Your Ultimate Guide to the Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley in a nutshell

As Australia’s oldest wine region, the Hunter Valley has a culture and a rich heritage that stems from its vines. The valley’s wine-related history dates back as far as the early 1800’s, therefore making it the birthplace of Australian wine. In 1832 James Busby left the UK, bringing with him around 20,000 cuttings from European vines.

Transporting them to Australia and to the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, James Busby effectively became the ‘father’ of Australian wine and the pioneer of Australian viticulture, when he planted his first vines in the New South Wales soil.

Since 1832, the Hunter Valley has remained a big player in the Australian (and international) wine scene, with a great deal of world-renowned brands and small family-owned wineries nestling themselves within the green slopes of the valley over the years. Situated only two hours outside of Sydney, in the Hunter Valley today you’ll find countless cellar doors and old wineries, paired with highly praised restaurants which thrive as a result of the wonderful local produce on offer.

Photo of couple sitting looking over wineries

Audrey Wilkinson, Pokolbin. Pic credit: Destination NSW

There’s more than wine here too. The Hunter Valley’s wonderful countryside setting attracts visitors from afar who come to witness its valleys full of wildlife, nearby national parks and quaint colonial villages. In addition, nearby towns offer visitors an array of activities away from the vines. In Maitland alone, galleries, an old Gaol and a vibrant spot – The Levee – lined with shops, restaurants and a local market will keep guests occupied for the whole weekend.

With so many things to do in the Hunter Valley, a trip here from the city should be on the cards this year! Grab yourself some Hunter Valley accommodation, embark on a NSW weekend getaway from the Sydney and explore the nooks and crannies of arguably the best of NSW wine regions.

Fortunately, we’ve done the hard work for you. Pick out some things to do, places to eat and sights to see in the Hunter Valley region from this very article and arrive at your destination armed with the information you need to start exploring.

Things to do in the Hunter Valley

Enjoy some Hunter Valley wine

If you’ve chosen to visit the Hunter Valley, it’s likely that you’re looking to sample some of Australia’s best wine. As the oldest wine region in Australia and boasting more than 150 wineries, you certainly won’t be disappointed. Make your way to a handful of awesome cellar doors; large, small, old and new and taste the Hunter Valley as you go.

At Brokenwood Wines – one of Australia’s most reputable wineries – revel in the best Shiraz and Semillon around. Established in 1970, Brokenwood Wines has gone from a hobby winery to a well known name. Drop into the Cellar Door for a tasting, or opt to go backstage for a tour of the exquisite winery to see where they magic happens. It would also be a crime not to visit Audrey Wilkinson during your getaway to Hunter Valley. Audrey – aged 15 -assumed the role of running his family vineyard when’s father died 150 years ago. Going on to produce some of the finest wines in Australia, his legacy remains today. Visit the Cellar Door at Audrey Wilkinson and discover 360 degree views from the gorgeous colonial style building.

Pepper Tree has also been a must-visit winery in the Hunter Valley for many years. Founded in 1991, the winery makes premium wines and provides visitors with an award winning Cellar Door experience. Soak up the atmosphere inside Halls Road Cellar Door and choose your preferred tasting menu, paired with some juicy olives and local cheese. Visit a biodynamic vineyard during your wine-tasting day in the Hunter Valley and taste some certified organic wines crafted with a sustainable ethos. Krinklewood Biodynamic Wines proudly crafts organic wines in their holistic vineyard and their tasting experience will have you gazing across French Provencal gardens whilst you sip.

wine tasting image

Brokenwood Wines, Pokolbin. Pic credit: Destination NSW

Explore the beautiful Hunter Valley scenery on foot

You’ll already be well within the natural landscapes of New South Wales during a getaway to the Hunter Valley. Yet drive a little further outside of the wine region and you’ll find some magnificent scenery to explore. Hikes of all different lengths, found in all kinds of settings are at arms length in this part of New South Wales. For example, Werakata National Park is a birdwatching paradise, with birds of all colours soaring above the trees and perched upon branches in the gums. Exceptional spring wildflowers are another great feature of the park. An array of cycling and walking trails lead visitors across various sections of the park. You might like to try the Kurri Sand Swamp Woodland Walk – a track perfect for keen bushwalkers with an interested in ecology or native Australian animals.

Explore Yengo National Park

Of course, the beautiful Yengo National Park found between Sydney and Hunter Valley is another excellent option when it comes to walking. Rocky ridges, steep gorges and Aboriginal cultural heritage sites are all found within the borders of this World Heritage-listed park. Try out the 6km Yango walking track inside the national park and explore rainforests and pristine wilderness at your own leisure. Finally, the extensive Great North Walk offers a stunning section which leads up to a viewing point at Bimbadeen Lookout. Various versions of this walk ranging from easy to moderate can be followed.

View over winery and vines

Discover Bather’s Way

Liking Newcastle’s beaches from Merewether Ocean Baths to Nobby’s beach, Bather’s Way is a 6km long path perfect for either morning strolls or casual bike rides. Head over to Newcastle and discover the coastline. Sweeping views of the area are easily found from the path and there are plenty of viewing platforms for some great photograph opportunities.

Visit The Levee in Maitland

In the town of Maitland, just on the border of the Hunter Valley wine region, The Levee is a great place to spend the morning. Running parallel to the Hunter River, the bustling street entertains visitors and locals alike with its restaurants, shops and cafes. Maitland’s hive of activity is a blend of small businesses as well as national retail stores. Of note, the Slow Food Earth Market Maitland is the first of its kind in Australia. Held on the third Thursday of each month, the market’s ethos involves clean and fair produce and focuses on fresh seasonal food. At each stall, visitors will find a poster which offers information about the farmer, the product and the origin of the products.

A vegetable stall at The Levee market in Maitland

Slow Food Earth Market, Maitland. Pic credit: Destination NSW

Ride a horse through the Hunter Valley

Located in the lower Hunter Valley and in wine country, Hunter Valley Horses offers a range of experiences including pony rides and tours. The whole family can enjoy these rides; from beginners, to advanced riders. Embark on an action-packed itinerary and take in spectacular views whilst riding over the Molly Moran Range. Rides go as far as Barrington Tops.

Discover Maitland Gaol

Taking its first prisoners in 1848 and closing in 1998, Maitland Gaol is a haunting attraction in the heart of the NSW town. The Gaol was constructed using sandstone and has stood in great condition since its building in the mid 1800s. Within the walls of the prison, some of Australia’s most hardened criminals were locked up for many years before later being moved to other prisons across the country. Explore the Maitland Gaol today and you’ll be taken on a journey through time and learn about life behind bars.

Image of Maitland Gaol near Hunter valley

Heritage-listed facade of Maitland Gaol, Maitland. Pic credit: Destination NSW

Take the kids to an indoor trampoline park

You might feel that taking the whole family to the Hunter Valley isn’t worth the trip – what with the focus on wine. However, there are plenty of things to do with kids in the Hunter Valley, starting with a trampoline park in Rutherford. The brand new facilities here welcome small children as well as adults and experienced jumpers. For those more interested in coffee, Infinity Cafe welcomes you in for a hot drink.

Go to Maitland Art Gallery

MRAG, or Maitland Regional Art Gallery, can be found in a historic building in the centre of Maitland NSW. Portraying thousands of artworks and sharing around 25 exhibitions annually with visitors, a trip here is certainly worth a visit. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday and has an onsite cafe. Whilst the exhibitions are clearly the main attraction here, the building itself is also a site to see. Built in 1830, the spot has previously been used as a candle factory, a soap marking factory as well as a store.

Maitland art gallery near Hunter Valley

Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG). Pic credit: Destination NSW

Enjoy a day at Hunter Valley Zoo with the kids

A weekend in the Hunter Valley doesn’t have to be all about wine, as mentioned previously. There are plenty of things to do with kids and the abundance of vines shouldn’t stop you from considering this NSW destination for a family holiday. Take the kids to Hunter Valley Zoo where not only can you get up close to a number of native and internationally famous animals, you can also take part in animal encounters. BBQs, picnic areas, daily shows and talks, as well as the option to feed animals can keep kids entertained for the entire day here.

Enjoy the beauty of Hunter Valley Gardens

A visit to Hunter Valley Gardens is without a doubt one of the best things to do in the Hunter Valley. Covering 14 hectares and comprised of 10 international themed gardens, the gardens will keep you – and the kids – busy for hours. Throughout the greenery, 8km of pathways lead guests through trees, past awesome vistas, a 10m waterfall, past ponds and topiary displays and architectural structures. A whopping 6000 trees and 600,000 shrubs call Hunter Valley Gardens home. This is no ordinary garden either. Winning numerous awards in its time and offering a small selection of rides for kids, you don’t find places like this everywhere.

Hunter Valley botanic gardens with orange leaves

Play a round of golf (or aqua golf)

Hunter Valley Gardens is also known for its aqua golf. Ideal for families and fiends of all ages, aqua golf involves hitting floating golf balls into a picturesque lake and into different floating nets. There are a number of prizes to win, so try out aqua golf and it might just pay for itself. Alternatively, keen golfers will rejoice in the selection of golf courses in the Hunter Valley. The Vintage Golf Club is one of the country’s premier courses. Offering 18 holes – Greg Norman designedthe course is challenging yet welcomes golfers of all levels with open arms.

Hunter Valley Experiences

Take a wine tour

Naturally, wine tours are encouraged in the Hunter Valley and there are plenty to choose from too. Sit back and relax on a journey through the countryside without the worry of driving and find yourself being dropped off at the best wineries the valley has to offer. With Ted Tours, you can be collected from your hotel – whether its in Newcastle, Pokolbin, or your accommodation in Maitland or Rutherford – and driven around the Hunter Valley in style. Private packages as well as those in a group offer something for everyone. Perhaps the best thing about Ted Tours, is how guests are given multiple wine tour options. This includes a Hunter Valley Beginners tour, as well as tours which focus on either reds or whites depending on your personal preference.

hot air balloon rides in Hunter Valley

Hot Air Ballooning, Hunter Valley. Pic credit: Filippo Rivetti

See the Hunter Valley from a hot air ballon

The Hunter Valley is a green patchwork of vines, fields, patchy forest and scattered hills. Opt for a balloon ride and gaze down at the famous wine region from a height. Ariel views of the vineyards and olive groves will take your breath away – guaranteed. Choose Beyond Ballooning and soar above the vines in the hands of a family run business with a real passion for the region. Beyond Ballooning is 40 years old, so they ooze experience and have an undying love for the Hunter Valley. The smallest balloons here carry two people, whilst the largest can carry 24! One hour in the sky will give you plenty of time to take in nature’s beauty.

Cafes and restaurants in the Hunter Valley

Recommending cafes and restaurants in the Hunter Valley is a daunting task, simply because there are so many excellent options. Most restaurants in this region will be welcoming, will serve up tasty fresh local produce and will only add to your Hunter Valley experience. Despite this, a few great places are worth a mention.

If you’re seeking cafes, heading to Maitland is ideal. In fact, if you opt for some accommodation near Maitland, you’ll find yourself less than 20 minutes from the vines, but in the centre of a bustling town centre surrounded by cafes and restaurants. One of those cafes in Maitland is The Bikesmith espresso bar. Passionate about both cycling and coffee, The Bikesmith makes a mean coffee and serves up some excellent treats. Yet what is best about this place is its intimate vibes and friendly atmosphere. Pop by, browse the bikes, and grab a coffee before heading out to the vines one morning during your Hunter Valley Weekend Escape.

image of local cafe the bikesmith in Maitland near Hunter Valley

The Bikesmith and Espresso Bar, Maitland. Pic credit: Destination NSW

If you’re simply looking for a good coffee, you might also like to head to Bliss Coffee Roasters in Rutherford. In fact, if you’re opting to stay in Maitland or Rutherford during your Hunter Valley Weekend Escape, this place is practically on the way to the vines. Bliss has exceptional coffee, gorgeous treats and you might even like to pick up some in house roasted beans to take with you.

The Hunter Valley is good at restaurants. In fact, you’d be catered for well just about anywhere. However, Bistro Molines is a wonderful place to start. Imagine being in the South of France, surrounded by greenery all the way to the horizon, sat upon wrought iron chairs on the stone patio, at your table traditionally covered with a white tablecloth. This is the vibe at Bistro Molines. Head here for delicious food, perfectly cooked and all made from local, seasonal produce. In fact, the food is so local, a vegetable garden on site provides some of the restaurant’s herbs and veggies. Naturally, the menu has French influences and has a strong essence of Provence.

image of bistro molines winery in Hunter Valley

Bistro Molines, Mount View. Pic credit: Destination NSW

You might also like to try the world-class food at EXP. Expect here a fabulous dining experience and high-quality Australian cuisine. Driven by the changing seasons, the menu here is focused on nothing but immense flavour. EXP has been included in Delicious Top 100 Restaurants for 2017, 2018 & 2019 and most recently they ranked 28. Another great thing about visiting EXP is that it’s right in Pokolbin, meaning you can sit in the heart of the valley for your meal. Hand crafted furniture and classy interiors finish off the exquisite vibe.

image of EXP restaurant in Hunter Valley

EXP. Restaurant. Pic credit: Destination NSW

NSW Weekend Escape’s top hotel pick!

Hunter Gateway Motel

The Hunter Gateway is found in Rutherford – placed between the the historic town of Maitland NSW (10 minutes by car) and the vineyards (20 minutes by car) in the other direction. There’s no better location to spend your NSW Weekend Escape. Setting off from the hotel in the morning, you can quickly access the best wineries and inviting lunch spots from this cosy hotel in Rutherford. Meanwhile, opt for a local restaurant in Maitland or Rutherford for your evening meal and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what’s on offer. With an outdoor pool on offer too, a stay here ticks all the boxes, especially for those travelling with kids.

image of hunter gateway motel

Rooms here range from queen rooms, to king spa rooms and family rooms, catering for all kinds of groups and budgets. Clean, crisp and simple interiors, paired with great coffee in rooms and an optional buffet breakfast offer a high level of comfort.

image of hunter gateway motel accommodation

Grab yourself a comfortable room at the Hunter Gateway Motel and spend a weekend amongst the vines, or exploring nearby towns and local attractions.

Book a room at the Hunter Gateway here.