It is the perfect place for the great escape. Whether it’s an ever-popular weekend getaway or a longer stay, you can indulge the senses in Australia’s oldest and most-visited wine region, just two hours north of Sydney and about an hour west of the regional, coastal hub of Newcastle.
The finest wines, including a world-renowned semillon, great restaurants, gourmet treats, excellent accommodation, quaint country towns and a fascinating regional history all add up to an ideal country escape.
Be as active or as relaxed as you like with a range of attractions pitched not only at wine lovers and foodies but also at families seeking an alternative to the traditional beach getaway.
Follow the wine trail and sample a world-class drop or two. You can self-drive or bike ride, but if you want to make the most of wine tastings and stay safe on the road, opt for a guided tour. Choose from around 150 wineries, many offering behind-the-scenes insight into the process from vine to bottle. Follow up with tastings of a different kind at various artisan food producers.
Outside the wineries, ride a hot air balloon, clop along in a horse-drawn carriage, explore the trails of the Barrington Tops National Park, play a round of golf (or putt-putt with the kids), do the museums of Maitland and Singleton, shop for gifts … the Hunter Valley has adventurers, gourmands and history buffs well covered.
Eat and Drink
The drink part may seem obvious, but all is not lost if wine is not your thing. The Hunter is also home to award-winning boutique breweries and the locally owned Hunter Distillery where you will find organic spirits with a twist, such as lemon myrtle vodka.
Meantime, the region is literally a food lover’s paradise, whether it’s as simple as artisan bread, cured meats, cheese and chutney for a picnic or a multi-course meal in a fine restaurant.
You will find restaurants or cafes at many of the wineries, with multiple dining options in and around the Hunter Valley towns and villages such as Rothbury, Pokolbin, Lovedale and Cessnock.
Where to Stay
In keeping with its reputation as Australia’s most-visited wine region, there are lots of accommodation options in the Hunter catering for all tastes and budgets, from couples looking for the most romantic getaway to families wanting a child-friendly hotel or self-catering cottage.
It might be top-quality accommodation within a winery, or a hilltop colonial cottage with sweeping views – luxury accommodation is not in short supply here with some of the finest resorts, lodges and guest houses in Australia. In and around Pokolbin is the heart of it all, and a great base from which to explore.
If food and wine are your favourites, you can do some damage to the wallet at cellar doors and artisan food outlets. As well as the many wine varieties, think locally produced cheeses, olive oil and vinegars, cured fish and meats, and hand-made chocolates.
The twice-a-month Handmade Hunter Markets at the Kevin Sobels winery outside Pokolbin is a one-stop showcase of the work of local artisans, but you will also find lots on display at the Pokolbin Village and the Hunter Valley Gardens shopping centre, which is also good for quirky gifts. Look out, too, for galleries selling locally made arts and crafts as well as antiques.
Hunter Valley Like a Local
Some of the best things in life are free and in the Hunter they are healthy to boot. The region is home to national and state parks and conservation zones offering walking trails – some easy, some challenging – through magnificent country.
The popular Watagans National Park, about 30 minutes outside Cessnock, has several tracks from 750 metres to eight kilometres, some offering outstanding views. The children will love the grassy freedom of Astills Park within the Werakata National Park outside Lovedale. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic.