The Hunter Valley (NSW) is a special place, steeped in Aboriginal and settler history and a dynamic wine region with 150+ vineyards and cellar doors. The Hunter Valley offers wine and food experiences to the max, whatever your taste. Sydney-siders and locals are lucky in that they can keep coming back for more – and they do! The Hunter Valley’s traditional grapes are Semillon and Shiraz, but you’ll find all kinds of wine here including organic and hand-crafted.
Wine-making in the Hunter doesn’t always mean using grapes grown here – a prickly issue with wine writers – but purists will be pleased to know that there are many passionate vignerons committed to delivering the true taste of the local terroir. If the wines are varied then so is the cuisine, with a wide range of restaurants, cafes, dessert bars, delicatessens, cheese and chocolate-makers. In fact the world is your oyster (yes, those too) in the Hunter Valley where a rich seam of restaurants offers top-flight dining at cellar doors, hotels, resorts and special places in-between.
This is serious food and wine country but there’s also much more to the Hunter. Golfers are spoiled for choice with championship courses, couples come for romantic weekends and weddings are BIG business. Girlfriends enjoy getaways laced with food, fun and treatments at the choice of spas. Hipsters track down style. Biking, hiking, horse riding, 4WD tours and rewarding drives are just some of the activities.
The Hunter is sophisticated, staging big-name concerts and hosting international conferences as effortlessly as it welcomes couples and independent visitors (or groups) from all over the world. Many come to chill in a peaceful hideaway, wine-lovers discover new labels and releases every time they visit and families love the wide open spaces and kid-friendly attractions including the Hunter Valley Zoo.
The one really surprising thing for first-timers is that the Hunter Valley wine country’s central Pokolbin, so famous for its generous helpings of the good life, is not an actual town. It’s nearby Cessnock on the southern edge of wine country that has banks, supermarkets, laundry, petrol/diesel and local produce at Wollombi Road Providore. There’s a community arts centre and cafes including Polina’s on Vincent Street.
The main drag through wine country is Broke Road, stretching from just past the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre on Wine Country Drive to Broke, with a maze of wineries and attractions in-between. The distinctive Hungerford Hill cellar door and renowned Muse Restaurant are first on the left. At the central focal point where Broke Road meets McDonald’s Road is the contemporary Roche Tempus Two complex with cellar doors, bars, restaurants and a cheese shop, its design and decor setting the tone for the Hunter’s contemporary edge. The Hermitage Road Cycleway is a 10 kilometre trail along Hermitage Road with a dozen cellar doors to visit. Chocoholics will love the Hunter’s chocolate shops including the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company and Cocoa Nib.
Top tip: Pick up a map from your accommodation or the Visitor Centre to help plot your course.
Start with these Hunter Valley Itineraries
Hunter for Hipsters … Fresh air, organics, bike rides, local produce
Hunter Valley Family Experiences … Kid-friendly wine country? Yes, winemakers have kids, too!
Hunter Valley Wine and Food Indulgence … Having it all in wine country
The wider Hunter region includes historic towns and villages, vineyards and the thoroughbred horse studs of the Upper Hunter. Also the Broke-Fordwich area (a designated wine sub-region in its own right) and National Parks such as the stunning Barrington Tops. The geographical area includes Cessnock, Dungog, Gloucester, Great Lakes, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Muswellbrook, Newcastle, Port Stephens Singleton and the Upper Hunter. Newcastle, on the coast, is the capital.
Broke Road – Pokolbin is at the heart of the Hunter, densely packed with vineyards and accommodation against a backdrop of the Brokenback ranges to the west and the Barringtons in the distance to the north.
Mount View is a high point from which to appreciate something of the scope of The Hunter Valley. It’s a winding, unsealed road (in parts) which rewards with stunning views and a collection of renowned vineyards and restaurants.
Broke-Fordwich at the western end of Broke Road, is a designated wine sub-region in its own right and home of wineries and restaurants including Margan, a favourite cellar door/food and wine destination.
Lovedale is a gateway to The Hunter Valley as there’s an exit here from the Hunter Expressway. Lovedale has its own touring routes, galleries, cafes, restaurants and vineyards – it has its own Lovedale Long Lunch event over the third weekend of May. This is an area you’ll drift over on a hot air balloon flight looking down on vineyards and open paddocks which are home to big mobs of kangaroos.
Wollombi is the sort of boutique historic village visitors dream of finding in Australia – an outpost on the convict-built Great North Road, tiny and picture-perfect with a handful of stone and timber buildings. There are two historic churches (duck into St Michael’s to see the beautiful stained glass windows and friezes), an excellent museum, restaurant/pub/cafe dining, Twine Home Store, Wollombi General Store, The Forge and Noyce Brothers’ cellar door. There’s bike hire, a book cafe and the cultural centre, The Little Yengo Room, selling Aboriginal art with an overview of the importance and sites of this special area.
Wollombi has its own vineyards with a wine trail and cellar doors with events throughout the year such as markets, Sculpture in the Vineyards, local theatre, art exhibitions and so on. There’s a wide range of accommodation including luxury hideaways, self-catering, cottages in the vineyards, B&B and accommodation/wedding venues including Mystwood Retreats.
Laguna, beyond Wollombi on the road to Sydney, has the hip and happening Great North Road Trading Post (GNTP) with all-day dining, petrol/diesel, music.
There’s always a warm welcome in the Hunter Valley with activities no matter whether it’s bud-burst in spring, grape harvest in summer or the beautiful autumn colours of the vineyards before pruning. In winter you can cosy up in front of a log fire, enjoying all the hospitality of the Hunter and often bright sunny days.
What this means is that the Hunter is a year-round destination, making allowances for the heat in summer when an early-morning round of golf is best and families plan their days to be in shady spots.
Loved as a weekend destination for Sydney-siders, The Hunter Valley is also a perfect midweek destination.
Two nights give you a taste, longer allows you time to explore. With five nights or more you could discover some of the outlying regions and have time for experiences that take you beyond the contemporary food and wine scene to the ancient backdrop of the mountain ranges. Think hikes, 4×4 driving, Aboriginal insights and much more.
Winter (June -August) brings clear blue skies, mild day-time temperatures but cooler evenings and a few frosty mornings.
Spring (September-November) is bud-burst when the fresh green leaves appear on the vines, a beautiful time to be in the Hunter with many events.This is a favourite time for weddings.
Summer (December-February) is grape harvest time in the Hunter Valley. Temperatures rise and can hit the high 30s with rain/thunderstorms.
Autumn (March-May) is pretty as the vines change colour. Cooler days make activities such as biking more attractive.
Similar to a Mediterranean climate, in summer the average daily temperature exceeds 21.1°C (but can easily soar to the high 30s). In winter the average daily temperature is 18°C while the minimum is 4.4°C, but there can be frosts on some winter night/mornings.
July is the the coldest month and January the hottest.
The heaviest rainfalls are in summer, followed by late autumn.
Local Events & Holidays
National Holidays include:
January 1: New Year’s Day
January 26: Australia Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day
On national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or only open for limited hours. There are also additional holidays in each state or territory.
Hand Made in the Hunter Markets, second and fourth Saturdays of every month until 28 December, 2016.
Hunter Wine Country Markets held every Saturday (until 17 December 2016).
Laguna Markets, every third Sunday of the month.
Rail Motor Society Open Days, Paterson, third Saturday of every month, until 19 November, 2016.
Australia Day, 26 January
A Day on The Green, Bimbadgen:
You Am I, Something for Kate, Spiderbait, Jedediah and the Meanies. November 2, 2016
Maitland Taste Food, Wine & Music Festival
Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival
Easter Long Weekend
Folk In Broke
Lovedale Long Lunch
A Taste of Wollombi
Hunter Valley Wine & Food Festival
Lovedale Art Festival
Snow Time in the Garden, Hunter Valley Gardens. (June 25-July 17, 2016)
Branxton’s Big Night Out
Spring Festival of Flowers at Hunter Valley Gardens
Wollombi Music Festival
Annual Long Tuscan Lunch
Rose Spectacular at Hunter Valley Gardens
Hunter Valley Uncorked: Balmoral, Sydney
Hunter Valley Balloon Fiesta
Spring Food & Wine Celebration
Oktoberfest at Hope Estate
Jazz in The Vines at Tyrell’s Winery
Opera in the Vineyards
Sculpture in The Vineyards, Wollombi Valley Wine Trail
Melbourne Cup at Bimbadgen
Christmas Lights Spectacular at Hunter Valley Gardens
Christmas and New Year’s Eve Celebrations
Calendar and details:
Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time NSW UTC/GMT 11 hours (last weekend October to last weekend in March)
Australian Eastern Standard Time UTC/GMT 10 hours (April– September)
To check the local time in the Hunter Valley, click here.
Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.
All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.
And, in case you haven’t heard, when it’s summertime here in the Southern Hemisphere it’s wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere. So if you live in North America or Europe or anywhere above the equator, when we say a trip or destination is great for the summer, we mean December-February, when it’s the dead of winter for you. That makes it an even bigger opportunity to visit, don’t you think? You get two summers!
You may be cycling around the vineyards, dressing up for a romantic dinner, taking off by 4×4, playing golf…
Sydney-siders pack their weekend gear with enough glitz for a low-key shine at night and a wrap or two for warmth as well as good looks. Footwear think walking, cycling, hiking, golf, country roads, grassy paddocks as well as the polished boards/stone of upmarket vineyard restaurants.
Anytime (advisable even in winter months, June/July/August)
Lightweight waterproof gear
Insect bite soother such as Stingose
The Hunter is Sydney’s playground – a place for romantic weekend escapes and indulgent food and wine breaks, a place for golf weekends, girlfriend getaways, car club rallies. So it’s not going to be exactly cheap, but it can be affordable!
With a variety of accommodation from B&Bs to luxury boutique hotels, it’s possible to manage a stay in the Hunter to suit most budgets. Look for packages and deals at resorts.
Don’t expect to find cheap wine, though; $20 to $30 a bottle would be on the cheaper side at cellar doors with many at $50 .
Top restaurants in the Hunter reflect Sydney prices – appealing to the same clientele and of course with emphasis on local ingredients and wine. Degustation with wine matching is a feature of many menus; new at Hungerford Hill is the Epic Wine Tasting experiences with dishes from the amazing Muse kitchen.
There are ways to enjoy yourselves in luxury on a budget, of course. Some top restaurants offer two and three course ‘set’ menus that can help you keep track of costs. Self catering means you can enjoy local food and wine with the added bonus of kicking back with a local drop without having to drive, but would be a shame not to eat out at least some of the time.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $AU.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $205-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-$35 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $35-$80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates. It currently operates in Sydney, Canberra (from Oct, Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong in Victoria, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
For overseas travellers, car hire is often best done in advance maybe in conjunction with your whole booking. As anywhere in the world, car hire at airports attracts an additional fee and insurance goes on top. Casual hire rates from Newcastle Airport with, say, Budget, might cost from around $200-$350 a week (depending on car type), with insurance on top, calculated on booking. Compare rates at sites such as Vroom Vroom Vroom.
Petrol/diesel is readily available in Kurri Kurri, Cessnock and the villages of Millfield, Laguna, Branxton and Broke but not around the Pokolbin vineyard area as such. (Best top up to keep the tank full when you do see a garage.)
Airlines Jetstar and Virgin fly to Newcastle Airport from many destinations including Brisbane, Melbourne, Sunshine Coast, Byron Bay (but not Sydney which is about a two-hour drive from the Hunter Valley). Jetstar has direct flights from/to New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, US-Honolulu,Thailand-Phuket. Virgin Australia has connections (via Brisbane) to many parts of the world via other international hubs such as Singapore.
Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical —Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association or your local equivalent.
Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers. Paying at the counter, look for a ‘tips jar’.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Some cellar doors charge for wine tasting (maybe $10-$20), some, but not all, refund when you buy. The charge will/should be clearly displayed.
The Hunter has plenty of space so parking isn’t an issue but don’t forget to heed street parking signs in towns such as Cessnock and Maitland. (In Sydney, the traffic wardens are relentlessly vigilant and car parks expensive. Watch out for ‘loading zones’ which attract big fines if you park there in a car.)
Driving to the Hunter by car means you can tour and go as you please (not drink driving if wine or beer tasting, though!!).
Escorted wine tours are available, some by small coach, limousine, vintage car, Harley-Davidson tours, cycling tours, horse-drawn vehicles. Day tours are readily available from Sydney.
The Cessnock Aerodrome is around 7km north of Cessnock in wine country, a base for flying schools, joy flights, hot air ballooning and helicopter flights/ transfers and business/tourist charters.
Newcastle Airport is a domestic airport at Williamtown, half an hour north of Newcastle and about an hour’s drive from the Pokolbin wine area. Car hire is available with major companies represented.
About 150km north of Sydney, the Hunter wine region is easily accessible by car or on a tour.
The route by car from Sydney is north via the M1, following signs to Newcastle and taking the exit to the vineyards via the Hunter Expressway. Tourist Route T33 is an alternative backroads drive via historic Wollombi with lovely scenery, a true taste of the country.
Helicopter transfers can be arranged Cessnock airport or some resorts.
The nearest train service runs from Central Station, Sydney to Maitland, Newcastle or Singleton.
Driving to The Hunter by car means you can tour and go as you please (not drink driving if wine or beer tasting, though!!).
Escorted wine tours are available, some by small coach, limousine, vintage car, Harley tours, cycling tours, horse-drawn vehicles.
Newcastle Airport – Williamtown
The Hunter Valley is hospitable and can seem quite laid-back.
Cellar door managers will tell you about their wines and vineyards if you have time to listen. You don’t have to buy wine but it’s a bit rich to taste all the wines on offer and then just leave. Pick and choose where you taste and maybe look up prices first.
Try to understand if mobile reception is patchy in some areas and Wi-Fi not available – if 24/7 connection is essential to you, check with your accommodation before booking.
The Hunter Valley is a dining hot spot, with degustation menus for pairing food and wine, cafes and even a dessert bar (offering wine pairings, too). Many chefs have kitchen gardens for fresh herbs and vegetables and can call on local meats, cheeses and seafood – we’re not far from the glorious NSW coast.
Plan (and book) top end dining experiences, consider picnics with deli products, think about ‘pub-grub’ such as The Royal Oak, Cessnock. As for recommendations – your B&B host or concierge will be able to tell you what’s great in the area.