Go beyond wineries with a family-friendly Hunter Valley winter escape

Think the Hunter Valley in winter is just for cosy adult getaways? Think again. With spacious family-friendly accommodation and a host of fun activities for all ages, there’s plenty of reasons to whisk the kids away to the Hunter as the temperature drops these school holidays…and the Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort is the ideal base from which to explore it all.

 Home away from home
Nestled in the heart of Hunter Valley Wine Country, Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort is a 300-acre property offering one, two and three-bedroom villas for up to seven guests, as well as a professional golf course, country club, two restaurants and bars, three swimming pools and two tennis courts.

Many feature private balconies with bushland, vineyard or golf course views. Designed for families, all two and three-bedroom villas include a well-equipped kitchen and laundry so you can easily deal with dirty clothes from a day’s horse riding or feeding alpacas, then enjoy dining in on the local produce and wine you’ve collected during the day. There’s also plenty of room to make breakfast or pack snacks to take out and about – as well as spacious living areas which feel just like home (especially once the kids are tucked up in the separate bedroom/s).

Go for the snow
Nothing says winter escape like the annual Snow Time in the Garden at the Hunter Valley Gardens. Running from 25 June to 24 July, this is a winter wonderland made for little ones – and especially those looking for their first go in the snow!

From a family snowball fight and building a snowman to whizzing down an ice slide in a toboggan or ice-skating on two different sized rinks, there’s plenty of winter-themed action to keep the kids warm, as well as roving entertainment, a Snow Time Café, food stalls and amusement rides.

 Animal encounters  
With its unique collection of animals ranging from lions and cheetahs to meerkats and monkeys, the Hunter Valley Zoo is Australia’s largest private collection of animals – and the perfect size for pint-sized visitors to explore. From hand-feeding farmyard favourites to close-up encounters with lemurs or zookeeper for a day programs, there’s plenty to keep the whole family engaged.

If farm animals float your boat, then visit Starline Alpacas to feed fluffy friends every day at 10am and 4pm, head north to Muswellbrook to meet a herd of camels at Camel Milk NSW, take a guided pony or trail ride at Hunter Valley Horse Riding & Adventures, or step back in time for an old-school carriage ride with Hunter Valley Classic Carriages.

Early risers or those hanging at the hotel around sunset are likely to enjoy a surprise visit from the resident kangaroos, koalas and kookaburras living in and around the Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort.

 Fabulous food
While adults flock to the Hunter Valley for the wonderful wine, there’s also plenty of fun foodie experiences the youngest in the family can enjoy too. The Hunter Valley Chocolate Company’s factory is jam-packed with traditional treats including honeycomb, fudge, giant jaffas, choccie frogs, mint slices, jellybean towers and a flowing fondue fountain – just bring something to wipe sticky fingers (and don’t expect them to eat any dinner afterwards).

Prefer something savoury? The Hunter Valley Cheese Factory offers everything from quick and easy 5-cheese tasting platters to the full-blown cheesemaking experience, while Our Italian Table hosts hands-on cooking classes for all ages.

An increasing number of Hunter Valley wineries have come up with kid and teen-friendly experiences to allow Mums and Dads to taste a tipple in peace. At Tulloch Wines, children can have their very own tasting experience pairing gluten and nut-free snacks with non-alcoholic drinks (ages 3-12), or Kombucha tasting with a local cheese box for teens. Misty Glen wines is a great spot for a picnic or game of boules or croquet on the lawn, not to mention the playful pooches ready to welcome everyone at cellar door. Other family-friendly picks include Calais Estate, Whispering Brook, Ridgeview and Peter Drayton.

And for those days when the kids are too weary to take out and about for dinner, enjoy an easy meal at the on-site Oak & Vine or Cypress Lakes Bistro & Bar back at the resort.

 Action, Adventure and Culture  
Families who like a little bit of action to get the adrenaline going can book a spectacular sunrise hot air balloon ride over the vineyards with Balloon Aloft (minimum age 7), followed by a glorious gourmet breakfast, or spin around the vineyards on an off-road Segway experience (minimum age 11) with The Adventure Centre Hunter Valley.

The mini rev heads in any family will enjoy zooming around the epic 850 metre track at Go Karts Go Hunter Valley, where there’s a choice of adult, junior and twin seat karts so everyone from the age of five can take a spin. For a golfing experience at a more kid-friendly pace, try bashing a golf ball into a floating target net on the lake at Hunter Valley Aqua Golf & Putt Putt for a chance of winning prizes including cash, hot-air balloon rides and restaurant vouchers. Follow it up with a traditional 18-hole round of mini golf suitable for the whole crew. Older teens will love to vent their emotions at the Hunter Valley Smash Room at Sutton Estate – the perfect excuse to let loose and indulge any destructive tendencies – with Mum and Dad!

Whether you like to take a hike, or ride your bike, there are plenty of options in and around the Hunter, including the easy one-kilometre Finchley Track walk which features interesting indigenous cultural insights along the trail, the more challenging six-kilometre Yango Walking Track which rewards the effort with terrific views, or the 10.6-kilometre Hermitage Road cycleway.

A hit of tennis is fun for the entire family (especially whoever wins), and the courts at Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort can easily be booked through reception for a bit of friendly competition (followed by a dip in the pool if you work up too much of a sweat!).

Budding artists can try their hand at painting everything from dreamcatchers and pandas to deer and galaxies on various dates during July with Pinot and Picasso, Hunter Valley.

Winter Events
The Hunter Valley’s festivals and events schedule doesn’t slow down during winter, with a range of regular, one-off and weekend activities to discover. Highlights include:

JULY
Snow Time in the Garden – until 24 July
Handmade in the Hunter Markets, Sobels Wines – 2nd & 4th Saturday
Morpeth Ghost and Heritage Tour –1  July
Pink Race Day, Newcastle – 2 July
Aberdeen Highland Games – 1-2 July
Disney’s Moana Jr, Cessnock – 1-2 July
Disney on Ice, Newcastle – 7-10 July
Winery Running Festival – 17 July
Tasty Food Market, Sobels Wines – 24 July
Hunter Valley Steamfest – 30 – 31 July

SOURCE: Oaks Hotels, Resorts & Suites

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