Unexpected things to do in the Hunter Valley
There’s a lot more to the Hunter Valley than just wine. Extend your stay and explore some of the region’s unexpected delights, from horse riding and air tours to fascinating culture and vibrant festivals.
Hike through lush national parks
Just on the edge of the vineyards, the landscape gives way to untouched bushland. To the south of the Hunter Valley is Watagans National Park, where towering red cedar and Illawarra flame trees form shady canopies over quiet walking trails. Part of the Great North Walk, a trail from Sydney to Newcastle built to commemorate the Bicentennial in 1988, runs through the park. This section is suited to experienced hikers and offer spectacular views and abundant birdlife.
Yengo National Park sits to the southwest, a remote wilderness that’s home to ancient Aboriginal sites, mountain bike trails and a section of the convict-built Old Great North Road. The 6km Yango Walking Track follows an old fire trail through pristine forest – look out for the rare velvet wattle. Mount Royal National Park is around 50km north of Singleton and part of the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforest of Australia. There are walks for all fitness levels and you’ll find the park blissfully free of other tourists.
Ride a horse through vineyards & bushland
Saddle up to explore the valley on horseback. Hunter Valley Horse Riding runs trail rides through their beautiful 300-acre property in the Molly Morgan Range. Kangaroos, wombats, possums and wedge-tailed eagles are frequently spotted, and the views back towards the vineyards are stunning. Chapman Valley Horse Riding is based in the Howes Valley, around an hour from Pokolbin, and takes riders through remote bushland. There are options for riders of all levels, from short walks for first timers to multi-day treks for experts.
Explore a stock route on a Segway
For a truly unique way to explore the Hunter Valley, step aboard a Segway – a two-wheeled, self-balanced stand up vehicle for one. NSW Segway Tours takes visitors along a 5.5km offroad trail that follows a stock route from the 1880s, through the McGuigan vineyard and past the Hunter Bottling Plant. It’s perfect for families with kids aged over 11 and promises to be an easy ride for everyone.
See the Hunter Valley from a bird's-eye view
You’ll get a new perspective on the Hunter Valley when you see it from above. A sunrise flight in a hot air balloon is one of the most spectacular ways to explore the vineyards, floating gently above the neat rows of vines, pockets of farmland and tiny cottages dotted in between. Flights with Balloon Aloft and Beyond Ballooning finish with a champagne breakfast to set the mood for a day of wine tasting. If you prefer something a little faster, Aero Logistics Helicopters and Hunter Valley Helicopters can take you on a heli wine tour, hopping between vineyards in style.
Take a swing on a golf course
The golf resorts in the Hunter Valley are world-class, with luxury accommodation and superb fairways in the heart of Australia’s oldest wine region. The Vintage Golf Club in Rothbury features a Greg Norman-designed championship course beautifully set alongside wetlands, eucalypts and the vineyards of Bimbadgen. The club is set on the tranquil grounds of luxury resort Chateau Elan. If you need to brush up your swing technique, golf lessons are available from the .
Hunter Valley Golf Club is an 18-hole championship course in the grounds of the Rydges Resort Hunter Valley (formerly the Crowne Plaza) in Lovedale. In Pokolbin, the Steve Smyers-designed Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club has great views of vineyards and the Brokenback Range, and sits next to the Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort. Further afield, Easts Leisure is an 18-hole course in Maitland, and there are nine-hole courses at Branxton Golf Club, Paterson Golf Club and Singleton Golf Club.
Go cheese & chocolate tasting
Cheese and chocolate are two of the Hunter Valley’s best exports (alongside wine, of course). The famed Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop has two outlets – one in Pokolbin Village and one at Roche Estate. Both are stocked with exceptional local and international cheeses, and even have a walk in fromagerie for full dairy immersion. The Hunter Valley Cheese Factory runs daily tasting sessions of cheese, preserves and olives, plus cheesemaking courses if you want to learn how to make your own. Binnorie Dairy has a cheese shop and cafe where you can sit down to a plate of their best bites.
Visit the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company for a huge range of sweet treats including blocks and bars of chocolate, chocolate bark, candy, fudge, gelato and more. You’ll find the artisans from the Cocoa Nib handmaking their delicate French couverture chocolates at Keith Tulloch Wines. Find out which pairs best with a semillon or shiraz at one of their custom wine and chocolate tastings. Glandore Estate also runs wine and chocolate pairings using Adora chocolate truffles.
Get an arts & culture fix
A thriving artistic community and a handful of quirky museums provide plenty of cultural distraction in the Hunter Valley. Visit the Watershed Gallery in Pokolbin to see a rotating selection of works from local artists. Take a break from tasting at Winmark Wines to wander through the small gallery attached to the cellar door or explore the sculptures dotted through the grounds. For more al fresco art, follow the new Hunter Valley Sculpture Walk starting from the Vamp by Lisa McGuigan cellar door. Guided tours with wine tastings are available on Saturdays.
The $4 million Singleton Arts and Cultural Centre opened in early 2022 and is home to a state of the art gallery space, two artists workshops and a sculpture garden. There’s an impressive program of visiting exhibitions, focusing on artists who have a connection to Singleton and the Hunter Valley. Just outside of Singleton is the fascinating Australian Army Infantry Museum. Its collection covers infantry from pre-colonial times through World War I and World War II, through to the experience of modern soldiers.
Learn about local Aboriginal heritage
Indigenous people have lived in the Hunter Valley for thousands of years and there’s still a strong connection to this ancient culture. Learn more about it on a guided tour through Yengo National Park and along the Finchley Cultural Walk with Girri Girra Aboriginal Experiences. You’ll see rock engravings and carvings, hear traditional stories, and learn language through song and dance.
Join Wollombi Aboriginal Cultural Experiences for a full-day or sunset tour to Mount Yengo and learn how it is as sacred as Uluru to the local people. Or experience a full immersion on a three-day camp. Dhurug guide Leanne King will lead you on an exploration of cultural sites, as well as hosting activities at the camp including traditional dance workshops, Aboriginal astronomy and traditional fibre craft.
Attend a fun-filled festival or event
The famous Lovedale Long Lunch is one of the Hunter Valley’s highlights. Held in May, it’s a progressive lunch that takes you to up to six of Lovedale’s best wineries. The Hunter Valley Wine and Beer Festival also takes place in June, with a day of tastings, local food, entertainment, kids’ activities and more at the Rydges Resort. A Day on the Green is a concert series held throughout the year at Bimbadgen, featuring huge acts like Crowded House, Kylie Minogue, Sting and Bryan Adams. For more tunes, Wine Machine is a large-scale music festival that takes over a winery each year with performances from major Australian acts including Art vs Science, Lime Cordiale, PNAU and The Presets.
Families will love the Hunter Valley Airshow, held at the Cessnock Airport in March. Marvel at the daredevil antics of the acrobatic pilots, take an adventure flight or helicopter ride, jump in the cockpit of a virtual fighter jet or step back in time with the historic warbirds. Hunter Valley Gardens hosts lots of kid-friendly events during the year, like Mega Creatures dinosaur installations, Amaze & Play giant maze, Christmas Lights Spectacular and Snow Time, where the gardens are transformed into a snowy winter wonderland.