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Life

17 Must Do Hunter Valley Experiences

The Hunter Valley isn't just about cellar doors. Shonagh Walker uncovers a host of activities that may well see you extend your stay.

While it's widely known as the destination to uncover boutique cellar doors and world-famous wines, the Hunter Valley has another face that it's worked hard on showing to the world. From balloon rides to nature walks, festivals to art amongst the vines and even animal sanctuaries that will melt your heart, you're spoiled for choice when it comes to filling your itinerary on your weekend or family holiday. Here's a list of some of our getaway inspirations.

Be Cheesy

Cheese lovers should make a B-line for The Sebel Kirkton Park on Saturday June 17 and Sunday June 18, which mark the annual Cheese Lovers Festival. Highlights include 50 exclusive stalls featuring cheese, beer, wine and assorted cheese-related food stalls, cooking with cheese workshops, beer and cheese workshops and cheese making classes. Preceding the official start of the festival is the Classic Cheese Dinner on Friday June 16.

Get Cooking

Millfield Hall Cooking School caters for corporate and private groups of eight to 20 people. All produce used is local and seasonal, with citrus and herbs grown in the Hall's garden and eggs coming straight from their own chook pen. Prices are usually around $145 per class, which includes a glass of wine, however, bespoke tutorials can include anything from roasting an entire beast and beer tasting, to matching courses with local wines, which might up the price a bit.

millfieldhall.com.au

Organic Fare

Run by partners Matty and Jimmy Kerr, Nanna Kerr's Kitchen is a mostly organic restaurant and is a huge favourite with locals and tourists alike. Famed for dishes taken from the Kerr matriarch's menu and its farm to table ethos, this restaurant also boasts a retail space where you can purchase the pickles, relishes and jams served on site. Don't miss the Dirty Chai Pannacotta, which was created to celebrate Nanna Kerr's recent 80th birthday.

Be Proud

You'll have a blast during the second annual Pokolbin Pride Festival, which this year again sees local businesses band together with wine tasting tours, live entertainment, fine dining and cocktail parties, community markets, guided bike riding winery tours and more. The festival runs from October 20-22.

pokolbinpride.com.au

A Day On The Green

Hit Bimbadgen for this not-to-be-missed event where you'll get your fix of local and international acts teamed with a great selection of wine. This year has already seen rock icons Blondie and Cyndi Lauper entertain, with more acts every summer. When major celebs aren't singing, you can enjoy Esca restaurant and sip a generous wine selection at the cellar door.

bimbadgen.com.au

Take To The Skies

If you fancy yourself a bit of a pilot, then Hunter Valley Joy Flights is for you. Located at Cessnock airport, the company offers Tiger Moth adventure flights where you man the cockpit and fly the plane solo once in the air (an experienced pilot is there to guide you at all times). A less adrenaline-inducing way to get elevated is by Hot Air Balloon. Hunter Valley Ballooning offers exclusive and group flights out of its Lovedale HQ every day and is a peaceful and unique way to take in the views of the region

huntervalleyjoyflights.com.au

Inspire Your Green Thumb

With over 60 acres of international display gardens, you can easily while away a day or two in the lush haven that is the Hunter Valley Gardens, situated conveniently in the Pokolbin region.

There's over eight kilometres of walking paths to explore, which reveal 10 individual feature gardens each with a unique theme. The Storybook Garden with its topiary animals including horses, teddy bears and ducks will delight kids of all ages. The Lakes Walk will take you past waterfalls, babbling brooks, Weeping Willows, a chapel and rotunda and stunning seasonal flora.

The Rose Garden features over 150 varieties of roses, with around 8000 fragrant and beautiful roses in bloom and the Formal Garden, a nod to French and British garden designs, will transfix you with its manicured hedges, evergreen magnolia and 3000 bushes of Rosa chameleon roses. Make sure you stop by the Wishing Fountain - all proceeds from your wish are donated to local charities.

A favourite of this scribe though, is the Italian Grotto, with its Statue of Saint Francis of Assisi (Patron Saint of Animals and the Environment), its lush lavender hedges and incredible bougainvillea.

Winter marks the annual Snow Time festival (June 24 to July 16), with a giant ice-skating rink, mega ice toboggan and tubing. You can also build a snowman at in the man-made Snow Play Zone.

huntervalleygardens.com.au

The Block

Four luxury self-contained villas and a three bedroom guesthouse comprise the secluded but stunning accommodation and winery of Block 8. Soak up views of orchards, olive groves, grapevines, open fields and distant mountain ranges as you meet kangaroos and wallabies, sugar gliders, swans and goannas. You can even pat a couple of pigs and handfeed the ducks. Guests also receive bottles of the estate-grown single vineyard wines, generous breakfast hampers and home-baked treats for afternoon tea.

blockeight.com.au

Get Artsy

Sculptures in the Vineyards happens throughout November, stretching across Undercliff Winery and Gallery, Stonehurst Cedar Creek Wines, Wollombi Wines and Noyce Brothers Wine. Works are by renowned local and national artists, with an estimated 100 pieces planned for 2017.

sculptureinthevineyards.com.au

On Your Bike

As the original bike hire company in the region, Grapemobile Bicycle Hire and Tours really know their stuff.

Rent from the centrally located vineyard and hire shop in Pokolbin, where you can take a private off road self-guided tour amongst the vines, sampling wines from up to nine vineyards on the way (some even provide free delivery of your purchases to the bike's hire shop). You can also choose to have the Grapemobile bus pick you up and return you from your accommodation or meeting place.

All tours include mountain bikes, retro cruisers or tandems, helmets, sunscreen, bottled water, numbered VIP access pass, maps and tour options.

grapemobile.com.au

Organic Spa Experience

There's a plethora of day spas peppered around the Hunter. UBIKA spa at the Crowne Plaza in Lovedale is noteworthy, thanks to its alliance with certified organic skin care brand, Eminence Organics. Hailing from Hungary, this nurturing range relies on ingredients such as blueberries, Arctic berries, and pomegranate. Choose from an array of facials and body treatments including Vichy showers, wraps and exfoliation.

Other fantastic spa experiences include iconic Spa Elysia Golden Door, which has partnered with Certified Organic skin care range, Divine Woman and Chateau Elan at The Vintage, where you can enjoy a glass of bubbles in the outdoor Jacuzzi before or after your treatment.

crowneplazahuntervalley.com.au

goldendoor.com.auchateauelan.com.au

Luxe Getaway

Just Desserts

Sweet tooth? Book a table at Sabor. Famed for its Portuguese Chocolate Mousse made from owner Fernando's grandmother's recipe from 70 years ago, there are over 50 desserts on the menu and each can be paired beautifully with local wines. There are gluten-free options too, as well as Glinelli coffee and a selection of teas.

saborinthehunter.com.au

A Berry Nice Time

Few things taste as sweet as organic, bio-dynamically farmed blueberries, fresh from the bush. At Misty Valley Farm, you can pick your own punnet and enjoy the intense flavour straight away, or freeze your harvest for up to two years. Berry picking season is Dec/Jan, but at other times you can lap up the farm environment in the boutique accommodation, which sleeps up to four people and includes organic farm fresh eggs in the breakfast hamper.

mistyvalleyblueberries.com

Take A Stroll

If you're still feeling energetic and want (or need) to walk off a few calories, take one of several walking trails through Barrington Tops National Park. Choose from easy walks, overnight hikes, or simply enjoy a picnic by the stunning Barrington Tops Falls. Those after more action can 4WD.

nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/barrington-tops-national-park

See Pigs Fly

Where Pigs Fly is a registered charity and sanctuary located in the Lower Hunter region, dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and caring for farmed animals that have been treated cruelly, abused or neglected. With various open days and sanctuary tours (bookings essential) throughout the year, the team is committed to educating guests about the importance of treating all animals with compassion and respect. An open day will see you mingling with pigs, lambs, chickens and cows, living life as they should be - free range and organically.

wherepigsfly.org

Lush Lavender

Daniela Riccio bought Little Valley Lavender Farm five years ago and while she still grows over 100 lavender bushes, the farm is mostly an organic garlic producer, alpaca breeding base and fleece retailer, bee keeper and miniature cattle grazier. It's is also a part of the Department of Primary Industries' Visit My Farm program, whereby city slickers can spend a day learning about farm life.

littlevalleyfarm.com.au

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Wine
Fruits of the Forest
The produce of Western Australia’s Southern Forests is world renowned, the wines of the region are starting to follow suit. It’s hard not to be intoxicated by the Southern Forests region, with its towering forests, cascading waterways, sprawling valleys dotted with vineyards and orchards quilted with blossoming fruit trees. This special place is a leisurely three-hour drive from Perth and winds through some of the most fertile land in the world – home to a tapestry of fresh produce. While this quintessentially Australian landscape was historically timber-milling and tobacco country, today it is Western Australia’s third largest wine region – and one of the nation’s richest agricultural districts. Situated in the lower south west corner of WA, the Southern Forests has over 80,000 hectares of prime agricultural land and includes the Manjimup , Pemberton and Great Southern Geographical Indications (GIs). With its high altitude, cool climate and rich, loamy karri soils, the region is suited to the production of Burgundy-style wines with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay simply thriving in this lush environment. More recently, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Verdelho, Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc have also emerged as important varieties. And with Margaret River as its neighbour, it is not surprising that this district is forging a solid reputation for its premium cool climate wines to match its world-class produce. The Southern Forests’ reputation as a top culinary tourism destination has grown exponentially since the introduction of the Genuinely Southern Forests campaign and now the vignerons want their wines to share that international platform. As a result, the Manjimup and Pemberton wine associations are in the process of amalgamating to create a unified brand to further promote their wines to the world. If approved, it will be known as the Wine Industry of the Southern Forests. “This move will allow us to operate more efficiently in association with the Southern Forests Food Council (SFFC) and effectively benefit all of the membership with the administration and distribution of funds from the recently established Agricultural Produce Commission,” says Mark Aitken of Woodgate Estate. “For WA to be acknowledged as one of the premier wine growing regions in the world, it needs a critical mass of strong regional brands each with a unique identity in the same way the rest of the great wine regions of the world now operate.” According to Vic Peos from Peos Estate, this move will allow Southern Forests winemakers to achieve this recognition and continue evolving their styles in the international domain. “We aim to grow the value of agriculture and give educational opportunities to future generations so they can live, work and have a quality lifestyle within the area. This will also create vibrancy and jobs within the community,” he says. While the Peos family have been in the region for 80 years, it wasn’t until 1996 that Vic and his three brothers created Peos Estate as a legacy to their late father and grandfather who cultivated grapes in Macedonia a century ago before migrating to Manjimup in the 1950s. Over the years, the Peos family has farmed dairy cattle, potatoes, cauliflowers and beans so it was no great leap for their farming pedigree to be put to use to cultivate wine grapes. “Manjimup is one of the coolest regions in WA which allows for distinctive fruit flavours to be enhanced and the sustained ripening period gives some varieties the ability to age and slowly mature. “Our single vineyard Shiraz is a perfect example of this with its medium-bodied, savoury and complex flavours which are powerful, yet elegant. It is also a great match with food to give you a wonderful culinary experience,” explains Vic. Epicurean Delights To say these vignerons are spoilt for choice when it comes to food matching selections to pair with their wines is a huge understatement. It is a melting pot of flavours here with these privileged winemakers having a bountiful choice of seafood, dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables at their fingertips to enhance the gastronomic journey. Silkwood Wines is one such establishment that has opened a restaurant at its cellar door, showcasing its range of wines and locally harvested produce. All it takes is one afternoon of sitting on the deck overlooking the lake whilst enjoying a glass of their vibrantly fresh Sauvignon Blanc and a tasting plate to become immersed in this region. At Chestnut Grove, winemaker David Dowden is undertaking wild ferments with his Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs to create an extra layer of complexity, texture and finesse in his wine stable. And not content with wine production alone, the winery is now making a verjuice from its deliciously fruity Verdelho, as well as an extra virgin olive oil. Whilst most produce will flourish in this fertile land, Monica Radomiljac from Pemberley of Pemberton, says living in ‘karri country’ can be challenging. “The soil here is too good and too rich. In order to prevent the vines from growing as huge as their famous neighbours, the karri trees, we have to stress the plants using techniques such as minimal or no irrigation and hard pruning,” says Monica. “This results in grapes that are vibrant with flavours and alive with freshness when they are harvested for crushing from February to April each year.” Living in Harmony This symbiotic relationship between the soils and vines extends to something devilishly smelly that also grows here and has gourmands around the world salivating for its pungent, earthy flavours. I am referring to the elusive black Perigord truffle that originated in France and has now, somewhat surprisingly, found a new home in Manjimup. So firmly are their spores entrenched in these soils that the Truffle and Wine Co. is now the largest producer of black truffles in the world. The marriage of food and wine is such an intrinsic part of any culinary journey and it is at this trufferie where you can experience a truffle and wine degustation lunch with a range of wines that have been specifically created to enhance your truffle experience. “The fresh produce is a result of committed farming families who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries,” says the Truffle & Wine Co.’s Amber Atkinson. “A prime example is the new Bravo apple. Research, development and thinking outside the square led to the introduction of truffles to Manjimup. Wine production is no different and wineries from this region continue to gain momentum, which is reflected by wine show accolades across the country.” As I leave the truffles in my wake, I pass many roadside stalls and open farm gates. There are native finger limes, apples, chestnuts, berries, stone fruit, avocados, cherries, brassica beef, dairy, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, to name but a few. You can even throw a fishing line in the river for trout and, at certain times of the year, you can snare freshwater marron, endemic to this wonderful region, from one of its many watercourses. “We aim to celebrate the people, place and produce by creating exceptional culinary experiences,” says Southern Forests Food Council GM, Jayme Hatcher. “This pristine part of the world still remains relatively undiscovered with its complementary offering of produce and wines, which makes this region a genuine foodie’s dream.”
Life
Hong Kong Top 10 Sights and Tastes
Words by Nicole Gow on 30 Mar 2017
Wine Selectors  Tasting Panellist Nicole Gow  reveals her top ten delicious, indulgent and relaxing reasons to visit Hong Kong   If you’re looking for a destination with diversity, where one minute you’re in a buzzing city, then just 20 minutes later, hiking and swimming in a national park, Hong Kong is for you. Renowned for its food scene, it requires a healthy appetite and as all that eating is thirsty work, it’s handy that the local bar scene is really thriving. It’s a place where the traffic is bustling, yet still flows, it’s warm and welcoming, clean but not sterile, and quintessentially Asia. It’s a city where you can have a fabulous family holiday, or indulge in pure enjoyment as a couple. Whatever your purpose for visiting Hong Kong, here are my top 10 things to do: 1. Live Like a Local
Packed with colour, flavour, scents and action, there are food markets to explore in almost every side street. When you’re ready to eat,  Lan Fong Yuen  in Gage Street, Central, is a popular local haunt. It’s famous for its milk tea, an art unto itself that’s poured through strainers six times and served with evaporated milk, creating a deliciously creamy yet tannic drink. And while you’re there, it’d be rude not to get the French toast and bagel with condensed milk. Then don’t leave the area without a few of the famous egg tarts from  Tai Cheong Bakery . 2. Shop Shop Shop Hong Kong has long been renowned as a shopper’s paradise, but with its abundance of shops, markets and malls, it can be hard to know where to start. I recommend planning your spree along the city’s shopping districts. On Hong Kong Island, you’ll find Admiralty, Central and Soho, Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan, while Kowloon is home to Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon East and West, and Mong Kok. Within each district, getting from one shopping destination to the next is easy, especially with an Octopus card that gets you on both trams and buses. 3. Good Fortune For Your Mouth
In Hong Kong, more locals eat out than at home, as it’s usually cheaper and with more than 14,000 restaurants, it’s a dining mecca. For a special treat, head to  Ho Lee Fook , which translates as ‘Good Fortune for your Mouth’. Taiwanese-born chef Jowett Yu’s Chinese kitchen has a funky bright interior where catchy tunes entertain the throngs of diners. Jowett’s food is a clear celebration of his love of food and travel, encapsulated in the 10 years he spent in Australia at Ms G’s & Mr Wong. With fond memories of shucking fresh oysters in Bateman’s Bay, it’s little wonder his food speaks of freshness. The pork belly and Hong Kong-style French toast served with peanut butter and maple syrup or condensed milk are must haves. He has a great wine list too. 4. Wine & Dine Festival If you’re lucky enough to visit Hong Kong in late October, the  Wine & Dine Festival kicks off the Great November Feast . This month of indulgence includes epicurean culinary events, street carnivals, and wine and dine offers all around town. The Wine and Dine festival is situated next to the stunning Victoria Harbour skyline, so the night time backdrop is particularly spectacular 5. Walk or Run
If you’re looking for more compelling evidence that exercise helps you live longer, a walk or run in  Victoria Park, Causeway Bay  is a must. A memorable sight are the masses of seniors doing Tai Chi across the park to the meditative chimes of Chinese music boxes. Or for something completely different, get up early on a Sunday morning and run around the famed Happy Valley Racetrack alongside the horses. Giddy up. Don’t forget, you’re here to eat so keep active to stay food fit! 6. Sharp Island Part of the Sai Kung District, Sharp Island is a 45-minute journey from Hong Kong city, taking in some regional sights along the way. The short trip from Sai Kung Town Port across to the island on a traditional Chinese junk is a memorable beginning. On arrival at the picturesque national park, you can go on a guided 1.5km walk, taking in the scenic surrounds – an impressive contrast to the city lights and action you left behind less than an hour ago. It can get pretty warm though, so a jump off the pontoon and a swim can be a cool reward – and a great way to burn off a few dumplings. 7. Neighbourhood Night Life
Thanks to its vibrant, world-class nightlife, Hong Kong has become a breeding ground for cocktail mixologists. Cool wine bars are dotted across town – La Cabane a Vin in Hollywood Road is a personal favourite – and the surge in biodynamic and natural wines is pushing things along. A visit to the Soho district is a must to check out the work of Australia’s award-winning bar designer, Ashley Sutton. Hailing from Fremantle, WA, Ashley used to work in the mining industry, and you can seen this influence in the one-off works of art he’s created in bars and industrial spaces. The  Iron Fairies  is Ashley’s third Hong Kong bar and it’s all aflutter. Over 10,000 butterflies on thin copper rods hang from the ceiling in a space that’s dominated by iron, timber and leather features. Around the bar there are 12,000 bottles of fairy dust and in the centre of each table are thousands of iron fairies. Ashley is also the design brains behind  J. Boroski’s , an invitation-only bar hidden off Hollywood Road. Named after the renowned mixologist/owner, it has a windowless, tunnel-like interior where the wall over the bar is decorated with rows of preserved beetles – a nod to Boroski’s fascination with entomology. 8. Repulse Bay
A 20-minute bus ride from the city will bring you to the upmarket yet relaxed, low rise residential seaside resort of  Repulse Bay . Popular with both locals and visitors, and home to several super yachts, Repulse Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in Hong Kong. Soak up the sun on the beach, hit the designer shops or enjoy the many award-winning restaurants. Limewood serves a casual, yet very satisfying lunch – BBQ local seafood in a fusion of Mexican, Hawaiian and Asian flavours. I absolutely recommend the sea urchin guacamole and the freshly shucked oysters with quail egg, calamansi, scallion and ponzu, while pork neck in tamarind, garlic, chilli and charred lime was a crowd favourite. Finish with churros drizzled in caramel sauce and coconut ice-cream. High up on the hill coming into Repulse Bay is  Ocean Park Hong Kong , an award-winning marine-life theme park featuring animal exhibits, thrill rides and shows. A world-class experience, it blends entertainment with education and conservation. 9. Iconic Sites
Nothing beats seeing a city from the air, and the best panoramic view of Hong Kong Island is from its highest point, ‘The Peak’. It has also been the city’s most exclusive neighbourhood since colonial times. It features observation decks, restaurants, a historical gallery and the Peak Tram (the opening and closing scenes of the 1955 movie Soldier of Fortune, starring Clark Gable, were filmed in the Peak Tram). During the day, the view sweeps from the sparkling skyscrapers and Victoria Harbour all the way to the green hills of the New Territories. By sunset, the panorama shimmers as vivid pinks and oranges bounce off buildings and at night, the light show begins as the city comes alive. By day or night, board a Chinese junk boat and set sail into Hong Kong’s scenic harbour. Originally owned and manned by Chinese fishermen, the DukLing is typical of the junks that used to crisscross Hong Kong waterways. This trip sails you past the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, which sits on the spot of the old Hong Kong Kai Tak International Airport, renowned for its dramatic landings over the city. Back on land yet at altitude, another incredible angle of Hong Kong and probably the best tea selection you’ll ever experience are offered at high tea at  The Ritz. The view, service, ambience, décor and tiers of sweet delights on offer are memorable and highly recommended. While you’re there, head up a few more floors for a drink at Hong Kong’s most celebrated roof top skybar, OZONE. It has an impressive wine and Champagne list and the Signature cocktails are extreme. 10. Decent Coffee For coffee lovers, the scene is really on the improve with plenty of funky new neighbourhoods appealing to locals and visitors alike.  Fineprint Espresso and Liquor  in the Hollywood Road district is the place to go and I can see why. Not only is the coffee a hit, but it’s the brain child of Aussie husband and wife team, Jamima and Scotty Callaghan. Scotty, a coffee roaster in Australia, set up a similar ‘roasters’ model in Hong Kong and the chefs came in droves for the decent brew and to purchase his Redback beans for their local restaurant and cafes in Hong Kong. The interest led to the coffee shop opening and it’s been a massive hit. Here’s the twist...at night the shop becomes a wine bar, taking just an hour to ‘flip’. It’s a very clever use of space in a city that doesn’t have much, but which has developed a craving for good coffee and wine. Pack, Plan and Fly
Last few quick tips: bring room in your luggage, room in your stomach or better still, an oversized muumuu. For more on all there is to do in Hong Kong, visit  discoverhongkong.com . Qantas ( qantas.com.au ) flies direct from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Fly Business Class to really kick off your culinary journey with Neil Perry’s in-flight menu and superb Aussie wines and Champagne.
Wine
Mornington Peninsula must visits
The Mornington Peninsula is a haven for holiday makers hungry for food, wine and adventure. Here’s our list of the best places to visit in the region.
Crittenden Estate The Crittenden Wine Centre offers a unique way of experiencing wine on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula. Originally the home of the Crittenden family, it has recently been renovated to a stylish, purpose built Wine Centre where knowledgeable staff guide visitors through carefully designed wine flights. Sample Crittenden’s exquisite range of traditional styles and unique alternative varietals with views over the lawn, lake and some of the Peninsula’s oldest vines, and just a short stroll to the Stillwater at Crittenden restaurant. Crittenden Estate is a true family operation with founder and living legend Garry overseeing the vineyard, son Rollo making the wine and daughter Zoe running the marketing. 25 Harrisons Rd, Dromana Open daily 10:30am – 4:30pm crittendenwines.com.au 
Yabby Lake Vineyard Cellar Door + Restaurant The Yabby Lake Vineyard offers a relaxed cellar door, restaurant, and wines of exception. Home of the history-making Block 1 Pinot Noir, winner of the revered Jimmy Watson Trophy, Yabby Lake has built a reputation for wines of great purity and character, uniquely crafted by renowned winemaker Tom Carson. Visitors to the striking cellar door marvel not only at the natural bush setting of the vineyard, but their incredible collection of artworks. Chef Simon West’s seasonal and local fare; often picked fresh from the kitchen garden, is best enjoyed on the outdoor deck, taking in stunning views of the vineyard and beyond. 86 Tuerong Road, Tuerong Open daily, 10am-5pm  (03) 5974 3729   yabbylake.com
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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