Twelve months of planning and preparation. Over 20 carefully designed displays. Three million (yes, million) lights. Those are the kinds of numbers that go into the largest Christmas lights display in the Southern Hemisphere: the annual Christmas Lights Spectacular at Pokolbin’s Hunter Valley Gardens. The Hunter’s favourite celebration of Christmas magic is back this year, bigger, bolder and brighter than ever.
Unsurprisingly, organising an event like the Christmas Lights Spectacular isn’t just an end-of-year endeavour – it’s a year-round job. The HVG team is constantly thinking ahead, aiming to refine, improve and expand the experience with each year’s event. “Twelve months out, we look at what we want to do, what we want to change, how we want to evolve it into the following year,” explains Charise Foulstone, Event Manager at Hunter Valley Gardens.
“We have a plan, we do a drawing, we send our team out to research options and then come up with the right concept for our event. Generally, by the middle of the year, we have a plan in place, and all the ordering will be done, and then October is usually the final time when [the lights] arrive.”
Of course, once the lights arrive, there’s the business of actually setting them up – which is no mean feat. (Did we mention this year’s lights tally comes to over three million?) The team begins the lengthy process around three months before the Spectacular opens in November each year. “It’s quite detailed, and there are lots of little components to it,” Charise says. “So the team generally start in August, and then we are still literally putting up lights right till the very end, right up until the moment we open.”
While some displays and the general area traversed by visitors remain the same year to year, the event is always evolving. Layouts are changed, and new displays created, so the experience feels fresh for every guest, even those who make a point of return attendance. “Every year we change it so that when you come the next year, you’re not looking at exactly the same setup and exactly the same area where the lights have been,” Charise explains. “Quite a good amount of our time goes into looking at the layout, thinking about how we want to change it for next year, what new and interesting things we think people would like to see.”
Several brand-new displays have been created for this year’s Spectacular. For those who fancy a taste of Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a new White Christmas scene complete with snow-topped trees, arctic animals and a snow cave worthy of the North Pole. And couples looking to add a little romance to their evening won’t want to miss the new Lover's Corner experience. Take a starry-eyed stroll through a heart-shaped light tunnel, snap a picture with your significant other, and of course, share a kiss under the mistletoe.
Overall, the big focus for this year’s new set-up and displays has been interactivity. The HVG team has designed a more immersive experience than in previous years, pairing the usual sparkling visuals with an even greater sense of all-surrounding magic and wonder. “We’ve got a giant walk-through snowman, we’ve got a big walk-through Magic Castle, lots of brand-new arches… We’ve really tried to make it a lot more interactive this year,” Charise says.
But those who are regular visitors hoping to revisit previous displays shouldn’t worry – all your old favourites will be there, including Candyland, Fairyland, the Princess Castle, Santa’s Workshop and the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The lights and displays are the main attraction, of course, but there’s plenty of additional entertainment to enjoy. Classic rides like the ferris wheel and traditional Venetian carousel will delight visitors young and old, while more adventurous thrill-seekers can tackle the swing chair ride or 12-metre-high, 35-metre-long super slide (keep in mind that all rides are user-pay). There are food and beverage stalls galore to sustain you throughout the evening, and carollers, magicians and entertainers are always roaming throughout the Gardens.
It’s not hard to see why the Christmas Lights Spectacular is an ideal family event. But it’s not just for parents and kids. Couples can enjoy a date night in the festive spirit, made even more romantic with the addition of Lover's Corner this year. And it’s a great option for groups of friends or colleagues looking to get into the Christmas spirit out in Wine Country. (Be sure to enquire about the discounted group rates available to groups of 10 or more adults.)
“Christmas Lights really is the event that’s for everyone,” Charise says. “You’ll get the older people who just love the feel of it, right to the very young who are just wowed by it. We get a lot of inbound visitors over the three months that it’s running, and we also do a lot of group things, like group dinners. There’s a little bit of something for everyone.”
The Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular is currently open and runs through to Sunday 26th January 2020. Gates open each day at 5:30pm and close at 10pm. Individual, family and group tickets are available for night entry; combined day + night passes are also available, with accommodation packages on offer for overnight stays.
Check out all the details and purchase tickets at www.huntervalleygardens.com.au or contact 4998 4000.