Looming over the horizon on the CBD's northwestern fringe is Melbourne's newest attraction, the Southern Star Observation Wheel. Our family kept track of the Wheel's construction as we drove along the Tullamarine Freeway on our way to and from the airport during the last year. There is quite a good view of the Wheel from the freeway and our children oohed and ahhed as they saw all the bits and pieces coming together. There hasn't been very much press surrounding the Wheel's construction or announcing it's completion. We just happened to be in the Docklands precinct one Friday night in November when they were holding the official launch for the Wheel.
Even after the launch was held in late November, the Wheel didn't open to the public until the 2oth of December 2008. When we found out it was open, I decided to check to see if I could find more information about it's operating hours and ticket prices online. A brief search led me to their very informative website http://www.thesouthernstar.com.au/ . All the information you might ever want to know about this glorified Ferris wheel can be found on their page. My personal favourite section of the web page is the "Amazing Facts" section where I found out that the Wheel stands 120m high into the sky or about 40 stories up and it rotates at a speed of 11m per minute. That's just the tip of the iceberg, there is heaps more trivia there and it's probably a good site to visit with the kids before or after you take them on the Wheel. My kids love knowing the details.
After visiting the website and viewing the ticket prices, I was initially put off from visiting. Adult tickets are $29AUD while children are $17AUD. This means a typical family of four (with two adults and two children) would be up for a whopping $92AUD for the 30 minute ride on the Wheel. Both the Handsome Australian and I agreed that the costs were a bit prohibitive and it wasn't something we'd rush to try out. We decided that the next time we had an overseas visitor, we'd take them along to the Wheel and spring for the ride but in the meantime, we'd just admire it from the ground level.
A week or so went by and a family in our neighbourhood went for a ride on the Wheel. When I commented to my neighbour about the extravagant ticket prices, she said the tickets were expensive, but children under 5 years of age are free. This was not something that was clearly noted on their website. Since our children are both under 5, this meant if we chose to go, it would only cost us $58AUD instead of $92AUD. In comparison, it sounded like a bargain.
So we loaded our children up in the car one weekend in January and headed down to the Docklands to check out the Wheel from the inside. True to my neighbour's story, children under 5 were free and our tickets were $58AUD. The ticket lines are at the bottom level of the wheel and once purchased, you travel by escalator to the 1st level where you join the queue for the Wheel.
The Wheel itself doesn't actually stop. It keeps moving, but moves at such a slow rate, that passengers simply walk off when their ride is finished and the new passengers walk on. We were there about midday on a Saturday and there were maybe 10-15 people in front of us in the queue so we didn't have to wait long. Each cabin on the wheel holds about 20 people. We asked one of the employees if the Wheel had busier times and she remarked that it tends to get busier around 6pm heading towards dusk and sunset. Which makes sense as I suppose the views would be more colourful then.
When our turn arrived to board the cabin, we were joined by three others giving our cabin 7 passengers total. The man who guided us into the cabin wished us a "Happy Flight!" and then sealed the doors shut.
The cabins themselves are air conditioned and quite spacious. There is a single bench that sits in the middle of the cabin and floor to ceiling glass on all sides making for excellent viewing. It was also quite easy to take photos from the inside of the cabin and we could walk about freely taking in the view from different perspectives.