Most of us know only too well the much-visited New South Wales premier wine region of The Hunter Valley. Not only is it a frequented destination for many Australians, it is also highly rated by connoisseurs of the passionate plonk from all over the world. However, there is another valley just a cork’s throw from The Hunter that begs your attention.
Wollombi Valley has been the focal point of many over the centuries. Prior to European settlement it was an area of great importance to the coastal Aboriginal peoples that gave it the name Wollombi which translates to “meeting place” or “meeting place of the waters”. Thankfully today there are still around 300 significant Aboriginal sites in the surrounding Yengo National Park.
Some of these sites date back over 13,000 years and are accessible by driving and walking trails. Early European settlers have also left their mark, ever present in the region’s many sandstone buildings and remnants of the original convict-built Great North Road. I suggest a stroll along the historic village walk or maybe the convict trail as a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors and soak up some of the surrounding history.
The village itself is certainly quaint but has loads to engage and entertain you while meandering around the historic edifices which now house cafes, bric-a-brac, gifts and clothing options. You also have to visit the “world famous” Wollombi Tavern that is an exploit all of its own. Beware, the weekends are a hive of activity and a midweek visit would serve you very well.
Wollombi and the surrounds also have their share of wineries for you to call on. While they may not have the publicity or marketing machines that draw the throngs to the Hunter, Wollombi has a number of small boutique wineries that deserve a little of your love. Wollombi Wines, Finch Lane and Undercliff Winery are a few you may choose to frequent. You may be surprised at the quality on offer.
I visited Stonehurst. Owned and operated by the Heslop family, Stonehurst is just a few minutes from Wollombi Village itself, down Wollombi Road. An easy couple of hours were spent here strolling through the vineyards, getting the rundown on the history of the property and the appropriate tasting in the sandstone cellar door. The 2017 Shiraz was a highlight for me.
You should also investigate and maybe have a little sustenance at the Great Northern Trading Post. Established way back in 1879 in the enchanting hamlet of Laguna, which sits under a ten- minute drive from the village of Wollombi itself, it still boasts that rustic charm that often makes a property special. It is really the ‘little bit of everything’ in Laguna and features a small general store, a bar with draught beers on tap, coffee and café delights seven days a week. Rosa’s restaurant that is open Friday and Saturday nights providing tasteful meals featuring the best local offerings and some live music to boot. There is also some of the best local harvest available on site from the delightful Razza at Laguna Village Providores! Seriously great produce.
There are a few terrific choices when it comes to somewhere to lay your hat and call home here in the ‘other valley’. Couples Retreats, BnB’s, Guesthouses and Campgrounds abound. I had the pleasure of settling myself into a very inviting property located less than 2km south of the village itself.
Arcadian Retreat owners Justine and Jayson McDonald have made this patch of historic New South Wales country such an inviting experience to appreciate. Covering 110 acres, it is a combination of grazing land, cleared green space and woodlands that include some relatively easy and peaceful bushwalking breaks. Giving the property their own personal touch since taking ownership just two years ago, Arcadian Retreat is set up to cater to a range of options.
The accommodation consists of the main homestead which features four spacious bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a commercial kitchen and a magnificent main living and dining area complete with a centrepiece open fire that gives the room a genuine homely feel. A short stroll from the front door is an outdoor firepit and woodfired pizza oven. Decorated with fairy lights and surrounded by nature, its striking elements beckon your attendance with a cheese board and a local tipple.
The four private cottages, like the main homestead have been styled exquisitely and the consideration that has gone into supplying every possible need has been met with aplomb. A separate bedroom with queen bed, large well-presented bathrooms and delightful lounge areas with functional kitchenettes and open fires, these mini homesteads look out over the expansive lawns and forest via a private patio each equipped with a personal Webber and outdoor furnishings. Perfect to cook up your breakfast hamper goodies of local produce and eggs freshly laid by the girls on site. You may not be game enough now but come the warmer months the sanctuary of the swimming pool surrounded by natural rock and pure countryside, with sun beds & a BBQ will be inviting no doubt.
Arcadian Retreat could be utilized for so many options. A brilliant wedding venue. A girl’s-only weekend away. Perfect for a group of friends to take over the whole box and dice. A family get together or maybe that romantic escape you have been planning now that you have some renewed freedom?
Oh, and when you do visit, make sure you say hello to Moo Moo and Big Mumma, Arcadian’s resident cows. They love to entertain and will leave you with a massive smile if Jayson is around to feed them a hay biscuit!
Getting There: The road less travelled is the most scenic route to take to the Wollombi Valley. If you are coming from down south take Route 33 off the M1. It’s a really lovely drive. Arcadian Retreat, GNTP and Stonehurst Winery are all on the Great North Road or not far off it. The journeys from Sydney (2 hours), Canberra (4 hours) or Newcastle (just over an hour) are relatively easy. Just take care on some of the winding sections and keep a special eye out for motorcycle riders.