Now you can fly from Sydney to the Hunter Valley in around 45 minutes

Sydney to the Hunter in 45 minutes 

In a brand spanking new 12-seater plane (called a “camel”, unless I heard that wrong), Sydney Seaplanes is opening up the Hunter Valley like never before.  

Direct charter flights from Rose Bay in the Harbour-hedging eastern suburbs to the wine and golf-soaked Hunter are now flying in a new, slick Cessna. Being amphibious is helpful; you take off from the Harbour and land at Cessnock airport, in the heart of wine country.

Ours was a very smooth flight up the coast, dotted with expert commentary from our pilot. Did you know that Rose Bay was in fact the first international airport for Australia? QANTAS started international flights from here. Trips to England used to take 12 days and 41 stops. Times have certainly changed.

The beauty of seeing the pilot at work is that you marvel at the skill on takeoff and landing, however it’s a little disconcerting to watch autopilot take over and our pilot look up what I can only equate to the aeronautical equivalent of a UBD.

We were lucky enough to be able to take a detour over the stranded Pashsa Bulker, still looking quite forlorn wedged at high tide off the coast at Newcastle. Rescue operations were just getting underway as we “buzzed the tower” in very un-Top Gun style. Several tiny tugboats were converging on the stricken bulker, a huge task and at least several days of work ahead of them until optimum tidal conditions would drift away once more.

We had bigger fish to fry, though: the verdant and recently drowned Hunter Valley, still a few minutes ahead of us. Wheels down. Landing gear. Smooth landing. Disembark into a windy afternoon at Cessnock.

Crowne Plaza’s latest and greatest Australian property is right over the road from Cessnock airport, and the lakes of its superb golf course are full to bursting.

A swift left takes us into the heart of the wine region, toward Pokolbin Village with its oh so Smelly Cheese Shop. That’s not our first stop, though; instead we veer right down a long, long driveway and into Hope Estate winery, which looks just as fresh out of the wrapper as our Sydney Seaplane.

The first remarkable thing about this lovely winery is that ALL of the kangaroos in the area have adopted it as a daytime lounge room. There are between 150 and 300 of all sizes lounging alongside the driveway in grassy paddocks near the vineyard.

What are they doing here? It’s broad daylight! Our Hope Estate host, Kerriann, thinks she knows why. “We’re on a bit of a rise here at Hope, and with the recent rains and floods we think they’re happier with the higher ground.”

Keriann is certainly not complaining, though. And why should she? With a bit of clever marketing, this lazy mob could be a huge drawcard for the winery. Imagine being a visitor to the region (or, even better, to the country) and being confident of a place you could take your kids (or overseas visitors) to see around 100 mild-mannered kangaroos just chilling out? It’s a sight to see.

Hope we check out the cask room and sample some wines (the “Cracker” is, aptly, a cracker of a drop). The Cask Room is famous for the signed casks and in particular a cask with Gough Whitlam’s signature right alongside Malcolm Fraser’s.

A couple of women are setting up for a weekend wedding, so we get out of their way. It’s a beautiful place for a reception and with some nice weather it’ll be a superb weekend for them. In fact, between the wedding set-up, the Cracker and the kangaroos, I’m so impressed with the place that I immediately sign up to become a member. It’s free to join and you get a free magnum of wine and a Hope hat, so why not?

Next stop in our “Wendt on Tours” Mercedes van is the valley’s first large upmarket property, Cypress Lakes Resort, which also houses Golden Door Spa, a convention centre, a great and challenging golf course and very lovely apartment-style rooms.

We’re dining today with GM George Bedwani, who at first appearance looks Egyptian, although he sounds what I believe to be Italian. It turns out I’m half right: he was indeed born in Egypt (yes!), but grew up in France and also speaks fluent Greek. “How about Arabic?” jokes someone at the table. “Sure,” comes George’s reply. “But I can’t read it.”

He’s quite the educated and polished host, regaling us with so many hilarious and insightful stories about his passion for racehorses (including a LOT of useful trackside tips) that I immediately want to either invest with him or go straight to the track to put some things into practice.

The food at the Cypress Lakes restaurant is terrific. Instead of a single dish, George has arranged our main courses to be a selection of their signature dishes.

Our visit is a short one, however, and we’re soon saying our goodbyes to George and by 3pm we’re back on the seaplane. Total turnaround time? A noon departure from Rose Bay, a whirlwind tour of the Hunter, and we’re splashing back down (comfortably) in Rose Bay by 4pm – and that’s including an exciting banking run past the Bridge and Opera House.

All part of the service.

AT’s Verdict
This is a special occasion trip for locals and out-of-towners. A fantastic way to see the famous Hunter and its wineries from a unique perspective – the air – in luxurious style. For golfers there’s one little hitch: you can’t fit your clubs on the plane. So either have them delivered or stick to the wine tasting. (Sydney Seaplanes will make one small concession, though: two favourite clubs per passenger, so you can bring your favourite wedge and Big Bertha if you’re that finicky.)

DETAILS // Sydney Seaplane to the Hunter
Flexible Sydney Seaplane Tours of the Hunter are available from $735 per person, including lunch and a wine tour (taking in four wineries of your choice). You can also do specific golf packages or overnight trips and the minimum number required to get a plane off the ground is just two people. Definitely a great idea for a romantic getaway, or even a Mothers Day treat. More info at www.seaplanes.com.au or on 1300 732 752.

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