At the beginning of 2017, I knew that my passport would be expiring come November, and I wanted to get at least one more adventure out of it before sending it off to be renewed.
I thought about all the places I hadn’t seen and still wanted to visit, and one destination stuck out to my mind: Sydney, Australia — and the Vivid lights festival, which I had first heard of back in 2011 and had wanted to attend since then.
Vivid is an annual festival that takes place at the beginning of the winter season in Sydney and is a month long celebration of light, music, and ideas. It’s been an event that I have wanted to attend ever since I first heard of it, and the moment it occurred to me, I knew it was the right decision.
I bought round trip tickets from Chicago to Sydney and I didn’t look back.
Vivid 2017 took place from May 26th through June 17th, and I arrived on day one with the intention of experiencing four whole days of illuminated excitement.
Sydney did not disappoint.
Every corner of the city was lit up with a different exhibition, from gigantic animals at Lights for the Wild at the Taronga Zoo to standalone displays tucked away in different corners of Sydney’s business district and the Royal Botanic Garden.
Walking by myself through the thousands of bright lights and gaggles of young children who, like me, were experiencing the excitement of this unforgettable event, I felt lucky that I had the chance to attend something like this.
One of my favorite installations during the festival was at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which used projection-mapping techniques to create a 10-minute animated sequence capturing pieces originally made by the artist in watercolor, oils, and marker pen. It was absolutely gorgeous and I wish I could have captured every single frame, because it was just stunning.
For those with time to wander around and explore, the Vivid Light Walk goes through the entire city, with different installations in the most unexpected nooks and cranies, even alleyways.
The Taronga Zoo cannot be accessed on foot — to get there, you have to take a ferry. My plan was to see all the cool Australian animals during the day and then wait until the light exhibit started after the sun set.
Unfortunately, I caught a terrible cold the day before I was due to go to there and had to spend most of the day in bed, so I wasn’t able to see any real Australian animals during the day.
However, I was determined to make it to Lights for the Wild, and I was so glad I did. I climbed onto a ferry filled with children and their exhausted parents right at sunset and stepped into a magical world filled with gigantic light up animals.
At the entrance to Taronga Zoo, like at the MCA, there is an interactive 10 minute animated sequence projected onto the main building. It was just as enchanting as the other installation and I wish I could have caught it on video.
From mammals and marsupials to reptiles and underwater creatures, animals from all around the world were featured at Lights for the Wild.
On the way back, I sat in the back of the ferry, which gave me a completely unobstructed view of the bay- one of the most memorable moments of my entire trip! Luckily, I was able to capture video of that ferry ride back right before my phone died.
All in all, Vivid is an incredible visual experience and I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who wants an unforgettable experience! Sydney is a very easy city to navigate, and even if you get lost, it’s small enough to find your way back to the main tourist areas.
If you do go, remember that May is the beginning of winter in Australia and pack accordingly. Even if summer is just around the corner in the US, be sure to pack a scarf, hat, gloves, and warm coat! Sydney is hardly the arctic, but trust me, you don’t want to catch a cold like I did.
Observant readers might have noticed that there’s a famous landmark missing from this photo series: the Sydney Opera House.
There are a couple reasons for this:
- Without a tripod (which I did not have), it’s hard to take photos at night with a DSLR. I did take some shots of the Opera House with my iPhone (which I have posted on Instagram) but didn’t take any pictures I was happy with on my DSLR to share here.
- I wanted to focus on parts of Sydney that don’t get highlighted as often. Everyone knows about the Opera House — but not everyone knows about Vivid!