London did it first, now Melbourne is about to get its own eye over the city.
Soaring 120 metres above the Docklands precinct on the city’s western fringe, the Southern Star observation wheel will offer a bird’s-eye view of Melbourne – but not for another month, when the switch is officially flicked on.
The $100 million privately funded attraction is the world’s third giant wheel, modelled on the London Eye, and is expected to draw more than a million visitors a year.
But the state’s Tourism Minister Tim Holding claimed it isn’t a rip-off of the original London icon, or even the Singapore Flyer which opened earlier this year.
“This is original, let’s be clear about it,” Holding said, pointing out the originality of the wheel’s world-first rigid steel structure.
“This is one of only three of these anywhere in the world and we think that makes it an amazing addition to Melbourne’s tourism line-up.”
The wheel will open to the public on November 28 and is the biggest tourism instalment to hit Australia in almost 20 years, according to its creators.
“This is the largest investment in tourism product in Australia since the opening of Movie World in 1990, costing well in excess of $100 million,” Southern Star chairman Brent Maybury said.
The 40-storey high wheel is the centrepiece of the new Waterfront City development and features 21 floor-to-ceiling glass gondolas.
The half-hour ride will carry up to 420 people at a time, offering 360 degree views stretching as far as Geelong on a clear day.
Victorian Premier John Brumby said the wheel would lure up to 1.5 million visitors a year, half of whom are expected to come from interstate and overseas.
“That’s a huge number of visitors, 30,000 a week, it will make Southern Star one of Melbourne’s premier tourist attractions and the spin-offs I think for our tourism industry are going to be quite extraordinary,” Brumby said.
The observation wheel must revolve for 290 hours before it can take paying passengers.
Preview rides will begin on November 14, two weeks before the public opening.
Tickets cost $29 for adults and $17 for children.