Forbidden City
A replica of the Forbidden City will rise north of Sydney, Australia. Creative Commons/pkingdesign

A full-scale replica of the gates to the Forbidden City will soon dominate the skyline of an Australian town 50 miles north of Sydney and form the entryway to a massive new Chinese-themed amusement park.

The AU$500 million (US$521 million) attraction is easily one of the largest-ever tourism projects in New South Wales. The Wyong Shire Council approved the sale of 15.7 hectares of land to the Australian Chinese Theme Park Pty Ltd, or ACTP, for $10 million Wednesday and announced the project on Monday after Mayor Doug Eaton signed the land agreement in the company of Aimin Fu, the director consular representing the Chinese Consular General.

“What this proposal will do is turn the Wyong Shire into a tourist Mecca and bring millions of dollars worth of tourism into the area,” Eaton said at the signing ceremony. “Outside the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, this has the potential to be among the biggest tourist attractions in the state.”

Eaton said construction on the “unique” and “iconic” tourist venture would begin in 2015 and is scheduled for completion by 2020.

Bruce Zhong, chairman of the ACTP, said the park would provide between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs.

“We have received great support from the beginning from the Foreign Affairs Office of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government and Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government,” Zhong noted. “They twice sent a delegation to visit Wyong and the land.

“This is just the beginning, and we will now work hard to start detailed planning work,” he added.

The tentative plan includes eight themed sections. The first, China City Gate, boasts a replica of the Beijing Imperial Palace, built to size, with red walls and a golden roof visible from the F3 Freeway, which links Sydney with the Central Coast.

The Tang and Song Academy section will showcase the architectural style of the Tang and Song dynasty and host art, painting and calligraphy exhibits. The 1,000-seat Wyong Theater aims to become “as popular as the Sydney Opera House” and will feature modern dancing shows each weekend. The Royal Villa, meanwhile, is slated to become a conference-friendly resort.

Other sections of the theme park include Water Towns of South China, Panda Paradise (which will not have any actual pandas on display) and a nine-story Thanksgiving Temple, said to be the “first of its kind outside of China.”

News of the park has already made national headlines in China, and its owners expect, upon completion, it will woo Chinese travelers Down Under.

The Chinese market is Australia’s fastest growing and most valuable, worth more than AU$3.8 billion (US$3.97 billion) in 2011. More than 400,000 Chinese tourists visit New South Wales alone each year, and the U.N. World Tourism Organization, or UNWTO, expects an average growth of 12 to 15 percent.

By 2015, the UNWTO expects some 100 million Chinese to travel out of the country, making them the single-largest source of international tourism.