The Hunter Valley in Australia is about 120km north of Sydney making it a great destination for a weekend trip or an addon to your New South Wales itinerary. It’s most commonly known for its wineries although there’s a great food scene there too with local cheese, chocolate and other producers growing in size.
Whilst many of the hotels in the area are pretty luxurious, it’s possible to visit the Hunter Valley on a buget too. Just opt for camping and tour the vineyards by yourself on bikes, or foot, as we did. I highly recommend the Active Holidays campsite (see my map for directions!) just as you’re coming in to Cessnock. It’s extremely clean, has kitchen facilities and very friendly owners who’ll help you sort anything out, make bookings and give you super handy maps of The Valley.
Most people go to the Hunter Valley for the wine, but it’s definitely worth getting stuck into the food too! Below are some of the places we stopped off at during our cycling trip around The Hunter Valley (definitely more food than wine…) and a few places that came highly recommended.
Places we ate & drank at in the Hunter Valley
Hunter Valley Cheese Factory
The Hunter Valley Cheese Factory is currently based within part of the factory for McGuigan wines. This meant that the cheese making tour wasn’t running as it normally would (we couldn’t see any cheese being made), but there are still daily cheese making talks. On these talks you’ll find out how the company make their cheese – it’s all by hand!
There’s a small cafe in the cheese shop where you can grab a cheese tasting board with some crackers and a deli full of their cheese (of course) and many other tasty things!
Smelly Cheese Shop
Just across the road from the Hunter Valley Cheese Company is the Smelly Cheese Shop. Don’t be put off by the name – the cheese isn’t actuallay that smelly. Sure, some of it might be, but you’re not overwhelmed by the smell when you walk in!
Here you can sample 5 cheese for about a few $AUD. You’ll get three samples of their most popular cheese before getting to pick two of your own.
Their Brie was the best brie I’ve ever had. Sometimes I find brie a bit too strong but this one was really creamy. In fact, it was so good we bought one and ate it with some crackers (also from their shop) outside on their beautiful terrace.
Hunter Valley Beer Co.
After a long day’s cycling we pulled over at Hunter Valley Beer Co. which was just across from our campsite.
As you’d expect, they’ve tonnes of beers and we went for their ‘beer paddle’. With this you could choose to have four different types of beers (roughly half pint sized). It also came with some crispy nuts for us hungry cyclists!
Their ginger beer was particularly good. Different to other ginger ones I’ve tried with a bit more warmth to it. If you go, try it!
The Beer Company has a great outside space, as well as indoor space, and a restaurant that looked like it was serving up some tasty stuff.
The McGuigan Vineyard is just next door to the Hunter Valley Cheese Company. They do daily vineyard tours but for some reason there wasn’t one running on the day we turned up.
As a replacement for this we indulged in some wine tasting with the woman giving us lots of information about the different types of wine (and helped us novices look like wine tasting pros too).
We tried their red wines, all of which were pretty nice. The prices varied wildly from about $11 a bottle to much, much more expensive.
It’s a good place to pick up a bottle for a picnic lunch, or you can take it next door to the cheese company and eat alongside some of their cheese.
Hunter Honey Hive
Pokolbin isn’t actually a town but an area of the Hunter Vallley with the highest concentration of vineyards and shops. Despite not being a real town, there’s a little area called Pokolbin Village where there are a few cafes and a general store.
It’s in the general store that you’ll find the Hunter Honey Hive which is full of pretty much everything you could ever make out of honey.
If you’re a honey fan you’ll love their different types of honey. There’s vanilla, chilli… all sorts!
and a few we didn’t visit, but come highly recommended
Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard
The Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard has been voted one of the Top 10 Cellar Doors in Australia. It was also the only one to make it on to the list from New South Wales. It’s undoubtedly in a pretty location; perched atop a hill of the Brokenback Mountain Ranges with 360-degree views over the hillsides and groves of the Hunter Valley.
Hunters Quarter Restaurant
We tried to go to this restaurant on our last night in Australia only to find out that it was entirely booked out for a private function (top tip: always book in Hunter Valley, it’s busy!). We did make it inside though and it looked beautiful.
The restaurant is on the Cockfighters Ghost Vineyard so you’ll see a lot of their wines on your menu. If you’re visiting for lunch during the summer, try and get a table out on the terrace where you can look out onto the vineyard.
The restaurant focuses on fresh, seasonal dushes and tries to use as much local produce as possible.
Two Fat Blokes
These guys do award winning food and put on tours around the Hunter Valley that are highly recommended. The main attraction is their deli. They’ve aimed to make it feel as though you’re in Provence or Tuscany and serve up a type of antipasti menu where you can pick at lots of different snacks, as well as more formal dishes.
There’s also everything you need for a picnic and they’ll happily put together a picnic hamper for you too.