure waters
We know Sydney better than anyone, so we’ve used our expert local knowledge to round up a list of eight top things to see and do on Australia Day, which falls on Wednesday, 26th January, and is one of the top events in Sydney. You’ll find things happening right across the city, but for now we’ve focussed on the area in and around Sydney and Darling Harbour, where the best celebrations take place.
Body Science Great Australian Swim (7.30 – 11.30am)
This legendary swim, held right on the doorstep of the Sydney Opera House at Farm Cove, will mark the zenith of the Great Australian Swim Series. The inaugural competition sees contestants take the plunge into three stretches of ocean along Australia’s east coast (the previous two were held in Brisbane and the Gold Coast) and splash it out for victory in the various races on offer. The main event is the 2.5 kilometre swim, though there are plenty more to choose from, ranging from a 300m contest for children to an elite race, where some of the best swimmers in the world will power through the azure waters, wowing the crowds.
Ferrython (11am - midday)
Always a firm favourite, the Ferrython is a boat race with a difference. Sydney’s famous gold and green ferries will battle it out over a course that starts at Circular Quay, whips round Shark Island and finishes under the magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each year throngs of picnicking spectators line the harbour foreshores, cheering on the colourful vessels as they carve through the water, making this a classic Australia Day event. Make sure you arrive early to secure a good spot.
Best Dressed Vessels Competition (12.15 - 1.30pm)
The Best Dressed Vessels Competition pretty much does what it says on the tin, so have your cameras at the ready – it’s not often you can witness the boating equivalent to a catwalk. Tour boats, yachts, barges and ferries will flaunt through the harbour, competing for various accolades, including Best Dressed Small Boat, Most Original Theme and Best Flag Display, for $500 cash prizes. The colourful parade will be headed up with spectacular tall ships, and anyone with felt-tips and a boat can join in.
RAAF Aerial Display and Red Berets’ Parachute Splash (2 - 3pm)
If we could divert your attention to the skies for a moment, the RAAF will be essentially showing off come 2pm – massively, you understand – and in the process causing jaws to drop all over Sydney. The aerial display is arguably the greatest spectacle of the day, and with good reason. You’ll hear them long before they arrive so there’s no excuse for missing out. After the formational planes have dived and swooped everyone into stunned silence, the Red Berets, from the Army Parachute Training School, will put their training into practice, finishing up (hopefully) in Farm Cove, where (hopefully) no exceptionally slow swimmers attempted the earlier races.
Australia Day Regatta (1.15 - 6pm)
No list of Australia Day festivities would be complete without this, the oldest continuous event to grace the anniversary (apart from substantial lager consumption of course). Cruising into its 175th year, the Australia Day Regatta will see boats ranging from tiny skiffs to immense yachts sailing through the harbour in a celebration of all things maritime. This year there will be a special event for classic yachts, with a trophy awarded to the winner.
Sydney Ports Jazz on the Water Concert (4 - 9pm)
It’s time to kick back now and soak up the soothing rhythms of the Sydney Ports Jazz on the Water concert, which will be held in Pyrmont Park, close to Darling Harbour. And before you ask… yes, there will be a bar. Here’s the line-up:
4 - 5pm George Washingmachine and the Wringers; 5 - 6.30pm Vince Jones Band; 6.30 - 8pm Ray Beadle’s Big Blues Band; 8 - 8.05pm announcement of the winners of the Best Dressed Vessel Competition (see above for more info); 8.05 - 9.30pm James Morrison’s Motown Show .
Australia Day Spectacular: laser and fireworks display (7 - 9pm)
You may wonder if New Year came late this year (or remarkably early) as the dark skies above Darling Harbour burst into showers of glittery colour, but this is all part of the fun. The laser and fireworks display is possibly the most anticipated event of the day, with hoards of eager spectators thronging the waterfront as a seemingly endless succession of fireworks career into the night. And if by some feat of extraordinary scepticism you were still wondering if Sydney was the right choice for Australia Day, this will seal the deal.
Cruising the Harbour (all day, all night)
In keeping with the theme of the day, we’ve saved the best for last: a Sydney Harbour cruise.
Put simply, there is no better way to experience Australia Day than chugging through the country’s most famous harbour with unrivalled views of the country’s most iconic sights, which (you hardly need reminding) include the stupendously glamorous Opera House, the strikingly grand Harbour Bridge and the sheer magnificence of the city skyline.
Right, enough of the superlatives, here’s some practical info to get you started. Drawing on our own extensive (and very fortunate) experience, we’ve chosen three tour boats that we think offer the best deal in the following categories…
(Follow the links for further information)
Comfort: Constellation Cruises. The largest and most luxurious catamaran on offer…
Style: Sydney Harbour Tall Ships. Set sail in unbeatable style…
Partying: Stars Cruising Nightclub. Dance the night away…