Australia is a great place to visit, for many reasons.
One of the highlights of the state of New South Wales is the Hunter Valley, which is only a two-hour drive from Sydney. The Hunter as it is known, offers a range of activities to suit any traveler's budgets.
Wine Country, Pokolbin
The Hunter is famous for its wine, both across the country and around the world.
Pokolbin is the place in which you can sample Australia's finest grapes. It's relatively easy to organize a wine tour of the region. If you're afraid of being too drunk to drive home (it happens to the best of us), there's plenty of accommodation on site.
The area is home to the Hunter Valley Gardens. The Gardens are a popular site for functions and weddings, but they're well-worth having a poke around anytime of the year.
I particularly like visiting them around Christmas time, when the entire area is covered in lights and opened up to the public after hours.
The Country Music Capital
Drive further on along both the Lower and Upper Hunter through some jaw-dropping scenery and you'll reach the country town of Tamworth.
Tamworth is not only the biggest town past the Upper Hunter – it's the country music capital of Australia. The Tamworth Country Music Festival takes place every January and is a highlight of the region, drawing in crowds from all over the country.
It turns out Tamworth is quite the foodie destination, as evidenced by the yearly Taste Tamworth Festival. There are pop-ups, long lunches, and chances to drive out to the many farms around town to meet the farmers and sample their freshest produce.
Although it's a bit naff, no trip to Tamworth is complete without a photo of the giant Golden Guitar, conveniently located right outside the front of the tourist center!
Hunter River Boat Tours
At over 186 miles (300 km) in length, the Hunter River is one of the biggest rivers within the state of New South Wales.
Starting at the Liverpool Plains, it flows through the Hunter Valley, reaching its mouth at Newcastle Harbour, within the state's second biggest city.
Did you know you can go whale-watching in Newcastle? If you're there during the right time of the year, you might be able to catch the Humpback whales, which migrate past the city.
The Lower Hunter is home to what was once the longest continually running goal in Australia.
The correctional center closed in 1998 but was opened to the public shortly after. It now serves as a local museum and is a Heritage listed building.
Visitors can take a guided tour, led by none other than ex-Warders, who are armed with some harrowing tales of the convicts that once graced the goal's cells.
On the first Friday of every month, the gaol opens itself up to ghost hunting tours, where visitors experience a vigil and play the part of ghost busters for the night.
The truly plucky can gather 25 of their closest friends, to spend the night sleeping in the goal – an activity that is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
The Hunter Valley is an area of incredible beauty as it is. Barrington Tops National Park is probably the icing on top of what is a very pretty cake.
The park features World Heritage-listed rainforests and plenty of local fauna (such as the Superb lyrebird and yes that is its name, although it truly is superb), and is ideal for hiking, fishing, picnicking, camping – all of which makes it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Australia may be known as the “sunburnt country,” but we do get snow in the winter. The Barringtons is one such place in the state of NSW that enjoys its own snow season. On a good year, the park gets enough of the white stuff to resemble a winter wonderland.
Barrington Tops is one of the many parks across New South Wales that is involved in the Saving our Species Conservation Program. As the name suggests, this program is in place to prevent the extinction of Australian plants and animals.
If you're a fan of offbeat travel, quirky destinations and good wine, the Hunter Valley of Australia is a must-see for you.