It’s on most people’s bucket list, and it’s easy to see why. The New South Wales Hunter Valley, an easy two-hour drive north of Sydney, is a wine-connoisseur’s cellar, a gourmet lover’s pantry, a culture vulture’s hub and an adventurer’s playground. It can be a luxury escape or back-to-basics haven, offering something for everyone.
Known world-wide for the more than 150 wineries scattered in its midst, the Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest growing wine region. The first vines were planted in the 1820s and today there are wines produced from a variety of grapes including semillon, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, verdelho and chardonnay. You can visit cellar doors by simply turning up, making a booking, or taking a specialised or organised tour. But, the Hunter Valley is far more than vines and wines. The area is renowned for its gourmet produce, markets, galleries, gardens, golf courses and more.
Outdoor Design – Hunter Valley Gardens
Covering 25 acres, the Hunter Valley gardens spoil the senses with colour, texture and fragrance. With 6000 trees, one million ground covers and more than half a million shrubs, the garden’s designers have created eight kilometres of walking tracks, with restful open spaces to enjoy a picnic hamper.
A great way to explore the gardens and learn about their history and development is aboard the 35 minute journey on the Hunter valley Gardens train.
The Hunter Valley Gardens hosts many special events throughout the year including the Rose Spectacular every spring, and the Christmas Lights Spectacular which runs from 7 November 2014 through to 26 January 2015. With more than 1.5 million lights, it is truly and enlightening experience for young and old alike.
In January, the gardens will welcome the largest collection of mega bugs. Don’t be concerned that they will destroy the garden’s offerings; these bugs are gigantic animatronics and include a spidersauras, ladybirds, butterflies and an eight-metre praying mantis as part of the collection.
Hands On – The Hunter Valley Cooking School
Held in the purpose-built kitchens of the Hunter Valley Resort, The Hunter Valley Cooking School is run by Phillip Collis and his team. Be prepared to don an apron – this is a hands-on class using fresh organic local produce. You can choose to partake in the lunch or dinner session, with a range of menus to select from. Each class usually kicks off with a vineyard inspection and tutorial with the cellarmaster before moving into the kitchen and then enjoying the fruits of your labour.
Tasty Morsels – Hunter Valley Cheese Company
If you are in the region on a Monday, you can watch cheese being made at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company, and every other day there are free cheese tutorials. The Hunter Valley Cheese Company also has a café and retail outlet where you can buy boutique cheeses, ploughman’s platters, coffees and locally-made goodies – a great tasty treat to take on your Hunter Valley exploration.
Something Unique – Handmade In The Hunter Markets
There are so many talented artisans who are inspired by the picturesque landscape of the region and the Handmade in the Hunter Markets are the ideal place to showcase their wares.
Held in the award-winning Kevin Sobels Wines in Pokolbin on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, the markets attract locals and visitors to purchase a variety of art, craft and food and meet the people who create them. There are usually 40 different stallholders displaying anything from candle making to spinning, painting to bee keeping, and food for all to enjoy.
Keep an eye out for regional markets in the area’s local townships. These also offer a bounty of hand-made goods.
Tempting The Senses – Art In The Hunter
Fine art lovers should allow plenty of time to visit the many galleries and studios which showcase wonderful local talent. Many, such as Wilderness Art Studio, offer art workshops which suit beginners through to the more experienced. Ogishi Craft Gallery features glass words by the internationally renowned Setsuko Ogishi. Established in 1987, the Ogishi Craft Gallery is now based in Rothbury and is the only one of its kind in the region.
For those looking for something unique, Butterflies Gallery is a popular stopping place. Set among a pretty cottage garden amidst the Pokolbin vineyards, the gallery has every changing exhibitions of jewellery, silk and leather, sculptures ceramics and paintings and is open seven days a week. Greg Wilson Art Gallery, also in Pokolbin, is more than a showing of Greg’s amazing talent. As he says “my work is more than a work of art; it is a work of the heart”. Greg was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident in his early 20s which lead to a four-year recovery period which plagued him with depression. Art was his salvation and his near-death experience has led him to express his creativity and feelings through a wide range of paintings and sculpture. As a spokesperson for mental health issues, and an ambassador for a number of organisations, Greg has written an autobiography, which was officially launched by the then Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. John Howard, and Minister for Education, the Hon. Dr. Brendan Nelson MP. His talents have also led to him painting an official portrait of Nelson Mandela for his 90th birthday, which was given as a gift from Australia.
Driving In The Hunter – Golf
The Hunter Valley is home to several golf courses, catering to a range of skill.
Hunter valley Golf and Country Club can be found in Lovegrove and is surrounded by vineyards and mountain ranges. It is a 71 par, superbly manicured 18-holel course which stretches nearly 6000 metres. Visitors can choose from stay and play packages, or day rates.
The Greg Norman designed Vintage Golf Club is ranked among the best in Australia. The 18-hole course has a par of 71 and is the only Greg Norman designed public access golf course in the state. It can be found at Rothbury.
Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club was designed by Steve Smyers of Florida and offers panoramic views of famous vineyards and the Brokenback mountain range. It has dramatic fairways that are kept in manicured condition year round. You will find the course and its magnificent facilities on the corner of McDonalds and Thompsons Road in Pokolbin.