Here’s something you might not know about me – back when I first came to Australia in 2006 on a working holiday visa, I spent 10 weeks in WA’s Margaret River, working on the vineyards. I thought it was going to be rather romantic but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Fast forward 10 years, and I’ve since got over those days (we’ll call it an adventure). Since I’ve been living permanently in Australia I’ve never actually been to NSW’s famous Hunter Valley. However, I went to see The Stones play there a few years back but I’ve never actually explored the area at all until recently. It was The Aussie’s birthday so it was a perfect time to take him away, and yes, I’m finally over those fruit picking days and I’ve become friends with vineyards once again.
I’m not a huge drinker so I did a bit of research with what we could do for a couple of days, so I’ve put all the research into this post to save you time from doing it yourself.
The first thing I learnt about the Hunter Valley is, it’s expensive. Everything from accommodation to eating out, expect to pay more than what you’d pay in Sydney. But, I did so much research that I managed to find some great deals and affordable things to do and places to eat.
Here’s a budget guide and vlog to The Hunter Valley
Where to stay
Getting the pool to myself at Mercure Hunter Valley Gardens Resort.
We stayed at the Mercure Hunter Valley Gardens Resort. This resort is in the perfect location, right in the middle of Polkobin.
Our room at Mercure Resort
Now, it’s a bit on the higher end side (expect to be paying around $400 a night), but we got a deal on Luxury Escapes for $300 for 2 nights, incl breakfast and a bottle of wine. We went right before Christmas so as you could imagine, the hotel was packed full of families with a lot of children running around.
The staff were friendly and welcoming, the buffet style breakfast was big enough to really feel like you were getting a big hotel breakfast.Breakfast at Mercure Resort
The room was also a life saver from the 41C first day. Thank you aircon! We had a lovely sunken bath which was a novelty but we didn’t get a chance to try it out.One of the reasons I picked this hotel was because of the swimming pool. This pool was completely perfect for the extremely hot day we were hit with. It’s surrounded by some lovely gardens within the complex and one of the great things about this hotel were the short cuts to some of the vineyards like Miguigans (literally next door) and the Hunter Valley Gardens and village. You could even do a self guided wine tasting tour all within walking distance of this hotel (more on this later!).Ariel shot of Mercure Hunter Valley Gardens Resort
Watch my vlog at The Hunter Valley below
Where to eat
As I mentioned, food is really expensive in the Hunter Valley. All of the restaurants I looked up were heading towards $40+ for a main meal. But, you can get much cheaper. After a bit of research we ate at the following places:
Hunter Valley Gardens Village
There’s some cheap cafes in the village. We went to Oscars and had a salad which cost $22.
Harrigans Irish Pub
On our first night, we just kept it casual and went to this huge pub which really brought back memories of the UK.
It’s a proper pub where you’ll be asked if you want a half or a pint – no schooners or midi’s here, thank you.Our main meals came to under $30 each and the incredible chocolate fondant dessert was about $12.
Cafe EnzoOn The Aussie’s birthday, we went to Cafe Enzo. This gem of a restaurant is located at the back of an Alpaca shop but it’s got a lovely outdoor area.The food is reasonably priced and pretty much all meals are under $30. The tangalatelle was a real winner with everyone!The courtyard at Cafe Enzo, Hunter Valley
Hunters QuarterHunter’s Quarter
For The Aussie’s birthday dinner, I took him to Hunters Quarter because the view out to the vineyard look amazing and I liked that they had a 5 course tasting menu for $100 or with matching wines for $140 which was fine with me. The staff we lovely and we had a great evening there.
Top 3 things to do in the Hunter Valley
Hunter Valley is one of those places you really need a car because everything is spread out. But there are loads of different tours you can do and jump on/jump off buses as well. We did our own wine tasting tour, went to see the Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas lights and a sunrise balloon flight.
Obviously going to the Hunter Valley wouldn’t be complete without a bit of wine tasting. There are various tours you can do which don’t require you to drive and hop on hop off buses as well. Because the location of our hotel was directly next to a few vineyards, we went to the following:
They knew everything about wine and described each wine like no one else could. I was impressed with the service here and really enjoyed the experience.
Even though it’s just over the road, this winery had a completely different and laid back vibe like you’re standing up by the bar although you had to pay $5 each to do any tasting. Wine wasn’t described in as much detail but that’s fine with me because I know absolutely nothing about wine other than whether it tastes good or not!
MiguigansLiterally next door to our hotel, this winery was fun and free like Tempus Two. There was a cheese shop next door and you can do some tasting there too!
Hunter Valley Gardens
We only saw it at night time. Image Credit – visitnewcastle.com.au
Because we went just before Christmas, we were able to go to see the Christmas lights at the Hunter Valley Gardens. Our hotel had a special 241 deal so we couldn’t pass it off. The gardens were open during the day and then back again from 6pm-10pm.
We actually turned up at 9pm after dinner and there were still a fair few families around. I hate to think of how busy it actually got but it was fun.
Think of it being like Vivid but not as big. It’s a great place to take the kids, all the children around us were absolutely loving it! They have some fair ground rides as well.
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Flight
On the morning of The Aussie’s birthday, I woke him up at 4am so I could take him on a surprise, sunrise hot air balloon flight with Balloon Aloft. I was surprised that we had to meet so early but it’s not just a balloon flight, it’s actually more of an experience lasting about three and half hours.
After the 45 minute flight over the Hunter Valley, we were taken back for a gourmet champagne breakfast. What a way to bring in his birthday! You can also book VIP private flights which one couple did as the guy was going to propose. We don’t know what the answer was but we were all in awe of how amazing that special moment would have been.
Other things I wish we had time for:
Don’t forget to watch my vlog below on our weekend away to The Hunter Valley
Have you been to the Hunter Valley? Is there anything we missed that we should have done? Let me know in the comments below.
Have you read my other post on our trip to The Hunter Valley?