Hunter Valley for Non-Drinkers!

August 18, 2010 in Food, Travel by pacejmiller

The vineyards of Hunter Valley

About a month ago we went to the Hunter Valley (about 1.5 of hours north of Sydney CBD), the so-called “wine country” of New South Wales.  Now why would I, a non-drinker (for the most part), even consider going there?

Well, why the heck not?

So away we went for a couple of days, and I must admit it I had a terrific time.  It’s not the first time I’ve been there, but it was probably the first time I was there for more than a day, and the first time I was of legal drinking age.

I will do a series of posts on the nice place we stayed at and all the fabulous restaurants we visited in the region.  But this first post will focus on all the things non-drinkers can do at the Hunter Valley and still have a good time!

(click on ‘more…’ to read on)

You don’t have to drive around to the various wineries and sample their wines to have a good time at the Hunter Valley.  Admittedly, it does reduce your options a bit, but there still enough to do for a lazy couple of days.

Anyway, no matter what you do, make sure you do your research beforehand.  There’s nothing worse than going to a place not knowing what you’re going to be doing and wasting valuable time trying to figure it out.  So I would definitely recommend at least going to the tourism information office.  The main one is on Wine Country Drive, the main road leading in from the south.  If you can’t be bothered, ask your hotel concierge — they probably have some of the same brochures.

Grab a map and circle the places you want to go, the restaurants you want to eat at.  The most useful booklet is probably the Visitors Guide, which includes a comprehensive map in the back.

Anyway, so what is there to do?

For starters, there’s the fine dining places.  If your budget allows, try and sample a couple a day (lunch and dinner), and if you eat long enough, that’s a relaxing chunk of your day right there.  Most of the places we went to were pretty good (albeit a bit pricey), so if you are a pig, then make sure you stuff your face.

We didn’t try this, but you can also enjoy some leisurely walks and bike rides.  Bikes are available for hire at several places and they are relatively cheap.  If you prefer horseriding, you can do that too at a couple of ranches, both up in the northern region (check your map).

We also saw quite a number of brochures for hot air balloon rides.  I know there’s a take-off place at the Crowne Plaza.

Of course, there’s also a few golf courses around the area.  The resort we stayed at was built right next to a Greg Norman designed golf course, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself.  And if you are staying at a resort, chances are they have spa and massage packages if you feel like indulging.

One of the fine golf courses at Hunter Valley

Those are the things we could have done, but didn’t.  We just wanted to relax, sleep in late, check out a few places, and stuff our faces.  We did go to a couple of wineries (the smaller, family-owned ones recommended by the lady at the tourism office), but I pretty much only had a sip of the wines, and they were mainly the light ones like the moscatos.

However, there’s plenty of other things to see and try.

The main non-alcohol-related attraction at Hunter Valley is the Hunter Valley Gardens and the adjacent shopping village.  The map makes it look humungous, but the garden itself is deceptively small.  It may look far from one attraction to the next, but it really only takes a couple of steps.  It’s almost as though the map was to scale!

The Hunter Valley Gardens

The best part of the Hunter Valley Gardens in my opinion is the Storybook Garden — I know, I know, it’s meant for kids, but the kid in me got very excited when I saw Humpty Dumpty, Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, Jack and Jill and many more!

Storybook Garden!

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party!

You can probably spend a decent couple of hours at the Gardens, and afterwards if you are feeling peckish you can check out the shopping village for some snacks — chocolates, jams, marmalades, biscuits and cakes.  Alternatively you can do down the other end and play some putt putt golf or try “aqua golf” — essentially just a driving range where you hit the ball into the water.

Apart from the Gardens, there are a few wineries that sell things other than wines — for instance, if you like chocolate, there’s the Hunter Valley Chocolate Co (there’s one at the Gardens and another near the Peterson Champagne House).  Or if you prefer art and antiques, there’s a couple of places near the Pepper’s Creek area and also at the Tintilla Estate Vineyard & Olive Grove, which also sells olives and olive oil, as well as jams and marmalades.  I polished off a jar of onion jam in a week!

And if you like something unique, I would recommend Moorebank Vineyard Estate, which is famous for its spicy grape sauce.  It’s perfect with crackers.  My neighbour asked me to buy 3 bottles!

The black sheep at Moorebank!

Er…that’s about it…

(more to come in upcoming posts)