Most of us love a visit to a vineyard, and the Hunter region in New South Wales has plenty to enthral wine lovers.
However, there’s a lot more to this diverse part of the state, which encompasses the city of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens and the Hunter Valley proper. Enjoy the pristine beaches, verdant forests, shimmering waterways, and historic towns and villages. And it’s all just a two-hour drive from Sydney.
Here are ten of the best things to do in the Hunter Valley region.
For many people, a visit to the Hunter is all about cellar-door wine tastings. Wineries range from boutique start-ups to big-name producers like McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Wines and Tyrrell’s Wines. The region is famous for its shiraz and semillon varietals, and there are more than 150 cellar door experiences to choose from. Make your own selection from the online Hunter Valley wine directory, or book a wine tour and let someone else take care of the decisions and driving. Serious wine buffs may want to time their trip to coincide with the annual Hunter Valley Wine Festival.
Food rivals wine as the Hunter Valley’s greatest lure. Top eateries include Muse Kitchen at Pokolbin, Margan Restaurant and Winery at Broke, and Esca on the Bimbadgen Estate. Growing numbers of local providores provide a constant supply of all things delicious. From smoked meats and house-made cheeses to local honey and venison, you’ll find all your gourmet needs amply satisfied. To meet the makers, check out the Hunter Wine Country Markets (held at De Bortoli Wines).
Families and garden enthusiasts will love the colourful Hunter Valley Gardens. Surrounded by vineyards, the 25-hectare display gardens are the largest in Australia. Design influences from around the world have created ten themed sections, including the Indian Mosaic Garden, Italian Grotto and European-style Formal Garden. For many visitors, the star attraction is the magnificent Sunken Garden, closely followed by the fun and imaginative Storybook Garden. There are plenty of activities for children, and seasonal events throughout the year.
World-class golf courses and an ever-increasing number of day spas and wellness retreats make the Hunter Valley an ideal place for relaxation and indulgence. Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club, Hunter Valley Golf at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and The Vintage at Chateau Elan all have championship golf courses (the last designed by Greg Norman). They are open to both resident guests and day players.
Chateau Elan and Crowne Plaza also have luxurious spa facilities. If you are looking for something extra special, Adina Vineyard at Lovedale and Spicers Vineyards Estate at Pokolbin each have on-site day spas that offer health and relaxation packages within tranquil, vine-framed settings.
Time to work off those Hunter indulgences with a coastal walk in the bustling city of Newcastle. Energise with a coffee from Queen’s Wharf and watch the enormous coal ships being tugged into port, then walk east along Wharf Road to Nobbys Beach and fill your lungs with fresh sea air.
Stop for a dip in the surf, ocean baths or historic convict-cut Bogey Hole, before ascending through King Edward Park to the start of the Newcastle Memorial Walk. Admire the spectacular 360-degree views of coast and city, then head for the Merewether Surfhouse for a well-earned lunch.
Located just south of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie is Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lagoon. One of the best ways to enjoy its calm and sheltered waters is on a stand-up paddle board. Take a lesson from the experts to gain the necessary skills, then join the upright enthusiasts at the Toronto Foreshore for a social early morning or sunset paddle.
Another of the Hunter region’s must-visit natural wonders are the incredible sand dunes at Stockton Bight. Head out with Port Stephens 4WD Tours and feel the rush as you slide down the 50-metre slopes on sandboards. You can also visit the fascinating Tin City fishing village and the iconic wreck of the MV Sygna, which ran aground in a storm on its maiden voyage in 1974.
Larger than Sydney Harbour and complete with golden sandy beaches, azure-coloured water, the Hunter’s Port Stephens is an aquatic playground for both humans and marine life. Spot the resident dolphins all year round in the Great Lakes Marine Park with Moonshadow Cruises, and watch for whales when they visit from May to November. Cruise to Broughton Island in the Myall Lakes National Park for a day of swimming and a guided discovery walk, or kick up your heels on the twilight dinner cruise with a meal and live entertainment.
On the banks of the Hunter River, the National Trust town of Morpeth was once a bustling trading port, but its cobbled streets are now home to galleries, boutique shops, trendy cafes and produce stores. Visit Morpeth Sourdough, which occupies the site of the original William Arnott’s bakery. His descendants are still baking amazing bread right here.
And finally, get amongst the stunning sub-tropical rainforest in World Heritage-listed Barrington Tops National Park in the Upper Hunter. As part of the Gondwana Rainforest network, this region provides a link to the ancient pre-human history of the area. There are plenty of scenic lookouts, easy walking trails, and picnic and camping spots in this magnificent wilderness.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to in the Hunter Valley region? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph and The Australian. In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.
Katherine Sellers has travelled to over 30 countries. She worked in country pubs and resorts in England and Wales, been a travel agent in Sydney and Brisbane, a croupier for high rollers on Christmas Island, a reservationist at Jenolan Caves House, a guesthouse manager on Lord Howe Island, and a hostess on board a luxury catamaran sailing the Ningaloo Reef. Recently Katherine completed a lap of Australia with her husband in their motorhome. When she’s not flitting about the country, she puts pen to paper.