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The ultimate holiday guide to theHunter

With Australia’s oldest wine region, bushwalks through ancient wilderness and coastal city adventures, there’s lots to experience in the Hunter region. And at just an hour or two from Sydney, a trip here is an easy long weekend escape.

 

Start by sipping that semillon among the vines of the Hunter Valley, or by spending a morning wandering between the stores of a market, where local producers sell cheeses, food-fresh fruit and vegetables, and artisanal crafts. Cap it off with a romantic stay on a winery property, or sleep snugly in a swag in a national park.

 

At Newcastle, take a refreshing dip in the gorgeous art deco ocean baths, roam historic streets and museums, and don’t stop till you’ve tried at least a cocktail or two at one of the city’s countless small bars. Round off the trip with a day or two on the waters of laidback Lake Macquarie.

Best places to visit in the Hunter, NSW

Lake Macquarie

Between Newcastle and Sydney lies the beachside city of Lake Macquarie. Here, you can splash in Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake, explore spectacular sea caverns at Caves Beach and bush camp near tumbling waterfalls.

Newcastle

Visit one of Australia’s oldest cities for stunning, crowd-free, surf beaches, coastal strolls rich with the tang of salt air and history, and to swim in an ocean pool carved by convicts. NSW’s second-largest city is also a foodie destination, with a buzzing culinary scene and easy-going weekend markets.

Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is a go-to food and wine escape for Sydneysiders and Newcastlians alike, being just a stone’s throw from both urban hubs. Expect gorgeous farming landscapes, countless cellar doors, and award-winning restaurants to work your way through.

Barrington Tops

Explore the ancient Gondwana Rainforests and gold rush heritage of the Barrington Tops National Park by whatever method floats your boat: by 4WD, mountain biking, or even your own two feet. Spend the night in riverside historical towns like Gloucester and Dungog, or sleep among nature in a bush camp.

Top things to do in the Hunter, NSW

Breweries & wineries

Hop onto a Hunter Valley wine tour, or hire a private driver to visit the region’s cellar doors. There’s the experimental Usher Tinkler Wines, housed in an early 20th century Pokolbin church, Keith Tulloch overlooking the crags of the Brokenback Ranges, or one of the valley’s oldest vineyards, Audrey Wilkinson. Sip a cold beer at FogHorn Brewery, at either its Hunter Valley or Newcastle pubs.

 

Pick out that picnic produce to go with your wine and beer at the Newcastle City Farmers Market, where farmers and gourmet creatives alike hustle to sell their wares on Sunday mornings.

Nature & rainforests

Once you’ve had your fill of paddleboarding across its calm waters or fishing in its depths for bream and squid, there’s plenty of other activities to do on dry land around Lake Macquarie. Take the five-kilometre Caves Beach walking track at Wallarah National Park, walk the rainforest gullies of the Watagan National Park, and sleep in its campgrounds.

 

Up in the Barrington Tops, take the easy Gloucester Falls walking track through the snow gums to see waters that plunge down into the bush valley, or extend the hike through sub-alpine bush woodland. To sharpen your navigation skills, the Barrington 4WD 15-kilometre trail is perfect for driving or mountain biking.

Attractions & activities

Pocket some sugar cubes and cling tight to your dog-eared copy of The Saddle Club – it’s time to put on your jodhpurs and go for a ride with Hunter Valley Horse Riding & Adventures. Offering trail rides, pony experiences for the little ones and a tractor tour of the farm, it’s a true country experience through and through.

 

Drift above the early morning mists of the Hunter Valley when you take to the skies in a hot air balloon, high above the vines and fields during the colourful Hunter Valley Balloon Fiesta.

 

At King Edward Park in Newcastle, swim at the heritage Bogey Hole, an ​​ocean swimming pool carved at the foot of sea cliffs by convicts in the early 19th century.

Accommodation in the Hunter, NSW

Camping & caravan parks

It’s no surprise that there are lots of holiday parks to pick from at family-friendly Lake Macquarie. Opt for a peaceful sleep in nature at Wangi Point Holiday Park, close to Watagans National Park, or book a dog-friendly cabin or campsite down at the waterfront BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Lake Macquarie. Alternatively, Frazer campground in Munmorah State Conservation Area has low-cost, back to basics beach camping.

 

The boutique Steps Barrington Campground in the foothills of the Tops has unpowered bushland camping sites with a hot shower block nestled around its river, as well as a self-contained cottage available to rent. For a more remote overnight trip, 4WD to the Gummi Falls campground in the wilderness between Scone and Gloucester.

Hotels & resorts

If you’re staying in town, Newcastle’s first five-star hotel, the Crystalbrook Kingsley is a luxurious urban hotel, close to the city’s beaches. Book dinner at Roundhouse, its rooftop restaurant to dine on local delicacies like Port Stephens Bluefin tuna and Hunter Valley sirloin steak. Find more Newcastle accommodation options here on our list of the best.

Unique & luxury accommodation

At Pokolbin, the six cottages of Billabong Moon each offer secluded outlooks of tranquil settings, not far from the Hunter Valley wineries. There are also a number of other hidden gem accommodation options in the Hunter Valley.

 

For an extra romantic stay, the adults-only five-star Cedars Mount View has self-contained villas overlooking the surrounding mountains. The staff can help organise opulent experiences, from helicopter winery tours to divine over-the-top proposals.

 

Book a houseboat at Lake Macquarie to be rocked to sleep on the water. Lake Macquarie Houseboats has several boats for hire for groups and families, and you can book the Wangi Wangi Houseboat for 10 on Airbnb.

Restaurants & pubs in the Hunter, NSW

Homeware shopping is primed to be combo-d with laidback brunch at Common Circus in Belmont, overlooking Lake Macquarie. Tuck into a smoked salmon cream cheese bagel while making up your mind on which cute vase to take home. At Mockingbird in Hamilton, Newcastle, the breakfast menu is as on point as its highly aesthetic presentation. Skip boring-old eggs and bacon, and order extravagant red velvet pancakes, draped in Persian fairy floss, or there are plenty of other excellent Newcastle cafes to choose from.

 

For your classic country town steak pie, stop at Hebby’s Bakery in Gloucester, Barrington Tops for a low-cost roadside lunch from an establishment that dates back to the thirties. At Maitland, The Icky Sticky Patisserie dishes up some incredibly fancy tarts and flaky pastries, as well as your classic sausage rolls. Stock up for a DIY picnic platter at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company in Pokolbin, making sure to taste their handmade cheeses in store. We’ve also rounded up a list of the best places to eat and drink in the Hunter Valley here.

 

Newcastle isn’t short of great bars and pubs. Duck down to the Newcastle harbour for a gig at the industrial-look Honeysuckle Hotel, grabbing salt and pepper squid and an espresso martini to enjoy while overlooking the water. For a sophisticated speakeasy, head on over for a whiskey sour at the intimate Coal & Cedar cocktail bar. (You just need to find the secret entrance first.)

 

For a fine-dining winery, the award-winning Muse Restaurant at Hungerford Hill has a discerning seasonal menu, as well as an ambient setting, with a cosy fireplace and views overlooking the nearby paddocks.

Getting to the Hunter, NSW

Newcastle is a two-hour drive north of Sydney, as is the Hunter Valley. To get between them, it is a 45-minute drive. Barrington Tops National Park is a three-hour drive north of Sydney, and a 1.5-hour drive northwest of Newcastle. You can also fly directly to Newcastle Airport, or take the train up from Sydney. Lake Macquarie is a 1.5-hour drive north of Sydney, and 40 minutes southwest of Newcastle.

Best time to visit the Hunter

The Hunter Valley is divine in any season. But if you visit in early winter, the Hunter Valley Wine & Food Festival at Pokolbin is on. In spring, the flowers are blossoming in the Hunter Valley Gardens, which come summer, light up for the Christmas Lights Spectacular.

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