You know what you like and there’s plenty to please in the Hunter with 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 Laguna and Wollombi. Your accommodation will determine the route. Also, arriving one way and driving back the other makes a satisfying round trip. Enjoy the countryside, cosy up in front of a log fire or relax on the deck with a glass of wine.
Staying in Laguna, 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, cocktails. Panino Caffe & Restaurant in Wollombi has a delicious, Italian style menu. Also find great food at Myrtle & Stone. Wollombi and Laguna have a wide range of accommodation including Grays Inn, The Grove beside the pretty cellar door at Stonehurst Cedar Creek and hideaways such as Somewhere Unique.
Staying in Lovedale or Pokolbin? Arriving via the Hunter Expressway, Friday night might mean a drink and something to eat at the Goldfish Bar.
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 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. Also 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. Also on McDonalds Road, Tamburlaine is Australia’s largest producer of organic wine using grapes from the Hunter and cool-climate vineyards of Orange, 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.
Find native inspired cuisine with local and organic produce on the menu at Kuwal at Calais Estate on Palmers Lane. Kuwal reflects the spirit of the wedge-tailed eagle, sacred to the Wanaruah people and dishes include ingredients that would have been used by the ancestors.
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.
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? Companies include Balloon Aloft whose sunrise flights are followed by breakfast with bubbles at Peterson House. Specialist producers of sparkling wines, Peterson has an oyster bar and restaurant. Chocolates also feature!
Drive via Broke for pretty scenery, Margan Cellar Door and Winmark Wines. Drive to Wollombi stopping at Riverflats Estate olive grove and shop, more 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 & Stone and Roadside Gallery. Wollombi has its own wine trail with the inviting Stonehurst Cedar Creek cellar door on Wollombi Road towards Cessnock. Wines here are made withgrapes produced by sustainable viticulture, hand-pruning and organically-approved fungicides.
Drive back to the Hunter Expressway via Cessnock and Lovedale, visiting the Smokehouse, Binnorie Dairy.
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)