Next time you get the urge for a road trip or weekend escape, Make it Maitland in the heart of the Hunter, an attractive self-drive destination where you can choose your own path, such as history and heritage or great food and wine.
The combination of boutique accommodation, a thriving arts scene, history and heritage, exciting new eateries, and proximity to a world-class wine region makes Maitland a magnet for pleasure-seekers of all stripes. Check out our guide to:
Picture this: you pull away from the Hunter Expressway, shift down a gear and follow a gentle curving roadway that winds into Maitland, where the views start to expand over a corrugated landscape. Propelling you around each and every bend in Maitland are new and exciting perspectives: add a few extra days to ensure you can cover all bases and see all Maitland has to offer.
Holidaymakers to the Lower Hunter Valley can arrive at their destination just two hours after leaving Sydney’s CBD, making it an attractive destination for a self-drive getaway and leaving plenty of time to capitalise on all there is to see and do in Maitland.
From premier attractions such as Maitland Gaol, to farm-fresh produce, food and drink, to the region’s progressive arty side, we’ve rounded up some of the must-dos in Maitland, perfect for both couples and families.
What to see and do in Maitland… for families
Maitland Gaol is one of the region’s top attractions. After operating as a correctional institution for 150 years, Maitland Gaol closed in 1998 and now offers a range of themed guided tours that give visitors an understanding of what life was like for prisoners and guards alike.
Snitch’s Gaol Exploration is a self-guided audio tour perfect to lead families around the maze of cells.
Meanwhile, you can muse on all Maitland has to offer through its culture of creativity, a story Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) tells beautifully through its family-friendly Free Art Sundays and Code Breakers puzzle activity designed to encourage children to explore the gallery.
Give your kids a history lesson with a walk around Walka Recreation and Wildlife Reserve, built around an old pumping station constructed in 1887, one of the largest and most intact 19th-century industrial complexes in the Hunter Valley.
There are 300 species of birdlife to observe, walking trails, and a playground at the popular picnic and recreation area, too.
An excursion to Purple Pear Farm also comes highly recommended. A working biodynamic permaculture farm that offers tours and courses, the kids are sure to be entertained by the range of animals that roam the farm.
Where to eat and drink in Maitland… for families
Families will love the fact there is ice-cream, handmade chocolate and an extensive cafe menu all in the one space at True Café and Chocolate.
Bribe your kids with brownie pops while you enjoy a brekkie burrito and coffee in this quirky cafe full of treasures such as old typewriters and other paraphernalia.
See how cordial is brewed and packaged using old-fashioned equipment at Morpeth Ginger Beer + Gourmet Foods. Just around the corner, Miss Lily’s Lollies will also create a happy diversion for those with children.
Stock up your hamper at these two places with everything from fruity-flavoured drinks to local jams, pickles, chutneys, honey and imported sweet treats to enjoy a picnic down by the river bank at The Levee, where locals loop along the river on bikes and on foot.
Dinner is literally crunch time when you take the kids to Ometto Pizza Bar, where you can watch the wood-fired oven flame away as it cooks your pizza – layered with folds of mozzarella and fior di latte – to perfection.
Where to stay in Maitland… for families
A late-afternoon traffic jam on the way to your accommodation at Hunter River Retreat is more likely to be the local livestock.
The retreat is only 20 minutes from Maitland, and a long way from big-city hustle and bustle.
In addition to the cosy accommodation, you may even get the chance to see wildlife in Maitland such as echidnas, wallaroos, kangaroos and wallabies.
Cedar Cottage sleeps eight people; invite the in-laws and be woken up by some morning moos outside your window courtesy of friendly Scottish Highland cattle, Molly and Murphy.
What to see and do in Maitland… for couples
Invite your food-loving squeeze along for an extended break to coincide with the Earth Markets Maitland, held on the first and third Thursday of each month from February to December. Stroll through the market and chat to local farmers about their fresh produce.
Often described as a regional city with a rural feel, Maitland is surrounded by farmland and full of enchanting pockets of history and heritage, including the iconic old farm shed painted with a Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills advertisement, which depicts how the corrugated iron outbuilding once looked.
Enjoy the view of the countryside from above from the cockpit of a historic DH-82 Tiger Moth with the Royal Newcastle Aero Club.
Nestled in Maitland’s countryside and overlooking the Hunter River is Tranquil Vale. Here wine enthusiasts are well catered for – the vines yield award-winning semillon, chardonnay and shiraz.
From rural settings to city experiences of Central Maitland, check out the contemporary art at MRAG in the swanky Paul Berkemeier-designed gallery, stand in awe in front of iconic The New One mural by Patricia Van Lubeck and check out some of the local independent galleries before visiting The Levee and Riverlink Building.
Morpeth is also a must, just 15 minutes’ drive from Central Maitland. Learn about this quaint village on the Morpeth Heritage Walk.
While strolling between the 25 sites you will learn about the history of buildings such as the Morpeth Railway Station and Astor Theatre, which date back to the mid-1800s.
Plan a return visit this September to see how things were done in days gone by at the Hunter Valley Steamfest, and get a feel for the local community at the Riverlights Multicultural Festival in October.
Where to eat and drink in Maitland… for couples
Much of the food and wine in Maitland is informed by the area’s verdant surrounds and that’s certainly for the best.
History is literally hidden in the walls of Boydell’s Cellar Door & Restaurant in the main street of Morpeth, in the landmark 1820s slab that was home to a blacksmith, pie man and clairvoyant (though not at the same time).
The menu prioritises food that matches well with the wines produced at Daniel and Jane Maroulis’s East Gresford vineyard, first established by Charles Boydell in 1826.
Duke’s Restaurant and Bar is another relative newcomer, opening its doors in historic Roseneath House in East Maitland in December 2020.
The cosy neighbourhood restaurant led by local chef Timothy Duke has a seasonal menu with dishes such as roast bone marrow with radish and eschalot salad and housemade ravioli with Warrigal greens.
The spotlight should also be on Maitland’s newest hipster hang, Cult of the Scorpion, for quirky cocktails and its good vibes only ethos.
Continue your contemporary bar crawl to The Pourhouse nearby, which is primarily an alehouse but also part live music venue and eatery; it’s where craft beer, classic cocktails and considered pub grub coexist in perfect harmony.
Where to stay in Maitland… for couples
The clue to the history of the William Arnott Hotel is in its name: it’s a nod to the Scottish founder of the iconic Australian biscuit manufacturer.
The accommodation is located on the site of the Historic Arnott Bakehouse, which was built in the 1830s. Fans of the Monte Carlo biscuit should stay in the Monte Carlo Penthouse, built in the late Victorian era.
Partake in A Sourdough Class with Stephen Arnott, founder of the Morpeth Sourdough bakery, in the original 1850s bakehouse where his ancestors toiled. It’s the kind of homey do-it-yourself pleasure – of making and breaking bread with a local – that makes a short break in Maitland a must.
All that clean living and fresh air has got to be good for you.