We’ve enjoyed various botanic gardens during our travels, but it was a gimmick that brought us to the spectacular 25-acre planned garden in the wine-region of the Hunter Valley. Hunter Valley Gardens is attracting families this January with a combination of a late Christmas-light displays and animatronic creepy-crawlies.

Animiatronic bug, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
At 8-metres-long, Marty the praying mantis is Hunter Valley Garden's largest drawcard during this school-holiday season.

Most of the attractions we visit are the result of a family consensus. When we noticed the sign on the highway promoting Mega Bugs, we stopped to look it up online and talk about whether we thought a visit to Hunter Valley Gardens was something we wanted to do. Two of the girls really wanted to see the exhibit and two didn’t particularly care, so we headed west from Newcastle to check it out.

For a passive attraction, the entry price for our family felt quite steep. We paid $100 to gain day-entry to the gardens. I understand that the gardens must have been costly to establish and maintain, but at a price like this, I won’t recommend it heartily.

Calista at Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Calista stops long enough to examine a statue. The girls like to try to relate each character within a cluster of statues to our family members.

Animiatronic bug, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
The first "bug" we encounter in the gardens is a large snail.

Animiatronic bug, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
The butterfly flaps its wings and moves its antennae.

Christmas lights display, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Hunter Valley Gardens are still offering Christmas-light tours at nighttime, and the displays are standing throughout the gardens. We love this section full of lollies!

Mother duck with ducklings, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
As we wander around, the girls notice this mother duck with two ducklings.

Animiatronic bug, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Each display's movement is triggered by a motion-detector at the front of the bug.

Animiatronic bug, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Brioni informs us that the blue poison dart frog is one of the most poisonous creatures on the planet. This one is harmless as it only squirts water from its open mouth.

Animiatronic bug, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
The "bugs" are scattered throughout the gardens so we are inclined to explore the whole place.

Animiatronic bug, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Although we're here for the bugs, we can't help but notice that the Christmas-light displays are made of plastic, adding an incongruous note to the garden's natural beauty.

Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Not a leaf is out of place in the formal garden.

Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
I am amazed by the huge displays of colourful annuals. I've always preferred to plant perennials and so admire those with the patience for annuals.

Girls looking at maps, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
We pause in the shade to look at our maps and work out which paths we next want to explore.

Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Like a row of butterflies, the girls seek out the nectar at a hedge of honeysuckle.

Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Several waterfalls, creeks and ponds add interest to the gardenscape and attract waterfowl and insects.

Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Two small lakes sit at the bottom of the gardens.

Aisha with a sculpture at Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
Aisha points out the facial features that she can identify in this naturally-formed sculpture of weathered timber.

Calista barefoot on the grass, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
In the Japanese garden, the softness of the grass is impossible for Calista to resist!

Japanese garden, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
The pagoda and and red bridge complete the iconic Japanese style.

Jumping over stepping stones, Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
The girls pause to play where the pathway crosses a creek with some stepping stones.

Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
The gardens are complementary combination of formal and informal designs.

Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
A viewing hole in the hedge displays the Japanese garden on the other side of a pond.

Hunter Valley Gardens, NSW, January 2015
A moon-gate marks the entrance to another Asian-themed garden.

At the end of several hours of wandering through the gardens, we agreed that we enjoyed ourselves. The “bugs” themselves were a disappointment but at night-time the Christmas lights would probably be amazing. As a detour and a day-outing, we enjoyed ourselves, but now that we’ve been here and done that, we’re unlikely to return.