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12° & RAINY ON WEDNESDAY 17 JULY IN AUCKLAND
A Summer Stint in NSW, Australia
Hunter Valley
By Jasmine Crittenden
December 12, 2018
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By Jasmine Crittenden
December 12, 2018
  shares

New South Wales' second largest city is nipping at Sydney's heels when it comes to summery destinations. It's also the gateway to a slew of top-notch experiences nearby. So, pack your bags; Newcastle and its surrounds beckon.

Just an hour’s drive from Newcastle — NSW’s second largest city after Sydney — the Hunter Valley is an idyllic wine region where there’s always an adventure afoot. In the past year alone, the Hunter has scored a new cycleway joining more than twelve wineries, a luxe African-style glamping spot and yoga classes among vineyards.

On top of that, there are two centuries of wine-making history to explore. Since the planting of the region’s original vines in the early 1800s, more than 150 wineries have set up digs. In between sampling semillon, chardonnay and shiraz, you’ll find local restaurants a-plenty — overlooking rolling paddocks, hidden along rustic laneways and set among pretty villages.

So, where do you start? We’ve joined forces with Virgin Australia and Destination NSW, to scope out the best things to eat, drink, see and do in the Hunter Valley this summer. If you’re looking to spend more money on fun and less on getting there, check out Virgin Australia’s warm weather-friendly flight deals.

WHEN TO GO

Let’s face it; there’s never a bad time to sip wine, meet cellar door dogs and lose yourself in pastoral reveries. However, the Hunter is at its best in the warmer months, when long days drift into balmy evenings, giving you plenty of time to stroll, cycle and indulge in tasty feasts

GETTING THERE

The Hunter Valley lies an hour’s drive northwest of Newcastle. Travelling from Auckland, all you’ve gotta do is jump on one of Virgin Australia‘s direct flights to Newcastle and you’ll be there in 3.5 hours. Flights are available three times a week throughout summer till Sunday, February 17. You can skedaddle on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday and return within 48 hours — before your boss even notices.

SPENDING MONEY

We’re not going to lie to you. Summer might be the nicest time to travel, but it ain’t the cheapest. That said, Virgin Australia‘s affordable seasonal direct flights from Auckland to Newcastle will save you some dosh. Plus, the Hunter is financially flexible — whether you want to stay in five-star luxury and dine at hatted restaurants or pitch your tent and toast marshmallows is up to you.

DON’T MISS

It should be illegal to visit the Hunter without sampling a semillon or three. It’s this variety for which the region is most famous. If you’re a keen two-wheeler, be sure to roll along the new Hunter Valley Cycleway. If not, wake up at sunrise for a spectacular hot air balloon escapade. Glamping among vineyards is pretty hard to go past, too.

EAT: DIG INTO SIX COURSES OF EXPERT SEASONAL OFFERINGS

Settle in for a six-course degustation ($110) at the light-filled EXP within Oakvale, a family-owned and run winery in Pokolbin where the focus is minimal intervention winemaking. While the menu is ever-changing, summer offerings can include Spanish mackerel with harissa and escabeche, Bangalow pork neck with asparagus and burnt shallot or myrtle gum with wattleseed, chocolate and caramel. Locally grown head chef Frank Fawkner previously worked as sous chef at Tom Aikens’s Tom’s Kitchen in London and at the two-hatted Muse Restaurant nearby, so you know your appetites are in good hands.

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EAT: FEAST ON LOCAL FIRE-PIT ROASTED PRODUCE

Despite all the fancy food technologies of the 21st century,  there’s still no substitute for cooking over fire. This knowledge is at the heart of Yellow Billy Restaurant, where chefs Emerson Rodriguez (Emerson’s Restaurant) and Sam Alexander gather around a custom-made fire pit every day to roast meat, seafood and veggies. Join them for a tasty feast of share plates, sides and snacks. You might start with local barbecue squid with ras el hanout (a North African spice mix) and follow up with honey-roasted cauliflower, tahini, seeds and nuts. Next tuck into Lovedale suckling pig with demi-glaze, apple jam and crackling and you’ll find yourself in food-induced daze of smokey, charred deliciousness.

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DRINK: SIP ORGANIC WINES WHILE HANGING WITH SOME PUPS

With more than 150 wineries to choose from, it’s not easy to work out where to go. Make your start at Krinklewood, where the French-inspired cellar door is set among gorgeous landscaped gardens, complete with sculptures and water features. All wines are certified biodynamic and the property is managed according to biodynamic, organic and sustainable principles. Take a seat and sip your way through some blanc de blanc, semillon and sparkling shiraz, while getting to know Krinklewood’s adorable Mareema sheepdogs. Keep an eye out for peacocks, too.

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DRINK: PAUSE WINE TASTING FOR A ROUND OF CIDERS

Take a break from wine at Pokolbin Cider House. Three years ago, this tidy operation decided to buck trends by replacing grapes with apples. Fast-forward to today and the range has grown from one Classic Draught, a traditional cider, to a multi-faceted collection that involves fruits of all kinds. Try the Raspberry and Cranberry and The Dark Grape, both made with granny smith, pink lady, red delicious and gala apples. Or get into the Perry, made with packham, williams and bosc pears. If you’re into zest, the Passionfruit Perry has plenty.

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SEE AND DO: TAKE YOUR VINYASA AMONG THE VINES

It’s not every day you can salute the sun under clear skies among grape vines. But, drop into a class at Yoga In The Vines, and you’ll be doing just that. This is one of the most relaxed, hospitable yoga sessions you’ll ever experience. And that’s not just the effect of being so close to so many wineries. It’s also about the teacher, Shane Blackett, who’s dedicated to making people feel comfortable. Total beginners and chronic sufferers of inferior flexibility complex will feel very welcome. There are special events, too, including ‘A Class and a Glass’ sessions and weekend retreats.

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SEE AND DO: OR CYCLE THROUGH WINE COUNTRY

Opened in August 2017, the Hunter Valley Cycleway runs along more than a dozen wineries and lets you two-wheel from one cellar door to another, without stressing about cars. For small-batch wines, indulgent local cheese and architectural glory, stop by de iuliis. If you’re partial to wandering around a sculpture garden while sipping a sparkling rosé, put Mistletoe Wines on the itinerary. Or, should you fancy an Italian-esque escapade, swing by Tintilla to sip sangiovese while gazing over an olive grove. There’s also Iron Bark Hill Brewhouse, where you can refresh with a tasting paddle of craft beer. Try the Black Forest Stout.

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Destination NSW.

SEE AND DO: CATCH SUNRISE FROM A HOT AIR BALLOON

Wake up before the sun, catch a lift to an empty paddock, crowd into a cane basket and feel your heart skip a beat as said basket is whisked off the ground by a gust of wind. The next thing you know, you’re a few hundred feet in the air, watching the sunrise and looking over the entire Hunter Valley and, on a clear day, the coastline and mountains beyond. A hot air balloon ride is a perfectly dreamy way to get some perspective. Balloon Aloft was the first company to run passenger rides and has since been at it for more than 35 years.

ACCOMMODATION

The best places to rest your head in the Hunter Valley.