Travel Story An insider's guide to magical Macau

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Beyond the glitzy casinos, Macau has history and culture aplenty to tempt travellers, says an Aussie expat involved in one of the city's most spectacular shows. 

While the theatrics of water-based stage spectacular The House of Dancing Water got Perth-raised and WAAPA-trained stage manager Louise Wardle, one of 11 stage managers for the show, to Macau, it’s the traditional beauty of the region that’s won her heart.

Cutting her teeth as a stage manager in Perth for the likes of the Black Swan State Theatre Company and Barking Gecko, it was when she was a stage manager for the WA Ballet that a trip to Hong Kong changed her fate.

“A friend recommended I see The House of Dancing Water. I was initially sceptical, the last thing I generally do on holiday is watch more theatre, but upon her insistence I travelled to Macau for the evening,” Louise says.

“To say I was blown away is an understatement, I literally had to pick myself up off the floor after it ended.”

Two-and-a-half years later Louise joined the team of 11 stage managers in Macau. Behind the scenes five days a week she stage trains artists, facilitates the two performances a day and helps co-ordinate the 200-plus staff in the building.

The House of Dancing Water is performed in City of Dreams’ 2000-seat theatre in a pool equivalent to five Olympic-size swimming pools where 258 jets can shoot water 20m into the air (watch-out first four rows). Together with the lights, the carefully choreographed show gives the illusion of dancing water.

The water-based circus show tells a classic East-meets-West love story. A humble fisherman spots an ancient sword glimmering in the water awakening a long-dead crew of pirates and they are transported into a mysterious world where an evil queen reigns. And so begins a spectacle that combines an international cast of more than 100 performers executing acrobatics, aerial arts and theatre with water stunts.

While her job can be all-consuming, Louise has made time to discover the Macau beyond the glitz of the casinos and her neighbourhood of Taipa.

“Macau is often overlooked by visitors in favour of its larger neighbour Hong Kong, which is a shame because Macau is a great starting place for travellers who may be apprehensive about visiting China,” she says.

Macau boasts China’s oldest Western-style lighthouse and the 17th century Guia Fortress. It is part of the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Macau, made up of more than 20 locations showcasing the architecture and co-existence of Chinese and Portuguese cultures. Louise recommends venturing down some of the old hidden laneways to discover secret cafes and trendy boutiques.

“Macau is best discovered on foot and considering that it is only approximately 30sqkm in size, nothing is too far away,” she says. 

Louise resides in Taipa, a former sleepy fishing village that has undergone a huge transformation over the past 40 years. In 2004, the island was joined by artificial landfill to the island of Coloane, creating the Cotai Strip where casinos churn out bigger profits than Las Vegas. Louise says if gambling is not your bag, Taipa is a historic, and tasty, alternative. 

“Located a quick 10-minute walk from the Cotai Strip, the historic Portuguese and Chinese buildings provide a unique glimpse into days gone by, but the best part is the abundance of local delicacies,” she says. She recommends the famous pork chop bun at Tai Lei Loi Kei and the Portuguese egg tarts at Lord Stow’s Bakery, both in Old Taipa Village. 

For the history buffs the Museum of Taipa and Coloane History and the Taipa Houses Museum are a must, and the gardens next to the Taipa Houses Museum are some of the best kept in Macau.

There are also many nature options with hiking and mountain bike trails on Coloane.

Louise says Coloane Village is well preserved with locals still living as they have done for years; catching, drying and selling locally caught fish outside their homes.

For families there is the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion, home to two giant pandas and their twin babies.

On Macau Island there are craft markets every weekend at Nam Van Lake, and Louise says hiring a swan-shaped pedal boat on the lake is fun.

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