In the build-up to my trip to Sydney, I kept a careful eye on the forecast so that I’d know exactly what kind of weather to expect. But when I finally arrived in the city last Saturday I was faced with meteorological conditions that could best be described as Apocalyptic.
Sydney city was shrouded in a thick shroud of white smoke.
Stepping off the Airport Link train in the central city and leaving the cool confines of my air-conditioning bubble for the first time on Australian soil, I was met not with the usual polluted smell of a big city, but the smoke from a gigantic bonfire.
What in the world is going on? I thought to myself. Have terrorists let off a bomb somewhere? Has the Sydney Tower been destroyed? Is this like that movie The Fog and a giant tentacle is going to rip my face off at any moment?
All around me, no-one seemed terribly concerned about the smoke-filled sky. Although I did notice an unusual commotion as I made my way up Pitt Street; hundreds of young people – many of them dressed in the most outlandish gear I’d ever seen – were queueing around the block.
I walked onward, towards the front of their line, dazed and feeling light-headed from my jet lag and all the smoke in the air. Did my plane crash and I’m actually in purgatory right now? Maybe the smoke in the sky is from the world’s largest marijuana joint and I’m actually high right now?
Oddly, the line led to a comic shop. (I found out later that Saturday 7 May 2016 was Free Comic Book Day.) But what’s that got to do with all the smoke?
At my hotel, I forgot to ask the woman behind the counter about all the smoke. Instead, I dropped off my bag in my room as quickly as I could, before heading down to Circular Quay.
Like all tourists to Sydney, I wanted to check out the amazing views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the iconic Sydney opera House. Well, I almost shouldn’t have bothered. As the sun blazed through the smoky sky, I could barely make out either structure; except up close, they were both lost to the white fog. I’d be better off looking at the photos from my last trip to Sydney, ten years ago.
Manly, too, was shrouded in smoke. Normally one of Sydney’s loveliest beaches, it choked on a hazy smog that I knew just couldn’t be healthy for my lungs.
Sure enough, when I did finally get some free WiFi at a brewbar in Manly (I’m loathe to pay roaming charges), I discovered that authorities had issued a large-scale health alert due to the smoke, which had been caused by a large scale burn-off carried out by the NSW Rural Fire Service in the Blue Mountains.
Thank God I don’t have asthma.