It isn’t many the discerning traveller, adventurer, pleasure seeker, romantic weekender or casual road tripper that finds themselves stumbling into Australia’s well known Hunter Valley – AKA one of the country’s best wine regions – without knowing it. But there we are: that’s what you get for taking a quick trip under the influence of jet lag (having landed from a 30-hour round trip from London the night before).
That’s exactly the situation I found myself in after my girlfriend very generously booked us a gorgeous little AirBnB stay at Central Mangrove, a beautiful patch of countryside about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Sydney. The accommodation was a boutique wooden cabin; the setting as much peace and quiet as you could wish for in the heart of the New South Wales countryside. We even had the pleasure of company from our AirBnB host’s friendly horse, Jazz, and scatterings of goats, ducks and chickens plus one large pig.
Driving out of the property, you soon find yourself confronted with irresistible brown signs pointing to the Route 33 Tourist Drive, and following that was how we found ourselves in the heart of the famous Hunter Valley.
We headed to Wollombi along the Tourist Drive, lured in by the historic Wollombi Tavern which is frequented by bikers and home of the very dangerous sounding Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice. Apart from the pub, Wollombi also has a museum dedicated to it’s fascinating colonial history, two beautiful churches, a couple of old-fashioned stores, some inviting cafes and – of course – several hidden gems in the form of premiere boutique vineyard cellar doors.
That’s when we finally twigged where we were and discovered you can drive the scenic route all the way from Wollombi up to Pokolbin, via Millfield and Cessnock and their associated wineries. From Pokolbin, the most well-trodden part of The Hunter Valley, you can drive back down to Central Mangrove, passing through Broke, Wollombi again and other small hubs like Laguna and Kulnura.
It was a real adventure driving amidst immaculate vineyards in the heat, taking in a wine tasting session at the charming Undercliff Winery before discovering the rest of the route, only stopping to take in viewing platforms and to stock up on supplies from remote, dusty general stores run by all manner of entrepreneurial expats.
Phew, it was a long day. But totally worth it for the beautiful wine and tasty olives we were able to enjoy back at Central Mangrove later on. We’re already planning our next visit.
All words and photographs: Rosie Pentreath
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