Ah. Yes, I made that mistake and dragged my travel companion with me looking for trees, but instead we found a glorious little town at the end of a spectacular drive with one of the friendliest cafes we had yet encountered in the Valley.
If you imagine the Hunter Valley to be a big circle, then Wollombi is down the bottom on the left. Depending on how you arrive in the Valley, Wollombi could be considered a gateway to the Hunter, and this quaint little town is a picturesque place to start.
The road between Cessnock in the east and Wollombi is stunning: with rounded hills, thick with trees like fat green cushions. In winter the mist hangs between the hills, while wood smoke curls from picture-perfect wooden cottages along the way. There are many destinations a snap-happy tourist will want to stop on the drive.
The Gate Gallery is the first hint that you are approaching Wollombi, with extraordinary sculptures visible from the road. This contemporary gallery is open Friday to Mondays and has constantly changing exhibitions as well as a focus on Indigenous and abstract art.
The next place to stop is the local cemetery, opposite what is possibly the cutest primary school in the state. Here the lichen is as thick as the history, and you can wander between the graves looking at a snapshot of Australia's past.
Around the next bend is the tiny town of Wollombi itself, not much more than half a dozen ancient buildings from the sandstone police station to the classic wooden structure of the general store and museum. The quaint little churchSt Michael's is one of the oldest functioning churches on mainland Australia (and very popular for weddings), or perhaps next door is more your style: an usual gift shop called Bohemia (open Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun) which offers vintage gifts as well as reiki, tarot and hypnotherapy.
Desperate for Devonshire Tea we were excited to see a sign for the Wollombi Cafe. A beautiful if ramshackle old wooden building, the Cafe has a welcoming verandah set with little tables, while flowers hang in baskets and freshly cut stems sit quaintly in jam jars. Inside we were greeted with small, character filled rooms, one dark and moody with a sombre fireplace, another cheery with a vintage up lamp and chaise.
The gorgeous girl behind the counter was most apologetic. The cook had left an hour before and she was about to close. The ovens were off so scones were out of the question. However, she was determine not to let us leave hungry and in a display typical of the friendly folk in the Hunter, she made us tea and hot chocolate and dished up slices of the most beautiful homemade cakes.
They were rich and generous, the type of cake your Nan would make for a special occasion.
We sat on the verandah listening to the jazzy strains of the music inside as she cleaned, and we enjoyed that particular type of background silence only found deep in the bush, far away from the buzz of the city.
As I finished off my friend's cake, I snapped a photo of what I assumed to be a Wollemi Pine. 'They're millions of years old,' I said knowingly. I also snapped a photo of the Wollombi Cafe breakfast menu (they open at 9am) thinking that the delicious sounding corn fritters would bring us back the following day.
Despite its modest appearance, Wollombi is a cultural centre. Every year between October and January, the Sculpture in the Vineyards exhibition takes place, bringing crowds from all over. There are some permanent sculptures on display in the village, polished metal incongruent with the rustic charms of the ancient wooden shed only metres away.
On leaving Wollombi we were greeted with friendly cheers from the local Tavern as locals watched us slip around on the wet grass. No kerbs or footpaths in the Valley, so bring sensible shoes please.
The 30 kilometre stretch of road between Wollombi and Broke is marked as a convict trail, but in my opinion this simply means 'drive carefully or you're history.' The first half of this road is full of potholes and more bends and turns than Julia and Kevin's relationship.
Do not attempt this drive after dark, in bad weather or even if you have so much as stepped foot in a winery. Luckily the road improves halfway to Broke and after a change of underwear, everything is back to normal.