Welcome to the Hunter Valley

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Cycle your way through the Hunter Valley vineyards. Photo: Tourism Australia
 

The Hunter Valley is a two-hour drive north of Sydney.  The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region and has around 150 cellar doors for you to sample. There’s also world heritage-listed national parks and nearby beaches, but the main attraction is definitely the vineyards offering tastings and winery tours. The Hunter is perfect for a midweek or weekend getaway. If you’re short on time, book one of the many fabulous day trips from Sydney to the Hunter. 

 

How to get to the Hunter Valley

The best way to get to the Hunter Valley is by driving or booking a tasting tour if you don’t have your own wheels. You can get there by public transport but it’s not a direct route. It involves catching the train from Sydney to Morisset, Maitland and Singleton, then a connecting bus or taxi to the wine country. NOTE: I’d definitely recommend driving or hiring a car. The Hunter wineries and attractions are spread out over a huge area. 

 

Wine tasting in the Hunter

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There's lots of ways to sample Hunter Valley wines. Photo: Destination NSW
 

The Hunter Valley is pure heaven for food and wine lovers. The dry rich soil makes the area renowned for its semillon and Shiraz. However, I’ve tried all varieties of reds, whites, dessert wines, ports, and sparkling wines in the Hunter, and every drop is as delicious as the last. 
Wineries range from small boutique family vineyards to international bestsellers. Each cellar door is as beautiful and charming as the last you sampled. 

If you're not sure which wineries to visit or how to get there, take one of the many wine tours that include horse-drawn carriages and cycling tours.

Some of my favourite wineries are Tulloch, Saddlers Creek, Mountview, Brokenwood, Audrey Wilkinson, and Tamburlaine’s organic wine range. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been to any Hunter wineries where I haven’t fallen in love with their produce.

If all this talk of wine has made you thirsty, visit the Matilda Bay Brewhouse for a cold beer or cider, or the Hunter Valley Distillery where you can taste test their vodka, gin and schnapps. 

If you have kids in tow, don’t panic! Many wineries have cafes, picnic areas, playgrounds and games to keep the kids entertained. For instance, Calais Estate, Tintilla Estate Wines, Vinden Estate Wines, Gemelli Estate have a kids corner in their cellar doors filled with games, toy boxes, lego, craft activities, and colouring-in books. Other wineries including Peter Drayton Wines, RidgeView Wines, Margan Winery, Tinklers Wines, Misty Glen Wines, and Scarborough Wine Co. have footballs, soccer balls, quoits, mini golf clubs and golf balls, totem tennis, small cricket bats and balls, boules and croquet, hula hoops and skipping ropes. 

 

 

Hunter Valley wine tours

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Take a horse and carriage tour around the wineries. Photo: Destination NSW

 

Day trips from Sydney

There are plenty of Hunter Valley winery tours that start and finish in Sydney. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, book a full-day tour and enjoy being chauffeured while you sample wine from morning till night. It’ll be a long day but a very enjoyable one.

 

Wine tours that start & finish in the Hunter Valley

  • Tour the vineyards in a private minivan. Another way to tour the Hunter Valley is onboard the Hunter Hopper or Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. You get to choose which wineries to visit and hop on and off the bus as often as you want. This is a great way to get around the Pokolbin and Lovedale regions.

  • If pedal power is your thing, cycle around the Hunter Valley. Talk to Grape Mobile or Sutton Estate bike hire where you can either book a bike tour or hire bikes and choose your own itinerary. There’s a huge range of bikes available including tandem bikes and electric bikes (which certainly make going up hills easier.)  

  • Quirky ways to explore the Hunter include a Hunter Trike tasting tour or in a horse-drawn carriage.

 

Other cool things to do in the Hunter

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Visit the Hunter Valley Gardens. Photo: Destination NSW
 

  • The Hunter Valley Gardens has 12 different themed gardens spread over 60 acres. Get lost in the Rose Garden which has thousands of sweet-smelling roses on display. The Sunken Garden is another popular spot with its 10 metre high waterfall and stunning garden beds and trees surrounding it. Don't miss my all-time favourite - the Storybook Garden where giant fairytale characters are sculpted from shrubs and flowers. See Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill tumbling down the hill, Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatters Tea Party, and the adorable Little Bo Peep!

  • For something completely spectacular, take off in a hot air balloon flight followed by a champagne breakfast. Enjoy stunning views and food in the Hunter Valley.

  • If history and culture are your thing, visit the historic town of Maitland with its 19th-century architecture, history museum, art gallery, old gaol and many craft and curio shops. You can see more of the same at nearby Morpeth and Newcastle where there’s also a signposted heritage walk. Get a free map at the Tourist Information and take a self-guided tour.

  • Tour Maitland Gaol which housed some of Australia's most notorious criminals during its 150 years. Hear about their stories and their daring escapes. 

  • Visit the Hunter Valley Zoo and hand-feed a kangaroo, pat a koala, and meet the local monkeys, lions, and farmyard animals. Pack a picnic and make a day of it.

  • Take a sightseeing cruise down the Hunter Coast. You’ll see pods of dolphins, seabirds, turtles and plenty of other marine life. (Cruises depart from Newcastle).

  • Go surfing at one of Newcastle’s beaches or quad biking on the sand dunes. Head a little further north to Port Stephens where there are more surf beaches and lakes where you can fish, canoe, windsurf or watch the dolphins playing. 

Walking & hiking around the Hunter

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Go horse riding in the Hunter. Photo: Destination NSW
 

Barrington Tops National Park is in the upper Hunter Valley. This magnificent World-Heritage National Park is blessed with rugged mountains, gorges and forests, and is perfect for bushwalking, horse riding, camping and 4WDing. Popular walking tracks include:

  • Aeroplane Hill Walking Track is 6km one way and takes around 2 hours. Walk through wetlands and woodlands to get to Careys Peak lookout and be rewarded with spectacular views. 

  • Antarctic Beech Forest walking track is a 2.5 km loop and takes just over an hour. The walk takes you through rainforest, and past cascades and waterfalls. This walk is popular with birdwatchers.

  • Blue Gum loop trail is a 3.5 km loop that takes around 2 hours. The track takes you past cascades, eucalypts, and rainforests.

  • Devil's Hole lookout walk is 300 metres and takes up to 15 minutes to complete. This short walk is wheelchair-friendly.  

Hunter Valley food

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Have a picnic among the vineyards. Photo: Destination NSW
 

The Hunter is renowned for producing great cheeses, chocolates and country-style cooking. It’s also home to many great chefs who have escaped city-living to run their own restaurants and cafes.

  • Head to the Smelly Cheese shop to find more cheeses than you could ever dream of. Get the full smelly cheese experience and walk into the only Fromagery (walk-in cheese room). 

  • Head to the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company for home-made fudges, chocolates, truffles and more. Watch the chocolatiers at work through the viewing window – it’ll be all the sweeter when you bite into that sweet-treat.

  • Take a gourmet food tour with the Two Fat Blokes 

  • A few restaurant suggestions are:
    • Amanda's on the Edge
    • The Cellar Restaurant
    • Verandah Restaurant on Calais estate
    • Esca Bimbadgen at Bimbadgen estate
    • For something more casual, head to the Australian Regional Food Store and Café or Drayton's Log Press Café family restaurant for morning and afternoon teas, and lunches.

Where to stay in the Hunter Valley

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Stay at Peppers guesthouse in Pokolbin. Photo: Destination NSW
 

The choices are endless with where to stay in the Hunter Valley. Book into one of the many hotels, guest houses or local bed and breakfasts, and caters for all budgets. Just some options include:

  • Chateau Elan At The Vintage
  • Casuarina Estate 
  • Spicers Vineyards Estate
  • Grand Mercure Apartments
  • The Convent Hunter Valley Luxury
  • Boutique Hotelolor

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