A visit to Hunter Valley Gardens!

Yesterday (Saturday), I decided it was time to take a break from the stresses and frustrations imposed upon us for the past couple of months.

HVG_sign I was keen to revisit Hunter Valley Gardens, particularly since they had a Mega Creatures exhibition of large animatronic bugs and dinosaurs, which is scheduled to close in 3 days time. I loved the “Gigantabugs” exhibit at Fort Worth Zoo (read about that in my newsletter for Fort Worth), which we visited in July of 2014, so I was interested to see how they would compare.

There were some interesting displays, particularly the dinosaurs, and we heard several squeals of delight from some of the kiddies about.

HVG_T-rex I do think that the display we saw at Fort Worth Zoo, was probably a bit of cut above what we saw at Hunter Valley Gardens (HVG), but overall the Mega Creatures display was still entertaining.


The day we visited Hunter Valley Gardens (HVG), was a day following a terrible overnight storm, so the gardens were no where near their best, and a few of the feature gardens (I note the “Rose Garden” in particular) looked a bit drab (probably due to all the rain and bad weather we have experienced recently). However, there is plenty to see and there are often special events hosted by the gardens. Entry cost is $28 per adult and $17 per child (family tickets are available). Allow 2-3 hours to walk around and explore and admire what the gardens have to offer. There is also a café on site if you really need a bite to eat or a rest and a coffee, but if you are looking for more of a good meal – head to one of the innumerable restaurants around the vineyards – there are many fabulous places to eat (but if you are visiting as a family with children, then the cafe in the gardens is fine). If it’s just adults visiting, my advice would be to visit the gardens before or after lunch. Although, HVG is no Dallas Arboretum, it can hold it’s own in the garden tourist-attraction stakes in Australia.


HVG is situated at Pokolbin, in the heart of wine country in the Hunter Valley of NSW. The gardens are relatively quite young, being completed in 2003 after 4 years worth of construction on land that was originally horse paddocks and vineyards. The gardens cover an area of 60 acres and are made up of 6,000 trees, 600,000 shrubs and 1,000,000 ground covering plants with around 100km (62mi) of underground irrigation piping. 8 km (5mi) of walking paths will take you through 11 different garden areas. One of the most popular areas (especially for children), is the Storybook Garden, it is delightful – with childhood stories and nursery rhymes depicted throughout the garden.



Spring, would probably be the best time to visit, summer can be very hot and humid in the gardens. However, every year from early November to late January, the gardens host the Christmas Lights Spectacular, which by all accounts is indeed very spectacular, with “millions” of lights, some wonderful displays and plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained. I aim to go this year!

Finally, I couldn’t travel up to the vineyards and not visit at lest one winery; so I chose to visit one I hadn’t been to in a long time. Wombat Crossing Vineyard, is the smallest vineyard (and one of the newest) in the region, but produces wine only from its vineyard. The wines are of a high quality (and not cheap) and I would definitely recommend a visit and some tastings – there wasn’t one that I tasted that I didn’t like. I really wanted to become a member and buy an entire case, but Andrew had to reign me in, so I settled for just 3 bottles – maybe next time! 🙂



Cirque du Soleil – a circus experience like no other!

Have you been to see Cirque du Soleil yet? If not, do yourself a favour and go!

CdS_tixI was a Cirque du Soleil virgin; I had heard a lot of hype about this performing troupe, and although I really knew very little about their shows (except that they were supposed to be spectacular), I had always wanted to see one. I really wanted to go when we visited Las Vegas the year before last, but my husband wasn’t too keen, so when I heard they were performing in Newcastle I resolved to go. I found a willing accomplice (and fellow Cirque du Soleil virgin) in my sister-in-law. So, I booked tickets and we went yesterday – Sunday.

After a rear-end accident on the way to the event, we eventually made it and sat down about 30 seconds after the start of the show. It was absolutely fabulous!

Now, I have to admit, I was a little concerned at the beginning – there are few words spoken and the singing that occurred was in French, I think, so I didn’t understand anything. I also felt a bit lost at the start because I couldn’t really follow the story line. I only knew what I had heard, that the show was essentially the world created as result of a young girls imagination.

The concerned feelings didn’t last too long, and I was quickly absorbed by the performances; there were amazing feats of strength, balance, coordination and endurance. There is plenty to look at, sometimes I didn’t know where to look on stage, there are often other skits happening in the background; even the transition between acts was well performed. Quite a few acts take place in the air with the performers suspended from the roof over the main stage on various types of apparatus that actually move across the stage.

Here is a brief (and incomplete) list of some of the acts on show:

  • an artist who performed in a large German Wheel, doing tricks, spinning and balancing throughout,
  • aerial acrobatics on ropes and red silk fabric
  • aerial hoops, suspended from the ceiling
  • a performance of Diabolo (Chinese yo-yo) where the artist manipulates a wooden spool balancing on a string that links two wooden sticks (handles)
  • a routine involving multiple skipping ropes operating simultaneously with about 20 performers interacting to produce an amazing skipping sequence (quite different to anything you would have done in the playground as a child, I can assure you)

Before I knew it an hour had passed and it was time for intermission. The second half of the show was just as good and passed just as quickly, but I think my favourite act was the “statue” couple – a man and woman who perform an absolutely amazing act of balance and strength as the two never lose contact, but create seemingly impossible feats of balance, strength and flexibility (I was in awe – I think everyone else may have been too).

The whole show was supplemented with some great music (which I found hard to pigeon hole – sounding at times middle Eastern, and at others like Irish folk music), but was perfect for the show and all performed by the live band on stage.

Taken at the end of the show - I was too engrossed to take pictures during the performances!

Taken at the end of the show – I was too engrossed to take pictures during the performances!

This was a great spectacle and definitely worth the ticket price. We had great seats, close enough to see the performers muscles rippling with strain and effort, but if I were to give one piece of advice it would be to sit on the right side of the stage (as you are looking at it) as there were one or two performances where you would probably get a slightly better view (and don’t get the premium seats on the floor in front of the stage – you can’t see the performers feet – which I, for one, like to see).

I would also recommend a little research first – so I have provided a very quick run down about “Quidam by Cirque du Soleil” and a link to a preview video if you would like to get a taste of it.

A few quick facts:

  • Quidam was the ninth stage show produced by Cirque du Soleil and premiered in in April 1996 as a big-top show in Montreal; it was converted into an arena format beginning in 2010.
  • Quidam refers to the feature character, a man without a head who carries an umbrella and a bowler hat
  • The word Quidam in Latin refers to “a person unknown”
  • The show is the result of the imagination of a girl named Zoe who is ignored by her parents.
  • There are also several other characters that make regular appearances throughout the show

If you want to book tickets to see the show in Australia, go to Ticketek, but you will have to hurry; the Newcastle season ends on January 24th and then the show heads across the Tasman to Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. Prices vary from around $76 to $160 each for adults.

Summertime in Newcastle

Welcome to my first blog for 2016! I wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year and I hope that it brings all that you desire.

We have been back in Newcastle now for 6 weeks, so I thought I would post a little more about my home town. I have spent quite a bit of time in by the harbour and around by the beaches, mainly because I enjoy it so much – my heart lifts, my soul is revived and it makes me happy. But I also visit because I have been wanting to practice some photography. I have been doing the 52 week photo challenge, hosted by American artist, Ricky Tims and I have thoroughly enjoyed it – I have learnt so much along the way. He is running a similar course this year – if you are interested click here.

Anyway, I thought I would share some sights from around Newcastle:

Newcastle is home to the world’s largest coal exporting port, so you can sit and watch the ships come and go:


Take a walk along”Honeysuckle“, harbourside (and maybe stop at any of the many restaurants along the way)


Go see the new ANZAC memorial walk where you can watch the hang-gliders above:


or the people below:


A walk along the beach is always good: whether it is to watch the sun come up on New Year’s Eve:


or watch the local bird life:




or observe other photographers trying to capture the sunrise:


You could also take a dip at the Ocean Baths:


You might try your hand at surfing:


or try some rock fishing (wearing a life vest, of course – safety first)


Away from the coast, you might also run into one of the locals (who came visiting one morning):


I hope you have enjoyed this visual display of Newcastle and I that I have maybe tempted you to come and visit.