The NSW Hunter Valley winegrowing region is only a 2-hour 30-minute drive north of Sydney, yet its appeal as a holiday destination is far-reaching. From the many legendary wines that you can sample in more than 80 cellar doors in and around Pokolbin and beyond to the once-in-a-lifetime experiences like hot air ballooning and riding a segway, there are some fantastic things to do in the Hunter Valley that will deliver some memorable moments.
Its winegrowing history dates from the 1820s, making it the virtual birthplace of Australian wine, with generations of grape-growing families taking on the role of winemaker. However, the region has evolved over the years to offer more than tasting the fruits from the primarily Semillon and Shiraz vines.
Families with young children are also welcome with such attractions as the award-winning Hunter Valley Gardens and its annual Christmas lights of priority along with the Hunter Valley Wildlife Park. Not forgetting the many opportunities to taste the chocolates and cheese. Here are 12 reasons to visit the Hunter Valley winegrowing region.
- Hunter Valley, NSW
- Top Tours
- 12 Things To Do In The Hunter Valley
- 1- Visit A Cellar Door For Dog Lovers
- 2- Try Wine Tasting With A View
- 3- See Historic Vines
- 4- Discover A Rustic Cellar Door
- 5- Go Hot Air Ballooning
- 6- Embrace The Romance Of A Horse-Drawn Wine Tour
- 7- Be Enchanted By ‘Storybook’ Gardens
- 8- Enjoy The ‘Local Characters’ At Hunter Valley Wildlife Park
- 9- Step Back In Time In Wollombi
- 10- Listen To Music Among The Vines
- 11- Taste Cheese And Chocolate
- 12- Play A Game Of Golf
- Where To Stay In Hunter Valley
- Where To Eat In Hunter Valley
Hunter Valley, NSW
- Hunter Valley Full Day Wine Tour – Visit several wineries and taste top wines without driving.
- Hunter Valley: Sunrise Balloon Ride with Bubbly Breakfast – Experience the thrill of floating above the vineyards.
- Pokolbin Half-Day Tour with Cheese and Wine – Get a taste of the Hunter Valley. Visit three wineries plus a cheese and wine pairing experience.
12 Things To Do In The Hunter Valley
1- Visit A Cellar Door For Dog Lovers
Visit the Hunter Valley’s Glandore Estate, and you can be excused for thinking every dog has its day.
Drive to the estate’s cellar door’s front door on Broke Road, and you can expect a welcome party as enthusiastic as winemaker Duane Roy and his team.
Here you are greeted by at least six tail-wagging locals that are glad you came.
To greet you with a bark and a lick are Sunny, Orco, Nutmeg, Maggie, and a favourite of many guests, the three-legged Phoebe, seemingly more agile than the rest.
The latest addition is rescue pup Albert “who is just learning the ropes”.
For personalised tastings, bookings are essential, and a fee applies. But as host Tricia showcased, the wine selection is tantalisingly vast, the grapes for the whites and reds hailing from NSW’s Hilltops and Tumbarumba and Victoria’s Macedon Ranges as well as locally.
Wines listed as black label have a personal touch, too, each named after family members, friends and “people who we hold close to our heart”.
2- Try Wine Tasting With A View
Perched on a hillside, overlooking vines that are over 50 years old, is the award-winning Ivanhoe Cellar Door, the attractive, blue-painted building a modern replica of the original Ivanhoe Homestead of the 1800s.
Here, you can sit back on a large shaded veranda and sample the many different fruits of the valley – Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cambourcin, among them – while taking in a panorama worthy of putting brush to canvas.
Among those to assist with personal wine tasting (needs to be booked – and a fee applies) is Lewis Drayton, a sixth-generation family member who first planted vines in the Hunter Valley in the 1850s.
His parents, Stephen and Tracy Drayton, are the owners and operators of Ivanhoe Wines and are equally passionate about the estate’s wines.
3- See Historic Vines
In the late afternoon shadow of the commanding Brokenback Ranges is a winery that’s relatively new to the Hunter Valley yet its vines date back to the 1970s. And the wines have many to collect a few awards.
Leogate Estate Wines, fronted by statues of lions on Broke Road, is the brainchild of former Angus beef producers from Tamworth Bill and Vicki Widin.
The 50-hectare property houses an opulent cellar door, winery, and wedding venue, an elegantly presented Gates Restaurant (beef a favourite choice on the a la carte menu) and 20 newly opened one and two-bedroom modern luxury villas.
Prepare for a truly informative and educational wine-tasting experience from such hosts as Georgina Beaven or chief winemaker himself Mark Woods as you sample the various wines, some from vines first planted by the area’s founding father, the late Len Evans.
Bookings are recommended and a fee applies to the private tastings.
4- Discover A Rustic Cellar Door
A short drive from Petersons family vineyard in the beautiful Mount View corner of the Hunter Valley is Savannah Estate, a winery and cellar door founded by yet another member of the family, Savanah Peterson.
Savanah is the youngest granddaughter of the Petersons, a passionate and innovative connoisseur of wines from small parcels of premium fruit grown in different areas of Australia.
Here, you can sample a variety of whites primarily from grapes grown in the valley, while many of the reds, rose included, are produced from grapes grown in NSW’s Mudgee area to the west as well as in the Hunter.
The cellar door is housed inside a rustic timber cottage, tastings taking place either outdoors or inside.
Assisting Savannah in promoting the wines is an effervescent, entertaining, and extremely knowledgeable cellar door manager Kurt Nilon.
Bookings are recommended, and tasting fees apply.
5- Go Hot Air Ballooning
Whether you book a flight of fancy or prefer to stay firmly on the ground, hot air balloons make for a spectacular start to the day in the valley of vines.
As many as three companies – Balloon Aloft, Beyond Ballooning and Hunter Valley Ballooning – operate flights at the break of dawn, and it’s not unusual to see at least half a dozen drifting overhead on a clear, calm early morning.
Whether it’s during the week or on weekends, there are flights of varying descriptions, from sunrise adventures with breakfast at a winery to private tours which include a champagne breakfast. And the array of colours makes for a photograph worth framing. Reserve your spot here.
6- Embrace The Romance Of A Horse-Drawn Wine Tour
Kelli Allgood loves taking her draft horses out and about among the vines of the Hunter winegrowing region.
As a horse and carriage tour guide Kelli is a valued member of the Hunter Valley Horses team, taking sightseeing wine lovers on a variety of rides along the back roads and among the vines.
From a simple 45-minute journey to an ultimate full-day experience, including a restaurant lunch and cheese, olive, chocolate, and wine tasting, a horse-drawn wine tour is a novel thing to do in the Hunter Valley.
With 12 of the gentle giants “employed” by the company, each has a chance to take a day or two off to spread the workload.
Time to giddy up.
7- Be Enchanted By ‘Storybook’ Gardens
It’s not just the adults who will enjoy a holiday in the Hunter winegrowing region.
Since opening in 2003, the Hunter Valley Gardens has been a pivotal player in attracting families, and the good news for youngsters is that the gardens’ appeal goes far beyond the colourful flower beds and the Storybook Garden with its timeless nursery rhyme characters.
From early November to the end of January each year, the award-winning gardens are a nightly attraction for its magical Christmas Lights – around three million lights – and a 14-metre-high Christmas tree as a centrepiece.
Other attractions include an old fashion carrousel, an 11-metre-high swinging wheel, a much taller Ferris wheel, a super slide and teacup rides.
All rides are at an additional cost to the entry fee but worth it in bringing smiles to the young faces.
The gardens, the dream of couple Bill and Imelda Roche, stretch over 14 hectares with more than 6000 trees and 600,000 shrubs featured across 10 individually themed gardens.
For a bird’s-eye view, see the Hunter Valley Gardens from the sky while on a scenic helicopter flight.
8- Enjoy The ‘Local Characters’ At Hunter Valley Wildlife Park
Families can also take a detour off the Wine Country Drive at Nulkaba for a short drive to the Hunter Valley Wildlife Park, where they will meet up with all kinds of creatures – great and small.
In what is considered by many as a traditional zoo, the park boasts an array of native and international inhabitants.
Wombat, koala, dingo, Tasmanian devil, and kangaroo are well represented among the locals and of eye-catching note is the Albino wallaby.
Among the favourites from Africa include the meerkat, cheetah, ostrich and lion, and the rare much-photographed white lion.
It’s recommended to allow at least two hours to enjoy the company of the “local characters thoroughly”.
9- Step Back In Time In Wollombi
For a break from wine tasting, a 30-minute drive from Pokolbin is the historic village of Wollombi, where you take a few strides back in time when the stagecoach made the long journey from Sydney along the Great North Road, a convict-built trail in its previous life.
The main attraction and favourite spot for a drink and a meal, especially for groups of motorcycle riders, is the Wollombi Tavern, which sits on the site of the original 1840s Wollombi Wine Saloon, destroyed by fire in 1959.
Significantly, Wollombi is an Aboriginal word for “meeting place” or “meeting place of the rivers”.
Grab a map of the village, study it while having a coffee at the general store, and take a self-guided 1km walk covering as many as 16 historic sites from early European settlement.
Of fascinating interest is the Forge Gallery and Gift Shop, which is a replica slab-style hut.
It’s home to a mountain of mixed, unusually created pieces of what is described as art.
The gallery sits on the site of what was the village blacksmith and wheelwright – much sought after in days gone by.
10- Listen To Music Among The Vines
Music to the ears are the lawns of Pokolbin’s Hope Estate, Bimbadgen Estate and Roche Estate and the high-profile, star-studded lineup of artists to perform at open-air concerts at various times of the year.
The estates have attracted music lovers to the region for two decades and continue to do so through such international acts as the Corrs and local favourites Crowded House, Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil.
Past international performers to have taken to the stage in the NSW winegrowing region have included the Eagles, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Chris Isaak, Simply Red, Bryan Adams, Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant and Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Carole King, and Neil Young, to name a few.
11- Taste Cheese And Chocolate
Wine isn’t the only produce to woo visitors to the Hunter’s Pokolbin.
Inside the McGuigan Wines Complex is the longstanding Hunter Valley Cheese Factory, where some of the valley’s finest cheese is produced ready to be sampled along with several other items, such as jams and relishes for the pantry.
A stone’s throw away, in the Roche Estate, is the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop, while further along Broke Road, in Pokolbin Village, is the Hunter Valley Smelly Deli, shelves filled with a variety of delicacies ideal for a picnic.
Broke Road is also home to the Hunter Valley Chocolate Factory, where you can enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate while sampling the chocolates and locally made fudge. You may like this wine, cheese, gin and chocolate tour.
12- Play A Game Of Golf
FORE! In the heart of the winegrowing region are three golf courses that will test your patience with your driving, chipping, and putting. And each challenging course is within a short car drive from central Pokolbin.
Down the dip from Bimbadgen Estate is the award-winning The Vintage course, designed by the great Greg Norman and challenging for its watery graves and bunkers.
On Lovedale Road are the fairways of the Hunter Valley Golf and Country Club at Crowne Plaza, while more central to Pokolbin is scenic Cypress Lakes. Make sure to bring along enough spare balls.
For a bit of practice, there’s an aqua golf driving range in Pokolbin where golfers don’t mind losing the ball in the water.
Nearby is a family-friendly putt putt course which has many a novice golfer bewildered by the layout.
Where To Stay In Hunter Valley
Leisure Inn Pokolbin
Sunsets don’t come more spectacular than from the grassy slope of the centrally located Leisure Inn Pokolbin.
Here you can celebrate the changing colours with a glass of bubbly while watching kangaroos and the neighbouring draft horses drink from the large neighbouring dam, the dominating Brokenback Ranges a perfect backdrop.
Leisure Inn Pokolbin Hill is made up of a series of private air-conditioned one- and two-bedroom self-contained apartments spread across 10 hectares of gardens.
There’s an enclosed playground for toddlers along with a sheltered barbecue area.
The inn is perfectly positioned not only for sunsets but for guests wishing to leave the car “at home” for a walk to a range of close by shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as the Hunter Valley Gardens.
Winery cellar doors are also within reach, including the ever-popular Lisa McGuigan Wines and Hope Estate.
Where To Eat In Hunter Valley
4 Pines Brewing At The Farm
The 4 Pines Brewing Co at The Farm is a magnet for locals and holidaying visitors.
It’s as popular for its pub-style meals as it is for its novel small glass beer tastings served on timber paddles.
Located on the corner of Hermitage Road and Mistletoe Lane at the Hunter Valley Resort, the relatively new taproom, bistro, and cellar door overlooks a valley of friendly wildlife and vines and is a starting point for thrill-a-minute tours on segways to see the local wildlife up close.
4 Pines at The Farm serves meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the 3pm – 8pm bar menu offered for those feeling a little peckish.
For pub nosh, there are two watering holes to whet the appetite of a hungry guest – one being a long-time favourite, the other a relatively newcomer to the Hunter Valley.
If you have the appetite for a beef and Guinness pie, Harrigans on Broke Road in Pokolbin is the place to dine, perhaps washed down with a pint of the popular Irish stout.
Head north along the Wine Country Drive (takes about 15 minutes from Pokolbin) to North Rothbury and the newly opened Huntlee Tavern offers an extensive menu including a hearty burger that’s almost impossible to get the mouth around, the Lord of the Rings.
By working on a culinary ethos of “farmgate to plate”, the award-winning Redsalt Restaurant at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley has won a few friends for its innovative menu, many of the creations from locally farmed produce, complemented by lesser-known Hunter Valley wines.
Evening diners can choose dishes from two- or three-course menus (seafood, steak, lamb, duck, vegetarian) in a relaxed and casual setting overlooking the resort’s golf course.
The meals are prepared in an open kitchen and bookings are essential.
For a such small bakery, Piehole on Wollombi Road at Cessnock has quite an extensive menu of handmade savoury and sweat delights for pastry and cake lovers to take away.
A newcomer to the Hunter, Piehole can’t yet have “the best pies in town” bragging rights, but the range of tasty pastries is far-reaching, at most 25 pies, pasties and sausage rolls at any one time.
The list of sweat treats is seemingly more extensive – at prices that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
Word of advice: Get in early to avoid disappointment.
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