- Countryside Vine-lined hills
- Country life Semillon, shiraz and sauvignon – sublime
One of the global capitals of New World wine making, Australia’s green and glorious Hunter Valley is the ideal destination for antipodean explorers looking to combine the palatable with the picturesque.
When 18th-century settlers first landed in New South Wales, they made sure they brought some grape vines with them. Thanks to such forethought, the Hunter Valley is now Australia’s most famous viticultural centre, with more than 120 wineries producing dozens of varieties – with semillon taking the starring role. Just two hours’ drive from Sydney, the slopes of the Lower Hunter are home to the highest concentration of vineyards and are peppered with dinky market towns such as Branxton and Lovedale, and quaint rural idylls such as Wollombi, which, with its colonial architecture and welcoming 1930s ethos, is like stepping into a postcard from the past. As you’d expect from a celebrated wine region, the quality of the food has developed to match the drink, and you’ll find some very fine dining indeed in the Hunter Valley’s smattering of elegant restaurants.
Do go/Don’t go
The grape harvest kicks off early in the Hunter Valley, with the first semillon fruit picked in January, and then runs through to April. Summer can be piping hot, but from April onwards, things mellow and the days become cool and calm. Winter is the perfect time to sip the Hunter's famed shiraz.
Planes Sydney Airport | the major hub for Qantas | is the main gateway to the Hunter Valley | although you can take a chartered flight to Cessnock Airport in the valley itself | and Newcastle’s little airport is connected to Sydney | Melbourne and Brisbane by smaller flights QantasLink | Jetstar and Virgin Blue.
Trains CityRail services link Newcastle with the smaller towns of the lower Hunter, and CountryLink rail routes weave through the valley between Sydney and Brisbane, stopping at Newcastle, Maitland, Singleton, Dungog, Gloucester, Muswellbrook, Scone and Murrurundi.
Automobiles The Hunter Valley’s an easy two-hour drive from central Sydney up the F3, and a car is invaluable when you’re exploring the region or touring its vineyards. Pick up a car at the airport or in the city from Avis (www.avis.com).
- Taxis It’s a rural region and distances can be on the big side, so cabs aren’t the most cost-effective means of getting around – most will charge for the trip out to pick you up as well as the trip itself.