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Sydney lights the sky for 2013

A spectacular fireworks display lights the night sky over Sydney Harbor to bring in the year 2013.

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WE WERE told we could watch the New Year's Eve fireworks on our smartphones, tablets and TVs, but a population larger than Adelaide's camped for hours beside Sydney Harbour to see the real thing.

The god of pyrotechnics rewarded their efforts.

At 11.59 pm the city's fireworks director Fortunato Foti was perched on a platform atop the Harbour Bridge. His finger hovered over a button.

A cloudless Sydney sky exploded with 25,000 shooting comets.

A cloudless Sydney sky exploded with 25,000 shooting comets. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Mr Foti paused a moment, surveyed the black sky, then detonated several tonnes of fireworks.

A cloudless Sydney sky exploded with 25,000 shooting comets. Smoke clouds showered coloured raindrops, which paused mid-flight in the shapes of birds and bees and human body parts. Sparks hung in the air like ginger dreadlocks and others shot to dizzying heights and fizzled without a bang.

The crowd of about 1.6 million that massed around Sydney Harbour was larger than the usual gatherings in Paris, London, Berlin and New York, said the City of Sydney.

Mrs Macquaries Chair reached its capacity of 17,000 several hours before sunset.

Mrs Macquaries Chair reached its capacity of 17,000 several hours before sunset. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Prime viewing spots around the harbour were snaffled early. Thousands camped on blankets and under tents at parks in the Domain, Dover Heights, Blues Point and Balmain East.

Hundreds staked out positions beside the Opera House and held umbrellas all day to ward off the sun. Families and groups of friends took toilet breaks in shifts to avoid losing their water views.

Mrs Macquaries Chair reached its capacity of 17,000 several hours before sunset. Some had reportedly queued for 23 hours.

Midnight fireworks display from Mrs Macquarie Point. Click for more photos

Sydney celebrates New Year's Eve

Midnight fireworks display from Mrs Macquarie Point. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Those who missed harbour seats, or chose not to wait for them, could find plenty of fireworks elsewhere.

Children fired crackers over backyard fences and families gathered in parks for more organised displays.

At Campbelltown's Koshigaya Park, the council had organised a five and a half hour musical production with two rounds of fireworks.

Police said more than 3000 officers were deployed across the city to monitor crowds.

The Assistant Commissioner, Alan Clarke, said more family-friendly vantage points than ever before, additional alcohol-free zones and improved barricading systems had been installed to curb potential dangers.

Seconds before midnight Kylie Minogue pushed the button to launch a countdown and a remix of her song On a Night Like This blared out.

Minogue, who was the creative ambassador for Sydney's New Year's Eve, had designed a firework in the shape of a musical note.

At the end of the show Mr Foti released canon after canon, the bangs following at such short intervals that the colours washed together.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, issued a new year message heavy on policy detail. She mentioned the economy, health and aged care, climate change, the United Nations Security Council, North Korean missiles, global terrorism and Afghanistan.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott prayed for lower taxes and more efficient government.

The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, bid safe partying.

Fitting for a harbour city's New Year's celebrations, boats became a focal point and a source of both joy and anguish.

On the joy side the usual flotilla of about 3000 boats cruised the harbour staking out the best fireworks-viewing positions. Among them sailed a fleet of several dozen tall ships strung with rope lights - a tradition called the Harbour of Light Parade.

But early in the afternoon a cruise liner called Radiance of the Seas raised some influential eyebrows when it anchored just off Point Piper - one of the best positions to view the fireworks and home to many of Sydney's wealthiest residents.

The liner's intentions were innocent - harbour authorities said the ship's captain sought permission to moor in Sydney Harbour to wait out Cyclone Freda that is lashing the Pacific - but eastern suburbs residents were unhappy, posting complaints and photos on social media.

One of the area's most famous residents, Malcolm Turnbull, in response to a concerned Twitter follower, tweeted: ''I wonder what the state government has charged the cruise ship for the spot?''

Lawyer Richard Ackland was one of the first to alert Twitter to the boat's whereabouts, saying: ''Huge cruise ship plonked off Point Piper, blocking expensive views. Sounds of swearing waft across the water.''

But Lauren, a passenger on the liner, said she could not be happier with the pole position.

''Anchoring at Point Piper for tonight! Absolutely amazing! Thankyou cyclone freda!''