Followers of the Chinese zodiac know that the lucky, plucky Rat is auspicious among the animals. In fact the Year of the Rat comes first in the 12-year cycle, and represents fortune and fertility.
Darling Harbour is adjacent to Sydney’s traditional Chinatown district and proud to celebrate Lunar New Year every year. For the Year of the Rat there will be 16 days of celebrations. This year, step through the Moon Gates by Louise Zhang to feel the good fortune, or bathe yourself in the evening glow with a stroll through Darling Square’s Lucky Lunar Lamp Posts.
It all kicks off on Saturday January 25 at 10am with an opening ceremony lion dance at the Chinese Garden of Friendship forecourt. Learn to play the traditional Chinese game Mahjong from midday, and don’t miss the Lunar Lanes Street Party (2-10pm). On the day, contemporary music takes over the Darling Square stage from 12.30pm with Korean drumming, Vietnamese pop and Asian-Australian musicians and DJs such as Rainbow Chan, Sophie Koh and Dani B. A highlight of the Street Party will be the Lunar Block Party at Pier Street Underpass, with urban dance workshops, demonstrations and battles to watch and participate in. At sundown, the Lunar Spectacular Show at the Sussex Street stage brings together more than 300 community acts from Korean percussion to Japanese hip hop, as well as international guests the Shaanxi Performing Arts Troupe from China and Seoul’s top b-boy crew, MB Crew. The Chinese Garden of Friendship at twilight is truly beautiful, and that same evening a Lunar New Year Twilight Garden Party (6-9.30pm) will feature drinks, delicious food from the Gardens by Lotus restaurant, and lounge music featuring three Asian-Australian performers – Milan Ring (DJ set), Jade Zoe and Shelley. The event is free with garden entry.
Chinese Garden of Friendship program
Over the subsequent festival period the garden will be the centre of many activities sure to be the rat’s whiskers – learn to decorate a Year of the Rat lantern in a craft workshop; participate in a meditation session and traditional tea ceremony; watch calligraphy and brush painting masters and performances on the guzheng, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument; and write your hopes and dreams for the coming year on a Year of the Rat bookmark and hang it from the Garden lattice. For the closing ceremony on Saturday February 9, follow the 15-metre Dragon around the Garden as he ducks and weaves around the lake and through the pavilions.
Dragon Boat Races
The Dragon Boat Races are on again for two furious days of paddling in Cockle Bay on February 1-2. More than 3,000 contestants will compete in their 12-metre boats in a regatta that begins when Taoist monks bless the waters and dot the eyes of the boats to awaken the dragons.
It's not Lunar New Year without a feast of Asian flavours, and Darling Harbour’s many restaurants are stepping up to the task. Top picks of the precinct include XOPP by Golden Century, which foregrounds the XO pippies made famous by Golden Century and also offers a fresh fusion menu. Bau Truong serves up modern fusion Vietnamese and is causing a stir with its Vietnamese taco. Spicy Sri Lankan street food is the specialty at Hopper Kade – hoppers, curries, sambols, spicy sides, roti wraps and kadé bowls. From the founder of Chef’s Gallery comes Made in China, with a signature dish of sheng-jian (pan-fried dumplings) – for the Lunar New Year period they are serving lobster dumplings and Dragon Ball Ice Cream. Love Korean fried chicken? Then the opening of the first Australian outlet for the legendary Korean chain Goobne, with its famous oven-roasted chicken, will be cause for celebration. For LNY, try the special sweet and dark combination of the half Galbi/half Black Pepper Chicken.
Darling Harbour has been evolving over the past few years and the Lunar New Year celebrations are a perfect opportunity to uncover its latest delights. Kung hei rat choi!