Local's guide: Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley Hot Air Balloon
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Rolling hills, dense bushland and sprawling acreage – the Hunter Valley is New South Wales’s most established wine region, just under two hour’s drive from Sydney.

Highlights
  • Muse restaurant
  • Audrey Wilkinson Winery
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Boydell's glamping accommodation

Where to eat

If you’re looking for somewhere to line the stomach before a day of wine tasting, Café Enzo draws a crowd on any given weekend. You can’t go past the vegetarian breakfast with poached eggs and a solid cappuccino. And if you need something salty to fortify you after last night’s shenanigans, head to Emersons at the Adina Vineyard, where they aren’t shy when it comes to serving up a mountain of breakfast fuel.

Ask any Hunter Valley dweller where to go for fancy dinner date and they’ll say Muse restaurant. The towering atrium dining room of this modern Australian marvel is perched on the perimeter of Hungerford Hill Winery. The celebrated kitchen offers a seasonal menu marked by ingenuity and its championing of local produce.

Subscribing to the farm-to-table ethos, the hatted Circa 1876 sources ingredients largely from its on-ground garden, beehives and chicken coop. Choose from smoked marrow bone, cherry-glazed duck breast, or be guided by the chef’s tasting menu. A Hunter Valley go-to, Bistro Molines boasts views and charming French provincial décor in equal measure. The European-inspired menu is rich and hearty, making it a bona fide country favourite.

 

Wine and cheese tasting

With over 150 cellar doors to visit, a weekend is never enough to explore the Hunter Valley. From big-name wineries to boutique bottlers, Australia’s oldest wine region has it all. The historic 1866 Audrey Wilkinson winery offers an excellent range of Semillon’s at its picturesque tasting room. You can try chardonnay and Shiraz at the Oakvale Wines estate. At avant-garde winery Usher Tinkler, which is housed within the beautifully restored Pokolbin Church – you can pair wine or whiskey with prosciutto, truffle salami and camembert.

And when you need a break from a jam-packed schedule of cellar doors, drop into the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory. Here you’ll find a wide selection of handmade cow and goat milk cheese, available to taste and buy. Order a cheese tasting board to try five cheeses, or book a private cheese appreciation class to learn about cheese varieties and the art of wine matching. The Smelly Cheese Shop also offers a great range of local and imported cheese, which you can enjoy at its in-house café.

What to do

There’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise from 5,000 feet in the air while you float above the vineyards, which is why one of the most incredible experiences you can do in the Hunter Valley is a hot air balloon flight. With the team at Balloons Aloft, you’ll experience the Hunter Valley in a completely different way – seeing the region from a birds-eye view. Plus, NRMA Members receive an exclusive discount through ExperienceOz. Or perhaps you want to awaken your senses and stroll amongst 60-acres of stunning themed gardens in the Hunter Valley Gardens. The gardens feature thousands of roses, a ten-metre high waterfall, mosaic ground cover, topiary animals, perfectly manicured lawns and an abundance of flowers blooming all year round.

The Hunter is dotted with art galleries and museums. For traditional Australian landscapes, decorative work and investment opportunities, visit the Morpeth Gallery. While you’re there, take a wander around Morpeth’s historic buildings, relax on the riverfront and sample some famous Morpeth sourdough. Meanwhile. At the Maitland Regional Gallery, you’ll find contemporary exhibitions, with temporary shows changing every six to eight weeks. If you’re banking on something more active, there’s the Yango Walking Track, a six-kilometre walk through untouched wilderness in Yengo National Park, which journeys past red cedars, giant stinging trees and spectacular vistas.

Where to stay

For a truly unique stay in the Hunter Valley, book a night at Boydell’s luxurious glamping accommodation. There’s only one safari-style tent on this massive property which incorporates vineyards, cattle grazing paddocks and two bordering rivers. The huge tent sits on a wrap-around balcony overlooking a green haze of grasslands and the resident mob of kangaroos. But if you’re envisioning yourself in a secluded cabin, consider the nearby Belford Cottages. It’s here that a handful of private dwellings are scattered around 15 acres of beautiful, unspoilt bushland. Each has its own private balcony, for sundown wine sipping and kangaroo spotting.

For those travelling on a tighter budget, or saving the bucks for bottles – the Hill Top Country Guest House in Rothbury is good value. Situated on the Molly Morgan Range, affording brilliant views of the Hunter Valley, it’s housed in a colonial-style building and dress with touches of luxury, including king-size beds, spa baths, a sauna and a pool. Looking out over acres of manicured vines across the rolling hills, is the Mercure Resort. Ideally located to enjoy everything the region has to offer, stay in one of the stunning suites, complete with a fireplace, spa bath and private courtyard, while onsite you can enjoy the ambiance and relaxed luxury.

Stay 4 nights, only pay for 3

or save 10% on shorter stays at NRMA holiday parks and resorts.