I’m slowly ratcheting up Luna Park’s Great Scenic Railway, a rollercoaster that has been making fun-lovers scream with delight since 1912. I reach the top, round a corner, plummet down at speed and… suddenly I’m in the midst of a rowdy crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, cheering an AFL team as it runs onto the grass. What’s going on? In truth, I’m not really present at these Melbourne icons. Instead, I’m sitting in a futuristic chair at the Melbourne Skydeck Voyager Theatre, experiencing the city and its surrounds via a multi-sensory virtual-reality trip through its highlights.
Once seated in the egg-shaped chair with VR headset and headphones in place, I’m on an 11-minute ride that knows no bounds – hovering high above the Melbourne CBD, joining a rower on the Yarra River, flying over vineyards, watching penguins waddle past, and walking through an art-decorated laneway as a coffee vendor fires up his espresso machine. It’s a marvellous introduction to the Victorian capital, which I’ll soon see for real from the lofty vantage point of the Eureka Tower’s 88th floor. And it’s not the only such curtain-raiser for that godlike view over the city. Next to the theatre at ground level is an impressive scale model of central Melbourne, created by a 3D printer over several months as a precise 1:1100 scale model of the city’s buildings and streetscapes. As it happens, I live within the Melbourne CBD, so I’m able to point out my apartment building to one of the attendants. Adding context is a series of screens mounted around the model’s edge, presenting different perspectives and running video simulations of what the landscape looked like from the pre-colonial era to the present day.
It’s time to see this view in 1:1 scale, so I take a fast lift to the 88th floor and Melbourne Skydeck’s observation area. This is the tallest public observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere and so naturally it provides a marvellous view. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows I can see distant landmarks in every direction: Mount Dandenong in the east, Mount Macedon to the north-west, the broad waters of Port Phillip Bay to the south. Directly beneath my feet is the dynamic cityscape previewed by the 3D model and the Voyager Theatre – the intricate latticework of the Melbourne CBD, a complex creation of tall buildings, heritage structures, parkland and the ever-popular laneways pulsing with culture.
There are other attractions at this level – The Edge, a glass box which pushes out from the building to suspend thrill-seekers high above the ground; and the VR Plank Experience, which has you soaring above the city’s rooftops on a virtual zipline. I also have fun with the Melbourne Skydeck app, which allows me to ‘capture’ animated virtual replicas of Melbourne landmarks and place them wherever I like in the real world.
However, there’s also one of the world’s highest bars, Bar 88, with stylish interiors to match the views on show, as well as a range of drinks (including Bollinger) and tasty light meals. I order coffee from French barman Anthony and sit at a bench right against the window. The coffee is excellent, and the view is pure elevated delight.
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