SYDNEY: Sydney kicked off New Year celebrations with a dazzling fireworks spectacular, the first in a wave of pyrotechnics to usher in 2014 from Hong Kong to world record-chasing Dubai.
Seven tonnes of explosives lit up Australia’s biggest city, with fireworks shooting off the Opera House for the first time in more than 10 years as part of the December 31 extravaganza, focused on the Harbour Bridge.
“They were absolutely fantastic,” said Murphy Robertson from Denver in the United States after watching the Aus$6 million ($5.4 million) show which attracted some 1.5 million people to harbour vantage points.
“The Opera House was fantastic, but the thing that really got me was the sparks, the golden curtain of sparks going off the bridge.”
A record three fireworks displays took place — at 9pm, 10:30pm and midnight — as part of the show which Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore had promised would be “bigger than ever”, showering colour over Sydney Harbour.
Dubai is hoping to break the Guinness World Record for the largest display, pledging to set off more than 400,000 fireworks. Kuwait set the mark in 2011 with an hour-long blast of 77,282 fireworks.
Tonga, located near the international dateline, was one of the first nations to greet 2014, holding a prayer festival that culminated with a bamboo “cannon” fired into the air.
Antarctica was also among the first places to celebrate 2014. Passengers and crew on a ship awaiting rescue after being stuck for a week in ice rang in the New Year with their specially composed anthem.
Giving a rousing rendition from the top deck of the Akademik Shokalskiy in footage posted on YouTube, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition sang of “having fun doing science in Antarctica”, only to lament in the chorus the “bloody great shame we are still stuck here.”
Cities across Asia will be next to hail the New Year, with Hong Kong boasting its biggest-ever countdown show.
Fireworks will soar from skyscrapers and a one-kilometre line of barges along Victoria Harbour in a “wish upon a star” tourism board show.
In Japan, shoppers were busy buying crabs, tuna sashimi and other delicacies to feast in the New Year, with noodle shops doing an especially brisk trade.
Eating noodles on New Year’s Eve is regarded in Japan as a symbolic act to wish for a long life.
Millions were due to visit shrines and temples through to early morning, paying their first respects of the year and praying for peace for relatives.
However, in areas ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, celebrations were muted.
In Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the November 8 storm, officials were preparing a midnight fireworks display to try to raise spirits, despite nearly 8,000 dead or missing.
Aid agencies are also organising free concerts or distributing food for the traditional New Year’s Eve dinner, an AFP reporter said.
In the ruined farming village of San Isidro, residents are still grappling with the overpowering stench of death as 1,400 corpses stacked in black body bags lay in a field, more than seven weeks after the tragedy.
Seoul will ring in 2014 with a ritual clanging of the city’s 15th-century bronze bell 33 times, reflecting the ancient custom for marking a new year.
In Singapore, people will flock to the financial district for fireworks while thousands of white spheres will be launched to bob on Marina Bay, holding residents’ wishes for 2014.
Jakarta has set up 12 city centre stages for performances to showcase the vast archipelago’s kaleidoscope of cultures.
However, 6,500 police will be out to ensure security amid warnings that extremists in the Muslim-majority nation may target the celebrations, prompting travel warnings from countries including neighbouring Australia.
In Indonesia’s sharia stronghold of Banda Aceh, Islamic police seized thousands of firecrackers and cardboard trumpets after the city administration banned New Year’s Eve celebrations for the first time.
In Mumbai, revellers celebrated a court victory over the local police force, which pushed back closing time in bars and restaurants to 5:00 am instead of 1:30 am.
In Rio de Janeiro, authorities are predicting that 2.3 million people — a third of them tourists — will crowd Copacabana Beach for fireworks and pop music.
Major spectaculars will also light up Moscow’s Red Square, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and central London when Big Ben chimes midnight.
An expected one million revellers will gather in New York to mark the stroke of midnight and the traditional New Year’s Eve ball-drop over Times Square.
Cape Town will have a free concert with fireworks and a 3D tribute to Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5.