The Hunter's Favourite Christmas Celebration
Ushered in by bushfires, floods and then a global pandemic, 2020 was undoubtedly a year of constant change. What a year!
It’s great to know some things don’t change though, and Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular is a prime example. It’s a magical event that lets families come together to create unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.
It takes the team twelve months of planning and preparation to organise this amazing event. With over three million lights, those are the kinds of numbers needed to create the largest Christmas lights display in the Southern hemisphere: the annual Christmas Lights Spectacular at Pokolbin’s Hunter Valley Gardens. This year they’ve added over 20 brand new displays, so there’s something new to see for those that have made Christmas Lights Spectacular a family tradition. The Hunter‘s favourite celebration of Christmas magic is back this year.
Unsurprisingly, organising an event like the Christmas Lights Spectacular isn't just an end-of-year process – it’s a year-round job. The HVG team is continuously planning new displays to ensure the experience is fresh every year.
"Twelve months out, we look at what we want to do, what we want to change, how we want to evolve to make the event bigger and better every year” explains Charise Foulstone, Events Manager at Hunter VaIley Gardens.
"Generally, by the middle of the year we have a plan in place, and all the ordering will have been completed, and then October the last of the lights arrive, this year however we were still receiving lights right up until the last week of November, so there are some displays that have been added in early December."
The lights are created explicitly for Hunter Valley Gardens after a comprehensive design process mapping out each year's displays. "It’s all made to order for us," Charise explains. "We have a plan; we do a drawing, we send our team out to research options and then come up with the right concept for our event."
Of course, once the lights arrive, there's the business of actually setting them up – which is no mean feat. The team begins the lengthy process of putting up the lights around three months before the Spectacular opens in November each year.
"It's quite detailed, and there are lots of little components to it," Charise says.
"So, the team aim to start in August, and then we are still literally putting up lights right up to the moment we open, and this year it was even happening after that.”
While some displays and the Christmas Lights Spectacular path remains the same every year, the event is always evolving. Layouts are changed, and new displays created, so the experience feels fresh for every guest, even those who make a point of return attendance. "Every year we change it so that when you come the following year, you're not looking at exactly the same setup and exactly the same area where the lights have been," Charise explains.
"Quite a large amount of our time goes into looking at the layout, thinking about how we want to change it for next year, what new and interesting things we think people would like to see."
This year, the Gardens’ favourite Christmas essentials are back better than ever. Families can capture a moment next to the eight-metre tall Mega Christmas tree, stroll along and take their little elves to visit Santa’s enchanting workshop. Santa Claus himself will be available for photos.
Couples can again soak up the romantic energy in the Lover’s Corner, an experience created for those wanting to celebrate their love this festive season. For the extra magical touch, don’t forget the famous light tunnels, where you can walk amidst the stars as you wander through hundreds of lights.
While most travel is off the cards for the time being, Hunter Valley Gardens are thrilled to introduce their Around the World display, where guests can wander past some of the world’s most famous landmarks, including the new Australiana scene and Taj Mahal.
For the young and young at heart, there will be even more fun with The Gardens’ giant Walk-Through Bauble, which is back and bright as ever, as well as the beloved Ferris Wheel, Teacup and Venetian Carousel rides.
If you’re heading up for the New Year period, don’t miss the famous fireworks display to be held on New Year’s Eve.
Overall, the big focus this year has been on continuing to expand interactivity. The HVG team has designed a more immersive experience than in previous years, pairing the usual sparkling visuals with an even greater sense of all-surrounding magic and wonder.
For those who are regular visitors to the Christmas Lights Spectacular and are hoping to revisit previous displays, never fear – all your old favourites will be there.
Santa's Workshop is up and running, as usual, Santa photos will also be available until Christmas Eve, and families won't want to miss an opportunity to take a snap next to the eight-metre-tall illuminated Christmas tree.
Kids can enjoy the fairytale scene created around Princess Castle. At the same time, guests of all ages can take a trip across the globe with the Christmas Around the World display, which incorporates famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Edinburgh Castle, London's Big Ben, Statue of Liberty, our very own Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge and the brand new Taj Mahal. 'Hunter', the all-time favourite, enormous illuminated teddy bear, is also back for more prime photo opportunities. And don’t miss the walk-through Christmas bauble, as giant, gorgeous and glittering as ever.
Some other classic displays have made a return this year as well, including the sweetest stop on the path: Candyland.
"Everyone loves Candyland! It’s still in the same position, and of course, it gets added to all the time,” Charise says.
“Another one is Fairyland – that’s always a huge favourite. And the Twelve Days [of Christmas display] has been with us for as long as I’ve been here, an incredibly long time. We have that every year because people love it.”
And, it's not difficult to see why, with the classic carol combining with corresponding light displays to create an irresistibly festive atmosphere.
The lights and displays are the main attraction, of course, but there's plenty of additional entertainment to enjoy. Classic rides like the specially designed traditional Venetian carousel will delight visitors young and old, while the Ferris Wheel offers visitors a unique view of the Gardens from 25 metres up, and this year we’ve added a brand new Tea Cup ride which is a favourite with both kids and kids at heart. Keep in mind that all rides are user-pay, and height and age restrictions apply. Tickets for the rides are available from the ticket booth in the Event Area. The event area also has food and beverage stalls when you’re ready to refuel.
Christmas Lights Spectacular is an ideal family event, but it's not just for parents and kids. Couples can enjoy a date night in the festive spirit, made even more romantic with Lover’s Corner which was the location of 19 proposals last year. And it's an excellent option for groups of friends or colleagues looking to get into the Christmas spirit out in Wine Country. (Group rates are available for groups of 10+ adults)
“Christmas Lights really is an event for everyone,” Charise says. "You'll get older people who just love the feel of it, right to the very young who are just wowed by it. There’s a little bit of something for everyone.”
And the fun doesn't stop after Christmas Day has been and gone. Visitors can experience the festive feel right up until the last night of the Christmas Lights Spectacular on Australia Day, 26th January 2021. The Gardens are also a perfect place to see in the New Year, with the sky as well as the grounds set to be lit up by an impressive fireworks display on New Year’s Eve.
The bottom line? No matter when you plan to go, and whether you’ve been to previous events or not, this year’s extra-interactive Christmas Lights Spectacular is an unmissable experience. "Even if people have been previously, they really should get back and have another look at it,’’ Charise encourages.
“We’ve put a lot of money and a lot of work into this year, so it truly is bigger and better than ever before.”
The Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular is currently open and runs through to Sunday 26th January 2021. Gates open each day at 6:30pm and close at 10.30pm. Individual, family and group tickets are available for night entry. Check out all the details and purchase tickets at www.huntervalleygardens.com.au. Tickets are date specific and weekends are selling fast – so get to it!