AN IDEA from Sweden involving lots of lights has brought the sleepiest month of the year alive at the tourist town of Walhalla.
Above: A lion from the Bendigo Chinese Association’s dragon and lion team. Photo by Greg Pretty.
This article was first published in the 15 August 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
We are half way through the fourth annual Walhalla Vinter Ljusfest, or “festival of lights,” which has done wonders for visitor numbers and accommodation bookings at the totally tourism-dependent town.
August used to be the quietest month for Walhalla and the time when its business owners would close doors and take holidays. But not anymore. At the start of the month, the Star Hotel was fully booked on each of its five weekends. And it’s a similar story for the tow-n’s other accommodation places.
President of Walhalla and Mountain Rivers Tourism, Michael Leaney, said “to now have 300 or 400 people walking down the street on a Saturday night is phenomenal.”
“Over the last three or four years the word has spread and people are now coming here from all around the world to see it.
Above: Walhalla’s lights. Photo by Mat Cummins.
“So as well as lifting August, it has helped Walhalla develop a reputation for being an out-of-season destination in winter.”
Walhalla doesn’t have street lights and is normally very dark at night, so to visit the town in August and see its features lit up and images on the sides of buildings is quite a spectacular sight.
Each year the festival has a theme and this year it’s China. As well as the lights there are red lanterns in the town’s park and streets and Yum Cha at the Greyhorse Cafe every night. A pair of lions from the Bendigo Chinese Association’s drag-on and lion team (seen in the photo above) even came down to open the month and bless the businesses.
One of Walhalla’s popular features at any time of the year is its Goldfields Railway, which takes visitors through the picturesque Stringers Creek Gorge. For the Vinter Ljusfest, the train is rigged with lights and runs twice each Saturday night, lighting up the gorge as it goes.
There are Chinese Lantern Heritage Tours on Wednesday nights, taking visitors back to Walhalla’s gold rush to uncover how the Chinese community influenced the town.
On Friday nights a lantern tour goes deep underground for special evening tours and on Saturday nights you get a free giant glow stick if you join a Walhalla Vinter Ljusfest Ghost Tour.
You can also write messages of peace and goodwill on ribbons and tie them to the Moon Gate in Stringers Park.
Being a Swedish concept, it was only fitting that the theme for the first Vinter Ljusfest in 2011 was Sweden. Then in 2012 the town celebrated the 40th anniversary of Neil Diamond’s number one charting album Hot August Night.
Last year saw a nod to Walhalla’s 150 years of gold.
The next few years have already been planned: 2015’s festival will be dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the film The Sound of Music, 2016 will have a Rio/Brazil theme for the Olympic Games and 2017 will celebrate the life and music of Elvis Presley on the 40th anniversary of his death.
The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I will be acknowledged at the 2018 festival.
The 2014 Walhalla Vinter Ljusfest continues until the end of August, so rug up and head for the hills to see what is bringing people to the town on cool August nights.
For more stories by Greg visit greatergippsland.blogspot.com.au.
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