The mere mention of free fireworks was all I needed to get reeled into Melbourne’s Docklands district on a Friday night. I just can’t help it, I’m as giddy as a kid about fireworks (and possibly even giddier about free). The Docklands Winter Festival Fireworks were right up our alley.
The Docklands, originally named Victoria Dock, were first developed on the banks of the Yarra River in the 1850s to accept migrants who were coming to Australia in droves during the gold rush. The area, which is west of the central business district, sat unused since the 1960s, when the harbor was deemed unsuitable for container ships. In 1991, a plan for revitalization was hatched and the Victoria Harbour has been undergoing a major overhaul since. The Docklands officially became part of the City of Melbourne in 2007 and it is destined to be a waterfront live/work/tourist playground. The Docklands Winter Festival Fireworks gave us a reason to check it out.
The fireworks started at 7:30, so we headed down in the late afternoon in hopes of catching a happy hour and end-of-work-week crowds. At first, we found neither. However, the setting sun was shining, so we took advantage of the last light of the day (and the solitude) and strolled on the south side of the harbor along the Victoria Harbour Promenade. The slick high rises and Melbourne Star wheel made a beautiful backdrop to the boats and, on such a lovely Friday afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder why more people weren’t out enjoying it.
At dusk, the temperatures quickly dropped, so we popped into the Woolshed Pub on Central Pier. We were surprised to see that the place was hopping. There wasn’t a single empty table. I squeezed my way up to the bar. A limited happy hour was offered, but I missed the details and ended up ordering $12 AUD pints.
Encouraged by the sudden uptick of energy (and the high price of beer), we set out to find a waterfront establishment closer to the fireworks (hopefully, with a happy hour) on the NewQuay Promenade. People were milling around, but it was far from the masses we had anticipated. Suddenly unsure if we had botched up the details, the security personnel setting up the barricades confirmed we were in the right place. Bars and restaurants along the water were relatively quiet, but we found a small crowd under the heat lamps on the patio of The James Hotel. Not a hotel at all, the bar/restaurant didn’t have a happy hour, but it did have local craft brew on tap and a waterfront location.
Without even noticing, people had filled in the open spaces along the promenade. We found room on The James Hotel patio, directly across from where the fireworks would be set off. The outdoor speakers came to life and a countdown signaled the start of the show. For 20 minutes, fireworks of various style, shape and size lit up the sky to a pop infused soundtrack. We were impressed by the production. A continuous and orchestrated flow of fireworks flew off the barges that were in the middle of the harbor. The display was more than we had expected and could easily rival small town 4th of July celebrations in America.
After the show, the crowds quickly dispersed. In search of a meal without waterfront prices attached to it, we wandered the streets of the Docklands toward the Melbourne Star. We were disappointed to find that the area had again become vacant of people. It was 8:00pm on a Friday night and all of the shops and restaurants were closed. To us, it seems the Docklands Winter Festival Fireworks sole purpose is to bring people into the precinct, which it did. But with lack of participation from area businesses, once the fireworks were over, we had no reason to stay. Instead, we hopped the next tram back into the central business district in search of dinner.
We want to know: Have you beeen to the Docklands Winter Festival Fireworks? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!