Now in its 12 year, the Christmas lights at the Hunter Valley Gardens is one of Australia’s biggest Christmas extravaganzas. With themed displays, music, dancing, rides, food, drink and of course the one and only Santa Claus in person. When it comes to everything Christmas the Hunter Valley Gardens has it all. Katey Chesterton reports.
Our family are big on the Christmas spirit, so when we heard the Hunter Valley Christmas Lights Spectacular is the biggest display in the Southern Hemisphere, we booked a cottage nearby faster than you can say “Merry Christmas” for a weekend adventure- and we were beyond impressed.
The lights are set within the sprawling, award-winning Hunter Valley Gardens at Polbokin, about a two-hour drive from Wahroonga.When you visit, you drive (or wander) through beautifully landscaped gardens before crossing through a snowy threshold into a magical wonderland of twinkling lights.
From the moment you walk through the gates you are transported to a Christmas fairytale. At the entrance, carols sound and you’re greeted by stilt-walkers in colourful clown costumes, waving a friendly hello and blowing bubbles into the crowd. Beyond them is the start of the circular path that takes you deep into the gardens for your Christmas lights experience.
The adventure begins
The entire adventure can be done at your own pace, but set aside a minimum of two hours from start to finish, and three to four if you really plan to enjoy every sight, sound and experience. We visited with a three-year-old, a nine-month-old baby, their mum, the grandparents and a wheelchair user (me). We recommend arriving before sundown and taking in the first part of the walk while it’s still light, which takes you to the Nursery Rhymes section. This is a fun setup with oversized storybooks printed with rhymes, an enormous statue Humpty Dumpty to climb on, Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house, plus Alice in Wonderland and the March Hare and some other Christmas favourites (like snowmen) crafted out of shimmering lights.
Rides, Food and Entertainment
The next station is the concourse, where we lingered for an hour as the sun set over the green valley, turning the sky a kaleidoscope of colours above us. There’s plenty to do and see here, including rides, food stalls, Christmas shows, plus Santa’s workshop and a Santa photo station. You’ll also find accessible toilets (very well maintained) and baby change facilities.
The rides are huge and thrilling, although for toddlers (or those under 130cm) the main attractions are the carousel and the toddler Inflatable World and Jumping Castle (20 mins sessions). For bigger kids, there’s a gigantic swing chair and SuperSlide. This is also where you can step inside Santa’s moving, animatronic workshop and see Santa, Mrs Claus, their elves and reindeer, all hard at work preparing for Christmas and loading presents for the boys and girls on to conveyor belts to stack on to Santa’s sleigh. Santa is on hand for the classic family photo (sold in packages). The food stalls were turning out really delicious foods, including creamy gelato, hot cinnamon doughnuts, loaded fires, caramel apples, hotdogs and pizza. Think classic fairground food, but done extremely well. There’s also beer, wine and hot coffee to keep you going. We took a break here at the seating, enjoyed a Christmas show from The Little Scallywagz (featuring Frosty and Rudolph dancing to Christmas carols and songs) and watched the sun go down as we tucked in on hotdogs and cheese fries, taking in the atmosphere and all the glory that surrounded us.
- Rides: Carousel, Inflatable World and Jumping Castle, Swing Chair, Superslide
- Entertainment: The Little Scallywagz Christmas show, Santa’s Workshop, Santa Photos
- Food and Drink: Gelato, caramel apples, doughnuts, woodfired pizza, stuffed spuds, hotdogs, loaded friees, beer and wine, coffee hot chocolate and more
Exploring the Lights
After darkness set in, the trees and grounds around us came to life. The colouful lights of Candyland drew us onward into the glowing trees, where giant Gingerbread men glittered next to colourful bon bons, pastel ice cream cones and a cavalcade of every other sweet treat you could possibly imagine, even a Marshmallow Man. You wander through the display to the sound of cheery Christmas music, carols and popular songs (think Uptown Funk) before the next display is revealed in front of you.
It’s here the lights really come into their own, as you follow the wide, winding path through the incredible sights and come into a huge open glade with rocky cliffs set against a deep, dark lake. Illuminated turtles are clambering along the dark shoreline, while two bright mermaids are perched on the rocks. A ghostly gold ship floats in the centre of the lake, beside the tumbling waterfall topped with gold lettering wishing you a Merry Christmas. It’s a breathtaking sight.
After the water feature, there’s plenty more to explore. Next comes Fairy Land, where Tinkerbell flutters among the trees and rainbow butterflies float next to unicorns and winged horses. Then you are me by Cinderella at the Princess Castle display, where her shimmering coach is drawn by a troupe of bright horses. Don’t forget to look for the North Pole with Santa on his sleigh and you can also see a nativity scene here. As you make your way to the end of what has been an amazing evening seeing your favourites all aglow in the dazzling Christmas lights, your last stop is Around the World. This theme has a brightly-lit Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, The Eiffel Tower and a replica of Harbour Bridge.
If you love Christmas and light displays I urge you to come to the Christmas Light Spectacular in the Hunter Valley Gardens – like us, you’ll be back every year.
Best sections of Lights:
- Nursery Rhymes and Storybook Corner
- Fairy Garden
- Princess Castle
- Around the World
What: The Hunter Valley Christmas Lights Spectacular
Where: The Hunter Valley Gardens, 2090 Broke Rd Pokolbin NSW 2320
Getting there: About a two-hour drive from Wahroonga
Contact: Hunter Valley Gardens Website
Dates: Until Saturday 26 of January (closed Christmas Day)
Times: Gardens open daily 9am – 4pm, lights open 5.30pm – 10pm
Suitable for: All ages, although reasonable fitness required to walk through the gardens. Children under three are free.
Accessibility: Excellent. Paths are winding and wide, with only gentle slopes. Note that the track is unsealed, so wheelchairs or prams may bog after wet weather.
- Family Night Pass (2 Adults 2 Children) $99.00
- Family Night Pass (2 Adults 1 Child) $79.00
- Adult Night Pass $30.00
- Children Night Pass (4-15 years) $25.00
- Children under three years old are free.
- Extra Child Night Pass $21.00
Tokens for individual rides are $6.00 each for unlimited rides wristbands are $15.00 per person. Food, drinks and Santa photos are also extra.
What we recommend:
Booking tickets in advance as the lines can be long if you buy tickets on the day
Watching the weather and plan around the predictions. We planned to visit Saturday night but we were rained out, but luckily we were able to stay an extra night and head to the display on Sunday. e Tickets are non-refundable, but you’re able to visit on a different night if you’re rained out (not always possible if you’re traveling from Sydney or elsewhere and have accommodation booked).
Don’t miss: Hot cinnamon doughnuts, Santa’s workshop, the waterfall lights display.
Fancy more festive fun? Then take a look at our dedicated Christmas Corner for Santa locations, streets with incredible Christmas lights, carols, pantomimes, real trees, Elf on the Shelf, Christmas markets, gift ideas and more!