Bear Essentials 28

18 February 2024 - 3 March 2024

Welcome to Sydney!

Public Transport

Transport in Sydney

Sydney's public transport is pretty good, especially in the city and inner west, where most of the Bear Essentials festivities will take place. You'll have no problem getting to and from all of the Bear Essentials venues using public transport.


Sydney has a transit fare system called "Opal". You can use any Visa, MasterCard or American Express card as a ticket on any of Sydney's public transport options- you don't have to buy a special Opal card if you don't want to. If you don't want to use a credit or debit card, you can buy Opal cards from vending machines at Train stations, or from some convenience stores.

Using a Credit/Debit Card as a ticket

To use your credit/debit card as a ticket, it needs to have a chip and have contactless payment enabled. If you haven't used contactless payment before, we advise checking with your bank that your card has this feature. Magnetic stripe cards can also be used to purchase tickets or add value to an Opal card at the Opal machine at all train stations, but can't be used for on-board payment. Apple Pay/Google Wallet/Samsung Pay count as contactless payment methods and can be used to tap on/off if your phone or watch supports it.

To pay for your fare, you touch your card or device to the Opal reader at the entrance to train stations and ferry terminals, on the platform on Light Rail, or immediately inside the front doors of a bus. When you arrive at your destination, tap your card again on the Opal card reader to complete your trip.

It's important that you use the same card when touching on and off- Opal compares your start and end location, and charges the appropriate fare for the distance covered. If you forget to touch off, you will be charged the maximum distance. If you touch off with a different card, then both cards will be charged the maximum.

Note that multiple devices linked to the same financial account (e.g. a smart watch, or phone, or credit card), all count as separate Opal cards. When tapping on and off you should use the same payment method (i.e. use your card for both taps OR your watch for both taps). Do not mix payment devices.

It is recommended to check whether your bank charges international transaction fees per transaction prior to using the Opal system. Opal will charge your card AUD $1 every time you touch on or off, and then at the end of each day debit your account for any difference between that and the actual fares accrued. If your bank charges you a fee per transaction, it may be more cost effective to invest in a separate Opal card.


If you don't know your way to or from a venue, Google Maps and Apple Maps are both pretty good at routing via public transport. All the event pages on this site have a link to Google Maps, so you can just click on them and then get directions via public transport.

Hours of Operation

One slightly less convenient part of Sydney's transport is that it's not 24-hour. Trains, Ferries and Light Rail all close around midnight until 5am, while buses are severely reduced, with only a few key services running. So if you're out partying, keep going until they start again! If you really want to go home, then there are taxis and ride-shares, but be aware there is an extra charge on late-night cabs. If you want to walk home, Sydney is a safe city by world standards, but be sensible and cautious!

Sydney’s Neighbourhoods

A rough guide to Sydney

Sydney has two main “gaybourhoods”, the old, centred around Taylor Square in Darlinghurst, and the new, centred around King Street in Newtown. Most of the Bear Essentials and Mardi Gras events take place in these two areas, known as the Inner East and Inner West of Sydney. They’re quite gay friendly. Between these two areas lies the Central Business District, or CBD. This is the corporate centre of Sydney, and while it is busy during business hours, there isn’t much nightlife here.

Suburbs outside the “gaybourhoods” in Sydney are less LGBTQIA+ friendly, but not excessively so. You may get some strange looks in these areas, but anything more unpleasant is unlikely.


If you’re looking for accommodation during Mardi Gras and Bear Essentials, you’re likely to find the most convenient and economical places to stay near Central train station. There’s lots of hotels and hostels in this area, of varying quality and price, and the location means it’s easy to get to anywhere in Sydney and the surrounds- including the Bear Essentials events, as well as the tourist hotspots.

If you’re looking for something more luxurious, the large hotels all have a presence in the CBD, and there are plenty of hotels with beautiful views around the various waterfront areas, such as Darling Harbour, The Rocks, and Circular Quay, and these have easy access to the tourist hotspots. Note that these hotels aren’t as close to the events, so if you want to get home quickly afterwards, you might want to consider elsewhere.

There is also lots of accommodation near to other tourist hotspots such as Bondi Beach, however these are a fair distance from the city and the Mardi Gras events, so you’ll find you have a bit of a commute.

There are lots of small private B&Bs in Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, as well as around Newtown and Enmore. These will be much more expensive, and will book out well in advance of Mardi Gras, but they offer a premium experience.

To summarise- if you’re planning on attending a lot of events, get a hotel near one of the transport hubs such as Central station, to make getting around much quicker and easier. If you’re planning a more ‘touristy’ experience, get accommodation near the waterfronts, such as Darling Harbour, Bondi or Circular Quay. If you’re wanting a relaxed Sydney experience, then stay deep in one of the gaybourhoods – Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Enmore, Newtown or Erskineville.

Airport Transport

Getting to and from the airport

Sydney Airport is fairly close to the city, and is easy to get to via a number of methods. Note that the airport is divided into two halves- domestic and international. Most of this information is about the international terminal.


The easiest is to just get a taxi from the taxi rank outside the arrivals hall. It's also usually the most expensive. Note that the airport charges taxis a fee of $5.45, and this will be added to your fare. A cab to the city is about $45-50 if traffic is light.

Note that some taxi-drivers may offer you a "flat rate" taxi fare, or ask that you pay up-front. This is a scam, and you should not accept. Don't get in the cab, and report the driver to the attendant at the airport taxi rank.


You can also get a ride-share (Uber, Ola, etc.) from the airport. There's a special area for ride-share pickups- Just follow the signs for the Priority Pickup area. It's a little bit further away from the terminal than the taxi rank, but ride-shares are usually the same price or lower than a taxi, and provide a significantly better service.


There are train stations at both terminals that can get you in to the city very quickly, especially if there's a lot of traffic. There is a special "airport station access fee", currently $17 per person, that will be charged to your Opal or credit card if you use the airport stations, on top of the normal distance-based fare. This means that a taxi or ride-share might actually be cheaper if you're travelling with other people, or not going far from the airport. The train is probably your best option if you're going a longer distance, or are solo travelling.

The station closest to Oxford Street is Museum Station, and it is on the same line as the airport, so you won't need to change trains. If you're going to Newtown, then you will need to change trains at Central to the Inner West line.

If you're connecting between the domestic and international terminals, your airline will often (but not always) give you a pass for the train between the terminals. Some airlines run a shuttle bus instead, so check with your airline.

Be aware the Airport stations are on a normal train line used to commute from the suburbs to the city, so if you're travelling at peak commuting hours, the train will likely be very crowded with people on their way to or from work. Outside peak hours the train usually has plenty of space.

If you're feeling adventurous or budget conscious, you can avoid the station fee by getting the 420 bus or the 350 bus to Mascot station and get the train from there. Mascot station is the first station on the line outside the airport, and it doesn't attract the fee. The station is also walking distance from the domestic terminal, but it may be a litte bit far to walk from the international terminal.


There is only one public bus route that goes through the international airport- the 420 between Burwood and Mascot. If you're staying somewhere near this route, or on a train line that it connects with, then this will be your best option, since it avoids the need to have to go to Central station to change trains. You can also use it to get between the international and domestic terminals, if your airline hasn't provided a connection for you.

If you're travelling via the domestic airport, there's a second bus route, the 350 between Bondi Junction and the domestic airport. This doesn't go to the international airport, but winds its way through several of Sydney's eastern suburbs, including Mascot, Maroubra, Coogee, Clovelly, Waverley, and Bondi Junction.

Walking & Cycling

Both terminals are pedestrian and bicycle accessible, however it's mostly designed for commuting airport workers rather than travellers- so there's not much signposting, and the paths are often narrow. If it's a nice sunny day and you're not exhausted from your flight, you can walk from the international terminal to Wolli Creek station in about 30 minutes, and the route will take you through some local parks and the Wolli Creek downtown which has a few cafés and shops. The domestic terminal is about a 15 minute walk from Mascot station, in the other direction. The domestic and international terminals are about a 40 minute walk apart, as you need to go all the way around the outside of the airport.

Points of Cultural Difference

Don't Get Shocked!

Australians are a friendly bunch, and Harbour City Bears even more so! But there are some traps that tourists can fall into, where Australia does things a little bit differently.

Business and Daily Life


Tipping is not expected or necessary, however if someone has been particularly helpful or kind, feel free to tip.

Tipping can be a somewhat controversial topic, as people are keen to reward staff for excellent service, but also want to avoid what happened in the U.S.A.: unscrupulous business owners substituting tipping for actually paying their staff decently.

Some businesses have "service charges" on weekends and public holidays. While this legal and is meant to cover paying staff more on weekends. It must be clearly posted both outside the venue and on the menus. Generally a business having this sort of service charge is a sign that the restaurant is a tourist trap and/or run by an unethical owner who's exploiting their employees, so you should probably avoid them if you see this.

Credit and Debit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere, even in small shops & cafés. Very few places won't accept cards, and will always have it prominently posted if they don't.

It's legal for businesses to pass on the costs of credit card processing to their customers, and many smaller businesses do so. You may see a small (1% or 2%) charge if you pay with a credit card, or they may refuse to take cards for very small amounts. Covid social distancing has greatly reduced this trend, and nearly every business will accept cards as the preferred option for any amount, and some businesses will only accept electronic payment, no cash. Harbour City Bears is one of those organisations- we don't take cash for any payments.


All prices include any taxes, except for the credit card & service charges discussed before. The price on the label is the price you will pay. Your receipt will also indicate the GST you paid, which you might be able to claim back at the airport when you leave the country using the Tourist Refund Scheme.

Language Differences

This is mostly for the American visitors, since you use words differently to us! These are a few that have caused active confusion in the past.

Entrée: The entrée is the appetiser at the start of the meal, not the main meal. So if you ask for an entrée sized dish, you'll get a smaller version, not a bigger one.

Fanny: This is slang for vagina- not butt.

Ground vs First Floor: The street level of a building is the "Ground" floor, while the next level up from that is "Level 1". i.e. The "First Floor" is the first one off the ground level, not the ground level itself. Elevators usually have the ground floor marked with a "G" on the button. Buildings made for visitors, such as hotels, will usually have the exit level marked, or marked as "0" rather than "G" to avoid confusion. So if a hot bear says he'll meet you on the first floor, go upstairs!

Root: A (slightly trashy) way to say to have sex. If someone offers a root, he doesn't mean a carrot.

V.I.P. Lounge: A gambling den, usually attached to a bar. There will be poker (fruit/slot) machines, sports-betting, and despair. Recent changes to the law mean that they aren't allowed to have any signage indicating gambling at all, but if you see a mysteriously unlabelled doorway next to a bar, that's what that is.

Yeah, nah: It's common to acknowledge the question was heard, then immediately answer it, which leads to this confusing phrase. For an example when asked: "Do you want to leave the party?", "Yeah, nah." means "Yes I heard you, and no, I don't want to." The tone of this is important, as it may be friendly or dismissive, depending on tone.



Australia has a reputation for dangerous wildlife, but there's not much of that in the city. Most of the "famous" dangerous animals live in the tropical areas of Australia, and aren't found around Sydney. Just don't touch any unidentified bugs or sea creatures, or put your appendages in any sketchy-looking holes, and you'll be fine.

Relatedly, most wildlife is protected, so you can't legally cuddle a Koala in NSW. Touch all the bears you want, though. (With their consent, of course.)

Walking at Night

Sydney is a very safe city, and you probably won't have a problem walking at night, especially if you're with friends. During the Mardi Gras party season there will likely be lots more people around, although there may also be a lot more drunken people around too. Exercise common-sense precautions and you'll be fine!


Most taxi drivers are honest and helpful, however there are some less honest drivers who will attempt to take advantage of visitors.

Taxis are required to run the meter for all trips, and the meter must be visible to you while it is running. If the driver tries to offer you a set price, or asks you to pay first, they are likely trying to scam you.

Once you're in the taxi, the driver is required to take you to your destination, unless you're behaving badly. Sometimes drivers will ask you where you're going before you get in- resist the urge to answer until after you're in the taxi, otherwise they might drive off without you. This usually happens later at night when the driver is nearing the time to go home, and they don't want to take a fare to the other side of the city, or to a location where they won't be able to get a fare back.

Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll

Nude Beaches

Topless bathing is fine for all genders at all beaches, however female-presenting people are usually expected to cover their breasts once off the sand.

Nudity is not normally permitted on beaches unless signed. Note that we're at Little Congwong and NOT Congwong Beach main (check Google Maps!). Many locals dare to bare at Little Congwong. Our beach days are clothing-optional, but technically nudity is not allowed on Little Congwong Beach, so in the unlikely event police arrive, you may be fined. Obelisk beach however, is a fully-legal nude beach so you can take it all off without fear. (Except the fear of sunburn!)

The other nude beaches in Sydney are: Lady Bay Beach, Cobblers Beach, Werrong Beach and Samurai Beach.

The sun can be a lot more intense in Australia than in Europe or North America. It is critically important that you wear SPF 50+ sunscreen to the beach. If you're light-skinned you will burn in under 10 minutes without sunscreen, and blister in under 20, and that will ruin the rest of Bear Essentials for you. Darker-skinned bears have a bit longer, but should still put it on. Harbour City Bears will have free sunscreen available at the beach days if you don't have any, or you can buy some at any supermarket or chemist/pharmacy/drugstore.

Sex in Bars

The NSW government has a policy best described as "one sin at a time", so in most venues that sell alcohol, you can't have sex. So you won't find any backrooms or darkrooms. The venue can receive large fines or lose their liquor license if they're caught allowing hanky-panky, so the security staff can be a little bit zealous in enforcing it. So have fun, but if security separates you and your new friend, then don't get offended!

Sex on Premises

The flip-side of this is sex-on-premises venues. These allow sex, but don't have drinking. Our sauna parties are held at one of these- Sydney City Steam. While they do sell alcoholic drinks, these are only allowed in certain areas of the club, where sex is not permitted. Other SOP venues handle this by not selling drinks at all.

Sex Work & Porn

Sex work is legal in Sydney, but as a visitor you must have the correct visa- you aren't allowed to work at all if you're in the country on a tourist visa (even if you're being paid back home).

Making porn is somewhat of a grey area in NSW. It isn't strictly illegal, but there have been cases where porn producers have been charged with "producing indecent articles". So when you're doing it, use discretion. For more information, refer to the Eros Foundation.


Smoking is forbidden indoors everywhere, and also in specific locations outdoors, such as at all public transport stops and stations, near entrances or air intakes to buildings and near children's playgrounds.

You can't smoke anywhere food is served, indoor or outdoors. This sometimes leads to bars having an area where food is not permitted, so that patrons may smoke.

You also can't smoke at all in Martin Place, Pitt Street Mall, and Sydney Square.


The legal age for drinking is 18. You might be asked to show ID if you're young-looking. An Australian driver's license or a passport from any country are valid ID. Other ID sources are up to the discretion of the person asking, so they may accept your foreign driver's license or ID card, but they may not.

While it's legal to drink in public, there are a lot of areas that have specific restrictions placed on them, especially in the inner city. These are known as "Alcohol Free Zones", and they are signposted, although the signs are not always clearly visible. There are a lot of these zones in the City of Sydney, as well as the Inner West, where our events are being held- so more likely than not, there's no street drinking permitted near our events.


The Australian Government has a somewhat regressive view of drugs. All the usual suspects, including cannabis and party drugs, are still illegal to possess, and could lead to you being deported if caught by the police. Large parties often have a large police presence with sniffer dogs searching people as they enter venues. The Australian Greens political party runs the "Sniff Off" twitter account that can notify you of the location of police and drug dogs.

Even some "softer" drugs such as poppers/amyl are technically illegal to posess as recreational drugs, however these tend to be treated less seriously by the police, leading to confiscation rather than actual arrest.

Sexual Health

While most healthcare in Australia is free for residents, visitors may have to pay, depending on their country of origin.

There are several free and anonymous sexual health clinics in Sydney, that can help you with STI testing, or prescriptions for PREP and HIV medications, if you need them.

ACON is NSW's organisation for community health, inclusion and HIV responses for people of diverse sexualities and genders. They have a huge amount of information and help available via their website.

Another great resource is The Drama Downunder, a service to find information on STI prevention and treatment including for HIV and PREP.

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