That's not a wheel, this is a wheel

Overcoming his fear of heights, Peter Litras goes a step further than Melbourne's Southern Star and rides the largest observation wheel in the world.

Deep into the construction of the Singapore Flyer - the world's largest observation wheel - a call was made to change the wheel's directional rotation.

It was a move - at considerable expense - that appeased local feng shui masters who, though happy with Flyer's position in the city, weren't so excited that the wheel was rotating away from the CBD and financial hub.

The wheel, they said, should be reversed to bring fortune and `qi' (energy) back to Singapore.

At 165 metres, the Singapore Flyer is the tallest observation wheel in the world, having overtaken London's iconic Eye in height. But like the seemingly never-ending competition to have the world's biggest skyscraper - Singapore's grip on the title is on borrowed time, with plans to build a wheel 208 metres above Beijing.

Melbourne has also joined the game albeit with a more modest 120-metre tall wheel, the Southern Star, which opened at Docklands last weekend. At $29 per adult, some questioned the expense of riding the Southern Star, but the price is about the same as Singapore's giant wheel.

Standing at the base of the Singapore's Flyer already perched on top of a three-storey building, it wasn't ancient Chinese design or philosophies that I was considering as I prepared to board.

It was a flashback to 30 years or so earlier and the last time that I rode a ferris wheel at the annual Ballarat Show. This wheel probably stood 120 metres shorter and was nowhere near as substantial in engineering than the ride I was about to get on.

Not a memorable ride for any reason other than the few moments the wheel paused while my older sister and I were at the top of a rotation, that ride in the late 70s pretty much determined that the ground was for me.


The Singapore Flyer though, is hardly an old-school ferris wheel design. It's a mass of steel that up close looks like a giant spoke wheel on a 60s sports car - or perhaps a slow-moving suspension bridge - and nothing like the circling cherrypicker-like rides at regional Australia's royal shows. Still, knowing in advance that some had "freaked out" on the wheel wasn't the tonic for someone who gets the wobbles four or five rungs up a ladder.

The gentleness of movement, though, makes for a calm and relaxed ride. It gives a great perspective of Singapore's burgeoning construction. No obvious signs of a recession here with new concrete shopping centres - in a place full of shopping centres - sprouting all over the city.

Up to 28 passengers ride in enclosed and air-conditioned capsules - as good a place as any to freak out at a great height.

The ride is smooth and calming, almost motionless. The chilled compartments are a welcome relief from the tropical weather and the flat-out pace of the shopping malls below.

New and shiny Singapore is on show from high above the CBD, as are suburbs of public housing and the city's Chinatown and nearby Sentosa Island - two of the more visited attractions. Peer in the other direction and fleets of boats come and go from Singapore's docks - the biggest in the world by volume of cargo.

Just below is a pit paddock and starting grid built for Singapore's first formula one Grand Prix. This would be pole position for petrolheads after a unique perspective of the race, which - like the wheel - has been embraced by the locals.

Peter Litras travelled to Singapore as a guest of the Singapore Tourism Board.