Don’t you love the word “marvellous”? We don’t seem to use it enough these days, but it really does describe the Moomba Festival held every Labour Day weekend in Melbourne. The Festival combines carnival rides, a fantastic parade, a water-skiing tournament, a try-to-fly-like-a-bird competition with lots of other eclectic activities. As someone from the Northern hemisphere, it is bizarre to have Labour Day held in March. Labour Day is meant to celebrate the advances of the labour movement, but for most of us, it is just a random (but much appreciated!) long weekend. In North America it heralds the end of summer vacation and the beginning of a new school year. Here in Australia, Labour Day is held on various dates by state and originally celebrated the 8-hour work day.
In this post, I want to tell you what exactly Moomba is all about, what to do, and why you should definitely visit this marvelous festival. We weren’t sure what to expect of the Moomba Festival, but it definitely surpassed our expectations.
- 1 What is Moomba Festival?
- 2 Where is Moomba Festival Held?
- 3 What to Do at Moomba?
- 4 Moomba Festival Tips
What is Moomba Festival?
Wikipedia tells us that it is the largest free community festival in Australia and the longest running community festival in Australia. Started in 1951, it is a hodgepodge of community events that equal fun for all ages. According to festival organizers, Moomba means “let’s get together and have fun”, although apparently in many aboriginal languages, it means a totally different thing. I will let you google that on your own. But in all seriousness, it really is an opportunity to get together with your mates or your family and have fun in the world’s most livable city. Best of all, there are so many activities and events that are completely free.
Where is Moomba Festival Held?
The Festival is held in the Melbourne CBD along the Yarra River with events spread out between the North and South banks at Alexandra Gardens and Birrarung Park. It attracts over 1.5 million people, so be prepared for crowds all over the CBD.
What to Do at Moomba?
1. Birdman Rally (Sunday)
This is the event we heard the most about leading up to the Festival. The Moomba Birdman Rally challenges individuals to build a flying contraption to fly them over the Yarra. You have “hawks” who take this task very seriously and engineer huge winged flying devices. You also have “penguins” who don’t fly as much as they flop into the river. It is an absolute hoot to watch and all for a great cause with each competitor raising money for their chosen charity. It is wacky and weird, but definitely worth watching. The launch area is on the North bank so the best place to view is directly opposite on the South bank, on the grass along the river. Get there 30 minutes early to nab your seat.
2. Moomba Parade (Monday) & Design a Float
The Moomba Festival Parade is a really fun parade and another not to be missed activity of Moomba. The parade includes a nice mix of cultural groups, floats designed by children, marching bands, dancers and truly reflects the diverse composition of Melbourne. The parade happens on Labour Day Monday and you should arrive at least 20 minutes prior to get first row seats. The route goes along St. Kilda Road between the Shrine of Remembrance (Botanical Gardens) and Linlithgow Ave. The parade is a great blend of old and new and the iconic ’50s clad women holding the MOOMBA letters is always present. This parade has great energy and is a top-notch, professional parade. My husband even implied it was better then a Disney parade and I will admit it came close!
One of the activities for children at the Festival is the Design a Float tent where kids can use their imaginations to design a float for next year’s parade. They are provided with books and magazines for inspiration and a drafting page to sketch out their ideas. The organizers then choose designs to build and use in next year’s parade. While we watched the parade, it was amazing to see these imaginative designs and the kid designers accompanying their float.
3. Moomba Masters Championship Water Skiing
All weekend long the Yarra River is the scene of this Water Skiing spectacle. You can lounge on the grass on the South Bank and take in all the action as you watch Slalom, Trick Skiing, Wake boarding and Ski Jumping competitions. You might have thought water skiing was simply a leisure activity you attempt at your cottage. The Moomba Masters Water Ski Tournament takes it to a whole new level. Competitors from all over the world come to compete in this major tournament and it is a great free activity at Moomba.
4. The Carnival
Moomba is the biggest portable carnival I have ever seen with super sized rides lining both the North and South banks of the river. For many this is the highlight of Moomba and attracts thousands of thrill seekers daily. There are a good variety of rides for all ages. You purchase tickets for each ride individually and prices range from $6-10/ride with multi-ride discounts. You will want to bring cash to purchase tickets and expect queues for popular rides.
5. Riverslide Skatepark Competitions and Clinics
Our kids loved watching the action at the Skatepark and seeing the pros flip, jump and rotate around on scooters, BMX bikes and skateboards. There are even some free Learn2Ride clinics that you can attend, with all equipment provided.
6. Outdoor Cinema
Every evening at 6:30 there is a kids movie shown and this is a great opportunity to see a FREE movie outside. The screen is on the North bank and the best place to sit is along the grass opposite on the South Bank. Bring your picnic blanket, some snacks and cuddle up and enjoy a movie together as a family. As the sun sets, you will be treated to a spectacular view of the city skyline with all of the Moomba action.
7. Roller Disco
This was the highlight of Moomba for our kids and we went back many times. This is another FREE activity available all weekend long. They lend you roller skates or roller blades and you get to try out your moves on the roller rink, complete with a DJ pushing out beats in a converted van. Come prepared with socks so you don’t have to risk your feet. They have skates available for children as young as 4.
8. Sand Sculptures
Each year the Moomba Festival organizers crown a Moomba King and Queen and an artist creates life-like sand sculptures of these royals. Come check them out and if you have children, there is a great area for your kids to try their hands at sand sculpting.
9. Food Truck Land
It wouldn’t be a festival without delicious food and Moomba won’t disappoint. If you are after greasy carnival fare, there is lots of that to weigh you down. Huge sizzing hot dogs, fairy floss, jam filled donuts and so much more with tempt your taste buds. The food trucks throughout the Festival grounds offer up foods from around the world and you will have a hard time deciding what to eat. You can also bring your own picnic lunch and it is quite common to see families spread out on the lawns enjoying a meal prepared from home.
Every night of the festival at 9:30 the city is lit up by a fabulous fireworks display. You can view the fireworks from anywhere on the festival grounds.
Moomba Festival Tips
- Take public transportation to the Festival. If you do need to drive in, you can park conveniently at the parking garage behind Federation Square (off Flinders) for $16.
- Most activities open at 11 am and the Festival closes each evening at 11pm
- There have been some problems in the past few years with gangs fighting and rioting at Moomba late at night. Since we were taking our kids, we would recommend heading home by 8pm. Please don’t let that scare you from visiting. We felt very safe at the Festival and there are lots of police officers around.
- Moomba is a completely dry event and there is absolutely no alcohol on the Festival grounds.
- Check the program online in advance to help plan your day and pick up a map when you get there.
- Bring a refillable water bottle as there are lots of stations to fill up your bottle.
- Be SunSmart and come prepared with hats, sunscreen and an umbrella.
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