Girl in the Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley Vineyard Tour Wedding at Circa 1876 Hunter Valley Halls Road Walk Hunter Valley New South Wales

For somewhere that is less than 2 hours drive from Sydney, we don’t go to the Hunter Valley nearly enough. We were lucky to be invited to a gorgeous wedding at Circa 1876 between Christmas and New Years, however, and stayed at the Convent next door – a gorgeous boutique hotel that has now topped my list of affordable but luxurious places to stay in NSW.

The wedding itself was gorgeous, one of the nicest and most heartfelt weddings I have had the privilege of attending, and it was a great opportunity to explore the Circa 1876 vegetable garden that the restaurant uses to supply some of the produce for their dishes. The vegetable garden is large and varied, with lots of herbs, trussed tomatoes, globe artichokes and feathery fennel.

With only 48 hours to play in the Hunter (and temperatures above 40 degrees centigrade) we had a very laid-back day visiting vineyards after the wedding. We picked up the makings of a picnic lunch from Binnorie Dairy (which we enjoyed from our private balcony looking over the Convent gardens), and went for an afternoon swim in the hotel pool before hitting a few more vineyards in the early evening.  One of the best vineyards we visited was Petersons, where ‘John the Pom’ treated us to a special tasting in the private members room.

Stayed at: The Convent
Ate at: Restaurant Cuvee, Peterson House, Circa 1876, Binnoire Dairy
Explored: Hunter Valley Vineyards
Region Highlights: Broke, Pokolbin, Lovedale, Wollombi, Wollemi

Melbourne Day Trip: Macedon Ranges, VIC

Granite Hills Winery, Macedon Ranges

Just an hour from Melbourne, The Macedon Ranges offer a perfect out of town day trip.  Even in rainy September, this hilly rural area was on fine display with daffodils blooming everywhere as the towns and vineyards en route celebrated the coming of spring.

If you are planning on wine tasting, aim for a Friday or Saturday when more vineyards are open. On the Thursday we set out, there were 7 easily identifiable vineyards open for tastings, but they were spread out over a wide area and we had to plan our route.  Granite Hills in Baynton was our pick of the bunch with a smart cellar door, a welcoming host and an impressive range of fragrant and complex cool climate wines.

After hitting a few vineyards we stopped in trendy Kyneton for a late lunch.  The main drag Piper Street is full of edgy and interesting artisan clothing, antique, homeware and culinary stores housed in historic shopfronts (vintage homewares store Kabinett was particularly awesome). Right in the middle  of Piper Street is historic pub The Royal George Hotel, revisioned five years ago as a low key hipster mecca, complete with taxidermy, peeling wallpaper, a large range of craft beers.  The chilled out modern folk on the stereo on the day we were dining included Blitzen Trapper, Bright Eyes and Dana Falconberry.

It would be easy enough to head on from Kyneton to Daylesford and make a proper weekend of it, but as we had to return our rental car by 6pm, we headed off from Kyneton at about 4pm for an easy 60 minute drive back to the Melbourne CBD.  I’ve already started looking for Airbnb properties to rent for a weekend in the future, though.

Ate: Red Duck Curry and Mornington IPA at The Royal George Hotel
Explored: Macedon Vineyards, including Hanging Rock and Granite Hills
Region Highlights: Kyneton, Daylesford

Girl in Mudgee

walterwinesskimstoneskimstonedoor

A quick weekend away in Mudgee, New South Wales over Easter has left me with a new favourite place near Sydney.  Mudgee is a gorgeous little town four hours drive from Sydney, with vineyards in all directions, and some superb places to eat and rest.  I like that it’s a very flat region, making it perfect for cyclists.  There are also some gorgeous vineyards and very special places to stay nestled into the surrounding hills.  The golden light in the mornings and evenings shining down on the valley and the layers of hills is just divine.

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Girl in Central Otago

amisfield

I grew up 2 hours drive from this part of New Zealand, and spent a lot of time there as a teenager and again at University when I was studying Geography at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

The area has changed a lot since the wild thyme and rabbits that I remember from school camps when I was a kid, with the landscape often now defined by the vines that Central Otago Pinot and Riesling have made the region famous for.

Many people know Central Otago particularly for the thrill seeking activities you can find around Queenstown, but  I prefer to think of it as the same kind of place as Napa or Sonoma in California, Orange or Mudgee in New South Wales, Australia, and the Kelowna or Okanagan wine region in Canada.  The mountains and lakes around Queenstown and the schist geology of Cromwell offer such a stunningly dynamic landscape, and personally I think one of the best ways to explore the lower part of the region and really take everything in is via the Central Otago Rail Trail.

We didn’t have enough time to cycle on this trip, flying into Queenstown for one night before heading further south to Coastal Otago,  so instead chose to focus on wine.  After a walk around Lake Wakitipu our first evening, we had a lovely dinner at Amisfield Winery and the next day joined Jim Ashe for a day trip to visit wineries in the Gibbston Valley, Cromwell and Bannockburn.  Jim has worked in the Central Otago wine industry as a grower and wine maker for many years and really knows his stuff.  We visited Peregrine, Aurum, The Wooing Tree, Domain Road, and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Mt Difficulty.

Stayed at: Queenstown Hilton, Kawarau, Queenstown and Plum Tree Cottage, Clyde
Ate at: Amisfield Bistro, Lake Hayes; Mt Difficulty, Cromwell; and Olivers, Clyde
Explored: Central Otago Vineyards with Pinot Thyme Wine Tours
Region Highlights: Glenorchy, Arrowtown, Bannockburn, Clyde, St Bathans