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Friday, January 16, 2015

Christmas Lights Spectacular at Hunter Valley Gardens + Harrigan's Irish Pub and Accommodation: Review, Tips, Where To Stay In The Area

I have heard about the Christmas Lights Spectacular at Hunter Valley Gardens and until I visited I will confess I imagined a wonderful line up of local homes decorated with ample lights and Santas and a myriad of Christmas motifs.

How wrong I was!

Set up in the famed Hunter Valley Gardens, the largest gardens in Australia (yes!), the Hunter Valley Christmas Lights Spectacular is a world-class Christmas lights event, which is, frankly, kinda mind-blowing - for kiddies and adults alike.

Okay, so my tips to get the most out of it, upfront!

Get there when it opens! Yes, as soon as the gates open at 6.30pm (check for any times changes on the site). You will see the lights in the daylight/at dusk, which may not be as dazzling as night-time lights at first, but as you start to walk through the gardens you will appreciate how the lights look as the sun goes down, as sunset starts to sift through the majestic gardens.

Some more tips upfront, because that's what you came to read, right?

Have dinner before you venture in, or buy some light dinner snacks at the gardens (pide bread, hot chips, etc) as the whole walk through will take you at least one and a half hours. You will very likely stop and take photos and go on the rides (all the rides cost extra, and are not included in the admission price. The ferris wheel costs $25 for a family of four to ride, though it IS a long ride and it's HUGE! You get to see the whole gardens from up really, really high! So worth taking the ride) and there is a free kiddies show when you come into the park on the stage near the water/entrance. Check show times as they perform at least twice. This show is included in the admission price, and a great way to kick off your long walk through the gardens.

Take a camera that takes fantastic day and night time snaps. If you are using an iPhone, bring it fully charged - you will not stop taking pics! It's all sensational and snap-worthy! (Here are some of mine):

The Mega Bugs! 
More scary Mega Bugs! 

The spectacular entrance to the 12 Days of Christmas light and music show

The tribute to Sydney, in daylight, from afar. See it at night and be dazzled!

Also, if you come along to visit the gardens after Christmas, it's still as exciting and relevant - the festive lights are all there, and many of the themed light shows are not seasonal - for example, the Sydney harbour light display, a spectacular Eiffel tower, walking through an entire 'candy land' of sweet de-lights ;)

Plus, this year they have included the 'Mega Bugs' as part of the admission price from January. So, when the gardens re-open in January, the Mega Bugs are added and they are spectacular. Littlies will be fascinated and some may feign being frightened by them (I saw loads of kids yelp, but then come in for a much closer, fascinated look) and they truly are a bit of a marvel - they are so huge! These mechanised mega insects move their limbs, but are cordoned off, so really little kids won't freak out too much!

It's actually Australia’s largest animatronics bug display, and a first of its kind event display, giving you the chance to get up close and personal with numerous giant animatronic creatures, including an 8-metre Praying Mantis and a 4-metre butterfly, as they mimic lifelike insects. I loved it, as did the kids. This inaugural exhibition showcases everything from beetles, centipedes and cicadas, scorpions and snails

Highlights? They are all highlights - each and every corner of the park. By the time you finish, you will be truly dazzled and planning your next trip, I guarantee.

Organisers tell me they are planning a winter spectacular in July (so stay tuned with more information on that), and locals tells me that all year round Hunter Valley Gardens stage spectacular seasonal shows. For example, a rose spectacular in spring, and more.

The Hunter Valley Gardens village itself is so very beautiful. You can wander through here before you head into the gardens, but all the shops here close early, so there is time in between when the shops close and the gardens with the lights spectacular open to just sit in the park with a picnic dinner for example, or take a million photos in the glorious light. Here is just one of mine. Best natural light backdrop I have ever seen!

And now, inside the Christmas Lights Spectacular at Hunter Valley Gardens:

The kiddie's performance happens here at dusk, and in the evening

The Eiffel Tower - wait 'til you see it at night!

One of my fave parts of the gardens - fit for a princess!

Watching the free show, by The Scallywagz
A word about weather and the lights - the lights are cancelled if it is raining. With the temperamental Aussie summer, it may well rain in the evening when the gardens are due to open. Management really can't control this, which can be a problem if you are coming from out of town and have booked accommodation for the night. As you can imagine, it is something completely out of anyone's control.

It is highly advisable to check the weather forecast several days ahead of time. The gardens do not offer refunds for rainy weather conditions (if the rain starts while you are in the gardens, for example).

See what I mean? At dusk, the gardens come alive! By the time we hopped on the ferris wheel, we saw the entire park at sunset, and it was magical!

We stayed as guests of Harrigan's Irish Pub and Accommodation, which was a fantastic place to stay. A one minute drive up the road from the lights, it is super family friendly (I love that there is a free jumping castle within the grounds, plus a pool area and family friendly meals), it is one of several accommodation options just a few minutes drive from the gardens.

Click here for more info on Harrigan's and to book. The staff are super friendly (go to the bottle shop for wine tasting, and come back a complete expert about the area thanks to very knowledgeable staff!), and the huge, shaded dining/drinking area is perfect for a lazy afternoon feed and drinks, or early lunch. The dining area where breakfast is served keeps in with the theme of ye olde accommodation and the buffet breakfast options are delicious.

Here are some photos of Harrigan's:

Even the entrance to Harrigan's is spectacular, and set amongst vineyards

A little tip: the kitchen closes at 9pm, so if you see the garden lights show then come back famished, you'll have to head into nearby Cessnock for takeaway or get pizza delivered to your room by local takeaway venues. Again, Harrigan's staff were completely helpful in offering this young, hungry family tips on what/where to eat :)

More about the biggest festival light display in Australia:

There are 1.5 million (yes, million!) festive lights showcased in the one spectacular place.

Now in its eighth year, Christmas Lights Spectacular at Hunter Valley Gardens is definitely bigger and better than ever. This year the event welcomes five brand new displays, including themes from Alice In Wonderland, Winnie The Pooh and Candy Land.

The extravaganza not only consists of a record number of lights, but also plays host to Santa until 24 December, and a firework display on the event’s opening night, New Year’s Eve and Australia Day. With so many attractions, this event is the ultimate way to kick-start your family’s festive season and enjoy some school holiday fun.

Kyle McKendry, General Manager of Hunter Valley Gardens says, “This spectacle grows each year and 2014 is set to be our most innovative yet! It’s fantastic to see the excitement on a child’s face when they see the lights and meet Santa for the first time.  With so much to explore, the Christmas Lights Spectacular is the perfect family tradition.”

This year, explore, eat, drink and be merry with a variety of food and beverage stalls. Experience Christmas carols until the 24 December, performances from Little Scallywagz, a big ferris wheel or get your heartbeat racing on the bungee (rides from 21 November 2014)! Christmas Lights Spectacular will be dazzling every night from Friday 7 November, 2014 until Monday 26 January, 2015 (excluding Christmas Day and night). Gates will open at 6.30pm and will close at 10.00pm. Roaming entertainment and performances will be open for the duration of the night.

Highlight for 2015 - Hunter Valley Gardens will also be home to an amazing new event, Mega Bugs! Starting from January 3, 2015, at no additional cost you can come and see giant creatures from the underworld in the gardens. Featuring Spider-saurus and a towering eight metre high Praying Mantis, plus many more creatures that move and make noises. Mega Bugs is a one of a kind showcase of giant creatures from 1 metre to 8 metres high that will be excite, thrill and amaze the whole family. Perfect for your next school holiday adventure.

Prices for the Hunter Valley Christmas Lights Spectacular: 
Adult $25                                           
Children (4-15 yrs) $20
Children 3 yrs and under FREE
Family (2 adults + 2 children) $77
Extra Child (with Family Pass) $17
Day + Night Adult $44
Day + Night Child $21

To find out more about the Christmas Lights Spectacular, call 02 4998 4000. In the event of wet weather, please visit the Hunter Valley Gardens Facebook or Twitter page or contact Hunter Valley Gardens to find out if the Christmas Lights Spectacular will be open.

For more info, go here:

To buy tickets, go here.

For more on the event and more spectacular pics, go here:

All in all, I very highly recommended the Christmas Lights Spectacular at Hunter Valley Gardens. Kids will love it, but I also highly recommend it for couples, young teens, and the elderly. Crowds are busier before Christmas, so if you want a slightly less crowded experience, perhaps come in January, or come visit twice! I have never seen anything quite like it, and will be a regular guest each year. Tell your friends, and come visit! A spectacular, truly international-level event you will be dazzled by.

And now, some more pics, of the Hunter Valley area. Allow for more than a 24 hour trip to the area, but if a day is all you have you can see a lot still!

Here are some photos of the Hunter Valley Gardens:

And then, it was off to Tempus Two, just a few minutes away from the gardens:

The Smelly Cheese Shop - an absolute must for cheese lovers and all kinds of gourmet delicacies

The Tempus Two outdoor dining area

VIP wine tasting? Sure! You can do it at Tempus Two

Tempus Two wine tasting

Vineyards at Tempus Two

The star of the show: grapes! At Tempus Two

The renowned De Bortoli is a short drive nearby
For more on Hunter Valley travel, see this link for or this one called Wine Country in the Hunter Valley region. There is so much to do in this region (I haven't even mentioned the local zoo, and… more wine tasting). Allow yourself several days to immerse yourself in the heavenly region, which is around three hours (245.1 kmvia the Pacific Motorway.

1 comment:

  1. Last year this Festival was really great!! I attended this event with my college friends. At that time we used to do loads of parties at the local best New York city party venues. I really had a great time there.