Dandenong Festival of Lights 2016 - Review

Melbourne contributor Kate @kateflatman took her little panda obsessed poppets to the Dandenong Festival of Lights last weekend and had an exciting night filled with hundreds of lanterns and lots of pandas to keep them going! The event is now on until Sunday 16th of October. For more info, head to the festival's website. Thank you Kate for the review and great pics!

After a hugely successful debut in 2015, the Dandenong Festival of Lights is back this year with a brand new show celebrating Chinese culture through a display of over 500 (yes you read that correctly!) beautiful and unique silk lanterns.  Covering over 10,000 square metres, the vibrant lanterns - some of which are an impressive 20m wide and 8m high - are certainly a sight to behold.


Thanks to ‘Drums the Panda’ the faithful sidekick of Geelong-based kids entertainers, The Mik Maks, pandas rate very highly in the Flatman residence.  So of course it was no surprise that when we mentioned we would be seeing panda lanterns as we loaded the poppets into the car early Sunday evening, their little faces lit up.  As fate would have it we couldn’t have planned the car park and panda placement any better; as soon as we swung open the doors “panda, panda, panda” was shouted loudly from the back seat as they caught sight of their favourite furry friend.


We entered the Dandenong Festival of Lights via the impressive golden arch and made our way towards Panda Paradise, stopping to look at the twelve Chinese Zodiacs on our way through. We admired the playful animals and pointed out the handsome Horse to the poppets (their zodiac sign) and just as I was reading that those with the Chinese zodiac sign of the horse are always rearing to go, Arlo had made a quick getaway and was galloping over to the pandas!


It’s easy to see why pandas are a national treasure of China.  There were at least twenty lanterns on display in Panda Paradise, from the panda on the swing underneath the brightly coloured rainbow, the two robust pandas on the seesaw, to the little cub climbing the green bamboo, it was definitely one of our favourite displays of the night. 


Following the tree-lined paths further around we came face to face with three playful elephants, an assortment of iconic Australian animals (including a boxing kangaroo and cuddly koalas), the famous terracotta warriors, cheeky penguins and underwater creatures (the toothy grinned shark and Finding Nemo characters were greatly enjoyed). At the dinosaur display, Macy was caught off guard by a moving T-Rex but was quickly roaring back at it with all her might +  her hands up high, palms outwards and fingers curled! 


We dragged our little dinosaurs away with the promise of more animals around the corner, passing multi-coloured butterflies, swans, mythical creatures and peacocks until we reached Noah’s Ark. This magnificent display featured many of the animals, birds and creatures that joined Noah and his family as well as interactive sounds, making for a tremendous 4-D experience.


Throughout our evening we heard traditional Chinese music amplified through speakers around the reserve, along with young children (including ours) completely entranced, laughing and squealing in amazement.


At the end of our discovery was the stunning display of the Temple of Heaven - yet another highlight of this incredible festival - it really is a masterpiece of traditional Chinese architecture.


Before finishing off the night with a plate of crispy vegetable spring rolls and delicious prawn dumplings from the Dumpling Bar, the poppets were drawn towards the fire twirling performer. They watched in amazement as she moved the torches with such grace and ease but much to their disappointment they were not able to have a turn. Mean mummy!


After nearly two hours our little explorers were definitely ready for bed, however we had to make sure that we made one last trip over to the pandas to say ‘bye-ya” before we left. Honestly, if we could have taken one home we would have, those pandas were just adorable!


The Dandenong Festival of Lights is truly a unique event which fits in perfectly with the arts and culture of Melbourne. It’s a fun, family friendly Chinese cultural event that you definitely don’t want to miss! 


Our tips:

  • Pre purchase your tickets online to avoid the queues.
  • There is free parking on site, however a gold coin donation to the charity partner Variety is greatly appreciated. 
  • This event is pram friendly, with ample space to park your pram if necessary.
  • Nightly performances including lion costume dancing, Kung Fu workshops, Chinese drumming workshops and fire twirling start from 7pm. FYI - not all performances are on every night.
  • In addition to the Dumpling Bar there is also a food tent selling festival favourites, including hot chips, popcorn, fairy floss, ice cream and hot drinks.  We also spotted a Mr. Whippy van in the car park too.   

For more ideas on what to do with your little ones, head to our blog.