Monday, January 26, 2009

Southern Star Observation Wheel

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 . 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.

The views, however, are not really spectacular. There is quite a bit of construction going on in the immediate area around the Wheel and there you simply see a lot of unfinished projects. You can see the City skyline, but it wasn't very impressive in the middle of the day. Perhaps it is better at night with the lights giving it more ambiance, but both the Handsome Australian and I agreed, the Wheel was probably built on the wrong side of the city. We think it would have been better placed on the Eastern/Southeastern side where you might get glimpses of the Yarra River, the MCG, Melbourne Park and a better view of the Dandenong Ranges, etc.

As far as views of Melbourne go, I'd prefer to travel to the top of the Rialto or the Eureka Tower and take advantage of their observation decks. I think the views they offer are more interesting and in addition to the view, they give you some explanation of what you are seeing. In the Southern Star Observation Wheel, you don't learn anything about what is outside the windows. If you were a visitor to Melbourne, I don't think you'd come away with any new knowledge about the city or how things are laid out.

The Southern Star Observation Wheel is an engineering marvel and it's actual physical structure is in my opinion more interesting than any sights you might see while aboard, and you can admire that with your feet firmly planted on the ground.

In the end, I'm glad we went for the ride so we could tick it off the list, but it's not something I'll be returning to do. Our children enjoyed the ride, but thought it was a bit lengthy. 30 minutes is a long time for a 4 year old and a 2 year old. I think they'd have been just as happy with a ride on a normal Ferris wheel.

If you are visiting Melbourne for a few days, I don't think you'll get value for money at the Southern Star Observation Wheel. For my money, I'd visit the more reasonably priced Rialto Observation Deck where your ticket also includes a 20 minute film about Melbourne and I think you'll come away with a much better understanding of the physical geography and layout of this magnificent city.

*At the date of this post, operation of the Southern Star Observation Wheel has been temporarily suspended as several consecutive days of 40 degree Celcius temperatures has buckled some bracing. The Wheel will remain closed until the stucture can be fully inspected and the problems rectified. So please check the website before you go to avoid disappointment. That is, if you're still game!!

1 comment:

Rita said...

Thank you for the in depth report chica. Yeah I agree, I think it is is built on the wrong side of the city. If it is industrial, construction and the western suburbs you are wanting to see then go for it! Maybe I say give it 20 years or so when that surrounding area is more developed and less construction is around (lol I just realised that construction in this city is forever! kinda like New York City :)

Keep up the great work with your writing. I am loving the reviews! You should write for lonely planet!