Watch Out! There's Dinosaurs About
More than 300 million years ago, the area now known as Pokolbin would have been a very different place.
Deep in the midst of the geological period known as the Carboniferous, the Lower Hunter region was a harsh but spectacular environment, beset by a freezing climate and frequent eruptions of fiery hot lava.
While local volcanoes such as Mount Bright have long been extinct, their legacy can still be felt today in the distinctive wines produced from the region’s rich red volcanic soils.
Now, after hundreds of millions of years, locals and visitors alike will get a chance to experience the deep rumbling and fiery light shows of Pokolbin’s eruptive past thanks to the latest addition to Hunter Valley Gardens.
Rising up spectacularly on the western edge of the glorious 14-hectare gardens, a newly-formed volcano will strike awe into visiting crowds this April as it spews forth plumes of bright (artificial) flames to light up the night sky.
The geological landmark will become a temporary part of the iconic Hunter Valley Gardens landscape as one of the highlights of Mega Creatures, an annual event that transports visitors back through history to the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Featuring more than 100 animatronic and static ‘mega creatures’, the event will see the gardens overrun with everything from the scariest Cretaceous-era dinosaurs and some of the most chilling hunters of the Ice Age to the mythical might of dragons and unimaginably giant insects.
Hunter Valley Gardens Marketing and Communications Manager Kim Jacobs said Mega Creatures began six years ago as a far smaller addition to the Christmas Lights Spectacular before eventually evolving into a separate event.
“The first one started in conjunction with the Christmas lights. We rolled it out in January as an extra element, but it was so popular that eventually, we decided to make it a standalone event,” she said.
“It has moved around a little bit on the calendar, it was in the September holidays at one point, but for the last couple of years, it’s been held over Easter.
“We’re always looking for new things to bring people to the Gardens, and this was a natural progression from the events we already had like Snow Time and the Christmas lights.
“The dinosaurs excite kids so much; they love them. Some even come dressed up as dinosaurs to wander in the gardens.
“But it’s actually a real family experience. We get a lot of grandparents bringing their grandkids in to see it, and the grandparents love it just as much as everybody else.
“We try to add to it every year, and this year’s Mega Creatures will once again be bigger and better than ever with the addition of more than 20 new displays; there’ll be something for everyone.
“A couple of our most anticipated items are the volcano and a walking dinosaur, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Hunter Valley Gardens Event Manager Charise Foulstone said while the volcano would certainly be impressive to look at during the day, it’s true magnificence would remain dormant until the sun sinks below the horizon.
“We’ve got this giant volcano this year, which is very exciting. It’s going to be tied into a whole T-Rex scene, which will look amazing, especially at night, which is what it was purposely bought for,” she said.
This will be the first time visitors can take part in a night-time experience during Mega Creatures, with the launch of the Night Safari sessions.
Held from 6pm to 10.30pm, they will showcase the displays like never before with an eerie night-time landscape that will have you nervously wondering what is lurking around the next bend in the path or behind that tree.
Special lighting has been installed to make the displays come to life, and the night-time calls of the dinosaurs will have you jumping out of your skin.
“It actually came about because some of us were in the gardens at night last year when everybody else had left and all of the lights were out,” Ms Jacobs said.
“The dinosaurs were still on and roaring in the dark, and it was quite spectacular to be on one side of the gardens and to hear them roaring on the other.
“They were being set off by some of the little animals that run around. They’re all motion controlled, so a rabbit would run in front of a sensor, and a T-Rex would roar over 600 metres away, and it was very inspiring. So from that, we thought it would be great to have visitors experience it as well.”
While the volcano will be the most spectacular point of difference between the night and day sessions, the Night Safari will also inject a whole new atmosphere into some of the other displays as well.
“The Night Safari is a chance to see Mega Creatures like never before. I’m very excited about all of the displays and how they will look at night,” Ms Foulstone said.
“The dinosaur nursery is adorable. I’ve been setting that up at the moment, and it is looking very cute. It will look amazing under the lights.
“The Ice Age exhibit will be really exciting this year. We’ve put a lot of effort and work into making it look more like you’re going through an ice cave, and we’ve got an extra 3m tall woolly mammoth to go with our existing mammoth and the two sabre-toothed tigers.
“The spider tunnel is going to be pretty cool as well. It’s got all of those spider sounds; it’ll be totally black in there and will be very scary with lots of spider webs and animatronic spiders. There’s nothing quite like walking through a dark spider tunnel at night… it’s not for the faint-hearted.”
With so many elements in the mix, it’s little wonder that planning for and setting up this spectacular event is virtually a year-round operation.
“Ideas come right throughout the year,” Ms Foulstone said.
“Obviously, it takes quite a long time to plan what dinosaurs we want, so as soon as we finish this event, we will be preparing for the next one, deciding what we’d like to include, what we think would work, how we can add to it and improve it.
“Initially, we’ll come up with a bit of a plan as to what we require from China and then we will finetune it throughout the year, but really knuckle down probably in January and get a really good plan together.
“Towards the end of February, we start setting up the areas that could be closed off to the public. We then do all the marquee displays, the cave displays and then as soon as they’re done, we keep moving on really because it does take some time to get it all set up.
“Because we’re a display garden, a lot of the dinosaurs require planting around them, it makes them more natural in their surroundings, and that will start in early March as well.
“Then the bigger dinosaurs need a crane to put them in place, but we are a little bit weather dependent on when we can get them in.”
Mega Creatures will run from 27 March until 25 April, with day sessions from 9am to 4.30pm and Night Safari sessions from 6pm to 10.30pm.
The giant Easter Egg hunt will not run this year due to COVID-19 restrictions; however, the Easter Bunny will still pop by to hand out chocolate eggs from 10am–2pm each day over the Easter long weekend.
For more information and to book tickets visit www.huntervalleygardens.com.au/events/mega-creatures
MEGA CREATURE MUST-SEES
While there are far too many elements to list individually, a few of the key highlights of this year’s Mega Creatures event will be:
DINOSAURS – Featuring an all-new flying Pterosaur and 16m long animatronic Brachiosaurus plus all your favourites, including T-Rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Spinosaurus and more.
DRAGONS – Hunter Valley Gardens is home to various dragons, including the 6-metre-long winged dragon, a two-headed dragon and the new black dragon.
MEGA CREATURES – Be amazed by the gigantic spider-saurus, cicada, frogs and creepy crawlies, with new additions including oversized butterflies, a praying mantis and even a talking tree!
TRAIL APP – A specifically designed app that creates a more interactive experience for visitors, including GPS located dinosaurs, fun facts, photo challenges and a dinosaur quiz.
DINO EGG HUNT – Each day, a dinosaur egg will be hidden in the garden for kids to find. The winner will receive a family pass to the Christmas Lights Spectacular and a dinosaur prize. One winner per session per day (available for day entry sessions only).
WALKING DINOSAUR – A 2.5m dinosaur will be on the prowl around the garden to excite and scare kids of all ages. From 10.30am–2.30pm and 6.30pm–9.30pm.
FOSSIL FIND – The ever-popular fossil find will be located undercover in the marquee. Hidden dinosaur skeletons will be covered under the sand, and special tools will be provided to uncover what is beneath.
RIDES – Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Gardens 25m above the ground in the spectacular Ferris wheel, get your adrenaline pumping as you fly 11m above the ground in the swing chair or enjoy the slightly more sedate delights of the traditional Venetian carousel and tea cup ride.