The Hunter Valley is a major tourist destination which attracts more than 2.5 million people annually. Located some 120 kilometres/75 miles north of Sydney, in New South Wales, it can easily be fitted into any Australia vacation package.
Why go to the Hunter Valley? The warm climate and lovely scenery, together with world-renowned vineyards and ability to enjoy gourmet food, is a start. But that isn’t all. One can play golf, visit spa and health resorts, go camping, hiking, fishing, hot air ballooning, take scenic flights, and visit botanical gardens. Other activities include horse drawn carriage rides, vintage car rides, and river cruises. There’s plenty to keep visitors busy!
To enjoy the Hunter Valley, it helps if you have an interest in wine, but it certainly isn’t compulsory. However, even if you are not a wine connoisseur, the vineyards are wonderful places to have lunch, picnic, listen to music, taste local cheeses, and absorb the scenery.
Let’s start with the wineries. The wineries in the Lower Hunter Valley are concentrated around these regions, Wollombi Valley, Mount View, Cessnock, Pokolbin and Rothbury, and Lovedale and North Rothbury. They are most famous for their Cabernet Sauvignons and Semillon. Around fifty wineries, most open to the public for both wine tasting and purchases, include such famous names as Tyrells, Lindemans, and Wyndham Estate. The first vines in Hunter Valley were planted in the 1820s, making Hunter Valley the oldest wine region in Australia. Hunter Valley Semillon is widely considered the iconic wine of the region but the Hunter Valley also produces wine from a wide variety of grapes including Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Verdelho. You can even join a wine tasting master class. Wyndham Estate, one of Australia’s oldest vineyards, sponsors Opera in the Vineyards each year – an amazing combination of singing, food, and wine held in an open-air amphitheatre beneath the stars.
So now that you are aware of the significance of the region for wine, let’s consider some of the other attractions. We mentioned gourmet cuisine. The Hunter Valley is renowned for its fine dining, offering an abundance of excellent restaurants to choose from.
You can also spend time sampling local cheeses, hand-made chocolates, charcuterie, dairy goods, sourdough breads, and olive oils direct from the local producers. There are also several cooking schools where you can hone your culinary skills.
You want to play golf? The Hunter Valley has several world-class golf courses, some of which have on-site tuition. Your companions on the course are just as likely to be wallabies and parrots as well as other golfers! More relaxing are the numerous spa and health resorts in the Hunter Valley, which can transform you into a new person. Spend a day or book a week. Either way, you will feel refreshed.
Now you are ready for more activity. Try hot air ballooning while watching wallabies having breakfast, or take a helicopter ride or a light plane to view the whole valley. Do you enjoy bike riding? You’ve come to the right place. There are different levels of bike tours, so even if you aren’t an avid rider, there are easier options for you. While riding, you will experience rolling green hills, lush vineyards, blue skies, and fresh country air. Oh, and yes, you can sample the local wines. Horse riding? Travel around like the early settlers did – on horseback. This is horse country and you can take a leisurely walk through a vineyard or head for the bush on a multi-day trek. Beginners and experienced riders are both accommodated. A very different pursuit is a tour in a vintage car. Remember the E-type Jag? Well, you can rent one and have a pre-planned 3-day itinerary and do all the things mentioned above – in style.
Camping, bush walking, and fishing can all be done in the Upper Hunter Valley, which has an unlimited scope for going “wild” and camping in the bush. National Parks here have designated camping areas, while Lake St. Clair and Lake Glenbawn have waterside camping spots. Barrington Tops and the Murrurundi Range offer great camping and bush walking opportunities.
Returning to a more leisurely activity, the Hunter Valley Gardens are built around the old Tallawanta Winery, and feature twelve themed garden “rooms”, each with a different focus. Literally millions of plants exist, giving the visitor an insight into the colours and fragrances of twelve different floral themes. This is more than just a garden, it is a work of art and you can easily spend all day enchanted by the displays.
What are the tourist attractions to consider in the Hunter Valley? The Cessnock Visitor Centre is an excellent starting place. It has a great range of free maps and brochures to guide you, plus find you accommodation or recommend restaurants, etc. From Cessnock, you can visit local wineries and Werakata National Park, great for bird watching and home to native animals and exceptional spring wildflowers. The riding trails and scenic picnic grounds are real highlights.
A major Hunter Valley wine-producing area, the town of Lovedale, dates back to the early 1800s. It is a small town surrounded by wineries and offers many good restaurants plus fun activities such as hot-air ballooning and horse riding. You can marvel at the annual Lovedale Long Lunch, which is a two-day eating and drinking extravaganza held every May. If you love good chocolate, don’t miss the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company. If you want to improve your cooking skills, Majors Lane Cooking School hosts Asian-fusion cooking classes where you can cook and feast in an idyllic vineyard setting.
The village of Broke offers a relaxed vineyard experience set against the dramatic backdrop of the Yellow Rock escarpment. Enjoy great country dining at one of Broke’s restaurants or cafes. Here you can join a tour and get a bird’s-eye-view of the Hunter region from a helicopter or balloon ride, or get in the saddle and set off on a horse riding adventure or pack a picnic to go for a bush walk along the scenic walking trails through Yengo National Park. It’s a perfect base from which to explore the rich Aboriginal and natural heritage of the area, as well as taking part in mountain biking, horse riding, or bird watching.
Singleton is a historic Hunter Valley town where you will find a relaxing mix of country hospitality and nature-based activities. A tour of the Australian Army Infantry Museum is fascinating, with its historic collection of infantry equipment, weaponry, and memorabilia, dating back more than a century. Singleton’s majestic Lake St. Clair sets the scene for a range of outdoor activities from fishing and swimming to camping, water skiing, and sailing. The Singleton Arts Festival is a biennial event that celebrates the art and culture of the area, while the Spring Festival of Flowers will delight gardening aficionados.
Maitland, in the Hunter Valley, is the heart of a thriving central business district, offering quality accommodation, entertainment, and restaurants. Pretty countryside surrounds the town. Here you can stroll along the river walk precinct to admire the Hunter River, dine by the riverbank at a cafe, or head to a stylish heritage pub. There are plenty of things to see and do around Maitland. Don’t miss the Maitland Regional Art Gallery or the National Trust-listed Grossmann House to gain insight into Maitland’s cultural heritage. Also, the Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles and Maitland Gaol make for an eclectic historical experience. Close by are many fine cellars where you can sample local boutique wines – including fruit wines made from fresh local produce.
Nature abounds in and around Wollombi. Near here are national parks with great bush walking trails and lookouts, and ancient Aboriginal rock carvings. Today, Wollombi retains its fine architectural heritage. You can also go bush walking to see native birds and animals in the Watagans and Yengo National Parks.
Morpeth is a former river port town that has retained its historic shop fronts, wharves, and hitching posts along its main street. Today, it is no longer a backwater but a wide-awake town crammed with restaurants, shops, and a calendar full of annual events. It is a living museum of Australia’s past, offering a history lesson that is easy to digest.
Paterson is one of the historic towns of the Hunter Valley. It’s a small, picturesque village offering a mountain backdrop by the Paterson River. Once a busy river port, Paterson today features old country pubs and perfect picnic spots. The best way to explore the mid-19th century historic sites of Paterson, such as Paterson Historical Court House Museum and St Ann’s Presbyterian Church, is on foot.
Outside of the wine region, there are nearby places to visit such as the city of Newcastle, which boasts rich history, diverse culture, and picturesque scenery with its coastal beaches. Consider a cruise on the Hunter River or Lake Macquarie from Newcastle for a different perspective of the Hunter Valley.
All this is just a short journey from Sydney. Come to a wonderful world of attractive scenery, interesting history, wine, and active pursuits. Don’t miss it!
With over 40 years experience in the travel industry, and working for Goway for the last 15 years, British-born Robert Glazier has travelled to over 70 countries. “I have never met a destination which didn’t have something to interest me,” he says. His first foray abroad was from England to Switzerland on a school trip at the age of 14, and that was the start of a long journey. An avid runner, Robert’s favourite way of exploring a destination, is to don his running shoes and really get to know it on foot, even if it means sometimes getting lost! His advice to other travellers? Always wonder what is around the next corner!