Melbourne turns on the bling for its annual dusk till dawn party, writes Rachel Bache.

Thousands of people are exploring the night streets of downtown Melbourne, roaming through alleyways from sunset until sunrise, surrounded by music, food, film, art and awe-inspiring light displays -- welcome to the White Night festival.

The annual event, held each February (this year's was last weekend), is inspired by similar festivals around the world. It shows off an array of art from 7pm-7am and it's welcome to all walks to life -- families in the early evening with kids marvelling at the illuminated buildings, right through to the rowdy party-punters who try to make it through to sunrise.

There is an astounding amount to see and do at White Night -- the programme boasts over 80 events and installations.

You really do need the full 12 hours if you want to see everything but there is no one way to go about it. Following the programme and the map sheet is great and shows you where all the best sights can be found, but there's something to be said for just trying your luck down a random street. It's the feeling of aimlessly traipsing around the city, not knowing what's around the corner. It could be an audience dancing around a stage as musicians put on a show, or street performers contorting themselves into impossible poses, or artists taking part in an interactive installation.

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The festival can get rather overwhelming in the hours before midnight -- the buzz and energy from the crowds of people helps keeps you awake and it's not until 3am that it's a little easier to move around.

However, if you get a little claustrophobic, there are spots throughout the city to stop and just breath and feel inspired by the light-based artwork.

One of the great things about White Night is that you get to see the city through a whole new lens. Melbourne becomes a magical wonderland -- walking through the Queen Victoria and Alexandra Gardens becomes an adventure. Glowing sculptures and projections make wandering through the park at night less scary and instead more wondrous and exciting.

The same goes for trying to get across the Yarra River. The bridges that cross the inner city waterway get completely swarmed with people wanting to experience the light tunnels.

Many of Melbourne's iconic buildings embrace the White Night, not only illuminating the outside of their structures with beautiful moving projections, but many of the buildings, including galleries, theatres and labyrinth-like libraries, open their doors to the public and fill their rooms with creative works by various artists.

Melbourne's numerous restaurants are worth taking advantage of before the festival starts, but if you get peckish later on there are delicious street vendors open throughout the night.

Many of the clubs and bars open their doors to festival-goers, and if you're planning on making it through the night an espresso martini is the way to go.

As the night turns into morning, delirium sets in a little bit, even just from exhaustion and aching feet -- people do start to get a little crazy and if you're alone it can feel a little dangerous -- however, there is also a great sense of community at White Night and many fun night games organically arise -- you can't go wrong with a 5am game of duck-duck-goose with a group of strangers.

When the sun does finally peek over the horizon, it's like waking from a dream, with the strangeness of realising that you never actually went to sleep during the enchanting White Night.

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Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Melbourne.

Online: For details of next year's festival, check whitenightmelbourne.com.au
The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria and Air New Zealand.