Vivid Festival 2017 kicked off last night and we were there to see what was on offer. We’ve been regulars at this event since its humble beginnings and the popularity of the event grows each year. The festival is running from 26 May until 17 June allowing plenty of evenings for visitors to explore the many precincts it now covers, including Chatswood, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Martin Place, Darling Harbour, Barangaroo and Taronga Zoo (a ticketed event).
This year the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens are our picks for the must-see areas. I was sad to find my usual favourite, the projection on Customs House, was missing this year but I guess the organisers are keen to keep the festival fresh. Access and inclusion has improved in recent years with clear accessible signage, dedicated accessible viewing areas, mini bus drop off and pick up zones, audio descriptions of light installations and Auslan interpreted events. It’s great to see this continuing this year. Organisers are obviously trying to streamline pedestrian traffic flow with people only able to walk in one direction around many areas including the Royal Botanic Gardens. While we applaud this effort, we did find some challenges which I’ll explain further down.
We were staying in Darling Harbour for the night (I’ll review the hotel this week) so we drove into the city early and caught a ferry from King Street Wharf to Circular Quay. This was a lovely way to see some of the light festival from the water. Arriving at Circular Quay we made our way to the accessible viewing area near the Opera House. The walk around was probably the most crowded area of the night but festival organisers have made a good effort of keeping people moving in one direction with a low fence in between keeping those going to the Opera House on one side and those returning to Circular Quay on the other. It seemed to help with the flow.
It was nice to have volunteers approach us to offer the opportunity to view the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge from the accessible viewing area. It will be good for those who may not know about it. The area was more crowded than previous years with lots of families with prams using the area. I did mention to a volunteer it seemed that some were using it as a picnic spot for the night and that was making it more crowded than it should be. I hope this is addressed because although I understand young children also find it hard to see around the many people trying to get a good view, it’s important this area stays as a place to view the installations easily and not somewhere to set up camp for the night.
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
So far, the installations in the Royal Botanic Gardens are our favourites. There’s a certain child-like whimsy which appealed to me and when I asked the rest of the family, they seconded my vote.
We did find the route which has been chosen a challenge as we had to do the installation trail in one direction which took us up a large hill to exit the Royal Botanic Gardens. Although this helped with the flow of the crowd, it left Hubby pushing BJ’s manual chair up a steep hill. Many of the installations are on the level walkway near the harbour but to exit we had no choice but to go up hill. For power chair users this won’t matter but for others it may prove difficult. The exit is near Macquarie Street also meaning we were taken away from the Harbour precinct so ensure you’ve seen all you want to see around the Harbour before entering the Botanic Gardens as it is a long loop back.
In saying all of that, we thoroughly enjoyed the installations in the gardens.
Walking from the Opera House through the gardens we were greeted by giant sunflowers which turn and tilt welcoming visitors to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
I’ve not heard of the rare Rowi species of New Zealand Kiwi but we saw a couple in the gardens as part of the Birds of Lumos display.
Spreading Life installation – childhood wouldn’t be complete without making a wish on a dandelion and in doing so, spreading hundreds of seeds. This installation captures the delicate moment when a dandelion’s seeds float off and spread through the air; a passage of nature — that shows us that as a flower dies, others are born. We enjoyed the unique interaction this installation offers by inviting visitors to blow on two small light sculptures equipped with sensors. Blowing on the small dandelions activates a bright animation in an adjacent group of larger flowers — the seeds light up and begin to glow in space and a sound simulates their floating away through the air. This is cause and effect at its magical best. There’d be a lot of speech therapists wishing they had something this motivating in their clinics! I remember spending so much time in the early days with BJ and bubbles. It was part of every speech therapy session.
The Waratah is the emblem for our home state, New South Wales. This giant inflatable Waratah light installation interacts with visitors by reacting to sound and movement by changing colour. It’s truly spectacular in size and colour.
When I was a kid I had a set of glass birds which took it in turn to dip back and forwards. As an adult I have no idea why it fascinated me but seeing a sculpture of this last night gave me a good trip down memory lane.
DO NOT PRESS it says, which of course makes everyone, including BJ, want to press the big red button all the more. The reward is worth the risk with the tree nearby coming alive with colour. Each press changes the colours of the tree.
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
The Museum of Contemporary Art is once again the canvas for a light projection which had the crowd mesmerised, many choosing the lawn in front as a spot to have some dinner while watching. Although it is lovely to see close up, I prefer watching it from the Opera House side of the harbour.
VIEWING THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE LIGHT PROJECTIONS
The Sydney Opera House is the jewel of Vivid each year and probably the most photographed attraction. There are plenty of good vantage points to see it but one of the best places is from the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Last year we caught the lift to the top of Terminal to watch it but this year we stayed in the accessible viewing area which is just out front.
Last night it wasn’t busy enough to need to use the accessible viewing area at the Overseas Passenger Terminal but as the festival progresses I’m sure that will change. For unobstructed views (aside from the fence) of the Opera House it’s a great place to go.
Particularly on super busy nights it’s nice to get out of the crowd for a while and have a bit of breathing space.
If you are visiting Vivid use the well thought out accessible viewing areas which are reserved for people with a disability or mobility restrictions.
Hard plastic matting has been laid over grass areas to make access to the installations easier.
Sturdy ramps are in place over gutters to allow access.
If you need a break from the crowds, head to the Cahill Walk. Even the lift ride provides spectacular views of the city. The lift to the Cahill Walk can be found at the Opera House end of the ferry wharves. It’s set back from the harbour, towards the road.
When you get to the top you’ll be rewarded with unobstructed views of Sydney Harbour.
Destination NSW have many resources for people needing information about accessibility and inclusion. These are available online to help you plan your visit. Planning and research is key to a good Vivid experience.
- Visit early on a weekday evening – lights go on at 6pm, it’s great to get into the city well before lights go on and get into a good position to start your trail. In my opinion, Monday night is the secret night to visit. We’ve previously found a night with slight drizzle seems to keep crowd numbers down.
- If you feel overwhelmed by the scope of the event, I suggest choosing a particular area and simply enjoying what it has to offer. It’s impossible to do it all in one night.
- Disabled unisex toilets are available and marked clearly on the accessibility map.
- Take advantage of the unobstructed views in the accessible viewing areas. These are reserved area for visitors using a wheelchair or with mobility requirements.
- If in doubt about access once you are in the city ask one of the many volunteers.
- Taronga Zoo is the best family friendly event and has new installations this year. Ticketed entry ensures crowd numbers are kept down. I wrote about our experience at Taronga Vivid last year here.
MINI BUS DROP OFF/PICK UP ZONES
Driving into the city is not recommended due to the congestion and road closures, however if necessary, please refer to the two drop off / pick up zones noted below (including accessible parking for mini buses from disability services and community groups). These all require prior booking and confirmations.
1. Hickson Rd (near Park Hyatt), Campbell’s Cove
2. Security gatehouse at Sydney Opera House, northern end end of Macquarie Street.
Drop off/ pick up zones are available Monday – Thursday evenings from 5:30-10:30PM. Pre-booked accessible parking for mini buses is only available on Hickson Rd.
You can download mini bus parking request form here.
Thanks to my friend Christine from Adventure Baby for sharing some photos from her experience at Vivid Taronga Zoo last night.
Have we inspired you to go to Vivid? If not, what’s holding you back? Crowds, transport or something else?