NSW’s Wine Country is known around the world for its flourishing food and wine scene. But there are also so many things to do in the Hunter Valley that the region dazzles as a destination for out-of-towners.
In addition to its 150+ cellar doors, an escape to the Hunter Valley could involve everything from horse riding through some of Australia’s oldest vines to picnics in the picturesque countryside. There’s also the option of hot-air ballooning, paint-and-sip sessions, Segway tours, wellness retreats and much more besides.
Whether you’re a teetotaller or a wine buff, a couple looking for romance, a group of hens in party mode, or a family looking for an escape to the country, we’ve got you covered with our list of the 25 best things to do in the Hunter Valley.
1. Horse riding in the Hunter Valley
Reject the need to rush around to as many Hunter Valley wineries as you can and instead explore the terrain on horseback. Although Murchessons Horseback Wine & Dine Tours do include alcoholic beverages, the ride can also be tailored to suit teetotallers and designated drivers, too.
Go horseback riding with Murchessons Horseback Wine & Dine Tours. (Image: Destination NSW)
The relaxed rides, which cater to everyone from beginners to advanced, have two guides and a maximum of six riders per trek. Plod through the fields and vineyards of Hanging Tree Wines and Iron Gate Estate and take time to appreciate the picturesque countryside by unfurling your red-checked rug for a picnic in the Hunter Valley.
Take in the picturesque countryside scenery at Hanging Tree Wines. (Image: Destination NSW)
2. Hunter Valley hot-air ballooning
There’s nothing as romantic as taking your flame hot-air ballooning. Rise above the Earth in the buttery light of dawn to get a bird’s-eye view of the Hunter Valley during a hot-air balloon ride.
Book the Balloon Aloft experience to marvel at the views from above. (Image: Destination NSW)
The view from above as the horizon is smudged in a burnt orange hue is spectacular and watching the pre-dawn light paint the landscape is a quiet kind of thrill. Balloon Aloft, Beyond Ballooning and Hunter Valley Ballooning all set off at sunrise. Plump for the Balloon Aloft experience, which includes breakfast and bubbles at Petersen House Winery, one of the unmissable Hunter Valley wineries.
Soar high above the clouds on a hot air balloon. (Image: Destination NSW)
3. Hunter Valley scenic flights
The Hunter Valley stretches over about 30,000 square kilometres, which means seeing it from above has its advantages as you can cover a lot of ground. Romantics should ask Aero Logistics Helicopters to curate a bespoke itinerary that includes visits to the many cutting-edge cellar doors peppered across the region and map your route to include restaurants such as Esca Bimbadgen, which has an adjacent helipad.
Embark on a scenic flight around Hunter Valley. (Image: Destination NSW)
A scenic flight over the Hunter Valley can also be experienced with Aerohunter Adventure Flights in one of Australia’s rarest war birds, a Yak 52. Expect a few loop-de-loops in the military aeroplane, an experience that is best enjoyed before sampling the local wines. Getting that bird’s-eye view in a scenic flight over the jewel-like countryside is one of the most romantic ways to appreciate the Hunter Valley.
4. Skydiving Hunter Valley
Dive headfirst into your weekend in the Hunter Valley with a skydiving adventure with Skydive Hunter. Skydiving in the Hunter Valley remains one of the best bucket list ideas for adrenalin-seeking lovebirds. There’s nothing that quite gets the heart racing as plummeting toward the earth while the G-forces pull your face into a permanent grin.
Tandem jumps are the go here, unless you’re qualified. Once your parachute has been deployed, you can enjoy the more mellow experience of floating above the countryside. For city folks, the added thrill of seeing pastures dotted with cows and sheep is real.
5. Picnic in a Hunter Valley vineyard
Lying on a red-checked blanket in a field threaded with vines is about as romantic as it gets. You can ask Miss Mays Picnics to put together a luxuriously styled spread with one of the Hunter Valley wineries it partners with.
You can also forage for ingredients yourself on the Hunter Valley chocolate and cheese trail and at foodie pit stops such as Lovedale Smokehouse Gourmet Pantry and the Hunter Valley Smelly Deli. Pukara Estate Pokolbin, Binnorie Dairy Cheese and Tinkler Fresh Seasonal Produce also rank as some of the best places to pick up provisions.
Fill your basket with fruits from Tinkler Fresh Seasonal Produce. (Image: Destination NSW)
Schedule a return visit for the Lovedale Long Lunch, a progressive banquet designed to lure visitors to linger in Lovedale.
6. Best dining in the Hunter Valley
You will be spoilt for choice in the Hunter Valley if your other half is a foodie. Instead of doing dinner, you could shake things up and do brunch or lunch, as there are many great places to eat and drink in the region.
Book a table for two at Bistro Molines. (Image: Destination NSW)
When it comes to romantic restaurants in the Hunter Valley, Bistro Molines should be on the list. Two-hatted Muse Restaurant is also a must, with its swish staff, playful platings and food that’s so carefully cooked.
Indulge in mouth-watering meals at Bistro Molines. (Image: MJK Creative)
Ask for a corner table at 1813 or Margan Estate, both great places to impress. Enjoy a horse-and-carriage ride with Hunter Valley Classic Carriages back to your room at The Lane Retreat.
Nab a spot at the restaurant in Margan Estate.
7. Visit the Hunter Valley Zoo
Families have been drawn to the Hunter Valley for decades due to the diverse range of attractions. Let’s start with hiking, biking and being in nature, which are classic family activities for a reason. The stunning bushland in the Hunter Valley provides a starting point for families by offering them the chance to switch off and recalibrate.
The Hunter Valley Zoo can facilitate that much-needed family time. The zoo is spread out over four hectares, making it doable for little legs to bounce between enclosures. Children can see Australian birds, native mammals and reptiles as well as African animals such as lions and cheetahs. You’ll find the Hunter Valley Zoo in Nukulba, five minutes from Cessnock.
8. Hunter Valley Gardens
Hunter Valley Gardens also provide children with much to contemplate far away from the distractions of technology. Whether walking along leaf-strewn paths in autumn, picnicking under a protective canopy in summer, or falling into the pages of fairy tales in the Storybook Garden in spring, the sightseeing has something to suit every member of the family.
Visit the scenic Oriental Garden section of the Hunter Valley Gardens. (Image: Destination NSW)
Get onboard the Hunter Valley Gardens Train to explore the 14-hectare Hunter Valley Gardens, which features Aqua Golf and Putt Putt as well as permanent rides such as a Ferris wheel and Superslide.
Take the kids on the Swing Chair ride. (Image: Destination NSW)
Book into the nearby Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, one of the best places to stay in the Hunter Valley for your return visit to see the Christmas Lights Spectacular in December, Easter Egg Hunt in April and Snow Time in June. Green Thumbs will also enjoy a visit to the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens.
9. Family-friendly wine tasting
Sometimes a bit of space to run and jump is all that is required to keep children happy. At other times, you may need to bribe them with treats to sit still (until the sugar kicks in that is). Tulloch Wines and Saddler’s Creek Wines both offer great child-friendly tasting options.
While the adults will love sitting and sipping six top drops at Tulloch Wines, a specially prepared kids’ tasting of four different kombucha soft drinks with matching snacks will satisfy tiny tasters.
Other kid-friendly cellar doors include Scarborough Wine Co. which has hula hoops, giant Jenga and skipping ropes, and RidgeView Wines, which has old-school Totem Tennis and fish to feed in the dams.
10. Cooking classes in the Hunter Valley
Planning a hens’ weekend in the Hunter Valley? Well, why not get together with your gal pals and try to improve your culinary repertoire and kitchen skills. Perhaps you want to master paella? Maybe you want to learn how to make artisan cheese? Or join a low and slow smoking class?
The cooking classes on offer in the Hunter Valley are all pretty casual, so you get to enjoy a bit of tableside chatter followed by a spot of lunch or dinner without having to worry about the washing up. Book ahead for Majors Lane Cooking School, Our Italian Table, and the Lovedale Smokehouse Café & Deli Cooking School.
11. Self-cater in style in the Hunter Valley
Boyd & Co. will do private in-house catering when you book a stay at Tinonee Vineyard Estate (at the 1813 cellar door). It’s one of the most beautiful places to stay amid the vines and roses of the tranquil Broke Fordwich region of the Hunter Valley.
Miss May’s Picnics can also come to the party with themes that range from ‘Retro Vintage’ to ‘Amalfi Coast’ depending on your vibe and tribe. Check out our guide to beautiful luxury accommodation in the Hunter Valley for inspiration.
12. Visit a day spa or wellness retreat in the Hunter Valley
If you’re organising your best friend’s hen’s weekend away, it’s likely there will be a handful of cellar doors and a sprinkle of great restaurants on the itinerary. But if the bride-to-be and your fellow bridesmaids would like to include an emphasis on exercise and balance out the wine with a bit of wellness, you should factor in some time at one of the luxurious Hunter Valley spas.
Get pampered at Elysia Wellness Retreat.
Book in for a massage at Heavenly Hunter Massage in Pokolbin, Bhutra Thai Massage or Ubika Spa Alternatively, you can check into a wellness retreat such as The Spa at Chateau Elan Hunter Valley or Elysia Wellness Retreat to pause and reset for the entire weekend.
13. Paint and sip in the Hunter Valley
Master the art of painting en plein air at a private Stay and Sip session inspired by the wineries. Those who lack confidence when it comes to picking up a paintbrush are made to feel at ease in the classes, led by founders Pierre and Mercedes who work with local boutique producers to curate a laid-back fun-filled experience that includes a wine tasting, cheese and much laughter over lunch. Participants will get to take away their works of art, which serve as a memento of a great weekend.
14. The Twilight Margan Experience
The sustainable philosophy driving Margan Estate gently threads through the entire property and the Twilight Margan Experience is one of the most meaningful things to do in the Hunter Valley.
The picture-perfect views at Margan Estate. (Image: Destination NSW)
The adventure starts with a vermouth cocktail while wandering through the kitchen garden. It then follows with a walk around the olive grove and past the tangled vines for a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery.
Wander through the estate’s kitchen garden. (Image: Destination NSW)
The highlight? Tasting wines yet to be released from the barrel. Learn how the single-vineyard wines are produced – from the grape to the glass – as the sun sets on the day. The Twilight Experience, held over the summer, includes an off-grid degustation dinner in the restaurant.
Spot farm animals within the estate. (Image: Destination NSW)
15. The Icons of the Hunter Ultimate Winery Experience
Hunter Valley is home to some of the oldest vines in Australia and you will visit three of the region’s most respected during an Ultimate Winery Experience Australia tour dubbed Icons of the Hunter.
Audrey Wilkinson has to be one of the most beautiful vineyards in the Hunter.
This terroir-led tour will give wine enthusiasts a better understanding of how the different sub-regions affect the wine in a trifecta of signature experiences, which also vary from vineyard to vineyard at Audrey Wilkinson, Brokenwood and Tyrrell’s.
Sip the finest wines at Brokenwood. (Image: Destination NSW)
Join Ngarrindjeri elder Mark Koolmatrie for a walk on Country at Gemtree Wines who partnered with the senior cultural custodian to share Tirkandi – Culture, Connection and Country, for another inspired Ultimate Winery Experience.
Enjoy the view overlooking the scenic vineyards of Audrey Wilkinson.
16. Attend a music festival
There are plenty of things you can do in the Hunter Valley without wine, whether you’re a teetotaller, sober-curious, or attempting Dry July.
For starters, non-drinkers might also be keen on a kombucha tasting at Tulloch Wines. There are also the world-class restaurants to enjoy and everything from hiking to hot air ballooning in the Hunter and even unwinding at a day spa.
Those who want to see another side of the Hunter Valley region should time their visit to coincide with one of the region’s annual music festivals. Expect an outstanding line-up of musicians in the Hunter Valley everywhere from the Cessnock Stomp Festival to A Day on the Green and Grapevine Gathering.
17. Bike or segway through the Hunter Valley
Pick up an electric bike from Sutton Estate Electric Bike Hire to explore the Hunter Valley, which is ribboned with bike paths, including the 10-kilometre cycleway along Hermitage Road.
Ride an electric bike around Sutton Estate. (Image: Destination NSW)
Flick the switch to Turbo and flit between the different dairies marked on your wine country map, such as Binnorie Dairy, Hunter Belle Cheese, Hunter Valley Cheese Factory or Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese.
Drop by Hunter Belle Cheese along the way.
The Hunter Valley Resort is one of the most family-friendly places to stay in the Hunter Valley and it’s from here that visitors can also set off with Segway Tours Hunter Valley along an old 1880s stock route, which is fringed with beautiful bushland.
Take a Segway tour at the heart of the wine country. (Image: Destination NSW)
18. Join a Hunter Valley wine tour
While some wineries charge a fee to sample wines, others offer one-on-one tutorials with the winemaker. Most places will ship a box of wine home for you (for a fee). To get the most out of your tasting experience, join Tastes of the Hunter Wine Tours, or become a member so you get a VIP experience. Many of the boutique Hunter Valley producers rely on cellar door sales to survive so your server will appreciate your enthusiasm and commitment to a minimum spend.
Sample wines inside the cellar door of Brokenwood. (Image: Destination NSW)
19. Enjoy a round of golf in the Hunter Valley
Want a golf holiday in the Hunter Valley? The Hunter Valley Golf Club on the grounds of Rydges Resort Hunter Valley is a good place to start with a championship golf course that is one of the most noteworthy.
The golf course is suited to golfers of all levels and the backdrop, of the Broken Back Ranges in the distance, is spectacular. You can also join your friends on the fairway at the Vintage Golf Club in Rothbury, a Greg Norman-designed course where you can test your mettle in the bunkers, alongside wetlands and vineyards and around groves of trees near Bimbadgen Estate.
Stay at Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort to gain access to the Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club, a Steve Smyers-designed championships course.
Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club is the perfect spot for a golf holiday. (Image: Destination NSW)
20. Visit the historic Hunter Valley town of Morpeth
Explore 25 Morpeth Heritage Walk sites to get a feel for the Hunter Valley’s history and heritage. Snap a selfie in front of the iconic farm shed painted with a Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills advertisement. Travel to Purple Pear Farm and Morpeth Ginger Beer + Gourmet Foods to bring back food-focused souvenirs from your escape to the country.
Feed the ducks at Purple Pear Farm. (Image: Maitland City Council)
A lot of the heritage buildings in the historic township on the Hunter River are still standing and the diverse range of boutiques, cafes, galleries and scenery makes Morpeth a must-visit. Look for the candy-striped awning at ever-so-quaint Miss Lily’s Lollies, which is a sticky lure for families.
Get an up-close encounter with chickens at Purple Pear Farm. (Image: Maitland City Council)
21. Play paintball or go go-karting
Want to reward the children for schlepping along to countless cellar doors? Channel your inner rev head and put the pedal to the metal while racing up to 70 kilometres an hour along the 850-metre-long course at Go Karts Go Hunter Valley.
The RIMO Schumacher Go-Karts are designed for both children and adults and there are twin-seaters for little ones, too. It’s fast and furious, but steering around the twisting track is also a lot of fun.
There are some concessions you need to make as a parent: for some of us, playing paintball is one of them. Put your pride aside and let the family fun begin at Hunter Valley Paintball.
22. Join a Hunter Valley harvest
Want to do something different in the Hunter Valley? Ambitious oenophiles might like to start planning for a spot of grape stomping during the next Hunter Valley harvest.
A visit to Hunter Valley is not complete without grape stomping. (Image: Destination NSW)
Jump into an oak barrel barefoot to take part in the age-old tradition of pressing wine grapes by foot, followed by a few glasses of the best Hunter Valley varietals.
Grape stomping is seasonal and on offer at the Hunter Valley Resort. You can also take part in Barrel Rolling, one of the quirkier activities on offer in the Hunter Valley.
Barrel-rolling activities await at Hunter Valley Resort. (Image: Destination NSW)
23. Follow an epic spirit and ale trail in the Hunter Valley
In a region known for its wine, it might come as somewhat of a surprise to learn that the Hunter Valley breweries and gin and vodka distilleries are some of the best NSW has to offer.
From Foghorn Brewery to Hunter Distillery, Small Mouth Vodka and Pokolbin Cider House, these destination distilleries and breweries give hopheads and lovers of small-batch artisan spirits another reason to head to the Hunter.
24. Spend the day bushwalking in the Hunter Valley
There are some superb national environments to be explored in the Hunter Valley. Hike to the Forestry Hut in the Werakata National Park, in the Lower Valley, gaze out from a lookout in Heaton State Forest, part of the Watagan Mountains and explore Mount Royal National Park, part of Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Apart from the farmland the Hunter Valley is known for, the topography of the region includes grassy mid-altitude forests, wet eucalypt forests and vast swathes of shrubland. You can also hike to the lookout on the top of Pokolbin Mountain which has views over some of the region’s oldest vineyards.
25. Enjoy a Hunter Valley cheese tasting
The beauty of signing up for a formal cheese tasting at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company is that the experts will curate a selection of the seasonal best. The offering includes 20 cheeses ranging from Branxton brie to vintage cheddar, goat’s cheese and blue vein.
Head to Hunter Valley Cheese Co. for a delicious selection of cheese tastings.
Time your visit to the Hunter Valley Cheese Company to coincide with lunch and you can add a few additional ingredients such as cold cuts, local olives, dips, cornichons, salmon, and anchovies.
For more inspiration, hidden gems and insider tips to help you plan your getaway, visit our Hunter Valley travel hub.