I’m ashamed by how little I’ve explored the Hunter Valley over the past seven years. But I have my excuses.
When I first started coming here with my then-boyfriend, now-husband Pete to visit his family’s vineyard in Broke Fordwich back in 2008, I was so entranced by the property that I never wanted to leave.
So I didn’t.
Sure there was the odd dinner out for a special occasion, the occasional wine tasting when things started feeling a little claustrophobic on the farm, but mostly we just stayed put.
Things have changed so much over the past year.
Pete’s traded in his 20-year career as an art director to become a winemaker, I’ve left my job at the Sydney Morning Herald and started settling into the life of a freelance travel writer, and we’ve moved into our own little abode on the farm where we now spend a good chunk of our time.
And so, I’ve started exploring, lest I go mad from the solitude that country life can bring. I’ve learnt to drive our truck, and take it out for a spin to discover the best parts of the valley whenever I get the chance.
Here are my five favourite things to do here at the moment.
DINE: Bistro Molines
Perched on a grassy rise overlooking rolling hills in Mount View, a verdant and largely underdeveloped pocket of the valley, is this delectable French bistro. There’s so much to love about this place, which I first discovered while drunkardly celebrating my 30th: the vistas over the hills, the local and seasonal French bistro fare, the delightfully charismatic owners Robert and Sally Molines… We’ll dine here ’til we’re old and grey and dribbling in our soup.
DRINK: Great Northern Trading Post
Laguna is the hippie pocket of the valley, about a ten-minute drive from Wollombi. Here you’ll find the Great Northern Trading Post, a gorgeous country wine bar, bistro, general store and live music venue. It opened way back in 1923 to cater to the workers building the burgeoning Hunter Valley. Its stayed true to its heritage, rustically decorated with salvaged wood and antiques, mismatched windows and cobbled floors. This is the place to come for a relaxed beer or local vino and a hearty home-cooked meal, for live blues and folk music every Friday night, and for the little Laguna Market on the third Sunday of the month.
DO: Baiame Cave
A special place to come and convene with the Creator God of the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people of South-Eastern Australia, who is said to have been painted here over 3000 years ago. He’s pretty well hidden: you drive from Broke shops down to the far end of Milbrodale road for 20 minutes until you see a small sign pointing to the caves. Take the very long, very bumpy dirt road that weaves past a local school and a couple of hillbilly-looking tumbledown houses et voila: this quiet spot with views over the verdant countryside below, that houses a beautiful symbol of the heritage of this land.
DELVE: BARE Nature’sKin
This organic, sustainable skincare line finds it’s first home in a rustic shed next to the Great Northern Trading Post, and it’s second in an ex-service station in Broke. Both are impeccably styled with vintage crochet, antique railway sleepers, wicker baskets, crystals and huge chunks of raw soap, which come together in a true reflection of owner and creator Michelle Waite’s spirit. Michelle harvests her own herbs, flowers, seeds, minerals and goats milk, to craft natural soaps, bath salts, clay masks, shampoos and more that simply ooze love. I particularly love her Himalayan salt bath mixes and her cow horn combs, so leave some of those for me ok?
This two-bedroom terraced apartment, with its stunning Hampton’s-style architecture, sits above Muse Kitchen (my second favourite restaurant in the valley at the moment, but more on that later) with views over the vineyard and to the Brokenback Ranges. Winemaker and owner Keith Tulloch’s wife is an interior designer and it shows in the gorgeous French provincial interiors. Perfection.