Up up up in the clouds, through the Hunter Valley and out into the vineyards

26 March 2014

You know the feeling when a new movie comes out that everyone is talking about, but you still haven’t seen it? Since I’ve arrived in New South Wales, I’ve heard about the Hunter Valley time and time again. It has become that “movie” I haven’t seen yet. Typically, wine has been the catalyst in the Hunter Valley conversations I hear so often, but its produce, lush scenery and artisan shops are others. I couldn’t wait to finally join the conversation and see what it was all about. After getting my adrenaline fix taken care of in Port Stephens, it was time to head inland to the Hunter Valley.

Hunter Valley YHA

From farm to bottle at Hunter Valley YHA

The Hunter Valley YHA is one of the most diverse hostels I’ve seen. In addition to a pool and sauna, bike rentals, and easy access to vineyard tours, the hostel grows its own grapes onsite. Further down the road is the Hunter Valley Resort which features the Bluetongue Brewery Cafe, horse riding, and vineyards, all in the one location. When I arrived at the resort, there was a wooden basin set aside just for me. I knew exactly what that meant; I rolled my pants up as high as possible, removed my socks, and began crushing away at piles of grapes with my bare feet. The feeling was odd as slimy fruit squished between my toes, but my appreciation for modern winemaking technology rose by the second. It took me at least 10 minutes to get the equivalent of a single bottle’s worth of wine, which is amazing when you consider this was the way it used to be produced.

Hunter Valley Bluetongue Brewery

Don’t think I’ll put on my socks just yet… Hunter Valley Resort & Bluetongue Brewery Cafe at Hunter Valley Resort

Speaking of traditional methods, Il Cacciatore does it the Italian way. Homestyle, north-Italian cuisine made from scratch daily is what they do best – and oh my, it is delicious. The restaurant invited me to do a cooking class in which we made gnocchi from scratch, cooked it, and of course, ate it! I couldn’t believe I’d made food that good. Paired with some brilliant local wines, cheese and multiple flavours of gelato, Il Cacciatore was nothing short of a sensory overload.

Il Cacciatore

Stirring up the gnocchi with chorizo, basil, lemon zest, olive oil and more at Il Cacciatore.

The following morning, the alarm went off well before the sun was up, giving me enough time to meet the Balloon Safari team for a sunrise hot air balloon ride! We hopped in a bus and drove to an empty field where metre upon metre of balloon was removed from a trailer. A huge gas-powered fan began the work of filling it up for about 10 minutes. As soon as it became full enough to begin forming a slightly round shape, its massive burners were switched on and impressive flames soared into the cavity. Before long, the balloon was full, we were in the basket, and then we were off! As the sun rose, so did we. Morning fog rolled through green pastures as we sailed through pure serenity. The best part of the ride is that no steering is possible while you’re floating, so you don’t know where you’ll land! Luckily enough, nearly every farmer and landowner in the Hunter is okay with their spot becoming a landing zone. I think the cows we pulled in next to were okay with us too. It was a brilliant ride, capped off with a great champagne breakfast.

Hot Air Ballooning - Hunter Valley

Another balloon enjoying the morning.

After the tranquillity of the balloon ride, it was time for chaos in the form of Aqua Golf. One of the Hunter’s most fun activities (and funniest, depending on how bad you are at golf!) is located by the lake at the Hunter Valley Gardens. Aqua Golf provides you with a bucket of balls to hit across a lake filled with targets. Hit a target and you’ll be rewarded with prizes to local restaurants, wineries and hotels; if you hit a lucky target, you might win $1,000. If you are anything like me, however, you’re just praying to hit the ball! The Hunter Valley Gardens is a classic attraction in its own right, full of amazing landscapes and storybook-themed gardens.

Hunter Valley Gardens

Hunter Valley Gardens

Finally, it was time to have some wine! If you’ve been following my journey, it’s no mystery I enjoy craft beer. But for all of the knowledge I’ve acquired in the field of quality suds, I don’t have the same insight on wine. Even with my lack of knowledge, I loved how inviting Hunter Valley’s vintners were, catering to both super-enthusiasts and novices like myself. Two Fat Blokes Gourmet Tours and Kitchen and De Iuliis Wines proved that first hand. Down the road from one another, each location invites people in to taste a wide range of their products. Mike De Iuliis, owner and vintner at De Iuliis Wines, explained the process from vine to bottle, helping me understand it more than ever. Knowledge usually leads to appreciation, and I fully realised the worth of what was in our glasses.

Two Fat Blokes Gourmet Tours

Two Fat Blokes Gourmet Tours has flights of beer, white wine and red wine available.

I enjoyed a spectacular trip to the Hunter Valley and I’ve only shared a snippet of it here on this blog. See the full photo album of my Hunter Valley experience here.