Budget Friendly Ways to Visit the Hunter Valley
If you’re looking for a wallet friendly short break or weekend getaway within Australia then an escape to the Hunter Valley in NSW should definitely be on your list. With light hot climate reds and signature whites such as some of the country’s best Semillons, Verdelhos and Chardonnays the Hunter is the perfect addition to any East Coast holiday and a great way to compare wine regions. A wine lover’s (or even a mixed wine and craft beer) holiday doesn’t need to be an expensive affair. Check out these tips to save $$$ and have more to spend on the good stuff …. The wine!
Budget Friendly Accommodation
If you have a small group (think 4-12 people) then you can find some great deals on AirBnb for modern country cottages with kitchens, a pantry for you to use stocked with common staples, a barbeque and more. Check out the suburbs of Cessnock, Broke, Nulkaba, Elderslie/Dalwood/Branxton and Singleton for great deals. The trade off is these areas are around 15-20 minutes travel from the heart of Hunter Valley wine country where most of the cellar doors are located but the majority of local tour operators pick up and drop-off to these suburbs and the savings when compared to accommodation in the centre of wine country (ie. Pokolbin, Lovedale and Rothbury) can be quite significant. If you have a larger group (8-12 people) then cottages in Pokolbin, Lovedale and Rothbury are still worth a look and the advantage is you’ll be tasting wine within 10-15 minutes of being picked up on a tour. Many cellar doors are also within walking distance of the most popular cottages and some complexes are even located on a vineyard so you don’t have far to go at all to do some spontaneous tasting and perhaps pick up a bottle to go with dinner!
Most of these cottages have a 2 night stay minimum (and fantastic midweek rates!) which is fine if you’d like to make a weekend or a mini-break out of your stay. Travelling to the Hunter on a Friday, staying Friday night, then touring on Saturday and leaving the area Sunday is recommended if you are flying in from Sydney (after exploring the Yarra Valley). While tours directly from Sydney are available and of course will help you save money on accommodation (check out this option for a single day Hunter Valley tour from Sydney the 2.5 hours travel (sometimes 3 hours in peak times) one way to the Hunter from Sydney can make this quite a long day. Spreading your travel out to the day before and the day after a wine tour will make your Hunter Valley experience far more enjoyable.
If you really only have the time (or the budget) for a one night stay in the area then checking out some of the local hotels in Cessnock or a motel in Newcastle (located 45 minutes travel from the centre of Hunter Valley wine country in Pokolbin) is another option.
Visit Boutique Cellar Doors and Save on Tasting Fees
If you plan to visit the Hunter on a Saturday (the most popular day for tours and tastings) and your group numbers are above 6 people then you’ll need a booking and most likely need to pay a tasting fee. $5pp tasting fees are quite common although some of the “big name” cellar doors may charge $10pp. It can quickly add up and blow the budget if you intend to visit 4-5 cellars and haven’t planned for this, however there are great deals to minimise these if you know where to look. Aim to visit boutique cellar doors that are family owned and operated (some of these will give you a complimentary tasting if they know there is some intent to purchase … eg. You are not visiting for an occasion such as a hen’s party or birthday and you are actually on a wine tasting/purchasing expedition). Almost half of the Hunter Valley’s smaller cellar doors have a fee that is “redeemable upon purchase” across the group (eg. If the group as a whole purchase enough to cover the cost of the wine poured then the tasting is free). It always pays to check whether the above is the case or whether the tasting is redeemable upon individual purchase which means that even if one person in your group buys a case, the others who didn’t purchase a bottle will still need to pay for their tasting.
Either way a $5pp tasting fee is still great value for the opportunity to sample 6 – 8 high grade wines with your own dedicated cellar door staff member for around 40 minutes. This is way more “bang for your buck” than simply purchasing a glass of unknown wine at your local pub that you may not even like!
Another way to reduce your cellar door fees (or at least know what they will be upfront) is to join a wine tasting tour. Tastes of the Hunter Wine Tours offers a great value Hunter Valley Wine and Beer Adventure Tour that includes tasting fees for the one upfront price. Pickup from multiple areas (your Hunter Valley accommodation in Pokolbin, Lovedale, Rothbury and more, or Newcastle or Sydney) is available and it’s a great way to experience cellar door presentations with the opportunity to also taste craft beers, vodka/schnapps and liqueurs at Hunter Distillery and enjoy an economic lunch (around $25pp on the day) with a variety of options including gourmet pizzas, gourmet burgers, pastas, salads and pub favourites. This tour is a great option if you are looking for a snapshot of the Hunter and don’t have particular cellar doors in mind that you would like to visit. If you have your own list of “must visit” favourites (or venues you are curious about) then you can look at a private tour where you can design your own itinerary however these usually end up a little more pricey …. But well worth it if your budget can extend to that!
At the end of the day, leaving the driving to an experienced local guide takes the headaches out of navigating (the area can be a bit of a “rabbit warren” as they say and not all areas have good reception for your GPS) and is always cheaper than an RBT (random breath test) related fine!
With any travel experience you always have to find that delicate balance between saving money and receiving value for money. With a little research and planning you can make your Hunter Valley trip the perfect addition to a multi-region wine journey without a budget blowout hangover afterwards.