This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated in 2018 with more helpful information about Hunter Valley.
When we lived in Australia, we had a mission to visit the best wine regions in the country. It all started when a few friends invited us to spend a long weekend in Barossa Valley in South Australia. We had never been wine tasting before, but after just a few days in Barossa Valley, we learned a ton about wine and fell in love with some amazing new wine varieties. And we got hooked.
We discovered that spending time in a wine region is so much more than just drinking wine. It often comes with an opportunity to sample local produce, get lost in the beautiful Australian countryside, relax, unwind, and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
At first glance, Hunter Valley didn’t strike us as any different than Yarra Valley or Barossa Valley. Same beautiful vineyard views, rolling green hills, and no shortage of wineries to explore (140 to be more precise), but by the end of our time there, Hunter Valley earned the title of our favourite wine region in Australia.
Hunter Valley Isn’t Pretentious
We picked up a certain “wine snob” vibe in other wine regions we visited. You know, that look they give you when you confess that you don’t know what a tannin is or that you really can’t tell the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Merlot?
“Sorry. We’re still learning”, we would say, trying to reason with a staff member who just rolled her eyes at one of my newbie questions.
Maybe Barossa Valley and Yarra Valley attract the wine connoisseurs, rather than enthusiasts, or maybe we just got unlucky with a few cranky cellar door staff.
What we know for sure is that our experience at Hunter Valley wineries was much more pleasant than anywhere else!
We felt welcomed at every cellar door, greeted, and politely guided through our tastings. The staff at each of the Hunter Valley wineries made wine terminology easy to understand and helped us discover fantastic new wine varieties and blends.
We left Hunter Valley with over 20 bottles of wine, buying something in almost every single winery we visited. But we didn’t buy because we felt like we had to, we bought because we loved the experience and most importantly the wine itself!
Wine Tasting in Hunter Valley is Easy on the Wallet
It is pretty common for cellar doors to charge a $5-10 fee per person for wine tastings in Barossa and Yarra Valley. We didn’t have to pay the fee at every cellar door, but it’s a common practice nevertheless. The fee is always waived if you buy anything after the tasting, but if you don’t, it could add up to as much as $50-100/day in wine tasting expenses.
The good news is that wine tastings in Hunter Valley were absolutely free. Something to bear in mind if you are stuck between a choice of Hunter Valley or Barossa Valley, or Yarra Valley.
Maybe it’s because the Hunter Valley wineries are smaller, more boutique, meaning they don’t have a massive brand to stand behind. Or maybe they really do see the value of sampling their Hunter Valley wines for free. Either way, it makes it easy and cheap to try as many wines as you would like and find the varieties you love the most.
Hunter Valley Restaurants
Unlike the somewhat limited dining options in Yarra Valley and Barossa, the restaurants in the Hunter Valley region are limitless and go far beyond the overpriced set course meals offered at other wineries.
We sampled a few Hunter Valley restaurants and enjoyed some fantastic meals at the Goldfish Bar and Kitchen (great cocktails and appetizers), Cellar Restaurant (the lamb shoulder is to die for), Tuk Tuk Burger Company (Recently Closed) (best burger we’ve had in Australia), and the Hunter Valley Cheese Company (they have cheese, enough said).
Even if you don’t like wine, we’d say the restaurants in Hunter Valley are worth their own trip!
If you are looking for some afternoon delights, the best Hunter Valley restaurant has to be the Lambloch Dessert Bar and their mouth-watering selection of desserts!
Lots of Entertainment Options
Carrying on with the night in Hunter Valley was easy! There were a number of pubs in Polkolbin, including the Harrigan’s Irish Pub, Brokenback Bar, and many other local watering holes in Cessnock, like the Peden’s Hotel, Cessnock Hotel.
We opted for something a bit quieter with some drinks at the Goldfish Bar in Tempus Two complex.
Hunter Valley is Easy to Get to
Coming from Brisbane, Hunter Valley was really easy to get to. Hunter Valley is located just an hour away from Newcastle and 2 hours away from Sydney. We hired a car to get to Pokolbin/Cessnock and used it to get around Hunter Valley the entire weekend.
We loved the flexibility of taking whatever route we wanted, stopping for as many photos as we wanted, and not worrying about following a tour of the Hunter Valley wineries or someone else’s schedule. The only downside of having a car is the designated driver requirement. Max was nice enough to drive while I sampled wine for both of us!
Hunter Valley Produces our Favourite Wine
At the end of the day, our love for Hunter Valley boiled down to the wine itself. Turned out Hunter Valley is a region with some fantastic offerings of the sweeter white wine varieties, like the Semillon and Verdelho. Between these and some delicious Moscato varieties, we stocked up on a lot of new discoveries, and plenty of old favourites.
Here are just a few of the Hunter Valley wineries that we recommend you visit and why:
- Lamblock: Their Late Harvest Wine range is like nothing else we’ve ever tried before!
- Tyrell’s: It’s one of the biggest and most well-known wineries in Hunter Valley and their Seven Harvest Shiraz was the best Shiraz I’ve ever had!
- Audrey Wilkinson: the wine itself didn’t impress us, but the views were some of the best in the Hunter Valley
- Peterson’s House: you just can’t go wrong with a little bit of bubbly!
Hunter Valley Has it All
If there was a contest of Yarra Valley vs. Hunter Valley or Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley would win every time. Hunter Valley surprised us. Despite being one of the biggest wine regions in Australia it has managed to retain its charm and small-town feel.
It’s no wonder that its larger than life personality, big wine producers, and a gourmet food scene, make it one of the most visited regions in Australia.
Essential Travel Info for Hunter Valley
Hunter Valley region is located about 2 hours North East of Sydney and an hour East of Newcastle. The region itself comprises of a number of smaller towns, Pokolbin (the heart of Hunter Valley), Cessnock, Lovedale, and Broke.
The easiest way to get to Hunter Valley and get around while you are there is by hiring a car. Alternatively, a number of Hunter Valley day tours operate from Sydney and Newcastle, or you can also get to Hunter Valley by train departing from Maitland, Newcastle, or Morisset
Where to Stay in Hunter Valley
You have a variety of options when it comes to Hunter Valley hotels. There are a number of accommodation options scattered around Pokolbin and Cessnock. There are plenty of hostels and cheap Hunter Valley hotel options available in Cessnock, while the majority of resorts, large Hunter Valley hotel chains and small B&B accommodations will be located in Pokolbin.
What to do in Hunter Valley
Planning your activities in Hunter Valley can be rather overwhelming, so my best advice is to always start your trip with a visit to the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre. Tell them what you like, what you don’t like, and what you are after and they will be more than happy to help you organize your stay in the region and can even suggest the perfect Hunter Valley hotel for your stay. They can also give great advice on where to go in Hunter Valley, and the best ways to get there.