When someone says don’t judge a place by its name, the Hunter Valley stands out as a prime example. Although the name conjures an image of grasslands, predators, and camouflage, the Hunter Valley presents a rather contrasting image. Vineyards spread out in the foothills of the Brokenback Range, the Hunter River flowing in the north, an aureate sunshine, and a few kangaroos hopping about in the woods is what the Hunter Valley actually looks like. Located north of Sydney, this valley is a bucket-list essential and a day trip to Hunter Valley is all it takes to experience Australia’s oldest wine region. A stunning landscape and a three-hour train ride later, treat yourself to the iconic white wine Semillon.
Hunter Valley - History Under 1 Minute
The Hunter Valley exemplifies the perfect weekend getaway with about 150 wineries offering their champion varieties — Shiraz, Semillon, Chardonnay, and Verdelho. The Hunter Valley’s mélange of whites and reds is attributed to James Busby, also known as Australia’s father of wine. In 1825, Busby brought cuttings from over 500 vineyards to the region. By the 1850s, it had earned worldwide acclaim. Among the white and red varieties, the former grows better as the region’s occasionally harsh climate favors it. The most popular one is Semilion. Red wine lovers are recommended to try Busby’s own planting of Shiraz, which is flourishing to date.
Sydney to Hunter Valley Transport - What You Must Know
The Hunter Valley is 244kms (152 miles) from Sydney and the best way to reach the region is either by car, which will take you around two hours, or by train, which would be a three-hour long journey.
Given below are the best ways to travel from Sydney To the Hunter Valley:
The Express Wine Train from Sydney Central Railway station takes you to the Hunter Valley’s Singleton Railway station in three hours. This is not a city train and with only seven stops, you will reach the valley by lunchtime. Most people prefer to travel by train because of the picturesque view that accompanies the entire distance. It’s better to book your tickets in advance and in case you get hungry during the journey, head to the Café Car to enjoy some delicious snacks and beverages.
Another option is the cityrail service to Maitland or Morisset. There are connecting buses from each of these stations to Cessnock, from where it’s a 20-minute (approx.) cab ride to your desired location in the region.
From the Morriset station, you can catch one of the Rover Coaches’ buses as they match their transfers with the train timetable. If you plan to take a bus from Sydney, there are several local and Sydney-based tour operators that pick up and drop off from Sydney.
A road trip to Hunter Valley is also a great option. The route commences from Sydney Harbour Bridge and follows the Pacific Highway toward Hornsby. Before Hornsby (at Wahroonga), take the Pacific Motorway north toward Newcastle. From here on, there are three exits to the Hunter Valley Vineyards.
- Exit the Pacific Motorway at the Newcastle Interchange and take the Hunter Expressway until you reach the Lovedale Road exit (24km), the Wine Country Drive exit (36km) or the Hermitage Road exit (48km).
- Alternately, you can exit the Pacific Motorway at the B82 (Freemans Drive) exit ramp and follow the signs along the B82 to Cessnock/Hunter Valley Vineyards.
- If you want a scenic view of the mountains, take the Tourist Route 33 via the mountains of Wollombi. However, if you are looking for some spirited driving, you can skip this route.
Sydney to Hunter Valley Tours
Organized tours are the best way to traverse the distance. There are multiple tour operators that transfer from Sydney. The tickets are generally priced at $155.
One minibus can accommodate a maximum of thirteen people. Apart from the lunch stop, which is generally at the Roche Estate situated in the middle of a gorgeous vineyard, these tours make several stops, including wine tasting sessions at Blueberry Hills and Mount View Estate, cheese tasting at Smelly Cheese, beer tasting at Potter’s Brewery, and chocolate and fudge tasting at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company’s factory. Some even stop at the Walkabout Wildlife Park.
5 Best Wineries in Hunter Valley, Australia
If you're doing a self-guided tour of the Hunter Valley, here are the top 5 wineries you must hit up. Don't try and squeeze in more than 3 wineries in a day for a sedate experience.
One of the finest and family-run vineyards in the Hunter Valley, Ian and Merralea Scarborough’s fruits of labor have landed them onto the wine lists of some of Sydney’s best restaurants, where they hand deliver their wine - a quite non-traditional approach to distribution. The most famous is their Chardonnay, the Yellow Label. The Scarboroughs ensure that visitors enjoy their wines in a homely and relaxed manner. All their tastings are accompanied by a delicious and complimentary cheese platter.
This 270-acre vineyard is one of the oldest wineries in the Hunter Valley. Audrey Wilkinson is one of Australia’s early wine pioneers whose legacy of “It’s all about the taste” is central to this winery. Visitors can choose to spend the night at the Mulberry Cottage or The Dairy, both offering a stunning 360-degree view of the picturesque patchwork of vines and paddocks of the Hunter Valley and the impressive Brokenback Ranges.
Krinklewood’s French-inspired cellar door is set on the banks of the Wollombi Brook against the backdrop of the Brokenback Range. This vineyard is a cent percent organic and sustainable as no pesticides or herbicides are used. Guests at Krinklewood can enjoy their wine among the beautiful Provencal gardens. A wide range of wines is available which include Verdelho, Semillon, Chardonnay, Rose, Shiraz, Dessert Wine, Sparkling, Spider Run Reserve wines, and Basket Press wines.
Established in 1970, Brokenwood is home to the famous Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz, the highly acclaimed ILR Reserve Semillon, and the popular Cricket Pitch Range. It has consistently maintained its position as a 5-star winery. Recently, Sydney-based architecture and design company Villa + Villa constructed Brokenwood’s new cellar door, which covers 1,400 square meters. It is now the largest in the Hunter Valley wine region.
The Pepper Tree winery was founded in 1991 and offers the best quality wine as well as food. While this vineyard majorly focuses on grapes from the Hunter Valley, its owner John Davis has vineyard sites in four premium wine-growing regions, namely Hunter and Orange in NSW and Coonawarra and Wrattonbully in South Australia.
Beyond The Wineries - Things To Do In Hunter Valley
If you're looking for more things to do beyond wine and cheese tasting in Hunter Valley, here's what you should consider. From a hot air balloon flight to a game of golf, Hunter Valley has a lot to offer beyond the vineyards.
1. Visit The Hunter Valley Gardens
If you are looking for a retreat, nothing is as peaceful as the Hunter Valley Gardens, situated along Broke Road on the Pokolbin trail. The formal gardens will cost you $20 but the park across the lake is free. There’s a mini golf, aqua golf, and a quaint village where you can dine and shop.
2. Drive A Rally Car
If you are an adrenaline junkie, head to the rally track at Cessnock. Following a demonstration by a rally driving professional instructor, you can hop into Turbo rallycars. Relax on the passenger seat and allow your instructor to take you for two to three hot laps. What a rush!
3. Take A Hunter Valley Helicopter Tour
Whether you book this tour for special occasions, such as anniversaries or proposals; or just as a part of the trip - the experience will be a memorable one. A helicopter ride is nothing short of luxury and you can take from either from Sydney or from Cessnock airport in Hunter Valley.
4. Take a Hot Air Balloon Flight
What better way to see the vineyards and countryside than up in a hot air balloon? There are many tour operators, such as Balloon Aloft, to provide you this service. Don’t miss the chance to treat yourself to the breathtaking panoramic view of the Hunter Valley wine region.
5. A Sweet Treat at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company
For the ones with a sweet tooth, the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company should be definite pit stop. The gourmet locally made chocolates are made using Belgian chocolate. Make sure you try the chocolate-covered honeycomb, which combines the richness of the chocolate with the sweet crunch of the honeycomb - scrumptious snack.
6. Tee off at The Vintage
A popular pastime for the tourists in the Hunter Valley is a game of golf. Whether you're a novice or an expert, head to the Greg Norman-designed championship course at The Vintage for a game or two.
7. A Change of Spirits at The Matilda Bay Brewhouse
Stationed a few steps away from Hermitage Road Cellars, the Matilda Bay Brewhouse is a haven for beer lovers. The boutique brewery provides different beers on tap, including light beers like the ginger beer or a bitter stout like the Nitro. They are available by the pint or as part of a tasting paddle.
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Sydney To Hunter Valley - Typical Itinerary
Leave Sydney around 7 (by train) or 8 (by road) in the morning to reach the Hunter Valley by 11am. Head straight to the first winery for the day to avoid the crowds and get a head start.
Leogate Estate can be your first stop. The staff at this winery, like all the other ones, is extremely helpful and friendly. They will guide you through a tasting which would include both white and red wines. You can ask to start with the 2014 Brokenback Semillon which is a slightly acidic white with lots of citrus notes. You can end your tasting with the 2017 Late Harvest Semilion which has a slightly sweeter finish.
Next you can head to Hermitage Road Cellars, which offers both great wine and cheese. This winery has varieties from multiple boutique wineries. They are available to both sip and purchase, a deal you can’t miss. Try the salmon-colored Lisa McGuigan Silver Moscato, a sparkling wine, blended Muscat, and Frontignac grapes. You can pair this with the Binnorie Dairy cheese and experience how the cheese changes the flavor of the wine. Another cheese to bite on is Labna, a Middle Eastern-style cheese.
Finally, Ernest Hill Winery. Dating back to the 1960s, their must tries are the 2017 Semillon and the 2016 Shareholders Shiraz. You know what can get better than tasting high-quality premium wines, standing in the backdrop of the Brokenback Range, and the soft sun caressing your face? A kangaroo sighting. Not everyone is greeted by these marsupials, but we hope you get lucky.
Wine and cheese is the couple that may change your life, but nobody can deny lunch. So factor in a visit to The Church. Order a platter of salami along with stellar local varietals from the cellar at Usher Tinkler Wines. Once your stomachs are full, you can visit the Hunter Valley gardens. Take a leisurely walk around the rich flora or just sit by the lake and relax. Spend your afternoon in peace.
Before heading back to Sydney, right before dusk sets in, hop onto a hot air balloon. Nothing beats the spectacular aerial view of the wine region as the sky dons changing hues of dusk.
Must-Visit Festivals At Hunter Valley
Tips For Your Hunter Valley Trip
- Leave Sydney early in the morning: Since the Hunter Valley can be covered in a day, make sure you start early so that you can enjoy a relaxing trip instead of speeding from one winery to the next.
- Breakfast at Café Enzo: Enjoy an artfully arranged “breakfast board” at Café Enzo. The café is located within the picturesque Peppers Creek Village.
- Hop On Hop Off Wine Tours: If you're driving to Hunter Valley, park your car and grab tickets to the Hop On Hop Off Wine Tours to experience your fair share of wine tasting. Read more about Hop On Hop Off Wine Tours
- Staying at the Hunter Valley: If you plan to spend the night, you will find pocket-friendly accommodation in Cessnock. If you don’t mind splurging, stay at the Crowne Plaza.
- Tempus Two: When you visit this winery, keep your notepad ready because Tempus Two has the best wine describing sessions in town. Also, their wine tasting is free!
- A Day on the Green: Experience the perfect “adults’ day out” at these concerts which host a fusion of great music and delicious food (read wine).
- Harrigans Irish Pub: If meat is your staple, have a meal at this pub. Their steaks are huge and delicious!
- A Spa End: When all the wine tasting wear you out, pamper yourself at a day spa, such as Château Élan.
- Wine Knowledge: Always dreamt of becoming a wine connoisseur? Learn more about wine at the Hunter Valley Wine School or Wine Theatre.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hunter Valley Tours
What time do the Hunter Valley tours depart from Sydney?
Most tours from Sydney to Hunter Valley depart around 7:30 AM to get an early start to the day.
How many passengers do organised coach tours from Sydney to Hunter Valley typically hold?
You can expect 14 to 16 passengers on each bus.
What is the best time to visit Hunter Valley?
The best time to visit the Hunter Valley is from March to May. This is because March to May sees Autumn here with pleasant temperatures and minimal rain. During these months, the Hunter Valley is veiled in hues of orange, yellow, green and brown, making it a photographer’s delight. Moreover, hotels are cheaper since tourists are slim during this season.
What time can I expect to be back in Sydney after a day tour of Hunter Valley?
The bus returns around 6:00 - 6:30 PM , depending on traffic.
Should I take a Wine Tour or visit the wineries by myself?
Guided Wine Tours allow you to get behind the scenes and focuses on boutique wineries that extend an intimate feel to the visitors. You get a chance to meet the people who make wine for a living and learn about their passion for the process. Most guided wine tours also have three or more wine tastings with a sampling of the locally-made cheeses. Some guided wine tours also have locally produced meals included in their package, providing a complete experience. While a self-guided tour of the wineries is great, there's no experience like a guided wine tour with a wine connoisseur.
Do wine tours in Hunter Valley run every day?
Yes, wine tours run daily except Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s day.