Escaping the City to The Hunter Valley

Australia is known for its wine production. It has come a long way in recent decades and now rivals all the (so called) ‘Old World’ wines of Spain , France and Italy. So, what better way to spend a weekend than in the country setting of the Hunter Valley. That, and a good dose of wine tasting. It was time to hit the road and escape the increasingly controlled environment of this big city.

A sense of tranquillity in the Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is the best known wine region in New South Wales. It is also the oldest wine making area in Australia. It lies about two hours’ drive north of Sydney. This area is reached by passing through some heavily forested scenery. Once that far away from the city everything almost seems normal. For the time being…

We stayed in the town of Cessnock. The guide-books are not kind to Cessnock. One describes it as “a depressingly unattractive introduction to the salubrious wine culture surrounding it”. Harsh words I feel. It is a town of around 55,000 people and so it is large enough to have all the facilities you could want. There are no high-rise building and it has that old frontier town feel to it, which I quite like. Indeed, it would have been a frontier town not too long ago as things expanded outwards away from the coast. There are enough cafés and bars although some are closing as the panic extends to these parts. Those that are open have stacked tables and chairs such that the remaining customer space is more sparsely arranged. It’s all about that ‘social distancing’ crap again! Still, the owners/managers are only following the government’s guidelines. Soon no doubt they will all be told to close (if they haven’t already while I type).

Into the Wineries

A few minutes’ drive from the town and you are in the heart of the wine tasting country. This was always going to be a first trial visit. Suss the place out. A reconnaissance mission if you like. It soon became apparent that you don’t even need a car – which is just as well if you decide to drink lots of wine. There are hop-on-hop-off buses, organised bus tours and even electrically powered push bikes that you can use and drop off as you want. In some parts the density of wineries is such that you can take a taxi to one and walk to several others. We met people who were doing just that.

Dani sizing up the barrels

Most wine tasting is free but some charge – and to be fair, give bigger tasting measures. You can purchase bottles at all of the stops if you want to. They will even deliver, keeping your hands free for more tasting.

One of the oldest vineyards in Australia

Christmas Shopping Anyone?

Amongst all the wineries there are various shopping areas too. There is a bit of a theme park feel about the place at times. Not that such a thing bothered anyone. The setting was great and so was the wine. There was even a Christmas shop. Yes. That’s correct!

Even Santa was decked out in shorts and one of those stereotypical hanging cork hats.

Actually, that hat reminds me. One thing that bothered both Dani and myself. The flies are extremely bloody annoying. Nuisances at the best of times, the flies up there seem to be on steroids. The hanging cork hat would have been very useful.

You could live out here…

While I was catching up on some funny (or just plain stupid) phone messages it occurred to me. You could live here. The cheap hotels are very affordable. They supply you with toilet paper, soap and shower products, change your towels and sheets. They provide a fridge, microwave and free tea and coffee. This one even had a swimming pool. The daily charge is such that the weekly cost comes to less than the average rent in Sydney. And not having to fight for toilet rolls? What’s not to like?

Well, one thing was the sofa bed. It would be more comfortable sleeping in the car. But that was for Dani. He could sleep width ways. Definitely not good when I tried lying length ways. There were even cheaper places in the area. Sadly of course these places will all be told to close any time soon. The immediate future must surely look more depressing than this town could ever be to any travel guide writer.

I love these old hotel/pubs. Such character.

Sadly this place has been temporarily closed.

Conclusions

Definitely a great place to spend a weekend. Definitely going again. Let’s hope this bloody virus crap allows another visit sooner rather than later. Naturally, we used this trip to stock up on wine for the inevitable oncoming lock-down.

Incidentally, there was no visible evidence of the bush fires in the area we visited or along the routes we drove back to the city. One wine ‘pourer’ mentioned that they had reached some 15 minutes’ drive away. Enough to spoil this year’s harvest when the winds brought the smoke.

We barely scratched the surface but now know enough to do a more organised trip next time round. All in all, mission accomplished. And a final word to you guide-book writers: Give Cessnock a break eh?

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