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Published: December 13th 2017
Geo: -32.9376, 151.143
Wollombi Hunter Valley 23rd -26th Jan 09
Long weekend, whoo hoo. Decided not to drive too far this time, so headed for Wollombi village about 100km away in the lovely Hunter Valley - wine (and nature) region. Had read an article about it in Travel Section of the Sydney Morning Herald and only when we rolled into town did we recognize The Wollombi Tavern of Dr. Jurd's Jungle juice fame (which has featured at our Dublin 8 cocktail parties) and where we had been for a drink exactly 6 years ago. Had said at the time must come back here, but how often do you ever actually do that.
So the drive up was nice over the Hawkesbury River and then via Peats Ridge - we got off the freeway early to look at scenery and that was well worth it, beautiful summers evening light. Passed through a very interesting tiny village with a proper pizzeria like in the middle of nowhere, progress you gotta love it.
Stayed at Grey's Inn B&B (but with no actual 2nd B) on the 'main drag' of Wollombi, the reception was a bit shocking with a desk made of rusty galvanize (dunno why) and no one in attendance. Next door/down stairs was a fancy Italian restaurant and deli called 'Panino' so we checked there and found the woman of the house having dinner with friends. She attended to us promptly and we paid up front in cash (no electronic payments here) nice and old fashioned - she took our booking on faith, we paid no deposit and then paid up front in cash on arrival, as it should be! (Everywhere else I checked was 50% of total stay deposit on booking, cheek).
She gave us the best room and it was gorgeous, heritage style complete with Vogue mirror from 1919, called Mrs Stevenson's room I think as mentions room names on the web site but not on the actual doors themselves http://www.graysinnwollombi.com.au. She also left tonnes of towels and tea & coffee which was brilliant as it was an unmanned guest house and we were not bothered again all weekend by breakfast time, cleaner time or check out time, really excellent in my book.
Panino was run by a real Italian called Bruno who told he felt sorry for us when we broke the news we were vego's but he rose to the occasion and gave us lovely antipasto followed by yummy linguine and had an excellent local wine list and really good Limoncello.
Later we found out in the Tavern from a woman called Shea that our room was haunted! I think it was a bit because we didn't sleep well all weekend but no harm came to us anyway so must have been a good ghost. It was a beautiful clear night and we could nearly count the stars (if we had the time and were sober enough and could count that high).
Had a brilliant lie in and read time the next morning which is what I think long weekends are all about and had lunch in Bruno's before heading off for a bit of a hike, it did seem very hot but we bought water in the fabulously wild west looking General Store and set off. First we drove as far as Cessnock for a look and to find an ATM (there was one in the tavern but we didn't know that then) and then went to the Bimadeen lookout for a view of Cessnock and surrounding area.
We noticed anyone else who came to the lookout stayed in their a/c cars which we thought was a bit strange but lathered up with the sun factor and set off on a hiking trail on the Great Northern Rd (that is nothing like a road in this bit) anyway. After an hour we could take no more, my face was bright red I looked just like a tomato when I got back to the car and I couldn't understand why I was so overheated I had been hiking in Oz in the last 4 weeks even. But it was lucky we went back as there was a fantastic sheet lightning storm on the horizon so the view from the lookout was amazing.
So we eventually headed back to Wolly via a garden fully of teddy bears and a toy cow nailed to a tree (again I dunno why) where they had no electricity or water. What could we do but go to the pub where we discovered it was 45 degrees that day. No wonder we couldn't hike or no one else was even getting out of their cars! A coven of bikers were also at the pub, very impressive seeing 50 motorbikes all lined up outside.
The power stayed off until 1am and I don't know when the water came back, but Bruno had a gas stove and sorted us out with dinner and beverages and candlelight, so it was a great adventure as far as I was concerned. Unfortunately it was cloudy so no stars that night which would've been great with the lack of light pollution. But sitting out the back of the tavern in the pitch dark had a certain appeal.
Sunday was a much better temperature and we even made it to breakfast in Panino and then we really did do a 12.6km hike in Yengo national park on the Finchley Track, which has many sacred Aboriginal drawings and Mt. Yango (as it's spelt by the real natives) is to the NSW Aboriginal's what Uluru is to the Northern Territory guys. The drive in and out of the park was a bit rough to say the least - we even saw an accident on the way out -but hey rent a car.
Went to two winery's after that (well we were obliged to surely, it was the Hunter valley after all): the Wollombi vineyard who also made Limoncello and Undercliff which has some lovely stuff - only bought 1 case though 😊 There was a outdoor sculpture display all over the Hunter & the finale was in Undercliff so they had some good stuff there in the grounds. They also do accommodation which looks nice.
Dinner was very unhealthy in café 'Route 33' attached to the tavern and while having postprandial beers some Aussies befriended us, who were 'true blue' 7th generation Aussies, oh and racists to boot! I am sure they thought they were educating us though. The man said of Sydney in whiney Aussie twang "Don't speak the language and don't like the food".
A truck load of massive water melons arrived and everyone in the pub seemed to have bought one from a child salesman including us.
(There was one last eatery there called Wollombi Cafe that looked promising but they for some reason best known to themselves didn't open on the Sunday night of a public holiday, eegits).
Monday was Australia day and that meant big market day in Wollombi which was good fun actually, after big veggie brunch in 'Shea's café' (the only veggie thing on the menu was at brunch time, otherwise it was beef served with ham or something carniverous like that) we headed back the scenic way and took the Wiseman's ferry (free) over the Hawkesbury which lasted all of 2 minutes! Had refreshments in the Wiseman's Ferry Inn and people watched, dunno if Australia day brought them out or if they are always there but they all seemed to be respectable trailer trash, which was nice (no really). Wiseman himself was named Solomon, ironic no? and was an Essex convict/merchant/original ferryman in early 1800's.
As we were coming from the north we swung by my sister's house on the way back to the city to say hi and wish our bro-in-law Happy Birthday and here endeth the trip. Long live public holidays.
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