Hunter Valley

Located about two hours north of metropolitan Sydney, the Hunter Valley stretches from the Goulburn River and Wollemi National Park in thesouth, right up to Barrington Tops National Park in the north. The region is broken into two sections, the Lower and Upper Hunter. There are 140 wineries in the Lower Hunter Valley alone, and with 132 cellar doors open for your wine-tasting pleasure, a visit to the Hunter is just what this doctor orders (although my accreditation as a doctor is still under investigation).

After arriving at the YHA in Cessnock, I met up with two Finnish girls with a heavy thirst. We exchanged some casual background information on the area as we stopped at our first cellar door – Tempus Two.

Quaffing some decent Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and a cheeky Sangiovese, I began discussing the qualities of the wines with my Finnish companions and soon realised two things: they didn’t really understand me, and I was already starting to sound like a wine wanker.

Go ahead and analyse a wine’s qualities and look for the hint of vanilla that comes from the French oak barrels, or the melon flavours of a sweet Verdelho. But at the end of the day, wine is to be enjoyed and drunk. Hence my Hunter catchcry: “I’ll try one of everything.”

For the remainder of the day the gap between English and Finnish became less and less as slurring took hold and the only question needing to be answered was, “White or red?” 

Pokolbin, Ivanhoe, Tinkler’s, and Peterson’s Champagne House rounded out our tour. I fell deeply in love with a Tinkler Chardonnay, but forgot to get her number on the way out. I had a quiet conversation with a late-picked Gewurztraminer, only to find out she was only after my money, and nearly got into a fight with a bitey Shiraz.

Waking up without a hangover was great (mental note: must still be intoxicated), and with this in mind, I realised this would be the best time to fly a plane. So I headed down to Hunter Valley Aviation at Cessnock Airport to take my WILD flight. WILD stands for Women Interested in Living Dangerously. I mention this rather discriminating slogan to my flight instructor Anthony (“I ain’t no chick, buddy!”), to which he replied that it was just a slogan introduced by another gentleman who ran a similar operation in Brisbane, and with that he took his hand off my thigh.

From take off to landing you are given a daunting amount of control over the little Cessna 152, but despite my instructor’s nonchalant demeanor and relaxed “nothing will go wrong” attitude, I was quite frankly shitting myself.

With one hand on the wheel and one ready to push in the throttle for take off, I was seriously considering how much wine I had consumed over the past 18 hours. Before I knew it, I was pulling back on the control yoke and climbing into the great blue.

I was in the air for 20 minutes, and for much of this I was in complete control of the aircraft. I attempted a few wing dips and let out a childhood laugh. I started making gunner noises and asked Anthony to call me Maverick, if I could call him Goose. Shaking his head, he took over the wheel and gave me the “wild manoeuvres” promised in the brochure. I stopped making the gun noises.

Landing was simple, and went something like this.

Goose: “Don’t call me Goose again!”

Maverick: “Can we do a fly-by?”

Anthony: “There is no control tower, you idiot.”

Maverick: “Have you finished with the camera yet?”

Anthony: “Yeah sure… I should stop messing about with this thing, we’re about to land.”

Maverick: “Yeah, maybe you should take the wheel.”

Anthony: “We’re getting a bit low, more throttle.”

Maverick: “Are you going to take the wheel yet?” (40 metres before contact.)

Anthony: “Okay, now just lift the nose a bit until you feel contact, you’ll feel like we’re floating for a bit.”

Maverick: “You bloody do it, the only thing I’m landing is something in my pants.” (10 metres to contact.)

Anthony: “And we lift the nose and now we put the nose down… See, no probs, easy hey? Mark?

Maverick?… I’ll just taxi us back around then shall I?”

After a change of pants (you need long pants to ride horses – no I did not crap my daks), I headed to Hunters Resort for a spot of horse riding. We mounted up and enjoyed a relaxing ride through the Hunter Estate where we spied plenty of grapes and a wedged tailed eagle. My mate Ned was a great horse and we made good time down the trail with a few canters in for good measure. I then met a vegetarian rotweiler, tasted a few more wines in the cellar at the resort and tried a cleansing Black Ale at the original Bluetongue Brewery.

Before leaving the Hunter I managed to knock on one last cellar door, and finally my luck with the ladies turned as I managed to take home a set of twins. They’re both named Chardonnay.

Mark Jensen

The experience: Pokolbin Trail Rides, Ph: Georgie on 0411 110126; WILD flights are available for $60 ($55 if you stay at the YHA) and include briefing, 20-minute flight, aerial manoeuvres, and great views over the Hunter proper. Ph: (02) 499106500.

The accommodation: Cessnock YHA, Ph: (02) 4991 3278.


It is the humble opinion of this scribe that missing out on the stretch between Sydney and Byron is a bloody dumb thing to do. In fact, some of the best travel experiences can be had through these parts. Which is why I decided to break my journey in Newcastle.

A few years ago this city had an eerie, Manchester feel about it. Industrial, football mad and a tad gloomy. But when Newcastle’s biggest employer, BHP, pulled the plug on the giant steel mill, the city was forced to have an extreme makeover. Today, Newcastle has transformed itself into a city of cafes, classy inner-city suburbs and great surf beaches.

The town centre is pretty much just Hunter St Mall and King St, but from Civic Park to Nobby’s Head and Newcastle Beach there’s plenty to see and explore including some quality heritage architecture and some cool-ass ghetto-style vacant factories, complete with old school graffiti art.

I dumped my rust bucket of a vehicle at a hostel and stepped into the mall to check out the cafes and retail outlets. After a coffee at Seri’s Cafe on King St to re energise for the rest of the day, I made the short walk down to the foreshore to get a feel for the place.

On one side is the South Pacific and on the other is the Hunter River – making it a functional metropolitan city as well as a sleepy little seaside town. I enjoyed the slow pace of Newcastle, especially during the week. Weekends, however, are a different proposition altogether. And after a slow afternoon, which included a quick dip at Newcastle Beach, I decided on a spot of people watching in the city – where I spied a midget skateboard down the main street.

At dusk it was time to get my drinking pants on and head out in to town. The weekends here are top notch – plenty of party-ready locals all out for a good time, cheap drinks, very decent music and a number of good clubs. Try the Beach Hotel in Merewether, which is actually two bars in one hotel, as the Beach Hotel contains the Reef Bar and the Beach Bar. Two different atmospheres: intimate and quiet – or loud and vicious. Check out the Prince of Wales Hotel (1 Morgan St) for great live music or for a late night, head to Fannys Nightclub (311 Wharf Rd).

Waking up in my own bed was a shock (not that I would expect it to be someone else’s, just that I usually end up on the floor or in a garden bed someplace). Feeling like someone had left their dead cat in my mouth, I brushed my teeth and headed for the surf.

Nobby’s Head use to be an island, but in 1846 they joined it to the mainland by dumping massive quantities of sand there. Now with a lengthy sand spit, you can walk along to the sound of waves crashing around your ears up to the postcard-worthy lighthouse. Nobby’s is also a worthy surf spot.

If the sun and the surf are your cup of tea, and we all know the British Empire was built on cups of tea, Newcastle is becoming better known for its surfing beaches and is the ideal spot to see some of the best surfers in Australia.


Blue Mountains

Don’t get me wrong, I like walking. But not serious walking. I’m one of those people who’ll amble through the park on a Sunday morning, usually in the direction of the pub, so at least I know I’ll get rewarded for my efforts at the end of it.

But put me in the wilds of the bush without so much as a public toilet or a nearby convenience store and I start to feel lost.

So it’s just as well I did the touristy tour of the Blue Mountains before being flung into the depths of the bush for a proper bush experience.

As we headed west out of Sydney, we were soon straight in the heart of the Blue Mountains bushwalking and getting back to nature. Keeping a steady pace, we walked along the mountain ridge, then right down to the valley floor.

The mud was soggy beneath my feet and at one stage I had one of those slow-motion experiences where you know you’re going to go arse-over-tit but there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Sure enough, I landed face down in a puddle of the brown sludgy stuff.

At least I was rewarded with some fantastic sights – like the magnificent Wentworth Falls at the head of the Jamieson Valley for starters. It made having a suspicious limp and grazes over my hands so much more worthwhile.

We even got time to explore the pretty village of Leura, which is a tourist haven – bustling with cafe, curios shops, galleries and dinky boutiques.

After giving myself a belly boost with some hot soup and crusty bread, I was ready for my next challenge – climbing down the 1,005 Furber Steps. I was more than chuffed when I realised I didn’t have to climb back to the top, and there was an escape route – the world’s steepest railway at Scenic World.

It tilts at 52 degrees and takes you back up the rockface almost vertically – and you’re facing backwards as well, so you get great views looking back across the Blue Mountains.

The last part of the day was spent at sunset gazing into the mist over the Three Sisters at Echo Point in Katoomba. It was one of those “moments” you get when you’re travelling. The ones where a cheeky glass of Chardonnay in your hand would make it all that more special. But alas, I’d have to make do with the manky bottle of water which had warmed up throughout the day in my backpack.

Rachel Pinder

The experience: Wonderbus Tours, Ph: 1800 669 800.

The accommodation: Blue Mountains YHA, Ph: (02) 4782 1416.