NOT WHAT YOU’RE THINKING
Did you think I was going to say wine, wine, wine, wine, wine? Well, it’s true, the Hunter Valley is known as the birthplace of Australian wine, but it has so much more to offer as well.
A short two-hour drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley offers city sophistication in a peaceful rural setting.
With the Brokenback Ranges as its backdrop, the Hunter Valley is a picturesque paradise with so much to do – or not do if you choose.
We started our love affair with the Hunter about 20 years ago and we still try to spend a few nights there every year.
We usually stay in Pokolbin, the sweet town that is the commercial hub of the valley. Pokolbin Village offers a great range of cafes and gift shops where you’re sure to find a treasure you haven’t seen elsewhere.
There is an overwhelming feeling of friendliness and a sense that everyone here actually enjoys their job.
There are accommodation choices to suit all budgets and tastes, from hotel rooms to luxury villas and quaint cabins.
We chose the latter for our last trip to the Hunter as it allowed us to take our little dog with us.
We didn’t miss the annual Jazz in the Vines event for 10 years straight and only stopped when family and work commitments made it impossible to go.
Now in its 23rd year, Jazz in the Vines is held in a paddock at Tyrrell’s Vineyard the last Saturday in October.
All you need is a picnic rug and a few dollars to take advantage of the great wine (beer is also sold) and food while chilling out to the tunes of greats such as James Morrison.
You can also hire chairs or bring your own and in the past people have brought elaborate set ups with mini marquees, tables, chairs and a bunch of other comforts. But really all you need is that picnic rug – and some sunscreen!
If jazz isn’t your thing, there is the annual A Day on the Green, held at Bimbadgen each November which attracts some wonderful bands. We went the year some our favourites including Paul Kelly, the Pretenders and The Church were playing.
Now other wineries are opening up their acreage and attracting such acts as Cold Chisel, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Katie Noonan and Neil Diamond.
AMAZING PRODUCE IN THE HUNTER VALLEY
The gourmet produce at the Hunter Valley is not to be beaten. Every visit we stock up on the beautiful olives, tapenades, jams, and olive oils – all locally grown and made.
We feast on cheese from the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory and the Smelly Cheese Shop and indulge in home-made chocolates from the Hunter Valley Chocolate Co.
Depending on the season, you can gorge on figs, avocados, table grapes, pumpkin, peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, tomatoes, rockmelon, watermelon and so much more, all locally grown.
There are more than 60 restaurants in the Hunter Valley, taking advantage of the fresh produce and offering a huge array of cuisine choices.
During our last trip, we visited Oishii Japanese and Thai Restaurant at Roche Estate. It has a great selection of Asian food, including fresh sushi made on site.
We also indulged in an amazing fine dining experience at Circa 1876.
This restaurant has a diverse and delicious paddock to plate menu.
The entry hall and side rooms to this restaurant were built in 1876 which gives you the sense of old world charm and sets the mood as you make your way to the newer (1991) dining room, decorated with twinkling chandeliers.
The kitchen garden includes free range chickens to provide the eggs needed for the menu as well as a large selection of vegetables and their own bees supplying bush honey.
I enjoyed a quail entrée followed by an outstanding duck dish while Hubby feasted on seared scallops, then beef medallions. We rarely order dessert when we eat out but Hubby was so impressed with the menu he ordered a cheesecake which was divine.
FUN ACTIVITIES IN THE HUNTER VALLEY
Need a bit more action? How about a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards? Balloon Aloft offers daily sunrise flights over the Hunter Valley. For the past five years, the company has hosted a Balloon Fiesta attracting hot air balloonists from around the country.
PLENTY FOR THE KIDS TO DO
You can hire bicycles (including electric motor assisted bikes to help with the hills) and pedal your way around the paddocks or you can jump on a horse and ride. Hunter Valley Horse Riding and Adventures offers trail rides for beginners and experienced riders. There are also pony rides, family rides, sunset rides and tractor hay rides to feed the animals, plus hiking and mountain bike trails.
The Sebel Kirkton Park is a 70-acre estate where kids can run free and have fun feeding the pigs and chickens.
You can hop on a fun little two-wheeler for a Segway tour or try your hand at making your own rocky road from scratch with big kids candy making.
Need time to stop and smell the roses? There’s no better place to do that than the Hunter Valley Gardens, especially during their October/November annual Rose Spectacular which features 35,000 rose bushes in over 125 different varieties and more than 2 million rose blooms. If you can tear your senses away from the sensational visual and fragrant spectacle, there are regular talks and presentations explaining the history of the rose and how you can grow your own.
These gardens are worth visiting any time of year though with beautiful landscaping and different themed gardens. There are eight km of walking paths over 60 acres taking you through a beautiful array of themed gardens.
From early November to late January the gardens puts on a Christmas lights spectacular with new displays regularly being added. To add to the delights this time are the fairy garden, Cinderella’s castle and a pink unicorn. I am so going to have to bring four-year-old Goddess there – she LOVEs pink unicorns. Check out the website for more information.
If all that sensory overload has taken its toll you can relax in one of the many spas in the Hunter Valley. A few years ago Hubby and I indulged at Endota Spa at Peppers Guest House with a hot stone massage – amazing!
Every occasion is a reason for celebration in Wine Country, as the Hunter is known, so there are always parties for events such as Melbourne Cup day, Oktoberfest and more. Check out the website www.huntervalley.com.au for all the details.
GOLF IN THE HUNTER VALLEY
If you’re a golfer (like Hubby) the Hunter has you covered with four beautiful golf courses within 20 km of Pokolbin.
The Vintage Golf Club, designed by Greg Norman, is the newest and the most challenging.
Hunter Valley Golf is part of the Crowne Plaza Resort and Stonebridge Golf Club, overseen by Australian golf legend Jack Newton, is in Cessnock.
While these are all on the bucket list, Hubby has played the Cypress Lakes Golf course a few times with his ever faithful caddie (me) beside him. I have to say it’s a fun time for me navigating the sometimes extremely steep pathways with the little golf buggy and you’re sure to meet a friendly kangaroo along the way.
Cypress Lakes is bunker bonanza and has several really challenging holes but offers different tees for golfers of all standards.
This club also offers great accommodation with two and three bedroom villas. We have stayed there a few times and it’s particularly good if you’re travelling with friends.
If you’re not a golfer why not try some fun with Aqua Golf and Putt-Putt at the Shopping Village Hunter Valley Gardens.
BOUTIQUE BEER IN THE HUNTER VALLEY
If you’re not a wine drinker the Hunter Valley has you covered with amazing boutique beers.
Hope Estate had its own brewery right at the cellar door where 12 boutique beers are made. They range from pale ales to lagers and pilsners. You can try some of these with a tasting paddle for a small charge.
You can also visit the Hunter Valley’s oldest brewery, Hunter Beer Co at Potters Hotel Brewery Resort.
There are 10 handcrafted beers available here as well as the opportunity to take a brewery tour.
AND WE HAVEN’T EVEN DISCUSSED THE WINE
I’ll be honest. When I started this article I’d thought I’d tell you a bit about things to do before launching into my favourite way to spend Hunter time – sipping the wonderful wine.
However, I got carried away with the plethora of other activities and let’s face it, the wine is worth its very own story.
Tune in for Friday’s post when I will tell you why drinking wine is good for you, give you some amazing wine facts and let you know my favourite picks from the Hunter Valley.
Please note this is NOT a sponsored post, just me sharing my love of the Hunter Valley.
Wishing happy holiday planning and a gleeful week, Tamuria.