Did you know you can build a snowman and go tobogganing just an hour north of the Central Coast? The Hunter Valley Gardens has transformed into a winter wonderland, and provided you the perfect opportunity to give your kids a taste of the snow. Playing in Puddles visited on Saturday and we absolutely loved tobogganing down the 40-metre ice slide, building snowmen in the Play Zone and gliding around the ice rink (okay, so we were more shuffling than gliding, but we had a lot of fun).
The tobogganing was a highlight for us – for both the adults and the kids. The icy slide was a super-fast ride that had everyone laughing, and our son shouting, “Again, again, let’s do it again.” They have two 40-metre ice slides that each take two sliders. Our two year old sat on our lap to slide, while our four year old flitted between going solo or sliding with us. We never waited more than five minutes in line. Given that some Australian ski resorts have now banned tobogganing (bah humbug to that), we loved that we were able to come here and let our kids experience this fun.
We spent ages in the Snow Play Zone building snowmen. It was such a treat to do this in the glorious sunshine – no cold fingers or frosty cheeks. It felt like we were at the beach. The Gardens supplied shovels, buckets, and wooden blocks that could be used as a nose or eyes. To get the most out of this activity (which is obviously a highlight) it’s best to come prepared. We all came dressed in waterproof pants and gloves, and shoes that had a lot of grip so we didn’t slip on the snow. We might not have looked the trendiest, but are butts stayed dry.
Watching master ice carver Kenji Ogawa was another highlight. Ogawa – a Japanese born and trained ice sculptor – used an electric chainsaw, chisel and saw to carve two giant blocks of ice into a penguin and snowman. The kids loved watching the transformation and got a thrill in being invited onto the stage to touch the glistening sculptures at the end of the show. You can catch Kenji Ogawa in action every Saturday and Sunday (11am and 2pm; weekends only).
This year, they’ve also brought a 9D cinema experience to the festival. Forget 3D cinema – that’s so old hat. This screening combines Augmented Reality and Mobile Virtual Reality into one experience, which means your seat will shake, rotate, turn and vibrate, and you could feel wind or rain on your skin. We didn’t have have time to do this in the end, as we were so busy trying everything else, but it certainly sounds like a lot of fun. There are only very limited seats available for each screening, so this is one activity you may have a little wait for.
As well as the chance to wander the beautiful grounds, the Gardens also boasts a 35-metre long x 12-metre high super slide, a Venetian carousel, a giant swing chair, a ferris wheel and multiple large inflatables and jumping castles. Tokens for individual rides are $6 each; unlimited rides wristbands are $15 pp.
We know this isn’t the cheapest activity around – special events such as this rarely are. If you look at the experiences and advantages, though, you’ll soon see it’s worth every penny. Your kids can spend an entire day playing in the snow in the glorious sunshine – without risk of blizzard conditions or -5C temperatures. And, drum roll, it’s only an hour away! The drive to the Snowy Mountains is eight hours! (yes, Google might tell you it’s six, but we all know that kids need toilet stops and food stops and just general “I’m going crazy in the car” stops, so the drive always takes a lot longer). If you’re not into skiing, or the cold, or just don’t have the time or money or inclination to drive more or less to Victoria, this is an absolute gem.
Our day was full of new experiences and enormous smiles. We can’t wait to do it all again next year.
Snow Time at the Hunter Valley Gardens
When: 10am-6pm, Saturday June 30th until Sunday July 22nd.
Entry costs: Adult (16yrs +) $32; Child (4-15 yrs) $25; Child under 4 free; Family Passes from $82 (1A + 2C). See website for more options. Ice skating, Tobogganing, snow play, face painting, roving entertainment, ice sculpting and the 9D snow adventure are included in entry.
Ride costs: Tokens for individual rides are $6 each; unlimited rides wristbands are $15 pp.
Where: The Hunter Valley Gardens, 2090 Broke Road, Pokolbin.
Age group: All ages.
Tip: Ice skating sessions last 20 minutes, starting from 10am every day; book a session early to ensure you don’t miss out! Take waterproof pants, gloves and shoes with grip for snow play. Take cash for food and drinks as only a few of the food vendors take card. There is an ATM, but it has run out during busy periods.
Contact: 02 4998 4000, www.huntervalleygardens.com.au