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Published January 20th 2021
You'll have a roaring good time
Hunter Valley Zoo is located 1 hour west of Newcastle and 2 hours north of Sydney. It is a small regional zoo, so it can't be compared to larger zoos like Taronga Zoo, however it is a fun morning out for the whole family when visiting the Hunter Valley region.
My daughter and I visited the Hunter Valley Zoo in the summer school holidays and at first, we didn't know what to expect. We drove up the unsealed road to the small entrance to the zoo and parked on the side of the road, as there wasn't a car park. Although the front entrance looked small and rustic, when we walked inside we were impressed with all the animals there were to see ...
A wide variety of animals await inside! Image: Original images from Hunter Valley Zoo Facebook
When you first walk in the entrance, you don't know where to look first - there were large aviaries and enclosures all around to explore. If you love monkeys, you will be impressed with the range of monkeys they have there - such as the Black and White Ruffed Lemurs, Ring Tail Lemurs, Marmosets, Tuffed Capuchins, Spider Monkeys, Tamarins and Squirrel Monkeys - just to name a few!
On our visit, there were baby animals everywhere we looked. My daughter fell in love with them all...
As we were looking around at the birds and animals near the front entrance, we saw that two ladies were inside the Meerkat enclosure having an encounter experience. We were completely smitten with the sweet little Meerkats as they climbed all over them, taking food and sniffing them all over. The ladies had paid $100 each to have a 20-minute encounter with the Meerkats and there was a keeper there to answer any questions. They asked the keeper about the dominant females and males and learnt about the personalities of each one. You could see that the experience was worth every cent to these ladies, who were completely enthralled with the cute little mammals.
If you would like a close-up encounter with the animals at the zoo, see here for more details.
When you enter the zoo, ensure you pay an extra $2 for at least one bag of animal food to take to the petting zoo area, which was located near the front entrance. Firstly, we fed the kangaroos and then walked past the impressive cheetahs and sleeping koalas, before finding the farmyard petting zoo. My daughter reminded me of what the lady at the front entrance said, as she handed over the food - "Be careful at the farmyard petting zoo, as they will take the food all once".
As she predicted, when we walked in, we were instantly swamped with sheep, deer and goats and the food (and paper bag!) disappeared out of our hands in seconds! We laughed and enjoyed the experience, however, I imagine that it could be overwhelming for young children. If you have littlies, you can also just feed the animals over the fence.
Be prepared for your instant popularity as soon as you walk through the gate!
After exploring the front entrance of the zoo, we then walked to the back of the zoo and it was easy to see where all the zoo's money had been spent. They had brand new, impressive enclosures for American Alligators, White Lion, Lions, Giraffe, Zebra, Maned Wolves and African animals.
This section of the zoo was beautifully built and landscaped, with new signage and clean, spacious enclosures for the animals. We spent a long time simply watching the lions laze about, the giraffes eat from the tall eating posts, the ostriches fluff their wings and the camels lean over the fence and try and eat everything they saw!
Hunter Valley Zoo was an entertaining morning for us both, and we left 2.5 hours later. There are three essentials that I would recommend that you take, on your visit to Hunter Valley Zoo. If you visit in summer, a full bottle of water is imperative - it is at least a few degrees hotter in the Hunter Valley than along the coastline and the dry heat catches up with you if you don't take some time out to sit in the shade and drink some water. Sun cream is also a must.
Thirdly, you need to take your own picnic for lunch. We expected there to be a kiosk or food area, so we only packed snacks - however, we noticed that everyone else packed lunches and enjoyed them in the shade and at BBQ areas around the zoo. At the exit there was a fridge of cold drinks, an instant coffee machine, a slushy machine and a few hot sausage rolls (on our visit), so taking your own picnic is recommended.
Take your own picnic or use the free BBQs, provided
If you didn't bring your lunch (like us!) and are looking for a cool spot for lunch or afternoon tea after your visit, we discovered The Deck Cafe, just 10 minutes from the zoo, on our way back to Port Stephens. They offer a beautiful tapas menu and matching wines, however we were happy with some huge scones with Chantilly cream and two cold drinks.
It was the perfect way to end a mother-daughter day in the Hunter Valley...