I know, I know – the Hunter Valley and kids doesn’t sounds like two things that go together. But given that we firmly believe that life doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) stop after having children, we were more than willing to give the combination a try.
If you think about it, there’s really no reason why exploring the Hunter Valley with children shouldn’t be a match made in heaven.
There’s a chocolate factory to sweeten up the kids to the idea of letting mum and dad do a few wine tastings, and lots of rolling hills and green space for them to run around and burn off the sugar high!
Plus there’s a zoo and amazing gardens to explore, lots of delicious food, and the largest bottle or pair of UGG Boots you’re ever likely to see!
Here are our top tips for exploring the Hunter Valley with kids.
1/ Family-friendly vineyards
Yes, they do exist. Nowadays many vineyards understand and appreciate that parents are real people to, who still want to have some fun and haven’t (yet!) fully lost their sense of self. Most vineyards have lovely gardens that the kids are able to explore and play in, but a few take the family-friendly theme that step further.
We visited Scarborough Wine Co, in Pokolbin, which is known for its family-friendly approach. When we sat down for a tasting, the kids were offered a juice popper, while the wine tasting also came with a cheese platter.
I have heard that Scarborough also sometimes offer activity packs for children, although this wasn’t the case during our visit. But I simply pulled a few pens out of my bag and the kids happily drank their juice, chomped on some cheese and crackers, and drew while Chippie and I tasted the wine.
We went a little more prepared for tastings at Tempus Two and Meerea Park Wines, which are located in the same complex that is also in Pokolbin. Neither offered anything as such for the kids, but staff at both cellar doors were happy for us to settle our kids at a table with some colouring in, while we enjoyed a tasting.
They also overlook a large expanse of grass where the kids were able to run off some energy, and the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop, which is in the same centre, has delicious gelato which was a welcome treat afterwards.
2/ Hunter Valley Gardens
Exploring the Hunter Valley Gardens was a highlight of the trip for the whole family. While we were visiting, the garden’s Christmas Lights display was on and, as the Hunter Valley was in the middle of a 40+ degree Celsius heatwave during our visit, we opted to visit at night. Boy, was it worth it!
With entry for the Chirstmas Lights display at $95 for a family of four (or $145 if you want to visit during the day as well) and rides extra on top of that, it was by no means cheap. But the lights display, which included everything from traditional Christmas scenes to Disney and fairy tale themed light displays, was truly impressive, and seeing the genuine excitement and wonder on our kids’ faces made it worth paying the entrance fee.
As our daughter said: “I’m crying tears of happiness, it’s so beautiful.” Surely, that’s a heart-melt moment worth paying for!
Hunter Valley Gardens holds several themed events throughout the year, including a snow event in winter. But even when there isn’t a special occasion, the manicured and expansive gardens are well worth a visit. The gardens are also home to a giant wine bottle.
3/ Family-friendly accommodation
We were lucky enough to be guests of Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort, which was an ideal, central base to explore the local area. The air-conditioned sanctuary of our recently refurbished self-contained villa was much-appreciated during the heat of the day, while we could (and did!) spend hours in the resort’s two beautiful pools.
The main pool directly in front of reception and the restaurants is slightly shallower, so better for the younger members of the family, while the lagoon pool, which is just a short walk away, is expansive and the perfect place to retreat to if you’re looking for something a little more tranquil.
We highly recommend taking an early morning walk around the grounds of Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort as least one day of your stay, as you’ll be greeted with the sight of numerous wild kangaroos grazing on the grass all round the property.
It’s a wonderful sight and something the kids will adore. But if the whole early morning thing is too much to contemplate, the kangaroos also come out at dusk, but you do tend to see them in greater numbers in the morning.
Meanwhile, the resort itself has everything you need, including a top-class golf course, restaurants, bars, pools, tennis courts and a delicious buffet breakfast.
4/ Hunter Valley Chocolate Company
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was the highlight of our stay in the Hunter Valley for the kids.
The ‘factory’ on Broke Road in Pokolbin is really more of a large shop selling numerous types of chocolate and other confectionery.
Some products are made on site, but others are brands you’ll also see elsewhere during your travels. There is a window at the back of the shop where you can see into the kitchen area and watch people making various sweet treats.
We opted to try some of the local fudge and chocolate freckles, which were both delicious. The mango fudge was truly amazing and we all wish we’d bought a lot more of it. Yum!
5/ Hunter Valley Zoo
Always a winner with kids, Hunter Valley Zoo is the perfect escape for families looking for something to break up all the vineyard visits.
There are free BBQ facilities and picnic grounds onsite for the budget conscious, while the zoo itself has a wide range of animals and offers lots of hand-on experiences, like touching a reptile or feeding the farmyard animals, kangaroos and birds in the walk-through interactive yards.
6/ The Big UGG Boots
While out touring around the local vineyards, or even on your way to or from the Hunter Valley (like we did), make sure to make a stop at The Big UGG Boots in Thornton.
The boots are only a short detour off the A43 and are located outside Mortels Sheepskin Factory, which also offers guided tours.
The Mortel family has been making their brand of UGG boots in Australia since 1958, making them one of the longest, continuously running UGG boot manufacturers in the world.
The Big Ugg Boots are 5m high and each weigh 500kg. There is also a slightly smaller but still impressively large pair of thongs (aka flip-flops for those from the UK or jandals for the Kiwis) that stand alongside the boots.
*Information correct at the time of publication.