The beautiful Hunter Valley boasts world-famous wine, pristine natural wilderness, and a brilliant range of activities. Whether you plan to visit for a few hours, days or several weeks, we’ve put together everything you need to know to get the most out of a trip to the Hunter Valley. 

Keen to hear what that is? Let’s crack into it:

Hunter Valley Wine Tour

What is the Hunter Valley?

Geographically speaking, the Hunter Valley is a large region in New South Wales, also called the Hunter Region. It begins at Lake Macquarie about 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Sydney, and stretches up the coast past the town of Forster.

Further info: New South Wales Self-Drive Itineraries

The Hunter Valley extends inland towards the rural town of Murrurundi, and it’s bordered on its southern edge by the Wollemi National Park and Yengo National Park. However, usually when people say “the Hunter Valley,” they mean the fertile wine-growing area (and its many small towns) centred around Cessnock.

 

What is the Hunter Valley famous for?

Wine, wine and – did we mention wine?

First and foremost, the Hunter Valley has a world-class reputation when it comes to wine production. But that is just one of the things the Hunter Valley is famous for.

Hunter Valley highlights:

  • Wine: vineyards, winery tours, cellar doors, and tastings

  • Hot air ballooning 

  • Fine dining

  • Championship golf courses

  • Luxury spa retreats

  • Outdoor activities

  • National parks

  • Watersports

 

Hunter Valley Wines

Exploring the Hunter Valley

Let's look at the Hunter Valley's attractions in more detail:

Wine in the Hunter Valley – tours, tastings, and tips

The Hunter Valley is among the oldest of Australia's celebrated wine regions, and some vines here date back to the early 1800s. As a result, the Hunter Valley is home to dozens of wineries, miles of vineyards, and more cellar doors than any other region in Australia. 

Want to get a taste while in the area? Here’s a quick guide to Hunter Valley wine:

 

Famous Hunter Valley wines

The Hunter Valley built its global reputation on staunch, robust red Shiraz and sweet, dry white Semillon wines.

These two varieties are still dominant today, although a vast range of other high-quality varieties are produced across the Hunter Valley.

Wine Regions of the Hunter Valley

The designated Hunter Valley Wine Region encompasses three recognised subregions: Broke Fordwich, Pokolbin, and the Upper Hunter Valley.

Each region has distinctive characteristics; but also within each region there is a huge range of grape varieties grown and wines produced. So it’s hard to box all of them together. Lucky for us, that means there’s plenty of variety to enjoy!

The best Hunter Valley vineyards and cellar doors to visit

With more than 150 wineries offering cellar door tastings and dozens of vineyards open for tours, it’s hard to choose the best among Hunter Valley winemakers. The following stalwarts won’t disappoint any visitor:

  • Tyrell’s Vineyards, operating since 1858, is among the most distinguished of Australian family wine establishments. They also offer excellent tours every day, providing the best general introduction and overview of the production, history, and importance of wine in the Hunter Valley.

  • The Pepper Tree Cellar Door provides the quintessential Hunter Valley wine-tasting experience, replete with a superb setting and stunning views. If you’re short on time and looking for a one-stop shop to get a taste of numerous Hunter Valley varieties at their best, in one place, then this is a sound option. 

Worried about drinking and driving? Take a wine tour.

There’s an endless selection of wine tour operators in the Hunter Valley, covering something to suit every budget. You can pick and choose wineries and destinations on your own bespoke private tour; or jump into a budget-friendly group tour, which will take you around several vineyards and tastings by minivan.

 

Hunter Wine Tours

Golf, gastronomy, and other attractions in the Hunter Valley

Despite its deserved reputation, wine is far from the be-all and end-all of what Hunter Valley has to offer visitors:

Hunter Valley Restaurants

An exquisite fine dining scene has grown up alongside Hunter Valley’s famous wine industry.

Restaurants in the region who have been awarded a prestigious Chef’s Hat in The Age Sydney Good Food Guide include Bistro Molines, Margan, and Muse Kitchen. Some other exquisite high-end restaurants are Esca Bimbadgen and Circa 1836, a chic modern Australian fine-dining restaurant set in a restored country cottage.

More Hunter Valley restaurants in the Australian Good Food Guide

Hunter Valley Golf Courses

Following decades of wine tourism, the Hunter Valley region has also become synonymous with luxury spa retreats and championship-level golf courses. Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort is an ultra-refined, do-it-all golf resort with perfectly manicured fairways and plush on-site apartments. Alternatively, the Hunter Valley Golf & Country Club oozes Old World charm. And The Vintage Golf Club boasts an 18-hole Championship course designed by Australian golf legend Greg Norman.

Luxury Hunter Valley Spa Retreats

The long list of luxury spas in the Hunter Valley features large facilities like Hunter Valley Reflections Day Spa and Heavenly Hunter Massage at Mercure Resort.

There are also many smaller, exclusive sites offering a mixture of chic and unique: for example, The Spa at Chateau Elan, and the secluded Cabins in the Clouds, a collection of luxury wooden mountain cabins with verandahs, incredible views, and full-service spa treatments.

But it’s not all about glitz and glamour in the Hunter Valley. There’s also plenty of natural beauty and wilderness to explore, too. Plus unique local wildlife, rich cultural heritage, and plenty of charming historical towns to discover.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what activities and attractions you can expect:

Hunter Valley Golf

Outdoor activities in the Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley region encompasses several World Heritage nature reserves and multiple national parks.

So, with all that natural beauty, it’s hardly surprising that there’s no shortage of excellent outdoor activities on offer:

Bushwalking and hiking in the Hunter Valley


Short walks
For a rewarding panoramic viewpoint, hike up to Bimbadeen Lookout, Mount Bright Lookout, and Pokolbin Mountains Road Lookout. All are easily accessible from Cessnock within a few hours. The trails are challenging but manageable for all ability levels.

Another short but sweet option is the easy 30-minute City Farm walk to a ruined farmhouse. Or, try the beautiful Hunter Lookout to Glen Road Loop Track (1 hour), and the 3.9 km (2.4 mile) Scotts Point Loop.

80 of the best Hunter Valley Walking Tracks

 

Day walks
For a slightly longer Hunter Valley day walk, take the gentle 3.5-hour trail from Yarramalong to Cedar Bush, or the more challenging track from Yarramalong to Forest Road (also 3 hours 30 mins). For a more full-on, full-day bush walk, tackle the 7-hour, 17-kilometre (10.5 mile) Congewai Track Head (East) to Watagan Headquarters

 

Multi-day walking trails
Countless sections of the Great North Walk cut through the hills and landscapes of the Hunter Valley, so you can start and finish long-distance trails when and where you like. Some standard favourites, though, include the 2-day section from Somersby, through the Jilliby State Conservation Area, to Yarramalong via Stringy Bark Point and Bumble Hill

 

Serious multi-day hikes
If you’re looking to escape the real world and get deep into the forest for several days, the 4-day, 61-kilometre (40 mile) Basin Campsite to Heaton Gap Walk will guarantee just that. It passes through parts of the Olney State Forest, the Watagan State Forest, and the Congewai Valley.

7 Great Australian Hiking Trails to ease you in to the "Great Outdoors"

Hunter Valley Hiking

Fishing, swimming, kayaking, and water-skiing in the Hunter Valley

Lake St Clair, nestled beneath the foothills of the Mount Royal Range, is a favourite local spot for swimming, sailing, water-skiing, and sunbathing during the hot summer months. 

Lake St Clair is also one of the best places to go fishing in the Hunter Valley, too:

The NSW State Fisheries ensure the lake is regularly stocked with healthy levels of golden and silver perch, Australian bass, and catfish, as well as several other species.

You need to get a fishing license first, but that’s easily done – either at the Singleton Visitor Information and Enterprise Centre or directly from the Lake St Clair caretaker on-site.

 

Hot air ballooning in the Hunter Valley

Alongside wine, hot air balloon rides and million-dollar sunset photos are probably the things the Hunter Valley is most famous for. And considering the landscape and scenery, it’s hardly surprising.

Most trips last around an hour, which the perfect amount of time to soak up the pristine patchwork of vineyards, fields, and rolling hills covered in eucalyptus trees.

Sunset is the perfect – and most popular – time for hot air ballooning (especially for couples and honeymooners), for obvious reasons.

The Hunter Valley hosts an Annual Balloon Festival every October, which is an interesting time to visit, as you get to see the sky filled with colourful bubbles floating above the landscape.

 

Scenic flights in the Hunter Valley

Another aviation option for getting unforgettable views of the Hunter Valley is to take a scenic helicopter ride or aeroplane flight for fantastic aerial views.

At the other end of the adrenaline scale, you can take a thrilling aerobatic ride in a supercharged warbird jet plane with Aerohunter. You won’t have much time to take in the views. But it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

 

Hot Air Ballooning

Enjoy the Hunter Valley’s quaint towns and historical villages

Sure, the countryside is gorgeous. But that doesn’t mean you should skimp on time spent in the Hunter Valley’s charming towns.

 

  • Pokolbin – At the heart of Hunter Valley wine production, this pretty town is full of heritage buildings and surrounded by some of the country’s best-known vineyards. Don’t miss the fabulous Hunter Valley Gardens and their famous Storybook Garden. 

  • Cessnock – The biggest Hunter Valley town and gateway to the vineyards, Cessnock is home to award-winning restaurants, the acclaimed Marthaville Arts and Cultural Centre, Cessnock Regional Art Gallery, and the ever-popular Hunter Valley Zoo.

  • Broke – The hub of its eponymous wine region, Broke is a tiny, beautiful village with a fantastic monthly market. It also has direct access to Yengo National Park and its incredible Aboriginal heritage, including the Finchley Aboriginal engravings, which are detailed along the fabulous Finchley Cultural Walk.
Historic Villages of the Hunter Valley

Planning Your Trip to the Hunter Valley

How far is the Hunter Valley from Sydney?

The Hunter Valley region starts just over 100 kilometres (65 miles) north of Sydney. The main Hunter Valley towns are not much further away: Wollombi is roughly 128 kilometres (80 miles), and Cessnock 154 kilometres (94 miles), north of Sydney.

For an additional reference point, Cessnock is 52 kilometres (32 miles), and Wollombi 80 kilometres (50 miles), west of Newcastle.

 

How do you get to the Hunter Valley from Sydney?

No matter which part of it you’re planning to travel to, or how you’re getting there, the Hunter Valley is only a few hours away from central Sydney.

 

Hunter Valley Driving Directions from Sydney:

If you’re driving to the Hunter Valley from central Sydney, head over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and get onto the Pacific Highway (A1). Then turn onto the Pacific Motorway (M1) at Wahroonga. 

From Wahroonga, you have two options:

  • Driving to Cessnock – Follow the M1 for about 100 kilometres (65 miles), then take the B82 exit ramp at Freeman’s Drive and follow the signs along the B82 to Cessnock. It should take around 1 hour 50 minutes total from Sydney.
     
  • Driving to Wollombi – Follow the M1 for about 40 kilometres (25 miles) until the Calga Interchange at Peats Ridge, where you should exit onto Tourist Drive 33. Enjoy this beautiful route through the mountains, which will lead you straight into Wollombi. The total driving time from Sydney should be around 1 hour 45 minutes.

Driving in Australia: A bigger deal than you might think

 

Can you catch a train to the Hunter Valley?

Yes! 

In fact, there are two options for taking the train from Sydney to the Hunter Valley:

  • NSW TrainLink – The North West line offers direct services from Sydney Central Station to Maitland (3 hours) and Singleton (3 hours 10 minutes). From either town, there are many local bus services to get you to all other Hunter Valley towns. As well as taxi and private transfer services, if you prefer to get straight to your Hunter Valley accommodation.
  • The Hunter Line – Alternatively, depending on where you book your Hunter Valley accommodation, it might make more sense to take the train from Sydney to Newcastle, and then pick up the Hunter Line. The main advantage is that this dedicated train service into the Hunter Valley stops at many stations and smaller towns along the way, including Tarro, Thornton, and Branxton. It will take a little over 3 hours total from Sydney Central.
Train into the Hunter Valley

When is the best time to visit the Hunter Valley?

Choosing the best time of year to visit the Hunter Valley depends largely on what you want to do while you’re there:

  • Spring (September to November) is the best time for hot-air ballooning or for visiting the Hunter Valley gardens, as the post-winter pastures become a tapestry of blooming wildflowers and lush green fields after the winter rains.

  • Summer (December to February) is the best time for cellar-door wine tastings and vineyard tours, as it’s harvest season and the wineries are a hive of activity. It’s also the best time for swimming.

  • Autumn (March to May) is the perfect time for hiking in the Hunter Valley’s national parks, with cooler, pleasant temperatures and minimal rainfall. 

  • Winter (June to August) can be tough in the Hunter Valley, with high rainfall and occasional cold snaps keeping you mostly indoors. But if you want to avoid the crowds and have total tranquillity and serious serenity, then this is definitely the time to come.

When is the best season to visit Australia?

 

Beautiful Hunter Valley

Where to stay in the Hunter Valley

There is a huge range of accommodation options in the Hunter Valley. With a bit of looking around, you’re bound to find something to suit your particular taste, style, budget, and preferences.

Here are a few ideas:

Splash out: Luxury lodges and historic hotels in the Hunter Valley

  • Lilies Luxury Retreat, near Lovedale, offers serious exclusivity: a 2-bedroom cottage on a 23-acre piece of land that feels like your own world, adjacent to a boutique wine-growing area. 

  • The exquisite Convent Hunter Valley, built in 1909 and relocated to Pokolbin in 1990, was nominated for the prestigious World Luxury Hotel Award. It offers all the trappings and services of the Golden Age of Old World luxury hotels.
     

Treat yourself: Stylish Hunter Valley accommodation and cosy, comfortable cabins

  • Many Hunter Valley vineyards offer on-site accommodation in comfortable, self-contained cottages suiting a mid-range budget, including Spicers Vineyard, Winmark Wines, and Tatler Wines Estate

  • Lovedale Cottages and Stonehurst Cedar Creek Cottages provide quaint, country-style cottages, with all modern comforts, in tranquil rural settings. 
     

Keep it simple: Camping and budget accommodation in the Hunter Valley

  • There are excellent campgrounds within the Hunter Valley at Lake St Clair, McNamara Park, and Dashville, plus the Wine Country Tourist Park (with RV facilities) in Nulkaba.
     

If you don’t have your own tent or campervan, but are still looking for budget lodging, don’t worry – the excellent Hunter Valley Youth Hostel in Nulkaba is clean and comfortable. It also boasts a balcony with sunset views to rival any of the private accommodation options listed above.

Campervan Driving in Australia: A Travellers' Guide

 

Visiting the Hunter Valley with pets

If you’re an Australian resident and you're asking yourself, “can I bring the dog to the Hunter Valley?” then the answer is a resounding YES!

Dog restrictions and leash regulations
Of course, there are sections within the national parks where dogs are forbidden. And in other areas, dogs are permitted only on a leash. However, there are plenty of well-marked areas where dogs are free to run around off the leash: including Miller Park in Branxton, Hall Park and Manning Park in Cessnock, Varty Park in Weston, and Greta’s Central Park.

Pet-friendly accommodation in the Hunter Valley
There is also a wide range of pet-friendly accommodation options in the Hunter Valley. Whether elegant country cottages like Misty Glen Cottage, on-site cabins at working vineyards and wineries (such as Wirral Grange), plush hotels like Voco Kirkton Park, or central apartments in Pokolbin and Cessnock through Hunter Valley Stays, there are pet-friendly accommodation options within every budget.

 

So, ready to go? Start planning your trip to the Hunter Valley now!

We hope this has helped to answer some of the questions you may have about how to travel to the Hunter Valley. In summary:

  • The Hunter Valley is about 2 hours from Sydney, easy to reach by car or train.

  • The Hunter Valley is famous for its wine. But it also has a full range of excellent outdoor and family-friendly activities

  • The Hunter Valley has accommodation options to suit every style and budget.
     

The bottom line is that whenever you plan to go and whatever you plan to do, the Hunter Valley is a surefire pleaser for travellers.

If you’re still unsure about anything, why not have a go at using First Light Travel’s free travel planning service? It won’t cost you anything. As official "Aussie Specialists" we’re sure we can point you in the right direction for anything you need to know.

Or, if you’re already convinced, clear, and ready to go, you can go ahead and book your trip to the Hunter Valley online now!

David Mckenzie
Submitted by
David Mckenzie
: 10 Sep 2019 (Last updated: 19 Feb 2020)

Subscribe to our blog

Sign up to our blog newsletter to get the latest updates.

*We will not spam your email, this newletter is sent once a month or so.