13. Aviation

Look at me writing two blogs in quick (ish) succession. Aren’t you proud? I am. As promised this blog is all about our trip to the Hunter Valley, so without further ado…

Friday, 27th May 2016. 1700 hours.

Katie and I both left work in a bit of a hurry because we wanted to get away as soon as possible. It’s a 2 hour drive at the best of times and with it being a Friday night trying to get out of the city, we weren’t hopeful. That said, it might have helped if we’d packed the night before, but where’s the fun in organisation?

Anyway we ended up leaving Sydney at 6.30pm and in what I believe to be an act of karma for  there was no traffic anywhere on our side of the road. It was the first night of Vivid in Sydney, where they light up the city in funky colours so luckily everyone was trying to get in as we tried to get out. So, after a couple of wrong turns and one right turn onto an 8 lane road, we were on our way on the one road north out of Sydney. Seriously, everywhere in Australia is just one road to the next place with nothing in-between. We now cross live to a poor quality diagram;

Blog Diagram Hunter Valley 1

Thanks, diagram.

By around 8pm we were well on our way and we turned off the M1 into the black void of emptiness. (No I’m not being dramatic.) This was where it became a country road, but at that time of day, with the total lack of any sunlight, street lights or other cars, we could only what the foglight showed us. Its very creepy looking behind you to see absolutely nothing but darkness. I did feel like we were about to be horror movie’d the heck out of.

Luckily, by 8.30pm we were not in the back of a serial killers truck, but at our hotel. After checking in we headed for food and a drink. Now, I’d known the name of this hotel for well over a month – Potters Hotel Brewery Resort, but it was only as we entered the bar and I saw the vast array of pumps that I really properly realised that we were staying in a hotel that was also home to a brewery. (I know how stupid that sounds; yet a real university gave me a degree, so…). Safe to say I got excited. Anyway it led to this;

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(That’s Hunter Valley Pale Ale on the left, an incredible beef pie next to it, peas and finally  on the right, ale flavoured gravy. Good first impressions.)

Onto Saturday then, and for this day we had booked a wine tasting tour with Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours (fair play to them; they do what they say on the tin). We were picked up by our lovely driver Ian from Suth Afrika (this is an attempt to do a textual South African accent – I think we can all agree the first and last attempt) at quarter to 10, as we ran out directly from breakfast having woken up late, and set off. We joined the bus to be introduced to our group for the day; another couple from our hotel, two canadian girls and about 15 girls and one lad who were on the trip for a birthday and seemed either very excited or mildly drunk already. More on them later… By 10am we were at McGuigan, probably the most famous winery in the Hunter Valley. By 10.10am we were tasting wine, which itself is a time of day where you look at your watch, look back at the wine, at your watch, at the wine and eventually accept your fate and crack on. At least I did.

Just a warning, this blog is about to get a little bit ‘reviewy’. Carrying on…

So McGuigan was a nice enough winery and definitely worth visiting because of the fame and the wine, but it doesn’t have the views or atmosphere of a lot of the other places we visited. I’m not going to get so middle class as to start reviewing wines, but we did find the only red wine Katie has ever been able to drink (it basically tasted like ribena, that’s why).

Obligatory picture to prove we were there alert:

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Anyway, feeling tipsy at 11am for probably only the fourth or fifth time in my life (I would say sorry for saying this to my Mum and Dad, but they were there for one of them), we headed to the next winery which was Wynwood estate. This was a much smaller winery in terms of fame and number of bottles produced which was a nice contrast, plus the brilliant Lance who was pouring the wines was very generous with his portions (this may or may not be why I thought he was brilliant). For context as we get later into the day, Katie doesn’t like red wine so all of her red wine tastes were going my way. Happy Alex.

So Wynwood had nice wine (as far as I can remember) and nice views – plus the sun came out. By this point I’m definitely tipsy but still coherent enough to take a nice photo, just for this blog;

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After this we went for lunch, which again is kind of hazy by now but was pretty nice, and then after a quick visit to the chocolate factory (my favourite place) on to the third winery which was James Estate. My clearest memory from this one was that they had a sausage dog which sent birthday party group into ecstasy and delayed the wine tasting by about 20 minutes. (I should say at this point, birthday group were very loud but did make it a fun day and we’d rather have had them than a party of boring people any day.) At this one the wines were okay, but after going to have a look around somehow we ended up having one more taste and buying a Pinot Noir. Oops.

Anyway we ended up at the fourth winery which was my favourite of them all, Hanging Tree Wines. This was a really small winery off the main roads which again and lovely views. Long story short I bought another bottle. Picture? Picture.

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After this we headed back to the hotel and ended up “trying” more of the beer and a bit of pizza with a lovely Dutch couple who had been on the tour with us. In a small world sort of thing, turned out they were not only staying at our hotel and on our wine tour but also live round the corner from us in Sydney. You can probably guess this bit; alcohol etc. and we had a really good time. We’ve been trying to meet up ever since but turns out its actually harder than it looks when you’ve got proper jobs. Adulthood is the worst.

What you wouldn’t have guessed is that we went to bed at 8.30pm. This wasn’t just because we’d been drinking all day, but also because we had to be up at 4.30am – just because its my favourite time of the day.

Not really. The actual reason for this was that we had booked a hot air balloon ride for Sunday morning which required us to meet at 5am. This hot air balloon ride had been the initial reason for us coming up to the Hunter Valley as it was an anniversary present for Katie and I to each other from each other sort of thing. Anyway, after stumbling into our clothes and a very very strong coffee for me we headed out to the launch site which was a nice enough field. It was also absolutely freezing and because we thought Australia would be hot, we didn’t bring coats. Just to clarify, not only didn’t we bring coats to the Hunter Valley, we didn’t bring them to Australia at all. If you learn anything from this blog, it should be that Australia isn’t sunny enough to not bring a coat when going for a year. Perhaps you knew that. I should have done.

Anyway, once I had helped inflate the balloon (which is basically me holding up the edge of the balloon material while a giant industrial fan blows air in and tries to knock me down), we got the balloon up and up we went. Its an incredible experience up in the air because its so serene and peaceful (everyone else is in bed – arguably the right decision). Fun (?) fact; when you’re in a hot air balloon you don’t feel the wind for the majority of the time because you’re travelling with the wind (i.e. at the same speed as it) which makes for an eerie calmness.

We now cross back live to photos;

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Eventually this had to, unfortunately, end, but after an unexpectedly smooth landing we got a good ending when we landed in a field of kangaroos, because Australia.

And after getting stared down by the Kangaroo version of The Rock/Arnold Scharwzeneger (delete according to personal preference) on the left there, we packed up the balloon and went back to the meeting place for champagne breakfast. By this point it was still only about 9.30am, meaning I’d beaten my previous record for earliest drink in Australia set the day before. The hot air balloon ride and breakfast were both brilliant – so brilliant that even the lack of sleep was worth it.

We then decided to go and check out some more wineries which had been recommended to us and set off on a little drive around (I drove initially then after the first wine tasting Katie took over because I like wine too much and drink driving is bad, kids). Our favourite by far was Audrey Wilkinson for its great wine, stunning views and the fact that they let me taste a $65 bottle of Malbec when I clearly was in no position to be buying that. I know what youre really thinking though, you’re thinking ‘Alex lets see these lovely views’. Well, I head you. Here they are, plus Katie just kinda there.

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So after this and due to tiredness setting in we headed back home, 3 bottles of wine and 4 pieces of chocolate fudge better off. I would definitely recommend the Hunter Valley if you’re ever in Sydney and like wine, or if you enjoy driving your partner, spouse or other relations around while they get steadily more drunk and spend more and more money on said wine. If you’d like to know more about the stuff we did I’ll put links and everything like that at the bottom because I’m great (and hopefully one day someone will pay me for it). Apart from that, until next time…

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Alex Odlin does not have a drinking problem, he can drink perfectly well actually. You could, if you were feeling generous or particularly bored, find more of his humour, which has been rated as ‘passable’ by his friends and family, by reading this blog from the start here; 1. The Masterplan 

Hello! Welcome to the after party. This is the exclusive section of the blog; think red velvet rope, drunk celebrities, etc.

Just kidding, its really for anyone who might ever want to go to the Hunter Valley. Here’s a quick rundown of what I would definitely do again and recommend to anyone in Sydney, if you ever need to know.

Hotel; Potters Hotel Brewery Resort – http://www.pottershbr.com.au.

We paid AU$140 (about £70) per night for a double room with ensuite, sofa, tv, kitchen facilities etc. – this was in off season and no breakfast included. This was the nicest place we saw at a reasonable price (you can stay in worse for less and better for much more) and is actually nicer than the pictures we saw suggested. It was really lively on the Saturday night in the bar, but the rooms are well far away from this so no disturbances if that isn’t your scene. Its located just outside the main town of Cessnock and at the heart of the Hunter Valley. Plus, you know, beer. Breakfast was fine – a standard hotel buffet, room was clean and nice (if a little cold at night time in winter). Definitely better than a lot of other places!

Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours – http://www.huntervalleywinetastingtours.com.au.

We paid AU$220 for two people including lunch – this seemed like a lot to us but on reflection its definitely the best way to get around as you get proper wine tasting sessions of 5 wines at 4 wineries, plus visits to cheese and chocolate factories. Lunch was nice and you also got a free drink with that. You’ll miss having a driver to take you everywhere and not worry about roads or drinking for the whole day! They pickup in Sydney (for a slightly higher price) and the Hunter, so if you want to just visit for the day from Sydney without trekking up there and paying for a hotel its a really good option for a day out. Driver was lovely and we had a really good experience (their trip advisor reviews suggest the same!)

Hot Air Balloon; Balloon Aloft – https://www.balloonaloft.com

Incredibly professionally run and gives you a really amazing experience (even if you have to stand in a freezing cold field at 6am). Went along without a hitch and they provide you with a great breakfast and glass of champagne. Our ‘pilot’ (I guess that’s what they’re called) Richard was really easy going and friendly and talked us through the whole thing making it interesting. Only drawback is price – we paid about AU$700 for two because it was a once in a lifetime thing for us. Arguably there are better ways to spend that much money, but if you want to do a hot air balloon ride you won’t get it for less so in terms of organisation, professionalism, experience I cannot fault the experience at all!

Best Wineries We Visited

Audrey Wilkinson – by far our favourite. Great wine, friendly staff, amazing views, lovely cellar door. Off the beaten track by a long way but definitely worth checking out. Beware of Google Maps taking you funny routes there – it can be difficult to find so probably ask directions!

Hanging Tree Winery – again lovely staff and great views but with a much more rustic feel, the actual cellar door is in an old cow shed thats been converted and it feels very homely with a pond and flowers growing all around. The wine was really nice and the staff were too, very peaceful and a really nice vibe.

Pepper Tree Wines – we didn’t spend as much time here as we probably wanted to because of fatigue from balloon rides, but this was again in a really nice setting hidden away (you have to drive through a little arch thing) and the wine was really good (if I hadn’t already spent too much I would have bought some). There’s a restaurant next door and its a very English countryside/cottagey kinda feel (I hope that makes sense)

Hope this helps you if you’re ever in Sydney!

 

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