We’re always being told to holiday in our backyard, so it’s lucky then that the Hunter Valley is literally on our doorstep. Just 160 kilometres from the Sydney CBD, this renowned wine region is a pop-your-bags-in-the-boot and hit the road weekend away. It’s an easy drive up the Pacific Highway – by the time the air is clear and fruit stalls start appearing, we’re almost there.
The Hunter Valley is home to more than 150 wineries, with enough cellar doors to keep you very busy. Organised wine tours are rife, but drop-in visitors are just as welcome. We spent the weekend making our own way along the cluster of roads running through Pokolbin. We never needed to venture far from the intersection of Broke and McDonalds roads. Gillards, De Beyers, Oakey Creek roads are the other thoroughfares you need to know.
The Long House looks more like a shed than a house – a seriously chic shed though it may be. Designed by egresStudio, a collective of Newcastle University architecture students, the three self-contained units feel like a fashionable version of your first share house. Corrugated barn doors slide back to reveal a cool concrete kitchen bench with Rocket St George overhead lamps, recycled wood shelves holding Penguin books and a flat screen, and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the vines. Settle in by the fireplace with some seriously fluffy pillows.
385 Palmers Lane, Pokolbin
0402 101 551
Cypress Lakes Resort
The rolling greens of an 18-hole championship golf course greet you on the way in, but most guests are on the terrace, not the greens, at this sprawling resort. A popular choice for big wedding parties, Cypress Lakes has a reception-style vibe. Catch up with your mates at the gluttonous breakfast buffet, pull a few deck chairs together around the oversized pool, or try and grab yourself one of the golf buggies zooming around the place. One, two and three room villas peeking out of the bush are great for groups or couples.
Corner McDonalds and Thompsons Road, Pokolbin
(02) 4993 1555
Down by the billabong at Hermitage Lodge, this intimate Northern Italian restaurant is heavy on romance and hearty fare. Couples dine by candlelight on the veranda, tucking into crusty ciabatta still warm from the oven and generous servings of chicken scaloppini. Save room for ridiculously more-ish desserts like coconut, raspberry and almond tartufo.
609 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 7639
Forget Sunday sessions, at Twine Restaurant it’s all about Fireside Sundays, when the chefs abandon the kitchen for an open fire, charring food from different countries each month. Every other day of the week, they roam the globe – try kumera croquettes with baby beet leaf salad, pumpkin and goat’s cheese ravioli, or bite-sized bread and butter pudding.
310 Oakey Creek Road, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 7449
This hillside restaurant brings a little piece of the South of France to the Hunter. From the classic French food by award winning chef Robert Molines to the natural surrounds, it's the perfect place for a long lunch. Enter through a courtyard covered in vines and find your table overlooking the Tallavera Grove Vineyards and rolling Mount View Valley.
Tallavera Grove, 749 Mount View Road
(02) 4990 9553
Keith Tulloch Wine
Leave the bush behind when you step through the white picket fences of this French Provincial-style winery. The tasting rooms sprawl onto a veranda overlooking the vines. Linger over the 2009 Kester Shiraz and a cheese plate from nearby Binnore Dairy.
Corner Hermitage & Deasys Road Pokolbin
(02) 4998 7500
More of a shopping centre than a cellar door, the spacious Tempus Two estate is home to several restaurants, a Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Factory and the Goldfish cocktail bar, as well the winery’s own tasting rooms. Plan to spend at least a few hours on site.
McDonalds Road, Pokolbin
(02) 4993 3999
Convicts might have met their end at the tree by the front gate, but there’s nothing ominous about this quaint cellar door. Housed in a converted shed crammed with vintage knick-knacks, Hanging Tree’s boutique wines are worth sampling. Try the Muscat, in its debut vintage.
294 O’Connors Road, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 6601
McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant
The Old Hill Shiraz vineyard was planted back in 1880 – the seeds of an illustrious estate. Mount Pleasant wines are produced from some of Australia’s oldest vines and you’ll taste the difference at their friendly cellar door in the shadow of Old Hill. Don’t go past the Elizabeth Semillon and Philip Shiraz.
401 Marrowbone Road, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 7505
Hunter Valley Gardens
On more than 60 acres, these gardens are a playground for green thumbs, little kids and big kids. Meet Alice and the Mad Hatter in the Storybook Garden or take time out in the peaceful Indian Mosaic Garden. See the garden in full bloom and festooned with fairy lights during the Christmas Lights Spectacular.
2090 Broke Road, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 2000
Chateau Elan Spa
Even if you’re not staying on-site, a spa treatment at Chateau Elan is a great way to spend the afternoon. For something different, try an hour in a Hydrolounge Suite, with hot and cold plunge pools and a ‘detox box’.
Vintage Drive, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 2500
Hot Air Balloon Rides
There’s not a lot more romantic than soaring above the vines with your special someone and a glass of champagne. The only downside is an ungodly wakeup call.