As Australia’s oldest wine region, the Hunter Valley is home to some of the biggest names in Australian wine. And, while there’s plenty of tradition (and probably some famous brands that rest on their laurels), there’s also a new generation of young winemakers trying bold and innovative things.
For a visitor, tasting some of these edgy new wines is just one of the things to do in the Hunter Valley. The whole region is full of interesting activities and things are always changing – even if, on first glance, it can all seem a bit traditional.
Vineyards certainly dominate the landscape and they create stunning vistas across the valley. Eucalyptus-lined country roads lead pass the entrances to the estates. Small towns (sometimes really just villages) give you some reference points but most of the land just feels like endless wineries.
The Hunter Valley is not the kind of place where you can just turn up and explore without a plan. It’s not obvious where things are and many of the best things to do in the Hunter Valley are not that close to each other (although it is easy enough to drive between them).
Things to do in the Hunter Valley
So, with all that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the best things to do in the Hunter Valley so you can plan your trip.
My biggest suggestion would be not to try to fit too much in – and to look beyond the wineries. A whole weekend of wine tasting gets a bit tiresome after a while (and the wineries can actually be a bit strict if you’ve had too much to drink).
So have a think about some of the texture here in the region, and how you would like to make a trip to the destination about more than just drinking.
There are about 150 wineries in the Hunter Valley and most of them have opportunities for tastings. It means there’s a lot of choice.
One of the easiest ways to do wine tasting in the Hunter Valley is with a tour. There are lots of them available and they cater for every taste (pun intended).
You can have luxury private tours, fun group tours, tours that focus on a particular grape or style of winemaking, and much more.
If you are driving yourself, you can put the itinerary together however you want – perhaps with a mix of the big names and some more boutique producers.
Some of the most established wineries in the Hunter Valley that do tastings are Tyrrell’s, Tulloch, Brokenwood, and McGuigan. They could be crowded but don’t let that put you off – they are famous for a good reason.
But I would also suggest trying some of the young winemakers, who are often doing really interesting things.
I would suggest a tasting at Comyns & Co, where there are some quite bold blends. Other innovative wineries in the Hunter Valley that are good for tastings are M&J Becker, Usher Tinkler, and Angus Vinden.
Because the Hunter Valley is such a popular tourist area, most of the wineries will have a charge for a tasting – usually around $10-$15.
Some of the wineries will make that tasting cost redeemable for a purchase, which basically means the tasting is free if you buy some wine. I think that’s a really fair way to do it and I really appreciate the places that do that.
As I mentioned, there are more things to do in the Hunter Valley than just wine tastings and, to be honest, once you’ve done a few of them they start to blend into each other a bit.
So, here are some other suggestions that you might like to consider.
Walking with llamas
For something a little bit unusual, you might want to consider taking a llama for a walk through the vineyards. (Yes, you read that right.)
The Llama Collective is run by llama owners who one day realised there was actually quite a demand for the activity – and they often get people coming driving up from Sydney just for this.
After a quick introduction to the llama, you’ll then take their lead and walk them through a wine estate for about an hour, between the vines and up to some beautiful viewpoints.
They are wonderful animals and it’s lots of fun. Plus you’ll get some great photos!
Our Italian Table
At her Nicita Estate nestled in seventy acres of vineyard, Jen Nicita has built a small kitchen where she runs Italian cooking classes. In a small group, she will teach you how to make different types of pasta, sauces, and other Italian specialties.
It’s a wonderful location and a fun activity – but it’s the friendly atmosphere of Our Italian Table makes it such a special experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a group or by yourself, you’ll all be happily sharing a meal by the end.
And, you are in the Hunter Valley, and it is Italian cooking… so, don’t worry, there will still be wine!
Although the Hunter Valley has always had a bit of an art scene, it tended to be either quite casual – a small display at a winery – or rather formal – like a regional art gallery.
What the new Watershed Gallery at Pokolbin has created is a focus for contemporary art that gives it the prominence it needs but in a laidback setting where the gallerists are available for a chat and everything is for sale at reasonable prices.
Watershed Galley is run by Ron and Lyn Hammond and you’ll find some of Lyn’s artwork on the walls. But they also choose works by other artists that represent a range of styles.
The Hunter Valley is not too far from the coast so, if you’re looking for a longer trip, you could combine with a few days somewhere like Port Stephens. If you’re interested, I’ve also got some tips on the best things to do in Port Stephens.