December marks the start of summer here in Australia and, with temperatures reaching 37C today, it feels that it may be a baptism of fire for these new expats. So what do you do when it’s too hot to explore by foot? Usually I would suggest exploring a museum or similar in air-conditioned comfort, but on this occasion we had been invited to a morning tea at the Hunter Valley Gardens as annual pass holders, which was followed by a tour of the gardens on their miniature train. At this time of year, the gardens are most well known for the Christmas Lights Spectacular and I will take you on a virtual tour of the lights closer to Christmas, but this visit allows me to show you the beauty of the gardens in daylight.
The Hunter Valley Gardens were opened in 2003 on the site of former vineyards and paddocks and encompasses 60 acres, subdivided into ten distinct gardens traversed by 8km of walking paths. However, with the temperature rising, we took the easier option of hopping on the train for our tour.
Having passed through the rose garden, which holds more than 8,000 roses, we moved on to the formal garden; European-style with topiary, terraces and a wishing fountain, not to mention the huge Christmas tree!
Passing by the 180 year old elephant gates, we entered the Indian Mosaic Garden with its teahouse overlooking the lake before visiting the Chinese Moongate Garden, the entrance guarded by Chinese dragons.
A particular favourite with my kids is the Storybook Garden which features various fairytale characters and excerpts from their stories. They love reading the nursery rhymes out loud and having their photographs taken alongside the statues.
Almost at the end of our tour we entered what is perhaps the prettiest of all the gardens, the Oriental Garden with its Japanese Pagoda reflected in the waters of the pond, before circling the lakeside path to make our way back to the entrance.
The train tour was a great way to get our bearings and provided an overview of the layout of the gardens, as well as giving us some much needed shelter in the sweltering heat. But nothing beats getting up close to the displays and we returned to our favourite areas, allowing us to work towards our 10,000 step count. I plan on revisiting the gardens in the coming weeks to bring you highlights of Australia’s biggest Christmas lights display but in the meantime enjoy this preview of the festivities at the Hunter Valley Gardens.