I’ve made no secret of my love-hate relationship with Sydney’s annual Vivid Festival. On one hand, the light displays are spectacular. On the flip, there’s the crowds – the soul crushing crowds. Add a small child to the experience, and it can become an experience that makes a woman question her own sanity.
It’s like the organizers of Vivid heard my agoraphobic cries, and arranged for families with small children to have a completely satisfying Vivid experience, all on the north side of the Harbour.
Last year was the first time Chatswood took part in the Vivid Festival, and we loved the easygoing and family-friendly atmosphere, so we headed straight there with our girl this year. The theme is on dinosaurs, which could not have been more perfect for our dino fanatic (ours, and just about every other 2 – 5 year old I know).
Hushpuppy’s favorite part of the night was interacting with the roaming mechanical dinosaur skeletons, which were manned by Vivid guests who could take a turn wearing them. Both the kids and volunteers seemed to be having a great time playing with these puppets.
At the Interchange (next to the train station), is definitely the coolest part of the dinosaur spectacle. Large glowing and squawking pterodactyls soar up and down 3 stories, powered by visitors on step machines below. It’s definitely a sight.
Finally, up at The District (dining district above The Interchange), the kids found the “crumbling bridge” – another light projection that young children were loving. Hushpuppy managed to “cross” the uneven bridge, and then looked up with amazement with it crumbled away under her feet. We ran into some friends, and from The District, we decided the best way to end the night was with dumplings at Tim Ho Wan (can recommend!).
Lights at Chatswood are on at 5:30p.m. and there are plenty of dining options at Hawkers Lane, The District, and in between.
If you happen to be in Chatswood during the day, or between 5-7p.m. on a Thursday evening, there’s one more display you might try. On Level 1 at Chatswood Chase is “The Luminarium,” where kids (and grown ups, too) get to dress up in underwater explorer costumes and enter a “deep sea” adventure, mostly to do with projected light sea creatures and some mesh and light “jellyfish.” I wouldn’t say it’s worth a special trip, but if you’re there, it is fun for the kids to wear the costumes and enter through the secret door.
We didn’t know what to expect when we booked tickets to the Vivid Festival at Taronga Zoo, as this was the first year they’ve had a display there. Our day finally arrived, and what a bummer – there was a huge rainstorm. On top of that, my daughter decided that she didn’t care to leave the house without her “super duper” jacket, which after running through all possible candidates, I found out was the one that was soaking wet in the washing machine. Though we’d been looking forward to it, none of us were in much of a mood as we arrived at Taronga!
The good news was that there was no crowd, thanks to the weather, and we hopped right onto our round trip ride on the Sky Train (booked through the ANZ Blue Pass, which is limited, but the same price as regular admission). The bad news is that we couldn’t see much out the windows, which were covered in rain. So much for our view of the city.
Aaah, but everything turned around when we got off, found that the rain had stopped, and started to make our way down the ramp into the zoo. The path was illuminated in blinking green rays of light that felt like stepping into a mystery jungle land.
From there, we spent an hour or so walking the well marked path with illuminated sculptures of endangered animals around every turn. “LOOK AT THAT!,” was Hushpuppy’s refrain for the remainder of the evening. Many of the displays moved or had an interactive quality, and zoo volunteers staffed each display, happy to tell you more about the animal.
I was a little sad when we came to the end – I could easily have done another loop around, as it was all so magical. But, the parent in me knew that was pushing our luck way too hard with Little Miss Super Duper. Fortunately, on the way out, we had one more treat, which was the light and sound display that was projected on a loop on the front of the Taronga entrance. We’d passed by it on the way in, not wanting to stand in the rain, but settled in for the show on the way out. The theme was on human’s responsibility towards protecting endangered animals and featured moving images of all of the species that were displayed inside. It was gorgeous. I wanted to applaud at the end.
If you’re thinking of going to Vivid at Taronga Zoo, do make sure to book your tickets online ahead of time. Lights are on at 5:30p.m. Food options are limited both inside and near Taronga Zoo, so either eat before, after, or bring food in with you.
The Vivid Festival runs through 18 June (Chatswood ends 13 June). If you’re attending with young children, my best recommendation is to head over the bridge for these perfect family nights at Chatswood and Taronga Zoo.