Hunter Valley with Kids

The Hunter Valley is well regarded as one of Australia’s favourite gastronomic escapes of epic adult proportions - but did you know your littlies will think it’s pretty fancy too? Words and pics by Guest Narelle Bouveng aka @alittleatlarge.

Exploring the verdant valleys of the Hunter Valley is a truly sensory experience – pretty vine-clad hills, homemade gourmet fare and the cutest little places on every corner to peruse. Oh, and there are over 150 cellar doors from which to sample from, too! And while Australia’s oldest wine region is perennially popular for all sorts of adult adventures, families are also collecting memories over weekends inspired by feasting, fun and the freedom to explore.

But first - Smelly Cheese

Stocking up at the Smelly Cheese Shop in Pokolbin could be considered an indulgent sport. Hundreds of gourmet items line shelves, counters and cool rooms. The range is either made by Smelly’s themselves or an array of handpicked clever local providers and artisans. My favourite part of the visit is tasting my way around the store; with cheese, breads, meats, chutneys, jams and gelato – but not just any gelato – the very best Hunter Valley gelato, served from a counter from which I found my kids glued to the glass with their little tasting spoons and puppy dog eyes at the ready.

If it all gets a little much (and I warn you, this is indulgence overload!), let the experts choose your cheese plate for you – with petite after-dinner packs right through to a pack to suit a large family picnic. I also managed to be persuaded (those eyes!) that we needed a tasting plate of gelato – which at $15.00 for six selections represented great value for the kids to share ($7.00 a serve otherwise). #mumwin.

Opening the cellar door…

There are over 150 cellar doors calling the Hunter home, but with the kids in tow we opted for Scarborough Wine Co, where a complimentary kids zone includes a massive grass area, blackboards, outdoor games and cosy picnic blankets for families to help themselves to.

We were so warmly welcomed into the family home – where the $20.00 per person SIP experience  (Scarborough VIP) includes a guided tasting through a flight of Scarborough’s favourite wines, while the kids play happily on the lawn outside in full view. Since 1990 Scarborough Wine Co have been nurturing their batch of wines and you can taste that love in the Offshoot, Classic and “The Obsessive” ranges we tried in between cleansing our palettes on delectable charcuterie. Kids platters are also available on request accompanied by apple juice that the little ones thought was pretty fancy.

You could easily turn a few hours into an afternoon here, so don’t resist wandering the beautiful property complete with mulberry trees and rows of vines back-dropped against the commanding Brokenback Ranges - truly the Hunter at its very best.

Down the Garden Path…

Hunter Valley Gardens has been captivating visitors since 2003 when owners Bill and Imelda Roche (of Nutrimetics success) turned more than 60 acres of Hunter Valley land into a whimsical garden. The Gardens are complete with 10 international themed gardens, a series of unique sculptures and fountains, and marble sourced from the very place in Italy where Michelangelo also sourced his marble no less! The rose-filled “Grandmother Garden” pays homage to the bond between Imelda Roche and her 13 grandchildren (all immortalised here in bronze); the enchantment is ageless.

The “Story Book Garden” is also a treat, with life sized nursery rhyme scenes, giant books to read along the way and characters including a tea-sipping Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty, and Wee Willie Winkie running through the town - my five year old daughter absolutely adored it and we doubled up with some reading practice too!

For me though, it was the rose garden with 125 varieties and over two million roses in resplendent bloom. Their delicate perfume filled the air, and with petals gently sprinkled at my toes, it was a nostalgic moment that reminded me of my very own grandmother who admired beautiful roses too.

The Rose Spectacular (14th October to 12th November) is currently in full bloom and the fabled Christmas lights spectacular begins from 12th November, with millions of fairy lights, Santa’s Workshop and carnival rides at the ready to welcome in the festive season.

Stay in relaxed, family style…

With tummies treated and the fun meter well past full throttle, we checked into the nearby Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort to relax and revive. Celebrating 25 years this October, the spacious villas have been recently refurbished and are set amidst sprawling grounds that include a PGA Championship golf course (perfect for putting dads) and a range of leisure facilities, including two pools and a popular bistro and bar.

Our two-bedroom villa had a full kitchen, laundry (so handy), and an
outdoor dining area overlooking a bushy escarpment that was home to curious kangaroos and jovial kookaburras. With the living downstairs and bedrooms upstairs, it was ideal when the kids were sleeping - we lingered longer over the cheese platter and enjoyed a bottle of local Hunter Semillon…in blissful childfree peace.

One last glass…

For a story steeped in the very history that has carved out the Hunter as one of Australia’s most renowned, make a visit to Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard.

The Wilkinson family acquired the winery in 1866 and today Audrey Wilkinson represents one of the oldest but also most notable wineries in the Hunter Valley. Audrey, the family’s first-born son, was just 15 years old when his father died. He took the helm and rose as one the early pioneers of the Australian wine industry, not only because of his pursuit for quality, but also because of his development of leading technologies, including cement fermenters, steam powered crushers and a hopper. In 1916 Audrey took out the Golf Medal for Claret at the Sydney Wine Show, and some 90 years later in 2006, the Agnew family – who acquired the winery in 2004 – took home 12 trophies and 20 gold medals for the Audrey Wilkinson Museum Semillon, the vineyard’s most awarded wine.

Today my children run freely through this beautiful winery on the hill in the very vines that Audrey nurtured, while I sit enjoying a glass born from his toil. Alongside me sits a succulent seafood picnic lunch, served for just $65.00. I share Audrey’s story more than once with my children, it is after all a very different experience they enjoy here thanks to these early pioneers. And while they run off, roll their eyes, and only hear moments, I gaze into that stellar view imagining that he too would have sat right here. I raise my glass, cheers to Audrey and to a wonderful weekend where the whole family got to enjoy their little slice - be it food, fun, wine or history.