HI, I considered Hillcrest for my son and it was in my top 2. However I decided on Newlands Nursery as I felt the staff were much more knowledgeable and I preferred the baby unit. Also Hillcrest was the most expensive but it did have a fantastic outdoor area. I just felt Newlands was more friendly and had a much nicer feel about it, less chaotic aswell !
My son went to Hillcrest full time from when he was 10 months until he was 2 and 9 months, he's now at Oak House Nursery full time which works out cheaper and better for us - and it doesn't have that smell (you're right, qwerky! I think it's because of the outdoor area, which really is fab)!
There was hardly a day that he didn't come home filthy, but to us that showed that he'd been busy and had fun doing all the things he couldn't at home (like digging up worms/painting).
He really enjoyed it, but he got bored - he needed more stimulation and conversation, and the wide age groups and the Montessori approach didn't benefit him in the end. We really liked the nursery and the staff - it was the first and only nursery we looked at and it definitely suited us all at the time. There's a really nice atmosphere at Hillcrest that we miss, but we can see that his new nursery is so much better suited to him.