Sample New South Wales' first-rate food and wine in idyllic surroundings
Best for: Fine food, top tipples, vineyard views
Route: Cessnock, Hunter Valley, Orange
Duration: 6 days
The many winemakers and food producers of New South Wales make the most of the fact that nature has been kind to the state. Frankly, they’d be fools not to. The sunny climate, fertile hills and ocean waters have helped it to become a bona fide gourmet paradise – one with no fewer than 14 different wine regions to tantalise visitors’ tastebuds.
The most famous of these is also one of Australia’s oldest: the Hunter Valley. It was back in 1828 that George Wyndham first planted grapes here – and, almost two centuries on, Wyndham Estate remains one of the top names in Australian wine. The Hunter Valley is now a cradle for more than 140 different vineyards, wineries and cellar doors, making it a world-class region for wine-based travel.
The Hunter Valley is 150km north of Sydney, a two-hour drive and easily accessible by car, train or tour. Most highlights lie in the Lower Hunter Valley, spread beneath the long, green spine of the Brokenback Mountains. The town of Cessnock, once a prosperous mining centre before grapes took over from coal in the 19th century, is the largest in the region, and has an absorbing art gallery. However, the area of Pokolbin, a little farther north, forms the main wine-tasting heartland.
Ballooning, Hunter Valley (Destination NSW, Murray Vanderveer)
Call in at the multi-award-winning Hunter Valley Gardens – at 60 acres, it’s Australia’s largest display garden – then amble between any vineyards that take your fancy. You could join the 11am tour (Mondays to Fridays) at the long-standing Drayton’s Family Wines, or visit the outstanding Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, named after the 15-year old (yes, really) who took over the winery from his parents more than a century ago. Other excellent Pokolbin cellar doors include the Scarborough Wine Company and the boutique Hungerford Hill estate. In the nearby Broke area, Krinklewood combines organic wines with a magnificent garden setting. If you don’t want to drive between tastings, there are plenty of innovative ways to explore. Bike, Segway, guided limo and horse-and-carriage options are all possible. Or float above all those neat lines of vines in a hot-air balloon.
It’s not all about the vino, of course. The local food is hugely impressive too, as evidenced by stop-offs such as the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company and the aptly named Smelly Cheese Shop. Many estates also produce superb olive oils. Restaurants such as the Blaxlands Inn and avant-garde EXP, meanwhile, are attractions in their own right.
Grapes, Hunter Valley (Destination NSW)
From the Hunter Valley you can continue your gastronomic explorations by driving west to the country town of Orange. Home to dozens of vineyards and an abundance of fruit farms, it’s a prime spot for eating and drinking. As well as visiting wineries – stand-out producers include Printhie and the small hillside estate of Patina Wines – you can also call in at the Badlands Brewery for a handcrafted beer or stop at a farm to pick your own figs, berries and apples.
Try to time your trip to coincide with FOOD Week (Food Of Orange District), a festival held each April at harvest time. And no matter what time of year you’re here, it’s well worth tackling a walk up Mount Canobolas, the 1,395m-high extinct volcano that looms above the region. The lake at its base is also ideal for canoeing.
Main image: Couple having picnic in Hunter Valley, Hugh Stewart; Destination NSW