The Hunter Valley is a beautiful area of rolling hills, vineyards and fresh air, and at only two hours out of Sydney, it's a great option for a weekend getaway.
A winter afternoon in the Hunter Valley. Photo by David Kettle
With a busy working life, taking the time to get out of the city can sometimes require more motivation than many of us have after a full working week, but the Hunter Valley is so accessible from Sydney and so relaxing - you'd be a fool not to visit at least once.
I had the great pleasure of heading up there last weekend, and although it's not grape season at this time of year (January and February are the best seasons for this), the wine tasting tours, reduced number of tourists, and crisp winter mornings led me to think that winter might actually be the best season of all to make the trip.
If you haven't got cash to splash at the moment you needn't worry. A trip to the Hunter Valley doesn't need to put you out of pocket. Sure, you can go all out and find yourself luxury accommodation, exclusive wine tours and fancy restaurants, but if you're like me and want to see the most, without spending the most; there are some affordable options available.
A good place to stay is the YHA hostel. With a choice of eight person shared mixed rooms, four person share mixed rooms, twin rooms or double rooms with private en-suite bathrooms, there's something for everyone. They also offer the option to hire out the entire venue. It's the perfect accommodation for groups as there is plenty of space, but would work just as well for couples. If you're searching for five star accommodation the YHA might not be for you, but if you're looking for a comfortable and clean place to stay with friendly staff - it's a really great option.
The YHA hostel
The hostel has all the usual commodities you'd expect to find in good hostel accommodation: bunk beds, hot showers, a great kitchen with a large dining area, a television room, an outdoor seating area, a swimming pool (probably stick to this in the summer months - it's not heated!), and my favourite amenity the outdoor pizza oven/barbecue area. If you let the staff know in advance that you'd like to use this fantastic social area, they'll fire up the oven or barbie for you.
And so, to get to the real reason you head to the Hunter Valley: the wine. YHA trumps on this one too, as they have their own special YHA wine tour. Nigel, the YHA hostel owner will accompany you as you hop on the purple bus at 11am and head to your first winery. A little early to start tasting wine I hear you say? Not in the Hunter Valley. Of course, you don't have to drink the wine, and there are always spit buckets available for you to simply savour the flavour without getting a little wobbly.
The first stop on the tour is the Lindeman's Winery, the wine giant of the Hunter Valley. Here you will treated to a run through of a selection of the wines that Lindeman's produce, and of course, will have the opportunity to try some as well.
Wine tasting at Brokenwood winery
Following Lindeman's you will also stop at Constables, Brokenwood and Savannah wineries. All the wineries have a really wide selection to choose from, and have very different atmospheres and approaches to the tour. During the day, you will also have the opportunity to do some local cheese tasting in a local and popular delicatessen, as well as making a lunch stop.
There are loads of other activities that you can do whilst in the Hunter Valley, such as visiting the local zoo, brewery tours, Hunter Valley Garden visits, horse riding, golfing, cycling, skydiving, hot air ballooning and others. It's also a really accessible weekend trip if you haven't got time to travel further afield. Public transport isn't too tricky to organise, and the YHA hostel offers free pick up from local transport.
I returned home feeling refreshed and happy to have taken a bit of time out of Sydney. Being a foreigner who lives and works in Sydney, it was great to get out of the big smoke and see a bit of Australia without losing loads of time and money.