Hunter Valley - An Unexpected Adventure - Nature & Outdoors
Hunter Valley - An Unexpected Adventure - Nature & Outdoors
How to embrace nature & get active in the Hunter Valley
Discover Australia’s oldest wine region from a different perspective, whether flying over it, riding through it, teeing off beside it or picnicking among it.
If the thought of the Hunter Valley evokes bucolic countryside clad with rows of postcard-worthy grapes, that’s for good reason – this is one of the state’s most significant (indeed, Australia’s oldest) wine regions, with some 150 estates offering cellar doors in which to sip the fruits of local labour.
But look beyond the vines, and you’ll discover adventures above and beyond eating and imbibing, whether you like to get active or prefer a relaxed pace, whether you want a bird’s-eye view or are keen to be down among the action.
Gain some perspective
It’s one thing wandering along neat rows of vines – it’s quite another floating above them in a hot air balloon. On a still morning, the only sound you’ll hear as you take off is the “whoosh” of your balloon’s burner, carrying you effortlessly toward the heavens. Then the sun peeks over the horizon, revealing just how wide and wonderful the landscape is, and just how much foresight early planters had when arriving here in the mid-1800s.
If you prefer your sky-high chariot to come with an engine, chopper over the Hunter’s historic towns via Hunter Valley Helicopters or Aerologistics Helicopters, offering everything from a breezy 6min scenic flight to a full-day outing with private pilot, allowing you to drop in on wineries and restaurants at your leisure.
You may want to save that food and wine for dinner if you’re planning on looping and rolling over the vines with Aerohunter Adventure Flights in a classic Yak-52 aircraft; your experienced RAAF-trained pilot will be delivering the acrobatic thrills of a lifetime.
Pick up speed
While pedalling through the countryside on two wheels is not as high-octane as an Aerohunter adventure, you’ll still feel the wind in your hair. The good news is that when you hire bikes through Sutton Estate (with a number of pick-up spots available around the valley), you get to see a lot, without doing much – your ride is electric.
Swap your wheels for stirrups at Hunter Valley Horses, where much-loved horses are saddled for leisurely jaunts through the vines and surrounding bushland. You can get a feel for the terrain in as little as an hour, but it would be a shame not to get a true taste on a private ride with a sunset picnic. If you'd like someone else to take the reins, try a carriage tour with Hunter Valley Classic Carriages linking cellar doors, providores and your lunch venue.
Tee off, then time out
If you’re an avid golfer you could easily spend a week exploring the lush fairways and emerald greens that characterise courses in the Hunter, from Pokolbin to Lovedale. You’ll also get to enjoy their other distinguishing feature – ample vine views. These are particularly pretty from the 18 championship holes of the Cypress Lakes Golf & Country Club, designed by Steve Smyers in an enviable locale in the Brokenback Range foothills.
Another famous name graces The Vintage Golf Club, with Greg Norman called in to craft the 18 championship holes that weave through native, kangaroo-hosting bushland. In nearby Lovedale, the Hunter Valley Golf and Country Club offers another 18 holes, enveloped by vines and mountain ranges that might challenge your concentration.
Regain that concentration when you join a Yoga in the Vines wellness session. Classes are bespoke, so you can choose to practise downward facing dog amid shiraz vines, followed by meditation beside a lake. The company mantra is balance – exemplified by experiences that either add on a glass of wine, or an indulgent afternoon of tastings, at the end of class.
Feel the force of nature
It’s hard to fathom what half-a-million plants looks like – but the horticulturalists at Hunter Valley Gardens have some idea, as they get their hands dirty sowing this many seeds on an annual basis. These add to the grounds already established 6,000 trees, 600,000 shrubs and more than a million ground covers. The floral wonderland is divided into 10 themed gardens – Indian, Oriental and Storybook, to name just three – taking you past waterfalls and ponds, around arty installations and murals along 8km of trails.
Even more trails await in Yengo National Park, one of the conservation areas comprising the vast Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Discover trails for hiking, biking and 4WDing, traversing landscapes at once humbling and inspiring. Whichever path you choose, you’ll likely spot wombats, koalas, gliding possums and maybe even endangered brush-tailed rock wallabies, not to mention 200-plus species of birds.
This embarrassment of natural riches extends to Mt Royal National Park, which you’ll find to the north. The Gondwana Rainforest here is a haven for a number of rare and endangered fauna and flora, which, with luck, you may spot on your visit.
Refuel & recuperate
After days of heart-starting adventures and soul-salving views, the ultimate way to reward your efforts is an alfresco picnic. Pack your own, and spread out a rug beside Lake St Clair, backdropped by the Mount Royal Range and popular among swimming and sailing enthusiasts alike. If you prefer to recline and let someone else do the prep work, a number of wineries around the Hunter package up local goodies and send you out with a hamper to enjoy amid the vines.
At Audrey Wilkinson, taste the range in the cellar door, then pick your favourite bottle to enjoy with cheese and charcuterie around the 110-hectare estate. At Tyrrell’s, your ploughman’s platter pairs perfectly with a glass or two and views of the Brokenback range. Or visit Pepper Tree, where you’re encouraged to seek out a scenic spot, opt for a full lunch or grazing plate, and then let the team do the rest while you sip and swill to find the right accompanying wine.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the traditional owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.