Heights of the Hunter Val­ley

If you’re into ex­cep­tional wine and gourmet food mixed with ad­ven­ture and re­lax­ation, a week­end get­away to Aus­tralia’s old­est wine re­gion, the Hunter Val­ley, is the per­fect city es­cape. By Jes­sica Feen­stra.

Where Sydney - - Contents -

THE HUNTER VAL­LEY, around two hours north of Syd­ney, has over 100 vine­yards mak­ing it one of Aus­tralia’s ma­jor wine­grow­ing re­gions. How­ever, the Hunter to­day is fa­mous for much more than its ex­cep­tional wine, with an en­tire life­style now thriv­ing in the area, in­clud­ing sprawl­ing re­sorts, gourmet din­ing and food shops, golf cour­ses and even ad­ven­ture ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing the ev­er­pop­u­lar hot air bal­loon­ing. Hit the road and make the Hunter your per­fect all-round week­end es­cape from the bustling city.

The drive out to the Hunter Val­ley is pic­turesque in its own right. Drive up in the sunny af­ter­noon and pass by rows and rows of vine­yards among rugged bush land­scapes. Nes­tled within this scenic wine re­gion is the sprawl­ing 25-acre prop­erty, Oaks Cy­press Lakes Re­sort. Hav­ing just un­der­gone a $20 mil­lion re­fur­bish­ment, Cy­press Lakes Re­sort is the per­fect re­treat to en­joy your week­end away. I check into my spa­cious and mod­ern one-bed­room pri­vate villa, and head straight to the bal­cony over­look­ing nat­u­ral scrub­land to en­joy a glass of wine from a sur­round­ing vine­yard and cheese from the nearby Hunter Val­ley Smelly Cheese Shop, a must-visit to pick up some lo­cal pro­duce while in the area.

Af­ter a self-guided tour of Cy­press Lakes’ ex­pan­sive grounds, which in­clude ten­nis courts, three swim­ming pools and sprawl­ing golf greens, our party en­joys an early din­ner on­site at The Restau­rant @ Cy­press Lakes, serv­ing up mouth­wa­ter­ing, hon­est meals ded­i­cated to lo­cal pro­duc­ers. We have an early wakeup call in the morn­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing truly mag­i­cal—a hot air bal­loon ride over this serene lo­ca­tion. Oaks Cy­press Lakes Re­sort is com­mem­o­rat­ing its 25th an­niver­sary with the launch of its very own hot air bal­loon in part­ner­ship with Bal­loon Aloft, recog­nis­ing the on­cein-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity this ex­pe­ri­ence is.

My alarm goes off in the dark­ness of 4.30am, but, as some­body afraid of heights, I’m al­ready wide awake with ner­vous an­tic­i­pa­tion. We head to Peter­son House to meet our fel­low hot air bal­loon­ers be­fore driv­ing out to a field that makes a suit­able launch site for this par­tic­u­lar morn­ing’s wind and weather con­di­tions. Our bal­loon pi­lot in­forms us the take-off and land­ing sites are dif­fer­ent with each fly—since the bal­loons aren’t able to be fully con­trolled they go where the wind goes, adding to the ad­ven­ture!

The ex­pe­ri­ence, from start to fin­ish, is hands on with guests con­tribut­ing to blow­ing the bal­loon up, and fold­ing it back up at the end. Once the bal­loon is up­right and full of hot air, we be­gin to mount into our equally weighted sec­tions of the wicker bas­ket, and then we’re up, up and away as the early morn­ing dark­ness turns slowly into light. We gen­tly float higher and higher above the mag­nif­i­cent panoramic views of the winer­ies and sur­round­ing ar­eas; it’s an over­cast and driz­zly morn­ing but that takes noth­ing away from the beauty un­fold­ing be­neath us as we graze the tree­tops and beyond.

Hot Air Bal­loon­ing. Photo: Jes­sica Ward.

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