If there’s one thing I love more than exploring the countryside on a sunny day, it’s wine. And if you find yourself spending some time in Sydney, a day trip to the nearby Hunter Valley to combine the two and taste some of the finest grapes in Australia is an absolute must.
Zepher Tours runs a wine and organic vodka tour every Sunday and, if that’s not enough to entice you, it includes the chance to try some great cheeses, chocolates and ice cream.
Our day began with an early 8am meet up outside the YHA near Central Station. While this is very handy for backpackers staying in the CBD, note that you will have to set your alarm for the early hours and potentially get three buses if you live somewhere further afield like the Northern Beaches. Check the transport options in advance too, as we actually had to postpone our trip once due to the Sydney Marathon messing up public transport.
Once on the coach, the guide will provide you with a wealth of information about the local area. It’s about a 2 hour drive until you arrive at the first winery. After a brief introduction, you will be supplied with a wide variety of whites, reds, bubbles and sweet dessert wines. You could do the sophisticated thing and empty each taster into a container, but I can say from experience that they won’t openly judge you if you swig each sample before the next one arrives…
Feeling a little light headed and happy, we re-boarded the coach and headed to a nearby lunch spot. You have the option of a $35 three-course meal, or you can grab a salad, pizza or sandwich at the cafe. The meal deal is great value for money.
With time to explore, my friend and I crossed over the road in search of ice cream and cheese tasting. Believe me when I say it was the best ice cream I’ve had since Italy – and that is really saying something!
The highlight of the day came as a bit of a surprise given that I’m such a wine lover. Mixing things up a bit, we stopped at a vodka distillery. The place had only just celebrated its first anniversary, but business was booming. Operating out of one surprisingly small warehouse, the Hunter Distillery produces 100% organic vodkas in a mind-blowing array of flavours.
First, we were given a presentation on the production process. Afterwards, I felt like I was back in my old university’s student union as they handed out each sample in a test tube. The rich chocolate and caramel flavours were surprisingly good, and those mixed with chili had a kick that left our mouths burning – in a good way – for some minutes after.
Heading back outside, we noticed some commotion in the bush. Suddenly, a pair of wild kangaroos burst out of the trees and raced towards a nearby lake for a quick dip. What transpired was like something from David Attenborough’s recent Mating Game series. The male repeatedly chased after the female, gave her a 2-second back rub and then attempted to get lucky. Eventually, he got his way, to the delight of a big crowd of slightly tipsy onlookers who had now gathered outside the distillery.
Mildly disturbed, we all hopped back on the tour bus for the second winery of the day. This time, we sat around large tables and had the chance to get to know other members of the tour group as we sipped on more delicious wines.
Our final stop was at a chocolatiers where we were handed mixed samples in a paper cone. I drew myself away before I’d managed to convince myself that half a kilo of fudge would be a reasonable afternoon snack. Across the road, there was a champagne tasting house, but my friend and I decided to lie down in the grass and enjoy the last rays of afternoon sunshine instead.
On the journey back to Sydney, it was clear that afternoon drinking and too much sun had got the better of most of us, as we all fell into a deep sleep. Despite waking up with a cranky neck back at the YHA, I felt rejuvenated and relaxed. It had been the perfect way to unwind.
If you fancy a taster of what you could experience on this tour, check out my video:
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