You know what you like and there’s plenty to please in the Hunter for Hipsters, organic food and wine, cafe culture and activities like bike riding. Leave the city after work on Friday and access the Hunter Valley via the Hunter Expressway and Lovedale to Pokolbin or via the Route 33 Tourist Drive to Wollombi. Your accommodation will determine the route. Arriving one way and driving back the other makes a satisfying round trip.
Staying in Wollombi or Broke, take Tourist Drive 33 via the Peats Ridge/Wollombi exit from the M1. Plan to arrive arrive early evening to eat at Laguna’s GNTP, the historic Great North Trading Post, now a style haven with good food, beers, wine – dinner plus local ambience and maybe some music here are a great intro to the area. Panino Caffe & Restaurant has reopened with a lovely new interior decor, outdoor dining and a superb menu. Myrtle House has a blackboard dinner menu on on Thursdays and Fridays. Wollombi has a wide range of accommodation including Grays Inn, cottages including The Grove beside the pretty cellar door at Stonehurst Cedar Creek and hideaways such as Somewhere Unique.
Staying in Lovedale or Pokolbin, you’ll arrive via the Hunter Expressway and Friday night might mean a drink and something to eat at the Goldfish Bar or one of the many restaurants (booking is essential for big-name eateries like Muse). Apart from its many restaurants, the Hunter isn’t big on nightlife but, hey, part of the Hunter experience is cosying up in front of a log fire in the cooler months with a glass of wine.
Breakfast at Fawk Foods Kitchen & Bakery or Pokolbin’s Cafe Enzo – a real favourite with great decor! Check for markets – May/June is the time for the Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival; Handmade in the Hunter markets are held on many (but not every!) Saturdays at Kevin Sobels Wines.
Bike rides are a great way to explore, just looking around or visiting a winery or two. The new Hermitage Road Cycleway is a 10 kilometre path between Broke Road and the New England Highway with more than a dozen cellar doors and other attractions on the Hermitage Wine and Food Trail. Find craft beer at the cellar door and craft brewery at Ironbark Hill on Hermitage Road, delivering Pilsner, Summer Ale and and American Pale Ale. The Keith Tulloch Winery is home to Cocoa Nib for hot chocolate, coffee and hand-crafted chocolates as well as Muse Kitchen, open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday with seasonal menus (but only open Saturday night for dinner). Visit Thomas Wines to taste single vineyard Semillon and Shiraz, drop in to the Scarborough Wine Co for Chardonnay.
On Broke Road, find the Hunter Distillery for organic spirits including Copperwave Gin with 11+ botanicals distilled in separate flavour groups.
On McDonalds Road, taste organic wines at the Usher Tinkler cellar door. Wines at Usher Tinkler are made from grapes grown only at the family estate in the Hunter and tastings are incorporated with tasting plates. Also on McDonalds Road, Tamburlaine is Australia’s largest producer of organic wine. This fully certified winery uses grapes from the Hunter and the the cool-climate vineyards of Orange, also in New South Wales.
The Ben Ean Complex at Lindeman Estate is home to a new tasting room for Hunter Belle Cheese from the Upper Hunter Valley, Goldenbelle is a ‘stronger than camembert’ washed rind style cheese and Black Magic is a triple cream brie with a black fermented garlic centre! Baume at Ben Ean serves lunch seven days and is a current Hunter favourite.
If it’s a fine day and not too hot, head for the Audrey Wilkinson vineyard on De Beyers Road, Pokolbin for views and – bring a blanket to sit on the grass with a glass of wine.
Organic food and wine are on the menu at Love Kitchen on Pokolbin Mountains Road with gluten-free and vegan options always available, open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea. (Dinner by arrangement.)
Exploring Lovedale Road, find handcrafted artisan cheeses at Binnorie Dairy (brie, marinated feta, labna) and smoked trout and more at the Lovedale Smokehouse Gourmet Pantry.
Just remember that Friday and Saturday night dining bookings are essential for many restaurants so if you’re celebrating a special occasion and you have a certain place in mind, check ahead for a table before you book your accommodation.
More Hunter Valley Itineraries
How about a balloon ride? You’ll need to be up early and there are several companies including Balloon Aloft whose sunrise flights are followed by breakfast with bubbles at Peterson House, specialist producers of sparkling wines and with an oyster bar and restaurant. Chocolates also feature!
Drive via Broke for pretty scenery, Margan Cellar Door and turn towards Wollombi stopping at Riverflats Estate an olive grove with a new shop and vineyards including Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard. At historic Wollombi, check out the General Store, Twine Home Store, the Little Yengo Room for Aboriginal art, Noyce Brothers Cellar door, The Forge for collectables, Panino Caffe, or Myrtle House cafe with books and bike hire. Wollombi has its own wine trail and the Stonehurst Cedar Creek cellar door is worth backtracking for if you need to, for wines made from grapes produced by sustainable viticulture, hand-pruning and organically-approved fungicides.
Drive back to the Hunter Expressway via Lovedale, visiting the Smokehouse, Binnorie Dairy and maybe Lovedale Antiques, one of a handful of places to fossick for collectables.
Note: Petrol on Tourist Drive 33 is available at Peat’s Ridge, Kulnura, Laguna and Millfield, but not 24 hours. Cessnock has many petrol stations, including 24 hrs.
(Personal thanks and big shout out to Laura Heslop at Stonehurst Cedar Creek on the Wollombi Wine Trail. AP)