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Hunter Valley, New South Wales


The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine-producing region and it’s only 120km or a two-hour drive north of Sydney, from where it gets most of its visitors. It is a region of stunning natural beauty and undulating vineyard landscapes, award-winning restaurants, innovative paddock-to-plate produce and more than 150 cellar doors.


In a recent visit to the Hunter region we stayed at Chateau Elan (below), a delightful hotel in the village of Pokolbin with the striking Brokenback Range in the background. Pokolbin is considered to be the heart of the Hunter wine country, from where the entire region can be conveniently explored.


On the first morning, after a suitably sustaining breakfast (below) we set out to reaquaint ourselves with the area.


Right outside our door we found a number of local residents waiting to greet us.


Driving from the hotel into the village takes you past many of the local vineyards including Tulloch, Ben Ean, McGuigan, McKelvey Estate and Pokolbin Brothers.

The Hunter Valley played a pivotal role in the history of Australian wine as one of the first wine regions planted in the early 19th century. Earlier plantings in the coastal areas around Sydney failed because of the unsuitable climate and poor soil, and so the Hunter Valley became the first wine region of the new colony.

By 1823 some eight hectares (20 acres) of vineyards had already been planted on the northern banks of the Hunter River. The early pioneers of the Hunter Valley’s long winemaking history were George Wyndham of Dalwood, William Kelman of Kirkton and James King of Irrawang.

Then along came Scottish viticulturalist James Busby, who after an extensive study tour of Europe’s wine growing regions, arrived back in the colony of New South Wales with a collection of some 500 vine cuttings drawn from private plantings. It was a replica set from these cuttings that cemented the Hunter Valley’s early successes.

In 1828, the Wilkinsons at Oakdale established the first of many vineyards that now surround Pokolbin. By 1840 the Hunter Valley’s registered vineyard area exceeded 202 hectares (500 acres) and three more families had established vineyards in the area – the Tyrrell, Tulloch, and Drayton families, as well as the Wilkinsons and the well-known Dr Henry Lindeman.


Most of the early vineyards of the Hunter were located in the northeast section of the valley in the fertile alluvial plains along the Hunter River. The river provided easy transport of the wine down to the coastal port of Newcastle and on to Sydney.

By the 1860s, plantings began to move further south and west towards the foothills of the Brokenback Range near Pokolbin and Rothbury in the lower Hunter, where many of the most popular vineyards are now found.


Today, the Hunter region has a total of 2,605 hectares (6,437 acres) of vineyards. All of the most popular wine varieties can be found here – chardonnay, semillon and verdelho among the whites, with the reds featuring cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot. However, the three whites plus shiraz account for approximately 85 per cent of plantings in the Hunter Valley.

The Valley boasts some of the oldest rooted shiraz vines in the world, with a number of vineyards claiming vines that are more than 120 years old.

Semillon is perhaps the most iconic wine of the Hunter Valley, originally planted in the region in 1830 and once confusingly labelled under various names including Hunter Valley Riesling, White Burgundy and Chablis, but now as a standalone variety.

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Pokolbin is also home to the Hunter Distillery, Australia’s first organic spirit distillery and the only one locally owned and operated. It uses premium-quality organic raw ingredients to produce an exceptional range of top-shelf spirits including gin, vodka, rum, liqueurs and Schnapps, some of which are multi-award winning. Beer lovers, on the other hand, may prefer touring Hunter Valley Resort’s boutique Bluetongue Brewery.

But there’s a lot more to the Hunter than just drinking. If you’re not particularly interested in wine, the Valley is still a great place to visit with a number of other attractions on offer. There’s golf, hot-air ballooning, horse riding or simply relaxing at one of numerous resorts. See here for some ideas of how to spend time in the region. If golf is your thing then check out packages available.

Two more popular attractions are the Binnorie Dairy, famous for its cheeses, and the Australian Alpaca Barn.


The alpaca barn features alpaca yarn, clothing, rugs, and bedding produced not only in Australia, but also Peru and New Zealand.

No Pokolbin visit would be complete without exploring the expansive Hunter Valley Gardens, which feature two hotels, two restaurants, the Village Shops, and an aqua golf course. The Hunter Valley Gardens train tour of these 10 unique gardens lasts just over half an hour.

Following are more pictures of Pokolbin, the nearby village of Broke and the surrounding area.

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Photos © Judy Barford

How to get to the Hunter Valley


From Sydney the fastest way is to drive, taking the M1 Pacific Motorway north and exiting at the Cessnock/Hunter Valley Vineyards sign to Cessnock – about two hours. If you’re a hiker, Pokolbin can also be reached from the Great North Walk trail connecting Newcastle and Sydney.


You can catch a suburban train from Sydney to Morisset Station. If you have bought an Opal card in Sydney you can use it to pay the fare. Then hop on a connecting bus to Cessnock. The whole journey takes around three hours. Regional Trainlink trains run between Sydney and Singleton, which is a 20- minute taxi ride from Cessnock. The trip takes three hours and you’ll need to book ahead.

The Hunter Line starts in Newcastle and trains run to Maitland and Singleton, where you can transfer to Cessnock. It also connects towns in the Upper Hunter, like Paterson and Dungog. Coaches offering day tours and wine tasting tours depart from Sydney and Newcastle daily.


Flying to the Hunter Valley is another option, with daily flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and regional cities to Newcastle Airport. Car rental is available for the easy drive to the vineyards – Pokolbin is 50 minutes away. Helicopter tours, with golf and dining packages, are also available from Sydney.

Covid-19 travel update

Australia – or at least the state of New South Wales – may be welcoming overseas visitors again before the end of the year. In a new development NSW has announced that fully vaccinated residents can travel internationally from November 1, the state’s population having passed the 80 per cent vaccination target necessary. In addition, the quarantine requirements for returning travellers – already downgraded from 14 days hotel quarantine to seven days home quarantine – will now be scrapped altogether. The state is negotiating with the federal government to allow similar freedoms for overseas visitors at the earliest possible opportunity.

Most other states and territories are on track with high vaccination rates, but Western Australia and Queensland are lagging behind. However, Queensland has just announced a two-stage plan to reopen with all border restrictions to be removed by December 17, even if vaccination targets haven’t been met by then.


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