Travel Diary » MUM! The emu bit me at the Hunter Valley Zoo
After Ballina we drove eight hours south to the Hunter Valley, approximately two hours north of Sydney, to catch up with my brother and his wife. We spent a lovely week with them wishing that we could live closer. That's the catch 22 of this lifestyle. See amazing things, have this amazing life, but miss your awesome uncles and aunties like crazy. At least we got to to spent a great week together.
The Hunter Valley is a famous wine growing region of Australia, filled with vineyards, microbreweries, cheese factories and chocolate stores. Simply put, it's a fabulous place without kids! With kids it can still be fun. Many of the vineyards run family friendly tours and there are a lot of fun places to visit. The Hunter Valley gardens are great, particularly at Christmas when they have the largest Christmas Lights display in the southern hemisphere. We went - it was amazing! Photos to come!
There's aqua-golf where you can shoot floating golf balls into a lake! Fun right! There are national parks to walk in with creeks and waterfalls, wetlands and animal reserves. Not far away is where the Wollemi pine was discovered - if you've never heard of it but have a dinosaur mad 7 year old ask them. They'll tell you straight away it's an ancient pine tree that's been around since the time of the dinosaurs. There are convict built roads and historic towns. There are playgrounds, chocolate stores and lolly-shops. And nearby Newcastle and Lakes Entrance has great beaches.
One of the highlights of our visit was the Hunter Valley Zoo on the outskirts of Cessnock. It's not a large zoo but they have a lot of animals and you can get up close to most of them. Being small we found it was also the perfect size for a half day out - just enough to see and do without it being too tiring.
It was a cold, weekday afternoon so we had the place almost to ourselves, but from what we've heard it's generally a fairly quiet zoo anyway particularly on weekdays. Most of the animals were out and active.
Overall I was really impressed with what a great zoo it was, particularly for families. Being an Australian zoo, the focus is on Australian animals, with a few monkeys and ostriches thrown in. For getting up close to Australian animals I would definitely rate it up there as one of the best zoos I've visited. It's not as large as Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary or Australia Zoo but for seeing wombats, koalas, kangaroos, echidnas, wallabies, Tasmanian devils, quolls and other Australian birds and reptiles it was on par, if not better because the zoo was so quiet.
When we first arrived the kids discovered two very different feathers and they set off on a search to find the birds that they came from. We roamed all over checking out every bird, even Hayley's least favourite - the kookaburra. On our last trip to Australia we were camping in Sydney and a kookaburra stole her sausage. Kookaburra's are still not forgiven for that transgression and generally mistrusted.
We thought Noah's stripey brown feather might belong to a kookaburra but it didn't. And then we saw the peacock and realised both feathers came from the one bird even though they looked nothing alike, nor anything like the typical blue/green peacock feathers.
Then it was time to feed the kangaroos. At the entrance you could buy 50c ice cream cones filled with kangaroo feed. There was one wallaby roaming free and several kangaroos in an enclosure with two juvenile emus. Noah and Hayley wandered over to see the ones in the enclosure.
After that we stayed clear of the emus! The one lone wallaby wandering free got a lot of attention!
The Hunter Valley is a farming area so there's also a petting zoo, which was a huge hit with the kids.
For 50c you can buy a second ice cream cone filled with food to feed the goats and sheep with. They're not shy so with young kids it's not a bad idea for grownups to hold onto the food and hand it out as needed.
Aunty Sam is an agriculture teacher at a nearby high school so she soon had Hayley learning all about cows, including how a cow's tongue and teeth where different to ours ... by sticking her hand in the mouth of a calf.
"Icky, wet and bitey" was the verdict! Probably not exactly what Aunty Sam was aiming to teach her!
When the food runs out the only option is to climb a fence and wait for mum to rescue you apparently!
With no more food it was time to check out some more Australian animals. Wombats, Tasmanian devils, koalas, kangaroos, blue tongue lizards, snakes (the kids made me touch one ... ugh the things we do to try not to pass along our fears to our children!!!), rock wallabies, emus (from a distance!), bats, birds, quolls and my favourites of the day - echidnas.
We listened to an educational talk on echidnas and saw them being fed a rather appealing meat milkshake made from mince, mealworms, oil, eggs and various components that sounds absolutely revolting but is just what echidnas need. Its completely hilarious to watch them eat it as they lap it up with their giant tongue and almost tip it all over themselves. And totally fascinating and educational.
Time to use up the last of our kangaroo food - that meant the emu enclosure! They'd just been fed and were resting so Hayley decided to be brave. Noah decidede this one was his friend after it held his hand while eating.
We discovered a tawny frogmouth off for a walk near the playground and learnt a little about them.
And then the highlight - getting up close to a koala, who I have to say was the most tolerant koala in the world after Noah went hyperactive at being so close to a koala.
Hunter Valley Zoo is located just outside Cessnock. We had our own car and from what I can see a car is really the best way to get there unless you are going on a tour. There is a public bus from Cessnock that takes you close to the zoo (131500.com.au) but the zoo is 3km down a side road off the main highway. The bus drops you off on the main highway and you then need to walk 3km. A bit of a pain, although it's a country road so there are worse walks!
Take your own drinking water - most of the taps use recycled water. There is a small store selling ice cream, snacks and drinks, including water. There are picnic and BBQ facilities so you are welcome to bring your own food and have a picnic inside the zoo. There are toilets and a playground.
Entry for a family of 4 costs $55. We also purchased four cones of animal feed, costing $2 in total. I looked online for discount entry tickets and didn't have any luck but it's worth looking.
The zoo has a website but their facebook page is the best place to look for up to date information on what's going on at the zoo, as well as specials. There are regular shows throughout the day - ask for a schedule when you arrive. The koalas and echidnas were definitely worth it. If it's cold they may not feed the crocodiles. If the zoo is quiet like when we were there they may also not hold shows and instead choose an animal and walk around the zoo with it. For instance, rather than having a reptile show, they took a python around the zoo and allowed us to touch it and ask questions. Just as good as a show really!
Allow several hours. You could see everything in an hour but at the same time you could easily spend four hours there. There is some shade but most of the zoo is out in the sun so take hats.
This post is part of Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday weekly roundup. It's the last one for the year so be sure to check out some of the other blogs!