When you think of Hunter Valley Wine Country, you imagine sampling a selection of cellar doors along the tasting trail or long, lazy lunches at one of the gourmet restaurants and cafés. But the region doesn’t just cater to wine connoisseurs or foodies – it’s also the perfect destination for a family-friendly holiday, with ample activities to keep the kids entertained.
The stunning beauty of the Hunter Valley Gardens is the top of the list for many families making their way to wine country.
Featuring eight kilometres of walking paths winding through 14 hectares of gardens, the site is a natural wonderland with more than 6,000 trees, 600,000 shrubs and over one million ground cover plants, plus waterfalls, statues, murals and more. Ten individually themed gardens showcase the artistry of gardens around the world, with everything from the Italian Grotto to the Oriental Garden offering a lush landscape of both native and exotic varieties of plants.
Of course, the biggest highlight for the younger members of the family is always the fantastical Storybook Garden, taking visitors on a journey through childhood dreams, memories, and fantasies.
Larger-than-life nursery rhyme characters and spectacular murals greet you at every corner, offering excellent photo opportunities as you join Humpty Dumpty on the wall, Jack and Jill as they tumble down the hill and Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
A festive trip to the Gardens also allows you to take in the magical sight of the annual Christmas Lights Spectacular, with more than two million lights helping the Gardens take on a whole new level of excitement after dark. There are also carnival rides, food vans and entertainment, with day/night tickets available.
A number of the region’s wineries also have beautifully landscaped gardens to explore, with Constable Estate at Pokolbin offering countless gardens including the Oak Walk, Sculpture Park, Camellia Garden, Secret Garden, Millennium Walk, Rose Garden, and more, while Hunter’s Dream Estate has the most exquisite Japanese Gardens.
As this month’s cover story suggests, the Hunter’s wine country is also a prime destination for animal lovers of all ages, with countless exotic and native species on show at the superb Hunter Valley Zoo at Nulkaba (see full story here).
But it’s not the only place you can get up close and personal with four-legged creatures during a trip to the Hunter.
Head out to Lovedale and saddle up for a day of equestrian fun at Hunter Valley Horse Riding and Adventures (pictured top). Ride the unique and beautiful Molly Morgan Range and experience the spectacular views of the Hunter Valley Wine Country and Lower Hunter, with riding available every day for both beginners and more experienced riders.
Older children and adults can hit the trail alongside a qualified guide, or watch the native wildlife begin to emerge at twilight on one of the spectacular sunset rides, while tiny tots and kids under eight years can hop on a pony for a gentle stroll over the fields while spotting a few of the local kangaroos. Children can also visit the aviary to say hello to the parrots, guinea pigs and chooks.
There will be plenty of farm animals to meet and greet at Starline Alpacas as well, with the peaceful Broke property offering farm stay accommodation in one of 16 charming cottages. Guests can help collect some eggs from the hens for breakfast or grab a fishing line and see if they can catch a fish from the well-stocked dam, before joining non-staying visitors to feed the alpacas and other farm animals from 9am – 3pm daily.
Above: Segways at Hunter Resort
There are plenty of opportunities to make the most of the sensational Summer weather and get active in the great outdoors around the Hunter Valley.
Why not combine your trip to the Hunter Valley Gardens with a round at the nearby Hunter Valley Aqua Golf and Putt-Putt.
Located within the Hunter Valley Gardens Shopping Village, the site includes a golf driving range with an incentive - the chance to win prizes by landing a ball in the floating nets on the lake.
Prizes include cash jackpots, as well as vouchers to the finest restaurants, cellar doors, golf courses and hot air balloon rides, with clubs catering for golfers of all ages.
Add a little extra fun to your visit with a round on the 18-hole Putt Putt course beside the lake, which offers a challenging undulating course that includes the infamous ‘Heartbreak Hill’ 11th hole, where making a bogey is a good score!
The Hunter is also home to another new putt-putt course, built as a scaled model of Bathurst’s famous Mount Panorama racing car track.
Measuring 40m wide by 80m deep, the golf course features Mount Panorama themed artwork and signage throughout and obstacles shaped from racing car parts. Players putt through V8 supercar rims, between V8 supercar brake disks and down Conrod Straight.
Not surprisingly the high-octane themed course can be found on site at Go Karts Go Hunter Valley at Kearsley, which features the biggest four-stroke outdoor go-kart track and the fastest four-stroke karts in the Hunter.
With specially designed Junior Go Karts as well as twin seaters, the track caters for kids as young as three years of age riding alongside their parents, ensuring a fun day out for the whole family. Those looking for even more fun at the one location can also have a go at the new archery range, which features moveable targets and space for 14 people at any one time.
Slow things down a notch and take a ride on two wheels at Hunter Valley Resort, where you can enjoy a fun Segway tour that starts outside the brewery and explores the off-road tracks and trails of this vast bushland property.
Travel along an old 1880s stock route and encounter scores of kangaroos, awesome views of the Brokenback Ranges and even the odd wombat, before heading back through the Resort’s vineyard to finish the journey.
Above: The British Lolly Shop
SHOPPING AND SCHOOL HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES
Aside from the Gardens and the golf, the Hunter Valley Gardens Shopping Village is also home to a range of unique boutiques and mouth-watering destinations that are sure to pique the interest of every member of the family.
The Hunter Valley Gift and Crystal Shop offers everything from amethyst and citrine to tourmaline and zebra jasper, with a chance to fossick for natural crystals, polished cut crystal hearts and spheres, crystal jewellery and much more.
There is also a large range of Himalayan salt lamps to choose from in varying shapes and sizes, which are said to cleanse and purify the air while assisting with allergies and adding a calming light source to the home.
Kids will be hard-pressed to go past The British Lolly Shop without stopping in, with two life-sized toy British soldiers guarding the entrance to the sweetest of destinations. Choose from nine varieties of bonbons as well as lemon sherbets, humbugs, Blackpool Rock, toffee, nougat, chocolate sweets and bars, with some of the finest quality confectionery and gourmet products from the UK.
Cupcake Espresso and the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company will also provide the perfect sweet treat to enjoy while reading the latest children’s story or picture book from Village Books, which also stocks soft toys and handcrafted gift items.
For locals looking for some free school holiday fun for the kids around the Hunter Valley, Cessnock City Council puts on a wide range of workshops and activities at their network of libraries, most of which have little or no associated costs.
From building a kid-sized cubby with a pile of old newspapers to exploring how our amazing bodies work, making pretend snot, and taking home a piece of delicious edible skin layer cake, there’s sure to be plenty to fascinate, educate and keep the kids busy. For more details on the events, dates and times, visit www.cessnock.nsw.gov.au/community