Three days exploring Hunter Valley towns & wineries
Over three days, drive between some of the Hunter Valley’s most charming towns, pausing to refuel in scenic wineries and sample farm-fresh produce, then bed down in lodges and villas that capture nature’s drama, inside and out.
With more than 150 wineries and cellar doors, dozens of standout restaurants and just as many providores moulding, pressing and smoking cheese, oils and cured meats, the Hunter Valley wine region – the oldest of its kind in Australia – is a delight for anyone with a keen sense of taste.
The region’s historic villages are strung across vine-laced countryside, each offering individual charm and attractions best discovered on a leisurely road trip. You’ll find local populations surging at weekend, but things don’t shut down just because Monday rolls around – in fact, take a mid-week mini-break, and you won’t have to queue to swill wine, you’ll likely get into that restaurant without a reservation, and you can check into a lovely lodging on the exact dates you choose.
Trace the Great North Road, an engineering feat carved by early convicts
Wander through glorious gardens and rows of vines
Sip wines from some of Australia’s most storied estates
Savour local cheeses, chocolate, olives and oils
Surround yourself with nature in design-driven lodges and villas
Begin your two-hour drive north from Sydney to the Hunter Valley early, as when you arrive you’ll want to linger in your day’s scheduled restaurants and wineries. Take the highway exit at Peats Ridge to join Tourist Drive 33, a meandering route through countryside as scenic as it is historic.
Your mind will boggle on this part of the Great North Road (aka the Convict Trail) as you traverse sandstone gorges, razorback ridges and towering passes. This road is considered an engineering feat even today – the fact that convicts constructed it back in the early 1800s should leave you astounded.
The first pit-stop is Wollombi, which, in its strip of beautifully preserved heritage buildings, reflects the era of the Great North Road’s origins. Pick up a map from the museum and follow a walking trail linking sights around town.
Just 30min up the road in Mount View, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Provence when you arrive at your charming cottage lunch venue, Bistro Molines. Unsurprisingly, the food is French – think house-smoked quail with buttered parsnips, or escallopes of veal wrapped in pancetta. Give in to temptation and order dessert (like a classic crème brulee or chocolate and hazelnut mille-feuille).
You’ll arrive at Briar Ridge in a matter of minutes, and will likely never want to leave. As with much of the Hunter, the estate is known for its distinctive semillons, but the chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon varietals are also dangerously drinkable. Sample the range in the cellar door, or pair a bottle with an antipasto platter, and sink into an outdoor lounge in the fairytale Wine Garden.
The countryside from here to Cessnock – one of the larger towns in the Hunter – is like the valley in a snapshot, a mesmerising union of native forest and neat rows of grapes. Just north, drop in on newly refurbished The Mighty Hunter Valley, a shrine to craft beer replete with a working, tourable brewery. Grab a bite to eat at the on-site bistro, which gets rave reviews for its paddock-to-plate approach to dining.
Your accommodation for the night is Lillians on Lovedale, a boutique lodging that comes packed with personality. There’s space for just four guests across the property, which feels more like a stylish home than a hotel, thanks to a cosy wood-burning fire, expansive kitchen and wide veranda for gazing over the estate’s 10 hectares.
DAY TWO: TUESDAY
A tantalising taste of the valley.
Cheese for breakfast? It’s positively encouraged at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company. Inside the well-stocked pantry you’ll find cured meats and accompaniments for tonight’s grazing platter.
From here, you'll continue on to Pokolbin, the heart of the Lower Hunter, with a plethora of wineries and providores to sample in your surrounds: visit the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company for dreamy gelato and dense fudge, or Binnorie Dairy for yet more goodies to add to your picnic hamper.
The Hunter Valley Gardens lie just across the road – work up an appetite for lunch exploring some of the 10 themed gardens that characterise the site, from Oriental to Italian. Pokolbin is also part of an Important Bird Area, and the gardens’ flora is a magnet for rare species, including the critically endangered regent honeyeater and endangered swift parrot.
If you can’t bear to leave, check in to Pokolbin’s Jindalee Estate, an architect-designed trio of lodgings uniting style and sustainability. Completely off-grid, the property’s setting dials up natural drama overlooking the undulating Brokenback Mountains.
Otherwise, venture on to Broke, where every wine you sip at family-owned Margan is grown and made on site. The same is true for most of the produce dished up in the hatted restaurant, too. Here, the garden-to-plate menu is a five-course journey through the surrounding countryside, each bite best paired with a house vintage – a Ceres Hill Semillon 2019, perhaps, or a Saxonvale Verdelho 2015. If time permits, take a tour through the kitchen gardens, orchard and vineyard before sitting down to dine.
Continue the horticultural theme with a visit to Whispering Brook, a boutique property producing wine and olives. Take a seat on the verandah for a tasting of oils and olives before the short drive to your day’s final destination.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Hunter if you didn’t sleep amid the vines, which is what’s on the agenda when you stay at Arenridge. The private villa is perfect for those travelling with family or friends, its six bedrooms and multiple light-filled entertaining areas overlooking a long outdoor pool.
DAY THREE: WEDNESDAY
An indulgent ending.
Bordered by World Heritage wilderness, the Upper Hunter town of Denman is your first stop for the day. The hour drive north-west from Broke takes you through Jerrys Plains – make a note to return here for lunch. But first, whet your appetite at Pukara Estate, where 20,000 olive trees line the banks of the Hunter River. The oils made on-site are fresh and flavour-packed – the perfect complement to the property’s equally tasty vinegars.
The hardest decision you’ll have to make when you arrive at Hollydene Estate Wines is where to sit: in the cellar door to sip applauded blanc de blancs, on the vast grassy lawn with a picnic, shaded on the deck, or in the dining room for fastest access to delicious culinary options? Whichever you choose, your food comes courtesy of Vines restaurant, where meals hero local produce and are designed to share. Other winery options in the area include Small Forest and Two Rivers.
It’s time to begin the commute back to Sydney – slowly (to appreciate the wide and wonderful farmland) and via Morpeth. You’ll find this historic port on the banks of the Hunter River is like a slice of yesteryear, its cobbled laneways and heritage buildings impeccably preserved.
All that kneading is thirsty work, so before you veer back onto the highway home, stop at the pretty Boydells Cellar Door for one last toast to the region.
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