Aussies love hitting the road in summer, and inevitably so many of the destinations gravitate towards the coast. But Australia has plenty of great areas not too far from water than make a perfect location for a day trip or weekend away.
For this adventure we’re heading to the Hunter region of NSW, only a couple of hours out of Sydney.
It’s an easy day trip or better done over a long weekend, where you can probably soak up the local flavour. And for those who love to get their feet wet you’ll rest safe in the knowledge you’re not too far from the coast - or the vibrant city of Newcastle.
The easiest and quickest way to get to the Hunter Valley is via the M1 motorway that is the main route north out of Sydney. But it’s not particularly inspiring and is almost always busy, especially during holiday times (don’t get anywhere near it on Boxing Day!).
So for this adventure we’re suggesting two alternatives.
The first heads towards the Old Northern Road that eventually dives down a steep, twisting hill into the township of Wisemans Ferry. There’s a great picnic area on the left before you reach the river crossing, or you can join the queue for a short wait for the ferry. It runs 24-7 and is free, taking about five minutes to get across the Hawkesbury River. You’ll be released on Wisemans Ferry Road, which meanders along the northern banks of the river before heading north to Mangrove Mountain.
The picturesque roads continue to Yarramalong, which will take you back towards the freeway, or you can continue up towards Wollombi.
The second route takes you out towards Windsor in the north-west of Sydney before heading up the Putty Road, one of the great strips of bitumen out of town. It’s a challenging road that keeps the corners coming through spectacular bushland.
The Grey Gum Café is a rare place for a refresh or a stretch of the legs before the road continues to Broke. From there it’s an easy cruise into the western fringe of the wineries the Hunter Valley is known for.
SOMEWHERE TO EAT
It’s more a case of where to start in the Hunter Valley. The region is rich with wineries, cafes and restaurants to cater to almost all tastes and budgets. There’s absolutely no shortage of options – and it often pays to book ahead, particularly during holiday times.
The Deck at Lovedale is a great place to tuck into tapas with a view to match and nearby is the Lovedale Smokehouse for a broad selection of locally made produce. Bimbadgen and Tempus Two have lashings of grand winery style the Hunter does so well, with menus to match, the latter with Goldfish offering a bit of everything. Or you can try Restaurant Botanica for an experience that expertly showcases the local area.
Fawk Foods Kitchen dishes up a hearty breakfast as does Café Enzo, which continues the theme throughout the day with an innovative menu.
The Hunter also offers plenty of brilliant produce. Visit the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop, which delivers on its name and also has a vast selection of gelato for cooling down on a hot day. An afternoon visit to Cocoa Nib is perfect to stock up on take-away for later – after a chocolatey afternoon tea, of course!
THINGS TO DO
If you want a view of the region then it’s tough to go past a ride in a hot air balloon. It’ll be an early start but you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular flight across the Hunter Valley, soaking up its rolling hills and spectacular wineries.
It’s also worth checking what’s on in the area before you hit the road. The Hunter Valley attracts some big name performers and seasonal events that cater for all ages.
One place that’s often in on the action is the Hunter Valley Gardens. As the name suggests, there’s a vast garden with various themed areas. Over Christmas the Gardens also host a Christmas Lights Spectacular, with more than three million lights. There are even some carnival rides in case the kids start to doze off.
And, of course, you can’t visit the Hunter without sampling the wonderful wines the area is known for. A day cruising around the vineyards will surely tempt you to grab some for later!
Or you can get in on the foodie action by joining in on a cheesemaking workshop at the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory. Another lesson in making great food can be had at the Majors Lane Cooking School.
WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
It’s not all about wine, cheese and chocolate at the Hunter Valley - even if that will cover most bases for plenty of us…
There’s no shortage of bushwalks, including some challenging tracks through the nearby Wollemi National Park. Check out the glow worm caves for something different. You can even hire a kayak for a float through the spectacular park. Or there’s horse riding in the Hunter Valley, as well as a go kart track to test the reflexes. The Hunter Valley Zoo gives you an up-close look at some of the wildlife that is prevalent in the area.
If you’re up for a big day of all things wine then you could do a lot worse than the Icons of the Hunter Valley tour. It starts with a morning wine tasting at Tyrrell’s before heading to the 160-plus-year-old Audrey Wilkinson vineyard for a hamper picnic in the vines. Then it’s off to Brokenwood for an afternoon of wine-matched canapes and a tasting direct from the barrels.
And it’s not all about wine in the Valley. The Foghorn Brewery at The Mighty is a great way to taste a local brew. Have a crack at the seasonal menu, too, which serves up some terrific feasts.