Sydney gets even more colourful with its annual light festival

Now in its ninth year, Vivid Sydney is the largest festival of light, music and ideas, and is also the inspiration for other light festivals around the world including Singapore.
Now in its ninth year, Vivid Sydney is the largest festival of light, music and ideas, and is also the inspiration for other light festivals around the world including Singapore. PHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES

(THE BUSINESS TIMES) - How do you draw tourists to your city, and get locals out of their homes and onto the streets in the winter months?

By having a light festival, of course. Now in its ninth year, Vivid Sydney is the largest festival of light, music and ideas, and is also the inspiration for other light festivals around the world including Singapore. It runs for 23 days this year, ending on June 17.

Last year, 2.31 million locals and tourists attended the festival, leading to a massive A$110 million injection into New South Wales' visitor economy.

Ignatius Jones, creative director of Vivid Sydney, says that more servings of gelato are sold during the Vivid Sydney festival than the three months of summer.

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"Vivid Sydney boasts light installations, projections and lighting treatment, unlike other festivals which may only do one," says Mr Jones, who has been its creative director for eight editions.

This year, there are 90 light installations and projections created by 180 artists from 20 countries, spread across the city, including The Rocks, Taronga Zoo, and Darling Harbour.

Iconic landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia are naturally also lit up. With limited time, and so many installations to see, a walk in the Circular Quay area is the best way to experience Vivid Sydney for first timers. Oh, and also download the Vivid Sydney app to get installation locations and directions.

The sails of the Sydney Opera House are brought to life by Audio Creatures, a series of mesmerising images of marine creatures and plant life that run up and down the sails. View them from across the water at The Rocks, where the light show is set to a bespoke soundtrack.

Exclusively during Vivid Sydney, participants on the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb don reflective light vests to be part of the light up. The climb cumulates at the top of the bridge where a 1970's style multi-coloured flashing dance floor has been set up, and climbers enjoy their own private party.

After climbing and dancing, make a stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art to view Organic Vibrations, where a series of abstract and colourful images flow seamlessly over the facade of the museum.

Mr Jones says that people keep returning each year, because they never know what to expect. He keeps things exciting with the use of technology that allow for complex and more impressive installations and also by bringing Vivid Sydney to new precincts.

For example, Darling Harbour's Magicians Of The Mist is a 50m high water fountain with 40m high projections, lasers, and fireworks.

Sydney's hot new waterfront dining location, Barangaroo South joins the Vivid Sydney line-up in 2017. Visitors can be part of the A Day in the Light artwork, where light and sound meld together to recreate the phases of light over the course of a day.

"Vivid Sydney is like a giant outdoor art gallery, and the many people that come to see it, prove that there is an appetite for art on the streets and not just seeing art on the wall," says Mr Jones.

Sydney's colourful lights may be the main attraction during low season, but the state still offers much to do and see.

Got time on a Saturday morning? Head to Carriageworks Farmers Market near the city, to shop like a local. Vendors at the renowned market sell organic and biodynamic foods.

The Hunter Valley, a 2½-hour drive north of Sydney is always a popular option.

Getting up before 5am may not sound like a fun idea, but it is worth waking up before dawn to go on a hot-air-balloon ride.

A ride with leading balloon flights company, Balloon Aloft, offers picturesque views of the wine regions of Pokolbin, Lovedale, Rothbury or Broke. As the sun rises, the hot air balloon floats gently in the breeze, before ascending to heights of 2,000 feet. The balloon occasionally makes a descent to lower heights, where wild kangaroos can be seen hopping across the fields. Expect soft landings, sometimes in a farmer's backyard, before heading for a champagne breakfast.

Winery visits are naturally a must in Hunter Valley. Make a stop at Usher Tinkler Wines, housed in a restored church for some wine, salumi and cheese. Its range of Nose-To-Tail wines takes the standard varieties in the Hunter Valley and turns them into something innovative and contemporary for the consumer. The labels themselves are conversation starters. They feature a chicken, a pig and a cow, so customers know which wine to pair with what meats.

Another popular stop is Adina Vineyard, which offers not only wines for tasting and sales at its cellar door. It also grows olive trees and produces its own range of olive oils, table olives and tapenades.

The writer was a guest of Destination New South Wales.