How to Explore The 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? Narelle Bouveng from @alittleatlarge shares her tips for travelling the Hunter Valley with kids.
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 to sample 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. Let’s go!
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 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. It’s not just any gelato, but the very best Hunter Valley gelato, served from a counter where 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 cheese pack perfect for a large family picnic. I was also persuaded (those eyes!) that we needed a tasting plate of gelato.
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 per person 30-minute Wine Lover’s experience took us on a guided tasting through a six-strong flight of Scarborough’s favourite wines. Meanwhile, the kids play happily on the lawn outside in full view. Perfect.
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 turned more than 60 acres of Hunter Valley land into a whimsical garden. The park is 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!
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 (usually between October and November) was in full bloom when we visited, and soon the fabled Christmas lights spectacular would take over with millions of fairy lights, Santa’s Workshop and carnival rides at the ready to welcome in the festive season.
Spend the night in, family style…
With tummies treated and the fun metre well past full throttle, we checked into the nearby Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort to relax and revive. Celebrating 25 years this October, the spacious refurbished villas 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 Hunter Valley’s rise to one of Australia’s most renowned wine regions, 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. 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.