Best Hunter Valley Escapes: Retreats Off the Beaten Track
There’s no denying that the Hunter Valley is a darling of Instagram, a king of wine lands and a favourite weekend destination from the city. With rolling vineyards, thrilling outdoor adventures, scrumptious local produce and historic towns, it’s not surprising that everyone wants to take a bite out of the region.
With star-studded wine labels, elegant vineyard restaurants and lush resorts, Pokolbin is a top drawcard for visitors seeking a country retreat. Lovedale serves up romantic country roads, bounding kangaroos and boutique hotels. Then, there’s Rothbury, with its mountainous backdrop and gourmet restaurants beckoning travellers from near and far.
However, what if you want to escape the beaten track for a unique perspective, and still make the most of the Hunter Valley’s renowned attractions?
Escape to the Hunter Valley’s Hidden Gems
Wind your way through scenic farmland peppered with charming cottages and grazing sheep, to find the Hunter Valley’s less famous towns. They welcome you with farm-gate stalls, family-run businesses, quirky stores and, you guessed it, boutique wineries. The difference is, you’re much more likely to chat with locals at the pub, than fellow tourists on a day trip.
Though they’re off the beaten track, you’re only ever a wine tour away from the heart of Pokolbin. Perhaps best of all, tranquil retreats dot the crowd-free countryside. So, you can kick back with a glass of wine and locally produced cheese in total peace. Sound good? Here’s where to find your own slice of the Hunter Valley’s hidden gems.
It’s surrounded by sweeping landscapes that appear custom-made for photographers. However, it’s Wollombi’s quirky, historic charm that captivates all the senses. The village is decorated by heritage buildings, including St Michael’s Church, St John’s Church and the former courthouse which now houses a museum. The General Store alone lets you step back in time, with heritage-listed, storefront signs that advertise drapery, boots and shoes.
An escape to Wollombi certainly isn’t without its wine-inspired perks, either. Family-operated Wollombi Wines rests on the banks of Wollombi Brook and offers the tantalising results of hand-picked Semillon and Shiraz grapes. Undercliff Winery combines a watercolour gallery with a B&B that was first built in 1847.
With a church-inspired cellar door and quaint cottages, Stonehurst Cedar Creek is an enchanting spot for a romantic escape or a gorgeous wedding. Private wine tours of the Hunter Valley pick you up from Wollombi to get your vineyard-hopping fix, which may just be the perfect ‘thank you’ gift for your wedding guests.
Select dates across each year see the Wollombi Markets come to town, bringing an abundance of jams, breads, cheeses and artisan goodies. If you’re visiting in September, pack your dancing shoes for the Wollombi Music Festival and check out Sculpture in the Vineyards during November. Can’t wait for outdoor adventures? Hit the bushwalking and mountain biking trails in the nearby Yengo National Park.
For country hospitality with a twist, don’t miss out on a drink or three at the Wollombi Tavern. It’s the home of the infamous Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice, created in the late 50s by a local legend, Mel Jurd. It was originally made with the day’s leftovers of port, brandy, wine and more, along with experimental brewing techniques.
Places to stay in Wollombi
Choose from quaint cottages, farm stays and rustic cabins in serene surrounds, where you can look forward to kangaroos jumping right by your veranda. Here are some top picks.
Cosy up with wood fires, fluffy bathrobes and private outdoor spas with leafy views at Mystwood Retreats. With five self-contained cabins, it’s perfect for larger groups or wedding parties too. Disconnect if you like, however, you’ll find all the mod cons like LCD TVs and iPods, along with delicious breakfast hampers included in your stay.
Three individual buildings share spectacular valley views at Capers Guesthouse. A guesthouse, a cottage and the Boiling Billy Barn let you match accommodation to your personality, with features like wood burning stoves, spiral staircases and quaint sleeping nooks.
Fancy sleeping in an 1830s sandstone cottage that was built by convicts? Encircled by gardens on a 300-acre cattle farm, the modern interior of this five-bedroom cottage beautifully contrasts its historic exterior.
If you’re looking for a chilled-out rural community to do nothing much but watch wallabies with the company of birdsong, the small town of Broke might be just the spot for you. Wherever you stay, it’s likely you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Broken Back Range and Yellow Rock. Stock up on farm-fresh produce from Broke Village Market and feast on local olives and cheese platters to your heart’s content.
Or, if you’d rather splash out on fine dining, make a beeline for the hatted restaurant at Margan Hunter Valley. Other vineyards in the area include Krinklewood Vineyard, with a French-inspired cellar door and Provincial gardens. Glenguin Estate and Vineyard produce Shiraz and Semillon vines using organic and biodynamic farming principles, on a sprawling property with wedding packages available.
When you want to take your taste buds further afield in Australia’s oldest wine region, our Hunter Valley tours can pick you up at your door in Broke (see our our Hunter Valley Wine and Beer Adventure Tour). To get out and about in the great outdoors, take a drive to the Finchley Cultural Walk to see incredible Aboriginal engravings.
Places to stay in Broke
Whether you’re staying overnight or taking a week-long holiday, Broke offers everything from swish guesthouses to vineyard cottages and quaint rural cottages.
How would you like to stay on your own private vineyard? If you’re travelling with a group, Arenridge offers six bedrooms, separate living spaces and panoramic views across the vineyards to Brokenback Range.
Nightingales Wines Luxury Villas
Settle in on a 60-acre property with vineyard views, spas and self-contained kitchens. There’s a barbecue for guests, along with a restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool. That’s all without mentioning the close proximity to tastings at the cellar door.
Located at Broke Estate Vineyard, this historic cottage was built around 1890. While its lovely rustic exterior remains, the two-bedroom interior offers all the modern comforts surrounded by nothing but countryside views.
History buffs will love the preserved colonial atmosphere in Morpeth, while winos can easily hop on a Hunter Valley Wine and Beer Adventure Tour from here. Once a thriving port, remnants of the past include Queens Wharf and hitching posts for horses, both of which are accessible along the Morpeth Heritage Walk.
Pop into the bakehouse that started the famous Arnott’s dynasty and catch up on history at the Morpeth Museum. Charming cafes, boutiques and collectible stores beckon across stone-paved streets and along the Hunter River. Quench your thirst at the Morpeth Brewery and Beer Co., and start your tasting journey at the Morpeth Wine Cellar and Moonshine Distillery.
Just a 10-minute drive away, Maitland offers further historic treats with the East Maitland Heritage Walk. While you’re there, discover the artistic soul of the town at working art studios and the Maitland Regional Art Gallery. Looking for more to do? Take a selfie with the big UGG Boots and explore the renowned factory.
Places to stay in Morpeth
Stay right in the heart of the village to make the most of shopping, dining and captivating colonial history, or further out in the country for peace and quiet. Either way, you’re spoiled for choice with historic homes and postcard-pretty cottages.
The Close Morpeth
White rocking chairs and vine-laden verandas characterise this boutique accommodation, with a cottage and a studio to choose from. You’ll find everything you need for a short or long stay, including services like babysitting and in-house massages.
The Bronte Boutique Hotel
You’ll get plenty of chances to soak up history at The Bronte, which was built in 1822 and named after Admiral Nelson, the Earl of Bronte. Now, it’s home to a collection of Asian and Victorian antiques, along with a variety of rooms and an ideal location on the main street.
If you’re planning on doing a wine tour for a girls’ weekend or a group getaway, this heritage cottage might be perfect for you. It was built in the late 1800s, but the interior boasts stylish open-plan living spaces, sleeps eight guests and even offers a nook for business travellers.
The Hunter Valley offers the best of both worlds when you want to get off the beaten path. Stay near one of these friendly towns to immerse yourself in local life, retreat into nature and jump on a wine tour for a snapshot of all the top attractions.
Then, it’s all about settling in on that veranda with a glass of local wine, the fiery sunset and wildlife for company.