Sydney's buzzy festival has become a mess - but it would thrive in Auckland, writes Chris Schulz.

"This is nothing guys," warns a woman wearing a fluorescent yellow vest. Standing on Sydney's waterfront, she looks the part but her words carry the weight of experience.

"This will get so much busier."

She's not wrong. It's only 5pm - a full hour before the sun sets and the lights are switched on for Sydney's Vivid festival - and the concourse is already heaving with cosy couples, shuffling tourists, panicky parents and screaming kids.

But it's about to get a whole lot worse. Thousands of people have flocked to Sydney's waterfront tonight, and they've clogged up every footpath, park bench and vantage point stretching from the Opera House, around the ferry terminals and up to the Park Hyatt hotel.


They're all searching for one thing: the best possible view. Vivid, a three-week light and art festival, has become one of Sydney's biggest attractions, with an estimated 1.7 million visitors last year.

Judging by the scene in front of me, this year's event may have already exceeded that number.

The masses have turned up to see Sydney get an impressive neon makeover, and as the lights get switched on at 6pm, gasps echo across the water as giant lizards crawl over the Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art melts into puddles of goo.

Sydney's inner-city streets are also aglow with gleaming structures and interactive displays, and if you venture even further, you'll find Vivid events in the Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbour and even Taronga Zoo.

There's breathing room up there, but down in the epicentre, smack bang on the waterfront, it's not a fun place to be.

On this Sunday night revellers are out in full force and I quickly realise a casual stroll around the exhibits is not going to be an option.

I push my way past a maze of lights that screaming toddlers are using as a jungle gym, past queues to enter a twisted wreck of neon metal that could be a broken Transformer bot, through a force field of light sabers, and come to a standstill.

Behind Circular Quay No. 6, the crowd crush is so strong it reminds me of that Big Day Out when the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Foo Fighters and The Chemical Brothers all showed up and turned Mt Smart Stadium into a human traffic jam.

The only difference is that this time, I'm not trying to squeeze past sweaty bogans. Instead, parents armed with strollers and tourists brandishing icecreams are my obstacles and I soon lose patience and give up.

As I head to the relative calm of the food trucks behind the Park Hyatt and decide whether to spend $5 on a mug of Milo, it becomes apparent that Vivid has exploded like a fluorescent tube shattering on the ground.

I was here two years ago, and it was downright peaceful compared with the crowd chaos on display tonight.

But there's a place that also needs those crowds, a place with a beautiful but shamefully underused waterfront in desperate need of some love. A place calling out for it to be lit up, glowing, buzzing, humming with lights and jammed full of people sipping $5 Milos.

That place is Auckland's waterfront, and it doesn't just need Vivid, it deserves it.

Who do we need to zap to make it happen?