A Feast for the Senses

13 Oct

Every year that I’ve lived in Canberra, I’ve always made big plans to attend Floriade Nightfest…. and, every year, something has always come up that has prevented me from going. Yeah, I know – Floriade is the ultimate touristy event to attend, and this blog is meant to be all about exploring Canberra’s lesser-known gems. But this year I was determined to join the masses and smell the roses. Spring seemed like it had well and truly set in for the year, so my friends and I decided to get organised early and buy our tickets in advance. Hmm, perhaps not the smartest move in hindsight…

On the morning of NightFest, we awoke to grey skies and drizzling rain. Gone was the sunshine and warmth of spring that we’d enjoyed over the weekend – suddenly, it felt like the middle of winter again. By mid morning, two of my friends pulled the pin and forfeited their tickets (Floriade doesn’t allow date transfers, unfortunately). Luckily, I still had two others who were willing to brave the inclement weather and accompany me to the event (they probably had the same mentality as me – what a waste of $25 not to go!). So we pulled out our brollies, coats and gloves and braced ourselves for the chilly night ahead.

And I’m so glad we did! Luckily, the rain held off right until 10pm, so the weather was much more bearable than expected. We were all suitably rugged up and, once we had a beverage in hand, we forgot all about the less-than-ideal conditions. It was still a little too cold to unfold the picnic rug and watch the movie on the big screen as planned (The Social Network was playing on the night we went), but there were plenty of other things to see and do.

We started our night with a wine sensory experience at the ‘From the Pantry’ marquee. Hosted by the Four Winds Vineyard, there was a selection of Chardonnay, Rose, Shiraz and Riesling on offer – a great way to warm up our tastebuds. Then we moved on to the market stalls, trying all sorts of yummy bits and pieces: chilli sauces (phwoar – there were some SPICY ones!), mini cups of curry, fudge, candy straps, coco mocha tea (delicious!!), chai latte, creamed honey, and decadent Canberra-made chocolate. As the crowds were considerably smaller due to the miserable weather, it meant that we barely had to wait in line at all. And we were able to slip back for some cheeky seconds – bonus.

Anyway, you’d think we’d have been suitably full by that stage, but no. We also shared a seafood basket and gozleme down in the Floriade Village Foodcourt (unfortunately, the quality of these items was a bit ‘meh’ compared to the tasty morsels we’d snacked on at the stalls), and then finished with some absolutely amazing hazelnut and pistachio macarons from Café Valenti. It had been our first macaron experience, so we spent the next 15 minutes talking about how fabulous they were. Geez, the food alone was enough to have us raving about our NightFest experience!

But then, of course, there were the flowers. I’d been to Floriade two weeks prior on opening day, and it was lovely. However, seeing Australia’s biggest flower display by night, with the coloured lights shining on them, was a completely different experience. More than a million blooms were illuminated throughout the park in shades of red, purple, yellow, green, orange – it was simply magical. The giant 35-metre Ferris wheel looked so pretty, glittering in the distance. I particularly loved the ‘Storm of the Senses’ light installation in the Rhododendron Gardens, which recreated the experience of a rainstorm with the elements of raindrops, wind and thunder. The lights flashed in time to music, making for a truly sensory delight (it would have been such a romantic place for a date, I thought!).

While we didn’t manage to see everything that was included in the program, the range of experiences on offer was definitely impressive. If the flowers didn’t get you going, you could have a cocktail at the Glow Bar, watch live cooking demonstrations, listen to a DJ in the Butterfly Lounge, or see a show of comedians and circus performers at the Carnival Stage. For us, the Garnier-sponsored dome was an absolute winner. My friend Nat and I lined up for a mere five minutes to get our hair styled for free, while her partner Matt snagged a shoulder massage. On exit, we were handed a huge goodie bag of full-sized products – what a score! Shampoo, roll-on concealer, heat-protecting hair spray, deodorant, tanning lotion… that little bag was worth the $25 entry fee alone, so we were chuffed.

All up, we spent a good four hours at NightFest. After checking out some of the garden exhibits (check out my photos below for a sample of the entrants in the fashion design competition – they were taken during my trip to Floriade the weekend before, but thought I’d include them since they were so incredibly creative!), we went up to the observation platform to enjoy an epic view over the park.  It was so lovely; couples were strolling hand-in-hand through the gardens, a mother was explaining the different types of flowers to her little girl, friends were posing for photos together in front of the lit-up displays. I could definitely see why the event was such a tourist attraction – the effort that the organisers had gone to was unbelievable.

And so our night was coming to an end. We’d gotten a little muddy traipsing through the soggy gardens but, not to worry, there were some friendly gentlemen who offered to shine our leather shoes on the way out! Good as new! Just as we were exiting the park, the rain really started to pour down. The timing could not have been better, really. So, all in all, it was an really enjoyable evening. Sure, I would have liked to have the whole spring picnic-under-the-stars experience – but I guess it’s just an excuse to go back and do it again next time. I’m certainly curious to see how the organisers will be able to top this year’s stellar event… 

While Floriade NightFest is over for 2011 (it only ran for five nights from 28 September to 2 October), Floriade is still open during the day from 9am to 5pm until Sunday 16 October. The daytime events are free, so if you haven’t gotten around to checking them out yet, I’d definitely make time to do so this weekend. As corny as it sounds, Floriade truly is a ‘feast for the senses’. Go and indulge in it, I say…

Attendees: T2 + friends

Cost: $25 adults, $10 concession/children, $50 family (+ booking fees)

Location: Commonwealth Park, Canberra

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? http://www.floriadeaustralia.com/nightfest or https://www.facebook.com/VisitCanberra


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