Outdoors Magazine

Southern Star Observation Wheel, Melbourne.

By Hikingfiasco @HikingFiasco

southern star observation wheel melbourne
Okay, it's Friday evening and I've just awoken from a sizeable 'disco nap'. The reason? Well, I was attempting to write a post all week, but once home from work I found myself slipping into a coma and as a result would come up with nothing blog-wise. So, I set out to snooze today in order to awaken feeling fresh for the purpose of creating a mind blowing post of maximum creativity.
Right. You do realize that I wrote the above paragraph about an hour ago? I think I intimidated myself too much by talking up what I've planned with this post. As a result I'm feeling a little frightened that this entry will possibly be the worst I've ever written. I suppose if it is, it's not a real problem though, as I don't think many people look at the internet. Do they?
Remember how in my last post I mentioned I was going to balance trip reports with other entries of general gibbering? Well, this is definitely not hiking related. In fact this is something totally different altogether and there really should be a sub-heading to this entry. How about...
Crap Tourist Destination 101

Oh yeah, that's certainly the heading I was looking for. Yes, it's time to look a wonderful piece of folly that's the Southern Star Observation Wheel which is sitting forlornly in Melbourne Docklands area. Anyone not from Melbourne would probably say, "Isn't it closed as it fell apart?" Um... Yes, that's correct. This 'tourist attraction' opened in 2009 and only survived a month or so before cracks appeared and barely anyone got to ride the glorified Ferris-wheel. Except Ben and I.
The idea to build a tourist attraction that's a sort of poor man's London Eye was always going to be problematic. Surely if it was to succeed it'd have to be built where once up in the air there'd be something to look at? Can you see the problem? Yes, building something in an area that looks like it's been hit by a small thermonuclear bomb was never going to be ideal.
When it was being built I told anyone, anywhere, that it was possibly the biggest potential turkey that was ever being created. Well, in Melbourne anyway. I'm still feeling the trauma of visiting the Canberra 'Dinosaur Park'.


Canberra Dinosaur Park

I'm pretty sure the dinosaurs here were not used in Jurassic Park, as they're not the most life-like I've ever seen.
Anyway, as the Southern Star was completed I was still positive it would bomb and I remember standing in front of a large group of people shouting whilst pointing in the Southern Star's direction, "It's a white elephant. Listen to me! It's a WHITE ELEPHANT!!!" No one listens to me though and definitely not on this occasion, as they rewarded my wisdom by throwing a rain of small cream irregular objects at my head. I decided then and there as I left the cinema that'd go for a ride on the big wheel before it went into receivership.
So, on a burning hot January day, Ben and I headed to the wheel and from the start things were looking grim. At the base of the wheel, there was a gelati stand which was being manned by an old bloke who looked slightly suicidal as he perused tumbleweeds blowing past. The old 'I-wish-I-sold-hot-food-instead-of-ice-cream-so-I-could-put-my-head-in-the-oven' bloke was probably lured there on the pretense that the place would be rocking with punters. Mm... Not in reality though, as the place was deserted.
Ben and I weren't deterred though and we pushed on picking up some paraphernalia on the way. I do like a tourist attraction that doesn't hold back. What do I mean? Well, how about this spiel about the big wheel which I've scanned from a prized document in the extensive fiasco collections.
extract from advertising page for southern star

Wow!! No, not an experience like nothing in Victoria or Australia. No, the earth!! I love reading the statement above and give props to the people who came up with such an astounding load of crap in one solitary paragraph. That's the sort of thing I dream of writing, but just don't have the skill to pull off. Whoever wrote that was a professional.
On we continued and reached the point of paying for this chance to 'experience the euphoria of soaring flight within the Southern Star's orbit'. Is vomiting similar to euphoria? That's the way I felt when it came time to pay for our ride. At that point I finally understood the main logo, as the price to ride the big wheel was truly 'like nothing on earth'.
With tickets in hand we moved onto the 'loading section'. Now, the wheel doesn't stop moving, but it's going so slowly it's a matter of strolling onto the individual passenger pod (is that what they're called? I've no idea) as they pass by. Sounds simple right? How does 'no' grab you?
Yes, the loading area had vast lines of taped barrier that zig-zagged in order to keep the hundreds of people in one orderly line. The trouble is we were the only ones there and it took us about five minutes to negotiate the extensive zig-zag until reaching the coveted loading spot which was manned by three people. Oh yeah, the loading crew outnumbered the total passengers. What got me though, that in this ghost town, one of the loading crew was carrying on as if he'd spent the previous eight hours managing hundreds of unruly punters risking their lives to get on the wheel.
Okay, there's a couple of lines that've been added by myself. Can you guess which ones? Anyway, he was fired up, but eventually let us approach the crawling cabin. I'm not sure about the danger, as the pod was moving at the speed of a turtle in a headwind whilst dragging an anchor.
We were off and the first thing I noted was that the air conditioning in the cabin was fantastic. It also felt pretty sturdy, as Ben gave it the scientific 'jump up and down' test. I remember saying, "Go easy with the jumping. It might break." Mm... I'll get back to that later. What about the views though? Well, we we'd only just got going, but they were already impressive. I mean I could clearly see the freeway rising up above a field of metal 'things'.
tullamarine freeway

 That's not all though. I made note of some cheap parking for future reference...
cheap parking sign in the docklands

...and a portable set of lights. Amazing. It was like nothing on earth.
industrial portable lights

We were starting to get some height now and I got to admire the freeway and industrial area again.
bolte bridge across yarra river

Mm... The wheel was going pretty slow and I wasn't sure if I was going to survive the mind-blowing sights. I began to eye off the door and contemplated ignoring the instruction. "One slight push is all it would take and I'd be put out of my misery..."
cabin with sign do not lean against the door

At least we had plenty of room in the cabin. They were designed for at least 20 people, so we had lots of space to lounge about. Not that we had time to contemplate such things, as we had sights to see.
construction site near southern star observation wheel

shipping containers near southern star observation wheel

You want more, don't you? Okay then, you asked for it...

blue locomotive in railyards

Yeehaa! Check out the blue locomotive! 

It wasn't all doom and gloom though. I got to admire some impressive 'circle-work' on a nearby carpark roof.
burnout tire marks on carpark roof

I guess we had a reasonable view of the city skyline. Yeah okay, in the next photo it's blocked by an empty cabin, but the picture after that is better...
cabin of southern star observation wheel

melbourne city skyliine

You've forgotten, haven't you? Okay, I'll remind you again.
logo that says like nothing on earth

You know what? That's about it. The wheel crawled back and after one revolution we had to hop out. Seeing how every cabin was empty, you'd think they'd let us go around again wouldn't you? Then again, I'm not sure if I could have taken the excitement. It was a trauma having to leave the air conditioned cabin, but I wasn't done. During the descent a random barking voice told us to stand against the window of the pod and stare out into space in order to have a photo taken. We did this and I wanted the photo, as I was keen for a full record of our trip.
I hunted down the photography counter which was manned by a woman who appeared to be close to death from boredom. It wasn't hard to find our photo and I kid you not, but this was the conversation,
She said, "What did you think of the ride?!"
I said, "Interesting."
She said, "Oh"
I said, "What do you mean?"
She said, "When someone says 'interesting', what they're really saying is that they think something's crap." On that note it was my turn to say, "Oh".
Mind you, I had the photo and I've scanned it for all of you fans out there.
cabin of southern star observation wheel

That my friends was it. Mind you, how much do you think it cost me to take two people for a half hour ride with the photograph thrown in.? Utilising the web archive 'Wayback Machine' I was able to look at the Southern Star website at the time of our trip and worked out the cost. $29 per person and that crazy photo above was another $17. That's a lazy $75 that I'll never see again and they wonder why it bombed? I shouldn't complain though, as it was quite cheap for the 'euphoria of soaring flight'.
Anyway, that was mission accomplished. I got to ride it before it went bankrupt, although as we walked away I felt a little sorry for the human wreckage sitting in the gelati stand. I noted as we passed he still wasn't shifting any sugar.
Is that it? Well, no, you're not going to get off that easy. Believe it or not, but exactly two days after our trip into orbit the Southern Star was closed due to cracks in, well, all over it. I blamed Ben for all of that jumping in the cabin at the start. So, essentially during our ride was the thing falling to bits? Maybe, but I wondered how cool it would've been if the wheel had become detached whilst rotating. We could have become the world's largest pinwheel rolling down the street. That would have been like nothing on earth!
So, it's been closed for the past three years whilst it was dismantled and subsequently the eternal rebuild is going on. Some day (maybe) the white elephant will be back to rotate in silence with no one on it. I pass it on the days I walk home and it's looking a little dodgy, although without cabins it would be a way more exciting ride.
Oh yeah, remember at the start how I was going to finish this post on Friday night after my refreshing snooze? Well, that didn't happen. It's now Saturday morning...
southern star observation wheel under reconstruction

In finishing up, I consulted my friend Walter White during a trip out into the desert and asked him, "Is the Southern Star possibly one of the most hyped, but in the end the lamest tourist attractions that has ever existed?" To that he replied...
walter white breaking bad screenshot from episode say my name

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