The Chinese Garden of Friendship is a wonderful place to stroll around in, with its serene settings of picturesque pavilions, perennial plants, stone features, waterfalls and a tranquil lake filled with koi. What a haven we have in the midst of busy Darling Harbour and the surrounding skyscrapers of the city.
It was built to symbolise the friendship between Sydney, New South Wales and sister city Guangdong in China. The beautiful Dragon Wall, featuring two flying dragons, is a symbol of majesty and perfection in Chinese culture and was a gift from Guangdong. The brown dragon represents Guangdong and the blue dragon represents New South Wales.
During the Lunar New Year celebrations, the garden comes alive with workshops, tea tasting, art and entertainment. This Year of the Ox in 2021 brings all of this and more.
Here's what you can enjoy:-
Kicking off the festivities on 12th February is a twilight garden opening, from 6pm-9pm, and it's full of delights with special pop-up performances and artist activations amongst the 17 pavilions.
Follow the lights and meander around exotic plants and blooming flowers surrounding the lake as you discover the Lunar art and entertainment. Afterwards, hit the 'teahouse' and enjoy the special Lunar menu from The Gardens by Lotus restaurant.
Steeped in culture and tradition, the lion dance also embraces beauty and art in its colourful display, movements and gestures that closely mimic the emotion of the mystical animal. Each dance is said to bring good luck and fortune, and you can see this one in the garden on 13th February from 10am.
In the forecourt of the garden, you'll find a massive installation created by artist Chris Yee. It's dual-sided, representing day and night and it mimics traditional Chinese ornamentation and the zodiac animals, using bright floral motifs and colour to purvey playfulness and optimism. You can see it daily, throughout the festival dates.
A colouring-in version of the art installation is available for children to try their hand at. They can enjoy the activity in the garden or colour it at home.
Year of the Ox Reading
See what the Year of the Ox has in store for you with a personal fortune reading. Feng Shui master Mina Zheng will expertly guide you in seeking clarity on the year ahead, whether you're an ox, a tiger, a dragon or any of the other zodiac animals, in a 10-minute session available on Saturdays (13th & 20th February) between 2pm-4pm.
Tea Tasting & Meditation
There are many health benefits associated with Chinese teas and here you can learn all about these as you taste-test your way through a rich variety of brews and watch a traditional tea ceremony. Afterwards, relax further with a calming meditation. Sessions run on weekends from 13th-21st February (11am-2pm).
Talented and skilled musicians from Sydney's Chinese community will bring the music on weekends in the garden, from 13th-21st February (11am-2pm). The program showcases the authentic sounds of Asia with traditional instruments and performers in traditional costumes.
Brush Painting & Calligraphy
Watch the beautiful and masterful arts of Chinese brush painting and calligraphy showcased in traditional painting demonstrations from the Australian Chinese Painting Society. Skilled hands make it look effortlessly.
Have your name put to paper as a memento of the Lunar New Year that you can take home to treasure. Enjoy it on Sundays, from 10am-12pm.
Cocktail and Dumpling Masterclass
This masterclass, run by The Gardens by Lotus onsite restaurant, will see you learning secrets and skills as you go about making 3 different types of delicious dumplings (Mushroom Spring Rolls, Chicken Sui Mai & Pork Wonton) and 3 different cocktails (a Garden Spritz, Szechuan Tommy's Margarita & a Gold Rush) over 2hrs. You can indulge in your creations along the way and take any leftovers home to impress family or friends.
Taking place on 13th February from 1pm-3pm, upstairs in the Blue Room, a ticket will cost you $150pp plus booking fee. In addition to the class, it includes printed recipe cards, a Lotus apron and a take-home dumpling making kit. Enquire now on (02) 8311 5156 or email email@example.com.
Valentine's Day Yum Cha
Find the way to the heart of someone special in your life through celebrating both Lunar New Year and Valentine's Day with a special yum cha menu at The Gardens by Lotus on 14th February.
It's the perfect romantic spot with views and will only set you back $69pp. You can also add on with a Valentine's cocktail to complement your experience. Click here to enquire or book.
Keep the little creatives busy learning new skills as they create a cool paper Ox Money Box resembling a lantern. Individual colouring packs will be provided to ensure kids are kept Covid-safe.
Linger a while and enjoy a decadent food and drink offering at The Gardens by Lotus, along with a lion dance performance.
Two Lunar New Year banquets are on offer that include a prosperity salad, dim sum platter, duck pancakes, steamed fish, king prawns or lobster, beef short ribs or wagyu ribeye, and more.
The menus are priced at $128pp (minimum of 2 people) and $168pp (minimum of 8 people). You can view the menus and book here.
Movie Nights at The Garden
Enjoy the evening of 20th February (7pm-9pm) with a screening of the movie The Farewell. If you're not familiar with the storyline, you'll find it's a bittersweet tragic comedy-cum-drama film about a Chinese-American family that discover their grandmother only has a short time left to live. Deciding to keep her in the dark and not tell her, the family schedule a visit to China under the guise of a fake wedding so that they can say their final goodbyes.
On the 27th February (7pm-9pm), you can enjoy the romantic comedy of Crazy Rich Asians. It follows a Chinese-American professor who travels to meet her boyfriend's family and is surprised to find out they are among the richest in Singapore.
A grazing menu of dumplings, salt & pepper chicken and fried rice, has been created by The Gardens by Lotus to match the movie experiences.
The cost for each movie night is $70pp (plus booking fee) and includes the movie, a bean bag, food (as above) and a $5 beverage credit. Spaces are limited, so get in quick with your booking for The Farewell or Crazy Rich Asians.
The Emperor's Quest
This quest to find the 12 hidden animals of the Chinese lunar calendar has been running for a number of years and continues to run all year round (10am-5pm daily, bar Good Friday & Christmas Day). It's a great activity, for children aged 5-12yrs, where they can wander the serene pathways around the garden and delight in using the map, viewfinder and clues to find each sculpture, learning in the process (from the associated panel) about what each one of the zodiac animals symbolise.
The Emperor's Quest app also gives a fun intro to all the animals, has a wheel to spin to take a quiz, allows you to transform into an animal you identify with the most, take fun photos with friends and reveals a secret surprise once you've completed the quest of finding all 12 animals.
Note - all children must be accompanied by an adult.
Elsewhere in Darling Harbour
Be sure to check out the surrounding areas of the garden for other Lunar New Year highlights, such as the giant technicolour Ox lantern in the ICC forecourt that transforms throughout the day, activities in the Maritime Museum and a plethora of lunar feasts and limited edition specials from cafes, restaurants and bars.