As a wee lass from the south-west of Western Australia, I’m no stranger to rolling hills dotted with buses full of tourists tanked to the eyeballs on fancy plonk, but I discovered that the Hunter Valley has surprisingly less of the over-hyped touristy vibe and more of the quaint and affordable (including luxury-style) restaurants, accommodation and wineries on offer.
The Hunter Valley region, specifically Pokolbin, is a two-hour drive north of Sydney and is one of the most infamous wine regions of Australia with a viticultural history dating back to the early 1800s. There are some of the better-known wineries such as Tyrell Wines and De Bortoli Wines, but it’s the family-run boutique operations that are quite often the stand-out offerings I found. I also acquired a taste for the gold-winning semillon of this region — changing my perspective on this grape varietal entirely. Our luxury touring event with our guests from Tiffin and the Jayco team meant we could splice a number of local tastings into the itinerary as a matter of work-related necessity.
Land before time
The Wonnarua were the first inhabitants of the Hunter Valley and have occupied the upper Hunter for at least 30,000 years. It’s not surprising the inhabitants of this land took a special liking to it, due to its incredible climate and rich, fertile soil.
Our visit in May was met with blue skies and sunny open arms — perhaps unseasonably warm — but nonetheless shone a very rosy light across the undulating landscape.
Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort accommodation is positioned conveniently near most of the wineries in Pokolbin and was our landing place for a few nights. It has a long, regal driveway which meanders through a very well-manicured golf course, and up through its tiered, winding roads towards our treetop apartment. I get a bit giggly and excited when the main mode of transportation is a golf buggy — makes me dream of island-hopping escapes or some preppy Hamptons summer break. Although there is nothing pretentious about this resort — it's great for a multitude of activities like golfing, touring the wineries or even taking in bush walks with the family around the property.
Vue de monde
After our first night of meeting our guests for a lavish dinner at The Cellar Restaurant, it was an early start the next day for a buffet breakfast by the pool at Oaks and then off for some touring shots and a lunch at Bimbadgen winery down the road.
Bimbadgen hosts many events such as A Day on the Green — understandably so with its magnificent view from the restaurant (the name Bimbadgen is a local Indigenous term for ‘place of good view’) and acres of grapevines sloping down into the valley. One can always drop in by helicopter (the grounds are equipped with a helipad) or via motorhome as we did, and have a picnic lunch prepared for you on arrival. There’s an impressive entrance to the restaurant which opens up onto an expansive room filled with tanks of wine that are being bottled for the purpose of your drinking pleasure at the cellar door, or as we did, with lunch at the restaurant upstairs.
Mulpha Australia Group acquired the property in 1997 and has since sought the expertise of general manager Adam Norris and his team, who have set the standards high for excellence in hospitality and the production of some incredible wines.
Our next day of touring saw us take to the highest panoramic 360-degree view we could find in the area at Audrey Wilkinson’s winery, for a sunset shoot and a wine tasting (or ten). Our shoot was unexpectedly delayed by a helicopter drop-off of some tourists, but it was worth the interesting chat we had with the pilot as we waited. Just as she was quite enamoured with our luxury motorhomes (see our Tiffin Allegro Breeze and Jayco Optimum reviews); we were equally fascinated by her job as a pilot flying people around the Hunter Valley. She said she had given up her corporate gig of many years (and saved hard to rack up her hours in the air) to finally land her dream job. Stories like that are heartening, knowing that with drive and passion, we can make our dreams a reality.
Amongst the vines
With the last breath of warm weather prevailing, we were lucky enough to fit another day of touring in and a photoshoot at Nightingale Wines while the sun was still shining. Nightingale Wines is a small boutique winery with a cellar door, restaurant and villa accommodation. However, you can also drive your RV straight up the driveaway and park for the night, waking up to a glorious view of Yellow Rock Mountain and acres of grapevines, for as little as $15 per night.
With all that said and done, it was sadly time to catch a flight back to the mildly arctic temps of Melbourne, but not without stuffing a couple of bottles of semillon in my carry-on luggage and weighing in with a few extra kilos around the hips.