A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at https://www.travelwithirenke.blogspot.com
Published June 20th 2020
Home of the Big UGG Boots
A road trip to the Hunter Valley is usually a grape escape to the wineries and I do enjoy a good drop but I'm finding more of interest on each visit to this wonderful region.
From gorgeous gardens to cheese tasting and dessert bars, Pokolbin is the centre of the lower Hunter Valley and most visitors flock here. I've flocked to it many times and now I find myself on the lookout for other compelling townships in the area.
My latest visit was to Thornton, a suburb of Maitland, to see the Big UGG Boots and Mortels Sheepskin Factory. I love tracking down Australia's big things and the UGG boots were a colourful surprise. I had seen them pictured online in the traditional UGG boot colour of chestnut, however, they have had a makeover and are now pink with a gorgeous floral pattern on them. Weighing around 600kgs each, the pair is 13 times the size of a women's size 8 UGG boot and they come in at the world's biggest.
Mortels Shoes, founded by a Dutch couple in Sydney in 1956, first produced UGG boots in 1958. Made with sheepskin and wool from Australian sheep, the business flourished and moved to the Hunter region in 1978. Over time, the company has been passed down to younger members of the Mortel family and, as it became even bigger with the making of other sheepskin products, the location changed a few times. The current site in Thornton sees not only a factory but a museum, cafe and gift shop housed in a purpose-built Australiana shearing shed-style premise.
Factory tours (where you can see and learn of the making of UGG boots) are currently suspended during this difficult time of Coronavirus but the Sheep's Back Museum is open and is fascinating with storyboards on the history of Mortels, the UGG boot and sheepskin manufacturing. There's cool facts, such as the one telling onlookers that UGG boots were first known as 'Fugg boots' and designed during WW1 for use by the Royal Flying Corps. Touch screens allow visitors translation of information into Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese. Plenty of old machinery used in the manufacturing process is also on display as well as Australia's first sheepskin clothing – The Digger's Vest.
The cafe is also open and practising social distancing with tables spread apart, both inside and outside. The menu consists of a range of breakfast and lunch items that include Cobbers and Shearers breakfasts, Drovers Eggs Benedict, corn fritter stacks, pancakes and waffles, Turkish melts, Soup of the Day, burgers, lamb stew, house-made pizza, salads, fish, salt & pepper squid and sides of chips. A children's menu is also available.
I went with a Turkish melt, where you can choose your toppings. Cheese is a given and I chose turkey, pineapple and capsicum. It filled the spot nicely, washed down with a juice combination of apple, nectarine, pineapple and coconut water.
Choose your own toppings on Turkish melts in this cafe
Other beverages include coffee and frappes, teas (including Kombucha & Chai latte), hot chocolate, smoothies, milkshakes and over-the-top freak shakes, energy drinks, sodas and Bundaberg cider.
Last stop before leaving was the gift shop, the place for your winter woollies. There's UGG boots galore in various styles and colours as well as slippers, scuffs, Socassins and Oomphees. I wasn't planning on buying any footwear, however, I tried on some sheepskin Oomphees and was sold on them. They were so comfy, I couldn't resist them.
Just some of the styles and colours in footwear at Mortels
Other items of clothing include jackets and modern Digger's vests, leather belts, socks, hats and women's scarves. Baby gear is also available (including plush toys) as well as handbags, rugs (some of which are made of cowhide) and car seat covers.
There's a lot to enjoy here at Mortels and, in most months (seasonally), they have a Sunday Muster. This boutique artisan market sees creative stallholders showcasing their skills and wares, along with live music. The culture is upbeat and fun with loads of variety. Muster dates can be found here.
Costs – Entry to the museum is by gold coin donation, whilst factory tours are $15 per adult (16yrs & over) and $7.50 per child (8-15yrs).
Opening days/hours – these vary depending on the season. It's best to check the website or phone ahead on (02) 4966 0990.
Address – 1 Weakleys Drv, Thornton (just off the New England Hwy, Pacific Hwy and M1). You'll find it an easy trip at just under 2hrs from Sydney and 30mins west of Newcastle.