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.
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.