For years Government ministers and travel industry nabobs in Melbourne have looked with envy at other major cities around the world and wondered why their city didn’t have a beacon, a tourism icon, a branding symbol to lure travellers south into their web.
Sydney has the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House – instantly recognised overseas. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. New York has the Empire State Building and the rest of the Manhattan skyline now tragically with a gap in its welcoming grin following the terrorists’ havoc on the World Trade Center Towers.
In Washington there’s the Capitol Building dome, the Washington Monument needle, the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. In London – Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and that white elephant the Millennium Dome. Rome has the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain.
But Melbourne? Well, there’s the MCG but that’s not going to make Joe Tourist pack his bag for the long trip Down Under. Several times over the past twenty years governments and newspapers have run competitions to find a tourist magnet.
The new waterside apartment precinct Docklands was supposed to be it but they’ve had trouble getting even locals to go there. One predictable, politically correct, suggestion was to build an Aboriginal Cultural Centre there. Yep. That’ll get them off their bums in Chicago by the planeload won’t it? The Champs Elysees couldn’t compete with that.
But, as of May, 2007, I can now be an Aussie Archimedes and proclaim: Eureka! I have found it.
I have found what will become Melbourne’s most popular tourist attraction and it is on the 88th floor of the new Eureka Tower apartment building on the Yarra River Bank at Southbank.
They call it Skydeck 88 at the top of a tower that spears nearly 300 metres up into the sky. It is the best observation deck in the world.
I‘ve been up the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State building, been in revolving restaurants in Auckland, Sydney and Hobart, and used to live in the Penthouse on top of the Regent Hotel at Sydney’s Circular Quay, but this takes the cake.
The Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center could match it with its awesome panorama up Manhattan Island but tragically it has gone.
But the Eureka Skydeck 88 has the edge on them all. Literally. The Edge is the name for a revolutionary tourist experience. It is a glass box with opaque glass walls, glass roof and glass floor. You walk into it, a door seals behind you and the glass cube slowly slides three metres out from the side of the building – 88 floors up. There is much clanking of chains and grinding of gears as you inch into the unknown. Then, with the recorded sound effect of splintering glass, the opaque floor, walls and ceiling become clear.
And there you are. Staring down between your legs from the top of the tallest apartment building in the world to the dinky cars below.
I didn’t find it scary but my wife had some trepidations. She’s not comfortable with heights at the best of times but came through with flying colours. I even persuaded her to do it again later that night to experience the city lights from above. Her only side-effect: a dry mouth. If it’s any consolation we all had that. At least our pants stayed dry too.
If that’s not enough the floors of the 88th floor observation deck are not level. And it aint an optical illusion. Some slope up while others, sloping down, seem to inexorably propel you towards the floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
And there’s a Skydeck Terrace, open to the elements but enclosed by wire fencing, from where you can watch the human guinea pigs in their glass box – if you’re not game enough to do it yourself.
The Skydeck 88 operators estimate they’ll get 700,000 visitors in their first year. In more ways than one the sky’s the limit.