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Clydesdale & Carriage Tour of Hunter Valley

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by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Published July 4th 2012
Lance Sim.

Lance knows what he knows and it is enough to get by on. He has a slow drawl and a sardonic wit. In his Western- style boots and ten gallon hat I expect a surname like Cartwright. But while this man is a cartwright (someone who fixes wagons) and a farrier his surname is Sim - Lance Sim.

Lance and wife Annette have been operating their Clydesdale carriage business, Pokolbin Horse Coaches, in the Hunter Valley for over twenty years. Their venture which takes tourists on a slow-paced clip through the grounds of some of the smaller wineries is increasingly an anomaly in the slick, modern fast-paced world of the Hunter Valley.

It is a wine region burgeoning at the barrel hoops with 120 or so wineries and over 2.3 million visitors annually. So the whole place can be a press on busy weekends.

Older visitors can remember dirt roads and sipping wines with the makers. Now the Hunter has multi-million dollar residential conference centres and resorts. Trying to cross the road on a weekend and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Sydney.

If you comment on this mayhem, Lance is just as likely to nod his head as the horses plod along. He is a man of few words but does not mind the occasional quip. "You see that vineyard over there that's called Graveyard Winery. "Built on the proposed site of a cemetery. Their wines are always full bodied."

His nonchalance seems to be because nothing fazes him. His horses hold up the rows of huge tourist buses, on the rare occasions when the tour does touch on the bitumen. "They don't seem to know their road rules" he mutters. "My horses have right of way."

All that matters is the slow plod of his horses, as we mosey along in our carriage like the Amish people.

The tour is mainly cross country through the vineyards around Pokolbin, the Hunter Valley's main wine growing region. The pace is leisurely and often the only sound is the rhythmic syncopation of the horses' hooves. Ride on mowers whizz past.

View from Pokolbin Estate Vineyard

The scenery is striking. Orderly rows of rich green vines, seemingly strung in front of the purple backdrop of Brokenback Mountain Range. The top edge of the scene fringed by a Derwent blue sky.

This tour visits only small boutique wineries rather than the huge conglomerates visited by most of the tourist buses

The first hitching post is Pokolbin Estate Vineyard where grapes are still handpicked and wine is only sold at the cellar door. This is the Hunter Valley of yesteryear.
1880s homestead built from sandstone with a thatched roof and lead light windows bordered by original Scottish masonry.

The horses plod on till we reach Kevin Sobels Wines which is run by a family who love their St Bernard dogs. They owned Joe who had the role of the Nanny in the 2003 Peter Pan movie. The Sobels also honour another St Bernard, aptly named Plonk, in a stain glassed window bearing his image. There is usually a St Bernard snoozing in a corner of the winery.

Back in the cart my little group is beginning to feel a bit merry. A fellow passenger starts up a chorus "I was born under a wandering star' and we plod along with Lance as our guide.

Kangaroos lope besides us. Our sober captain, Lance stops to point out frilled necked lizards sunning themselves on the grass.

We also visit the agistment where Lance keeps his other horses as well as some heritage curiosities such as an early setters hut and a hollowed out log once a fine kennel for a blue heeler.

Lance's horses at the agistment.

But Lance keeps his blinkers on when it comes to the encroachment of the modern world. As we pass the 300ha Hunter Valley themed Gardens (known to some as Hunter Disney) he doesn't say a word. Similarly we pass the huge chrome dome Tempus Two cellar door in silence.

Instead Lance is taking us to see something he finds special - some old discarded farming machinery from aeons past.

Then it is on to Tumurlaine a completely organic winery. No fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides which makes it a wonderful drop for asthmatics and allergy sufferers.

The trip now over we pat the horses and shake Lance's hand.

On the way back to Sydney I tell the coach driver about my afternoon, and Lance's novel way of exploring the Hunter Valley. "Bloody horses they cause traffic jams" he said. "And how many wineries did you get to see. Three, maybe four? ... If you went by bus you could see twenty in one day."

In my head I multiply that out. The endless rounds of being herded on and off buses and only getting to go to the huge wineries where the buses can park.

Finally I let that bus driver in on a little tourist secret. "What's the rush? The old slow ways of the Hunter will suit us just fine."

Brokenback trail tour hunter valley wineries horse and carriage Clydesdale horses
As modern as it gets - a mobile phone
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Why? To go back to the old slow ways of the Hunter Valley
When: Most days Bookings recommended.**
Phone: 0408 161 133
Cost: Morning tour -: 11.00am – 1.30pm Afternoon Tour -: 2.00pm – 4.30 pm **(A minimum number required for tours) Half Day Tour Costs: $45 pp Adults $25 pp Children
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