Around two hour's drive north of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is one of Australia's premier wine regions. It's also one of the prettiest and greenest regions in the state all year round. The summers are hot but the paddocks are filled with rows and rows of green vines and grapes. Autumn offers brisk clean air and the turn of colour amongst the vines. Winter is my favourite with mist-filled mornings and log fires in many accommodation options. And Spring is all about new life and the energy of chlorophyll bursting the vines into new growth. The artisans, growers, and producers in the Hunter also pride themselves in shopping local, utilising and growing most of what they need, and supporting local small business. So if you need some 'green' inspiration or green space to recharge, renew and shake off the dust of the city, this green valley is filled with plenty of fun things to do (even if you're not into the liquid stuff). Here's an A - Z list of my suggestions:
Browsing old wares and antique stores is one of my favourite things to do as it takes me on a walk down memory lane, plus I love seeing old things given a new lease on life rather than ending up in landfill. Visit Morpeth Antique Centre or Lovedale Antiques Old Wares. At Hermitage Road Antiques you'll discover 8,000 square feet of memorabilia, bric-a-brac, crockery, tools and books dating back to the mid-1800's. You'll pick up a bargain and could get lost for days. The arts are alive and well in the Hunter. Do a walking tour of the Kurri Kurri murals which showcase the history of the region, or pick up a unique gift at Butterflies Gallery exhibiting the work of local artists and craftspeople.
HIRE A BIKE OR GO TO BROKE Stretch your legs to save on carbon emissions and get some of that clean air in your lungs. Hunter Valley Cycling will deliver the bikes direct to your accommodation. Or if you're not as fit as you used to be, you can still manage a few miles on an electric bike from Sutton Estate Electric Bike Hire. The tiny village of Broke has its Community Markets on 1 July, 2018, featuring local produce and handmade gifts. On 9 September 2018 the Village Fair and Vintage Car Display showcases some old beauties, plus trucks, tractors and farm machinery.
COFFEE, CHOCOLATE & CHEESE TASTING Blessed are the cheesemakers, and so will you be at The Hunter Valley Cheese Company. Here you have the chance to sample some of the regions finest produce. It's locally owned and manufactured on-site since 1995. Stock up for your next picnic. Bliss Coffee and The Hunter Valley Coffee Roaster are boutique award-winning coffee roasters utilising coffee sourced from Nimbin in northern N.S.W. and local growers. The Hunter Valley Chocolate Company has been established for over 17 years. View the chocolatier in full swing and find all your sweet delights at this valley icon.
DINING Possibly stating the obvious, but the area is awash with all manner of dining experiences, from casual cafes to 5-star fine dining. For something a little different check out The Mill Restaurant for vegetarian and vegan seafood, Oishii for a Japanese experience, or the Epicure Cafe for breakfast and lunch in a relaxed, picturesque setting. Or you could go straight to dessert at Sabor in the Hunter Dessert Bar, which offers over 50 different desserts.
EXPLORE The valley has a lovely laid-back feel, but take your state of relaxation one step further by heading to the heights. Weave your way past the vineyards along Mount View Road up to the Bimbadeen and Mount Bright Lookouts. From here you get sweeping views of the valley, or can link up with a walking or mountain-biking trail.
FOUR-WHEEL DRIVING Most of us drive around in one now, so why not learn how to make the most of what a 4-wheel drive car can offer? Spend the day with experienced drivers at The Hunter Valley Rally School.
image courtesy Denman Golf Facebook page
GARDENS & GOLF
At the Hunter Valley Gardens there are thousands of trees, flowering shrubs, waterfalls, murals and more. Check out the Story-book Garden, Rose Garden, Lakes Walk or just find a quiet corner to soak in the green. For a quick round with a little white ball go to Cypress Lakes Golf Course, or for something a little cheaper and quiet checkout nearby Denman Golf Course.
IMAGINE A different lifestyle? This world-class tourist destination offers a tree-change. With a burgeoning hospitality industry there is endless scope to live life differently. As you meander the back roads you might get some ideas on how to grow some alpacas, run a craft and cooking school or open a B & B?
This colonial-style country manor is a delightful accommodation option. Set on 70 acres, there's a rose garden, a vegetable garden, chickens and pigs, and a few gentle walking trails to explore. And don't leave without a little indulgence at their High Tea experience.
LEAP OUT OF A PLANE
Challenge your fears or make that birthday memorable with a tandem sky-dive. Not my idea of fun, but if it gets your pulse racing, then perhaps it'll be your next best thing.
Who doesn't love a market? There's something about the umbrellas, being in the outdoors, and all those stalls with something unusual to source that you just don't find in the shops. They're spread across Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays, so check out the schedule here.
NAN's TRIVIA or NEW YEAR'S EVE
If you fancy your general knowledge then check out Nan's Kitchen who run fun trivia nights. For an extra special new year celebration, check out what the Hunter Valley Gardens have on offer.
OPERA AND THE OUTDOORS
The annual Opera in the Vineyards is a glamorous affair and a chance to dress up or raise money for charity. Alternatively, grab a mountain bike or your hiking boots and explore some nearby bush trails.
Image courtesy Pickled & Pitted Facebook Page
PICKLED & PITTED
Your liver is going to love you after visiting this quaint family business. Shelves bursting with all things yummy and local such as chutneys, relishes, pestos, and olive oils are all locally grown and made.
Don't go anywhere or do anything. Find a shady tree or a sunny corner and just enjoy the quiet, the birdsong, the wind in the trees and still the thoughts in your head.
old stone bridges on the Great North Road
ROAD, THE GREAT NORTH ONE
Built in the 1830's by convict chain-gangs, this road is now a nice alternative to the busy M1. Begin at Dural, meander through Wiseman's Ferry, stop at Glenorie Bakery for a pie or vanilla slice, and exit near Bucketty. You'll cross the oldest stone bridges in mainland Australia. Alternatively, join a group tour and walk sections of it.
SHOP or STARGAZE
The Hunter Valley Gardens is a block full of unique stores such as the Australian Alpaca Barn for all things warm and fuzzy, Candelabra for boutique candles, the Hunter Honey Hive for local honey products, and the Wine Glass Gallery for special gifts, crystal glasses, vases and jewellery. Alternatively, get out of the shops and study the night sky. The Hunter Valley is listed as one of the best places in Australia to view the vast Milky Way. Stay at Eaglereach Wilderness Resort in an eco-certified lodge to make the most of the vast skies and views over Barrington Tops.
Everywhere you go you get the opportunity to taste something local, fresh and unique. The cellar doors, of course, offer wine tasting, but also locally grown olives, hand-made relishes and chutneys, balsamic vinegars and teas. Hand-made in the Hunter Markets is the perfect opportunity to meet the maker. Taste sourdough breads and jams and fill your picnic basket.
UP, UP AND AWAY
Try ballooning, the serenity of a ride in a glider with only the wind and the birds for company, or up the adrenaline rush with a ride in the open cockpit of a Tiger Moth aeroplane.
Weddings, parties, anything: you name it and the Hunter Valley has exactly the perfect venue to take your vows, host a radical children's party, celebrate a divorce, or take a group of friends and hire a house. For something particularly luxurious stay at The Convent and dine in the Viking banquet hall of the hatted Circa 1876 restaurant. For something that's a little more environmentally friendly stay at Mountview Lodges. Perched high on a hillside, the views are spectacular and your only neighbour will be the wallabies and wombats. The two-bedroom, split-level, open plan living is perfect for a small group. The Hunter Valley Resort specialises in Hen's and birthday parties, offering on-site activities such as grape-stomping, horse-riding and massages.
The historic township of Wollombi is one of those special places that keeps drawing me back. It's also sacred for Indigenous people in NSW and the Aboriginal Cultural Centre highlights the history of the area. Grab a map from the museum and do a self-guided village walk.
There's corporate-style team building experts at East Coast Xperiences, or create your own with a wellness retreat at Golden Door Spa.
This pocket-sized place focuses on conservation and breeding programs. Children get to hand-feed farmyard animals, native birds, kangaroos and wallabies. Keeper talks provide you with plenty of information: there are white lions, Tassie devils, meerkats and American alligators. You can also host a birthday party or enjoy the barbeques and picnic areas.
Whatever the season or weather, the Hunter Valley has something for everyone.
Congratulations on 2nd place, Sue.
A unique approach (and great publicity) for the Hunter Valley, showing there is more to the area than a wine or two. A pity we are so far away (WA), but nonetheless many thanks from a teetotaller :)
Fantastic article. I was in the Hunter Valley last week and went to the most beautiful soap and Olive of oil shop on River Flats Estate. I really think you should add it to your article. It was like a Cellar door on a beautiful property but instead of wine it was soaps and hand made articles and amazing Olive oil and condiments. It’s new so check it out.www.barenatureskin.com.au 500 Wollombi Rd Broke 2330